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Welcome, to Elkin’s Island

I love this story for many reasons, but one is the deep theological implications imbedded within it.

It made me think about birds. I’ve often wondered, as I listen to grackles swirling in the air around me, if maybe the sound most delightful in the ear of the Lord isn’t birdsong? He has put birds in vast quantity and variety on every part of the globe. I mean, PENGUINS! There is something of our Creator to be understood in the abundant loudness of birdom.

Enjoy Derek Elkin’s story, The Island Purpose by clicking on the grackles.

If you click on the HEB sign, you’ll get a coupon for fried grackle at the deli

Remember, we do this for free because we are writers and this is what we do. Most of us have written books you can buy — such as Derek. Here is a link to a review of one of his books I wrote a while back. I think you’d really love it, too.

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Greenbean’s Translation of Colossians

For the past two months I’ve been translating Colossians from the Greek New Testament in devotions. I took the extra time and polished it up for you. If you’re interested, then read away! If you are really interested, check our me and some friends on the Under The Water Tower podcast (click here) where we have been discussing Colossians.

Colossians

Translated by Jamie Greening

Translators Notes

Many of these are unnecessarily long or run-on sentences. I have shortened many of them because English flows better with shorter sentences. However, that is nearly impossible for some as it changes the meaning. 

“Which” is a common way the verses begin, a feeling the writer is moving from one connected thought to another. I have kept some of this, but it makes for clunky reading and poor English. I have smoothed some of these out. Notable exceptions are found in 3:5-7, where the meaning is made clearer by the ‘which’. 

In this letter I have chosen to use the word “Messiah” instead of “Christ.” It is jarring to the American English eye to see it here because of the familiarity with ‘Christ Jesus’. This usage of the title Christ, a transliteration of the Greek ‘Christos’ which means ‘Messiah’, to me misses the historical and theological Hebrew meaning of Messiah. I choose to translate the translation here, but it must be noted one is not wrong to continue the usage “Christ”.  

The usage of the imperative flows throughout the letter. En toto, it doesn’t carry the feeling of being bossy or demanding, but rather urgency is implied. 

Content in [brackets] are textual variants which early witnesses do not agree upon as original to the letter.

Asterisks * are used to denote specific comment on particular verses or words at the conclusion of each chapter. 

Remember, errare humanum est – I do make mistakes. If you see an error, please notify the editor at once. 


Chapter One

1. Paul, an apostle of Messiah Jesus by the will of God, and brother Timothy,

2. to the saints, the faithful brothers and sisters in Messiah, in Colossae, grace and peace to you from God our father.

3. When we pray, we always give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Messiah for you,

4. since hearing about your faith in Messiah Jesus and the love you have for all the saints

5. because you heard in the word of truth, the gospel, about the hope reserved for you in heaven beforehand.

6. It has come to you in the same way it has the whole world, bearing fruit and growing, as it has in you from the day you heard and came to know the truth of the grace of God.

7. You learned it from our fellow bondservant, the beloved Epaphras. He is a faithful minister of Messiah on your behalf.  

8. He showed us your love in the spirit.

9. Because of this, we have not stopped praying, and asking, that you might be filled in the knowledge of his will and all wisdom and spiritual insight,

10. so as to walk worthy of the Lord, desiring to please him in all things, growing and bearing fruit in all good work in the knowledge of God. 

11. Be strengthened in every power according to his mighty glory, persevere in all things with patience and joy.

12. Giving thanks to the Father, who made you fit to take part in the inheritance of the saints in light. 

13. He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transformed us into the kingdom of his beloved son.

14. In whom we have liberation, the forgiveness of sins. 

15. He is the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation.

16. Because all things – in the heavens, upon the earth, the seen, the unseen, thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities – were created in him. It has all been created by him and in him. 

17. What’s more, he himself is before all things. All things have held together because of him.  

18. He, who is the source, the firstborn of the dead, who became preeminent in everything, he himself is the head of the body of the church. **

19. Because it seems pleasing for all the fullness to abide in him***

20. and to reconcile all things through him who [by himself] made peace by the blood of the cross for those upon the earth and those in the heavens. 

21. Even you, who once were alienated, being enemies of the mind in your works of evil,

22. but now he reconciled you in the body of his flesh, by his death, to present you holy, unblemished, and irreproachable before him. 

23. That is, if you indeed remain in the faith, being grounded and stable, immovable from the hope of the gospel you heard, the one presented in all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

24. I rejoice in suffering for you, finishing the remaining affliction of the Messiah in my flesh on behalf of his body – the church. 

25. I became a minister according to the design of God, given to me to fulfill the word of God among you.****

26. The mystery has been kept hidden through the ages and from the previous generations – but now it has been revealed to his saints. 

27. To whom he desired to make known the rich glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory. 

28. This is what we preached, admonishing and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so we might stand alongside everyone completely in Messiah.

29. I labor at this, striving with all the energy he is energizing within me. 

*I have chosen to use the term ‘minister’ here for ‘diakonos’ although ‘servant’ would serve, linguistically, just as fine. However, Paul uses another word-set for servant, ‘doulos’ in the exact same verse, so I think he is intentionally using the word ‘diakonos’ in an official way. To this point, I use it as minister throughout. 

**It strikes me there are twin dangers here. We could over philosophize it and thus strip these lines of the clear ecclesiastical power or we can underwhelm it with only an emphasis upon church language. Maybe here ‘ekklesia’ doesn’t mean church – perhaps it means congregations of created things as in verse sixteen.

***There is no ‘of God’ in the text. Many English renderings include “of God” but this is a gloss. 

****Design = ‘oikonomia’ – a word that is connected to the English word economy, and usually means household or might mean work. In this context, no one word does justice as the meaning seems to be something akin to ‘according to the efficient worldwide cosmic masterplan God is working with’. In my mind I wonder if Paul doesn’t have something like an architect’s schematics in mind. 


Chapter Two

1. I want you to know that I have a great struggle for you, the people in Laodicea, and all those who have never seen my face.

2. It is that our heart might be encouraged, united in love with abundant conviction of, understanding of, in the knowledge of, the mystery of, God in Messiah. 

3. In whom, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away. 

4. I tell you this so no one might deceive you with swaying words.

5. Even though I am absent in the flesh, I am with you in spirit, where I rejoice seeing your discipline and steadfastness of faith in Messiah. 

6. Therefore, as you received Jesus Messiah, the Lord, you must walk in him.

7. And now, after having been rooted and built in him, having been established in the faith just as you were together in abundant thanksgiving,

8. see to it you will not be carried off by the philosophy and hollow deceit of human tradition or the elements of the world rather than by Messiah,

9. because all the embodied fullness of the Godhead dwells in him. 

10. You have been filled by him who is the head of all rulers and authorities. 

11. In whom, you were circumcised without human hands by leaving behind the body of flesh with the circumcision of Messiah

12. when you were buried together with him in baptism.  You, who will be raised up by faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. *

13. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumsion of your flesh, were made alive with him who forgave you all those trespasses 

14. by erasing the handwritten itemized indictment against us, removing it once for all from our midst. He nailed it to the cross. **

15. He himself disarmed the rulers and authorities. He led them around, exposing them publicly. 

16. So do not let anyone judge you on issues of eating and drinking, festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 

17. These things are but a shadow of what is to come for the body of Messiah. 

18. Do not let anyone disqualify you by making you be initiated into service and devotion to angels, having been made arrogant by the vanity of a fleshly mind ***

19.  by not holding onto the head, from which the whole body is nourished and unified with ligaments and sinew. Its growth is from the Lord.

20. If you died to the elements of this world with Messiah, why then do you live according to the world’s dictates?

21. “Do not hold. Do not taste. Do not touch.”**** 

22. Everything rots; it expires along with the commands and teachings of human beings.

23. These things have wisdom – wisdom in self-esteem, self-service, and self-abuse. None of it has any value in actually caring for physical needs. *****

*note “power” here is the same word group as 1:29 and is a cognate of ‘energy’. It is not power in the sense of authority or fiat, but rather the idea of power as something energizing, making active, propelling. 

** “handwritten” is like the word ‘decree’. It has a legal implication like directive or indictment. The odd part is the emphasis upon ‘hand’ in Paul’s use of words. The best feeling is something like “the accumulation of accusations which we have written ourselves with our own hand by our own actions over time and have turned into a list to be used against us.”

*** The words ‘service’ and ‘devotion’ are slippery here. These are fine words when applied to faith in Messiah, but the context here betrays that Messiah is not the focus. Instead, Paul is using these terms to describe or refer to an initiation ritual or process into a kind of mystery religion where the ‘secret’ is conveyed. 

****This seems to me as a quotation of sorts. Paul is referencing some kind of known dictum that reflects some system of behavior being imposed upon the Colossian Christ-followers. 

***** I have taken Paul’s use of ‘self’ in the compound word ‘self-worship’ and applied it to the following words “service” and “abuse” because that is what I feel he is emphasizing. He is contrasting the focus on Messiah as the center, the head, with putting ourselves and our own twisted kind of ‘wisdom’ at the center which is a service to self, idealization of self, and ultimately a misappropriation and misuse of the physical body God gave to each of us. 


Chapter Three

1. If you, therefore, have been raised up with Messiah, then you must seek things above where Messiah will be sitting at the right hand of God.

2. You must* think about things above and not things upon the earth. 

3. You died. Your life has been hidden in God with Messiah. 

4. Whenever the Messiah might be revealed in your life, then you will be revealed with him in glory. 

5. Therefore put to death those parts of you formed on the earth: fornication, uncleanliness, sensual passions, evil desires, and greediness, which is idolatry, 

6. which is why the wrath of God comes [upon disobedient children],  

7. which you yourselves walked in back when you lived for these things. 

8. But now you must get rid of these kinds of things – wrath, rage, hateful feelings, blasphemy, and foul language out of your mouth. 

9. Do not lie to one another. You have shed the old person along with his or her behavior.

10. Rather, put on the new person, the one being renewed in knowledge, in the image of the one who created you. 

11. Where there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, illiterate heathen or barbarian Scythian, slave or free. Instead, all are in Messiah and Messiah is in all. 

12. As the chosen, holy, and beloved people of God, therefore, display** gut feelings of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and longsuffering patience as if they were clothes wrapped around your body. 

13. Tolerate one another and freely give*** of yourselves to anyone who might have a complaint. 

14. Over all these, like a coat, there is the bond of love that completes everything.   

15. The Messiah’s peace must preside in your hearts, making you thankful you were called into one body.

16. The word of Messiah must dwell abundantly among you, as you teach and warn one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of grace to God in your hearts. 

17. Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, you should do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

18. Wives must be submissive to husbands as is proper in the Lord.

19. Husbands must love wives and not be mean to them.

20. Children must obey parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.

21. Parents**** must not provoke their children or else it might break their spirit.  

22. Slaves must obey human masters not only when watched, like a do-gooder, but in a sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

23. In whatever you do, you must work from the center of your being ***** as if for the Lord and not for people. 

24. You must serve as unto the Lord Messiah knowing that you will receive from the Lord the reward of the inheritance.

25. The one who does wrong will get back the wrong he or she did. There is no favoritism. 

* the imperative is found throughout this chapter. There are various ways to render that, but for the most part I have stuck to the word ‘must’ (see v. 18ff). 

** “wear like clothes . . . wrapped around your body” is “put on” – a common Pauline phrase. So common, in fact, the power of the metaphor is often lost. In verse 14 I have inserted “like a coat” to fulfill the phrase and the image Paul is describing – love as an outer garment that pulls everything together. 

***I have translated the knotty little word as ‘freely give’ whereas many other English renderings use the more generic term ‘forgive’. It can mean forgive, but in this context ‘freely give’ makes more sense and, if Paul had intended the technical word forgive, there are better words. I think he has something more nuanced in mind. 

**** “Parents” here is ‘fathers’, but as is the case with “sons” and “brothers”, the masculine plural often denotes groups and my reading of the text is Paul means both mothers and fathers, therefore, “parents”. 

***** Word here is ‘psyche’ and is often translated as ‘whole heart.’ It is a complicated Greek word, which is also complicated in English. Without going into the metaphysics of human composition here it is best to emphasize Paul is speaking about intention and motive that leads to a thoroughness and integrity in work. 


Chapter Four

1. Masters must give justice and equity to slaves because you know you have a master in heaven. 

2. You must remain constant in prayer, being alert to it with thanksgiving. 

3. At the same time, keep praying for us, that God might open a door for us to speak the word about the mystery of Messiah, the one to whom I am bound.

4. So that when it is necessary to speak, I might make it clear.

5. You must walk in wisdom as it pertains to outsiders. Exploit the time. 

6. The things you say should always be pleasant, as if something seasoned with salt. It is vital each one of you know how to answer someone. 

7. Tychicus, the beloved brother, truthful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord will inform you how things are going for me. 

8. This is why I sent him to you, so that you might know everything about us, and he might encourage your hearts,

9. Along with the faithful and dearly loved brother, Onesimus, who is one of you, they will make known to you everything about here.

10. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you as does Mark, the relative of Barnabas. You received instructions about how if he comes to you, you must welcome him.

11. And so does Jesus – who is called Justus – he is one of those from the circumcision party. These people are the only ones working with me in the kingdom of God. They became a comfort to me. *

12. The servant of Messiah, Epaphras, who is one of you, greets you. He always struggles for you in his prayers that you might stand complete and assured in the total will of God. 

13. I bear witness for him, how he worked very hard on your behalf and for Laodicea and Hierapolis.

14. The dear doctor, Luke, greets you as does Demas. 

15. Greet the brothers and sisters in Laodicea as well as Nympha, and the church in her house.

16. When this letter is read among you, make sure it can be read to the Laodicean church and that the Laodicean one could be read to you.

17. And you must say to Archippus, “see to it that you complete the ministry you received from the Lord.”  

18. This greeting is in my own hand, Paul. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

*I wrestled with this verse a great deal. I never satisfied in my own mind whether Paul was saying “Justus, Aristarchus, and Mark are the only one from the circumcision party who was a comfort to me” or if he is saying “Justus, who is from the circumcision party, along with Aristarchus and Mark, are the only ones who were a comfort to me.” Either take is defensible, in my view.  

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A Story About A Kind of Justice We’ve All Thought About

To say Joe Shaw is a great writer is an understatement. His real gift is the turn of phrase.

Also, he leaves Easter eggs which are just for me — like the phrase “block around” in the opening paragraph. Only old men in Blue Fords and Pastor Butch Gregory block around. I know, because once upon a time Joe Shaw ridiculed me to no end about that phrase. And now, he leaves me this great gift.

Our little band of merry writers is still producing high quality short stories for your enjoyment. We’ve moved on from the COVID-19 theme and are now freestyle. Remember, we are not looking for money in these. They are all free. We just want you to read them and enjoy them, and if you like, share it on your own social media platform. As I remind during our podcast — every. click. matters.

Week One was Joseph Courtemanche’s Mariachi — Click Here To Read It

Week Two was some hack named Greenbean who wrote about boys swimming — Click Here

Week Three was Kathy Kexel’s heartwarming story about responsibility and family — Click Here

Today Shaw brings us a gut punch. It is hard to read in the sense the subject matter is not playful or fun, but tragic. This is a tragedy. But it is the second shot that will keep you thinking. Yet it is wonderfully written.

Click on one of The Crickets to read “The Crickets Sing” by Joe Shaw.

Don’t Click on Buddy Holly Or You’ll Become Fish Bait

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Angels AND Family

We are now three weeks into our Free Fiction experimental follow-up to the COVID Chronicles. The first week was the Amazing Courtemanche with Murder, Mayhem, Mariachis, and Ford Probes (click here). Last week was yours truly with a bit of speculative fiction just to keep things interesting — you can click here to read Jack and Robin Go Swimming. This week, Kathy Kexel tugs at our heartstrings with The Guardians. I was expecting a talking raccoon and green Uhura but no, this was better. Way better.

Click on the picture to read The Guardians. Be sure to share it on social media. We’re doing this for free, but still write these things so people will read them.

Do not click on Groot. Whatever else yo do, do not click on Groot.

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A Briny Story

It is Fresh Free Fiction Wednesday, and . . . drumroll please . . . today is my day! I got moved up a week.

Last week Joe Courtemanche got us started off on this Fresh Free Fiction round with his wonderful story about those poor Mariachi singers (click here to read it). Today I bring you a story that seems to tap common themes for me. I didn’t realize this until I thought about it today but young boys, mysterious adventures, and their relationship with grandpa figures pops out a lot in my stories. The best example similar to this is The Jolly Rogers (click here).

If you are the kind of reader who is interested in background, keep reading. If not, skip down to the story. The inspiration for this tale came from the recent edition of Texas Monthly. There was an article (click here) on The Estelline Spring. I didn’t know such things existed and was intrigued. The next thing I knew I was in my boyhood and thinking about mysterious bodies of water.

I hope you enjoy the story. Joe Shaw is up next week as we have swapped places.

Jack and Robin Go Swimming

Jamie D. Greening

The chili cheese fries disappeared in less than three minutes. Jack and Robin ate them with the voracious appetite ten-year old boys are famous for. Robin, who had dark hair and hazel eyes, dredged his fries through the chili and paired each one with a vinegar-soaked jalapeno. Jack, in contrast, scraped most of the chili off of his. He preferred the yellow goo which Dairy Queen called cheese. Somehow, he had gotten cheese in his bright blonde hair. 

Jack sucked chocolate milkshake through his straw as fast as humanly possible. His speed was rewarded with a headache. Robin sipped his cherry coke like an old man enjoying brandy by the fire on a cold winter’s evening. It was their Saturday afternoon ritual.

The two boys lived less than three blocks from the restaurant, and for as long as they could remember, they had been friends. Their moms worked at the school. Their dads were oil men, which was usually good work in the Texas Panhandle. Except the only summer Robin and Jack were ten years old was 1983, and 1983 was a bust year for oil in Texas. Both their fathers were trying their luck in Alaska.

That meant, for all intent and purposes, Robin and Jack were on their own and free to do whatever they wanted. And on this July afternoon, they plotted certain doom.

“I’m going to do it,” Jack said. “You can watch from the bank if you want, you big sissy.” 

“I’m not a sissy,” Robin protested. “I’m smarter than you. Old man Glover has made it known to all men that anyone caught on his property would be shot on sight.”

“So?”

“So! I have no desire to be dead. That is what is so.”

“Oh, live a little,” Jack bounced up and down in the booth. “Don’t you understand, the salty lake calls to us. It exists therefore we must swim it. It must be done. Just like Everest demands to be climbed and Evil Knievel has to jump the Grand Canyon.” He remembered his melting shake and sucked the straw. Refreshed, he said, “It is our destiny to swim it, and to swim it this afternoon. God intended it to be so.”

Robin shook his head. “I studied that lake. It is forty-three percent salt. That means we will float and probably can’t swim, really. We’ll just bob up and down like a couple of corks.”

Jack laughed, “You read too much Robin. Why you spend so much time in books? Books is for losers. The real fun is in living. Living don’t come from no book.”

“I like books. You learn stuff in books. It is usually stuff you need to know.”

“Well,” Jack said, “I like doing stuff rather than reading stuff. I heard from Shawn Drucker that salt lake don’t got no bottom. It goes all the way to the middle of the Earth. Do you hear that – all the way to the middle of the Earth. Are you telling me you don’t want to swim in a lake that goes deeper than any swimming hole known to man? This isn’t some old cow tank in a pasture. This is an adventure. Are you coming with me or not?” 

“I don’t want to get shot,” Robin said.

“We won’t get shot. Trust me. What kind of man shoots a couple of kids? Old Man Glover is a deacon at the Church of Christ. He ain’t gonna shoot no kid.” He smirked, “But if that lake goes all the way to the center of the Earth, that old Devil he teaches about in Sunday School might come up and grab you by the ankles and drag you to h-e-double-hockey-sticks.”


Jack tore his pants on the barbed wire surrounding Glover’s ranch. “Crap! These are expensive jeans,” he shouted.

“Ripped jeans are the wave of the future,” Robin said.

“What makes you say that?” 

“I read it somewhere. All those celebrities and rich folk in Hollywood and New York all spend a lot of money to rip their jeans so they can look cool and fashionable. See there, you just did it for free.”

“You think?” Jack said. “If Bo Derek could see me now.”

“Oh please,” Robin said. “You have no chance.” He smiled as big as the moon. “Now, Angie Reynolds, she is one you have a chance with.”

“What makes you say that,” Jack said. “Has she been talking to you.”

“Let’s just say my sister is friends with Angie’s sister, and Angie’s sister says that she thinks about you a lot and is always talking about you.”

“Really? What does she say?”

“She talks about how she wishes your jeans were ripped.”

Jack slugged Robin hard in the arm. It didn’t matter to Robin. He laughed all the way to the saltwater shore.

The hot air blew over the top of the lake. It smelled like Galveston to Robin, who had spent a month there with his uncle last summer. Salt clung to the few bushes and tufts of grass that dotted the briny shore. The salt formed a hard, rough surface over the natural Panhandle hardscrabble. The boys stood there for a long time just looking at it.

“What’s that?” Jack said.

“Looks like a crab of sorts,” Robin replied. “Not much lives in here. It is too salty for fish.”

“That’s not what I heard,” Jack snorted. “I heard there is a monster that lives out there in the middle. At night it sneaks out of the lake and eats cattle, dogs, cats, and even the occasional person.” Jack paused for effect. “Do you remember when Rosie and Philip went missing a couple of years ago?” 

“Yeah,” Robin nodded.

“Well, some say they’s out here late one night. The way I heard it, they were in the back seat and Philip was rounding third heading for home, and Rosie was all worked up, and Philip, though he normally would have been aware, was caught up under Rosie’s womanly charms, and right there as they were about to hit that happy high note, the monster came through the windshield. They say it ate Philip in one big gulp but dragged Rosie’s naked body alive back to the salt lake. The salt in the water preserved her body, they say, like a human jerky for the monster to savor later when hunting isn’t as good. Like winter.”

“That’s crap,” Robin said. “Everyone knows Rosie and Philip went to New Mexico to get married and then Philip joined the army the next day.” 

Jack began to laugh as much as a human can. Robin turned his back and looked away, trying to see if Mr. Glover had his rifle trained on them.

When Robin finally turned around, Jack had taken off his shirt and boots. His jeans were already unzipped. 

“You really going in?” Robin said.

“I didn’t come out here to look at it.” Jack sat down on the bleached shoreline and pulled his Wrangler jeans and Hanes underwear off in one swift motion. Three seconds later he was in the water. “You coming in or are you just gonna watch me like some weirdo?”

“I don’t think it is a good idea,” Robin said. The wind picked up and he had to say it a lot louder than he expected. 

Jack had swam further out, but then he moved toward the shore. As he did, he began to float. “Look at me,” Jack said. “I ain’t even trying.” He began to bob up and down. “I think it is might near impossible for a man to drown in a body of water like this.” Jack made his way to the shoreline and sat in the shallows. “Robin, you might live your whole life and never get another chance to do something like this. This is private property, and some day you and me will be too old and grown up for shenanigans like this. You don’t want to live your whole life thinking you missed out on an adventure because you were afraid. Now get in here, you big baby!”

That was all it took to convince Robin. Once the decision was made to swim, the boy was out of his clothes and boots before Jack could start floating again. He let out a victorious “Yahoo” as he plunged head long into the water.

The boys did not swim, as such, but floated. The buoyancy of the water was unlike anything they had ever experienced. Jack stuck his head under the water and foolishly left his eyes open. The burn was instant. The salt stung his tender baby blues so badly he made for the shore to wipe them with his shirt. 

“I read in a book you shouldn’t stick your head under,” Robin said.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“You were too busy talking about monsters and devils and other nonsense.” 

A gust of wind blew by Robin’s face. At first it felt good to him, but then his nose turned upward. The stench of a thousand matches struck at the same time combined with the putrid air of an oilfield surrounded him. The water bubbled like it was boiling. The odor didn’t come from the wind, it came from the water. The bubbles increased. Robin panicked. It was a fortunate thing he couldn’t drown, because he lost all sense of his body. He began to flail, making his way for the shore. He called out to Jack. 

Robin couldn’t hear Jack’s words, but he saw Jack jumping up and down and yelling. 

The water began to circle like a bathtub drain. It spun clockwise. The outer arm of the spiral, which was about forty yards in diameter, caught Robin in its pull and spun him around and around like a cheap ride at the county fair. Robin kicked with all his might fighting against the pull. He worked his way beyond the outer arm and back into the calmer water, but he was farther away from the shore, nearer the center of the small lake. 

He rested a moment and caught his breath, thinking about his options. He decided to float in the opposite direction from Jack and his clothes to avoid the swirly. He didn’t know what it was, but he wanted to stay clear of it and get out of the water.

Robin had no sooner started when, to his horror, another stench of sulphur arose. The water began to churn in the same clockwise direction. This time, he was in the center. He threw his hands up in surrender to the hydraulic forces against him. The current pulled him under.

Jack waited for two hours for Robin to reappear before he left to go get help. 


The next Saturday they held a funeral for Robin at The Baptist Church. The choir sang and all the teachers spoke. Both of their father’s flew back from Alaska. The entire town grieved. Old Mr. Glover sat on the back row and stared at Jack the whole service.

None grieved the way Jack grieved. 

The following Saturday, two weeks from the day Robin disappeared, Jack sat in the same booth at the Dairy Queen. He tried to eat the chili cheese fries, but he had no appetite. His chocolate shake melted before he took the second sip. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Robin’s face. The look of surprise. The panic. The fear.

He also saw the betrayal. Robin would have never gotten in the water had Jack not talked him into it. The thought that it was all his fault paralyzed him. He was stuck in an infinite loop of memory and regret. The only action he’d been able to muster was to return to the salt lake on Friday evening. Police markers lined the area, but no one was there. Jack waited and waited. He looked for Robin, looked for his body. He held out hope. 

Jack considered getting in the water to look but decided against it. Whatever it was that took his friend, he wanted no part of it. 

The worst part of it all, no one believed his story about the swirling water. Because of the saltwater, no one believed it possible for a strong boy to drown in the lake. The whispers, though, were that Jack had killed Robin. Most people were charitable and said it was an accident. Those two boys, their fathers away, their mothers reckless, probably got a hold of a pistol or rifle and were messing around. Poor Robin probably was the victim of an accident and his body now long eaten by coyotes.

No one believed the story Jack told.

The normal comfort of sympathy was denied him.

Guilt swelled. There in the Dairy Queen he felt the condemnation of everyone else in the restaurant. He slid out of the booth and stood up, ready to run out into the hot sunshine. But before he could turn, a strong hand settled on his shoulder from behind. 

“Have a sit, Jack.” 

Jack turned around and saw it was Old Man Glover. He was tall, his hair gray, but not cut short like the other old men. His hair was thick and long, well past his shoulders. On his head was a wide brimmed straw hat. His hazel eyes were bright, not dimmed by age or illness. He wore his usual attire, a pair of khaki pants, white cotton shirt, and a red bandanna around his neck. His gray beard hung low below his chin. A coffee cup was in his hand.

“I said sit, Jack. I want to talk to you.”

Jack did not sit. He looked down. Tears fell from his eyes and made puddles on the brown tile floor. Through sobs he said, “I am sorry Mr. Glover. I am sorry I was on your ranch. I am sorry me and Robin went swimming. I am sorry . . .” His words became inaudible.

“Jack, sit. We need to talk.” 


“What is the last thing you remember about Robin?” Mr. Glover asked Jack.

“His face,” Jack said this without taking time to evaluate the question or questioner because it was all he could think about. “His face looked terrified. He died afraid.”

“He was afraid,” Mr. Glover said. “But we don’t know about how he died.”

“What do you mean? Do you think he is still alive?”

“I know he is still alive.”

“What the blazes are you talking about, old man. If you know where Robin is, we need to tell the sheriff. We need to get him right now.” Jack slid toward the edge of the seat, but Mr. Glover reached his hand out and stopped him.

“It is funny, you calling me an old man,” Mr. Glover said. Now the tears came from his eyes, but not in large drops like Jack’s. Mr. Glover’s tears formed moist in the hazel eye, then found the corner and made the slow but certain journey down his cheek and to the edge of his gray beard. “Robin was afraid, but not anymore.” 

“I still don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“I am Robin.” He swallowed his own name as words were hard to form. The emotion of the moment was too much for him. “In fact,” he cleared his throat, “I haven’t gone by that name in such a long time I’d almost forgotten who I am. Or who I was.”

“I don’t believe you,” Jack said. “You’re just that old kook who lives out by himself. You’re not even Baptist.” 

“A man can be two people at the same time. I am the old kook, that is true. I am also Robin.”

“How can that be?”

“I don’t know. It used to be something I tried to solve, like a puzzle or a riddle. I researched, read, studied old legends, looked at the newest science discoveries, but eventually I quit trying to understand what happened. It is what it is.”

“Then what happened to Robin? How did you get so old?”

“The vortex that formed in the lake sucked me under. It made my eyes sting and burn as I fought and fought and kicked. I remembered something our old third grade teacher, Mrs. Smithwyck said about riptides. Don’t ask me why I remembered, but she said you can’t fight them. You just have to let it take you and then when it is over you swim to shore. So, I stopped fighting and the current kept dragging me deeper and deeper. I was losing my breath and I knew I would drown. But just as I thought I was a goner, the current pushed me into a cavern where the water turned into a stream that ran through it. There was a shoreline on both sides.”

“And the air was breathable?” Jack nodded his head.

“Yes,” Mr. Glover said. “I was tired from fighting and I sat there for a long time and recovered my breath. Light came up from the water, like there was a giant lightbulb under it making it glow.”

“Did you swim back out?” Jack’s eyes had grown large with curiosity.

“I couldn’t. The current was like a rapid pushing through the narrow hole in the cavern. “Jack, there were animals down there.”

“Animals?” Jack whispered. 

“Some I recognized as dinosaurs, and others were things I had never seen before and have never seen sense. Not in life or in a book.”

“You’re pulling my leg, old man.” 

“I’m not, Jack. Look in my eyes. Can you see it is me? I am telling you the truth.” 

Jack looked into the man’s eyes and there he saw his old friend, who a week earlier had sat in this same booth and was ten years old. Now here he was an old man. 

Mr. Glover continued. “I followed the water for what felt like about a mile. It might have been more, but eventually it darted back underneath the ground but not until it led to the back end of a cave. It wasn’t very big, but I could see light up ahead. I followed the light until I emerged in the middle of a great field filled with buffalo. 

“Buffalo?”

“Buffalo. There must have been ten thousand of them.”

“I’ve never seen a buffalo around here,” Jack shook his head. “In fact, I’ve never seen a buffalo.” 

“I hadn’t either,” Mr. Glover said.

“When you came out, were you all old and wrinkly?”

Mr. Glover laughed. “No, I was young, young as you.”

“Then how did you get so old in two weeks? And what did you do with the real Mr. Glover?”

“I am Mr. Glover.” Robin took a sip from the Styrofoam coffee cup. “Jack, this is where it gets really weird. When I came out, it wasn’t 1983. It was 1845.”

“You’re crazy?” Jack laughed. “Either this is the most messed up thing ever, or you’re a lunatic who thinks he’s my best friend who died two weeks ago.”

“I am your best friend. I did not drown. But I am old.”

“Prove it!” Jack said. His voice was loud enough that two middle-aged women three booths over gave them dirty looks.

“I expected that,” Mr. Glover said. “There is probably still a scratch on your leg. When we were going to the salt lake, you tore your jeans on the barbed wire. I made fun of you and your torn pants. I think I teased you about a girl. I can’t remember her name. It has been so long.”

“Angie,” Jack’s skepticism vanished. 

“Angie Reynolds,” Robin finished it. “Now I remember. She was friends of my sister.” 

Jack said, “How did you know about that? I told no one.”

“I am Robin.”

“No, you’re creepy old Mr. Glover.”

“I am both.”

“But,” Jack started counting on his fingers, “If you came out in 1845, then, you’d be long dead by now with Davey Crockett and Sam Houston. You’d be more than old. You’d be an artifact.”

“I can’t explain that either.” He smiled. “Whatever happened to me made me age slower. I still got older, but I didn’t reach puberty until the 1890s which was good because that kept me from having to get involved in the Civil War. In fact, I am not actually as old as you think. I dress a certain way, act a certain way, and speak a certain way to make people think I am older than I really am. If I were to shave off this beard and wear regular clothes, you’d think I was in my early forties.”

“You were alive in the Civil War?” 

“Sure was, and I spent most of the war here. You can’t believe how awful it was when I first came out of the cavern. I was naked and didn’t have anything. What I really missed was my knife. You just don’t know what a wonderful tool a pocketknife is until you don’t have it. Things would have gone much better if I’d had it. And clothes.” Robin shuddered. “My real problem was Comanches. They almost killed me three times before I finally got enough sense to move back East for a while ‘til things calmed down.”

“But what happened to Mr. Glover?”

“I told you, I am Mr. Glover. Since I didn’t get older, every twenty years or so I would move somewhere else under a new name. The benefit was all those books I read when I was a kid that you made fun of me about, told me what would happen so I always knew what companies would do well. I invested my money wisely. I also won a lot of money betting on football games. It still broke my heart to see it twice, but I won so much money betting against the Cowboys in that game with San Francisco. And I made even more than that by predicting Dwight Clark would make the catch to win the game. Now I am so rich I can buy anything I want. Which is what I did about thirty years ago when I bought all that land out there where the salt lake is.”

Wait?” Jack said. “When we snuck in, we were actually sneaking into your own property?”

“Yep.” 

“Why didn’t you tell us. Why not stop us from going swimming?”

“Because for me, it had already happened, several lifetimes ago. My life is good, and now I think it will get better, because I finally have my old friend back. I’ve been waiting a hundred and thirty-eight years for this.”  


Jack and Robin laughed for a long time. Jack hadn’t laughed since he saw Robin go under the water at the lake, so it was a great emotional release to feel joy again. Robin told Jack all about steamboats, the first cars and how he traveled to Michigan and invested early in Ford Motor Company. He explained about how Germany had a lot of sympathizers in America before the war started. Then he went on to talk about the fear he felt in the 1960s as the country divided again a hundred years after the Civil War.

After two long hours, they walked out of the Dairy Queen into the hot Panhandle sun. Jack was still laughing, a grin permanently formed on his mouth. Robin laughed too, until he felt the pain in his chest. 

“Jack,” he sat down on a bench. “I think it’s over. I think the years just caught up with me.”

Jack realized what Robin meant. “But I just got you back. I just got you back. You can’t leave me again. Not again!”

“You’ll always have me.” Robin collapsed to the ground.

After his death, the whole town was amazed with the eccentric old man’s choice to leave his entire his hundred million dollar fortune and ranch to the boy whose best friend drowned in his own lake two weeks prior.


It was September, and Jack was sitting on the shoreline of the salt lake. His salt lake. It all felt like a dream. He still lived with his parents and the money was in a blind trust for him until he turned twenty-one. Most of that didn’t matter to Jack. It was the expansive property he’d enjoyed roaming. He always came back to the shoreline of the salt lake. Today, he brought a bag with him.

He tied the bag to his waist and floated out into the middle of the lake. He waited. Jack floated there for at least two hours in the blistering sun. Nothing happened. He prayed. Nothing happened. He repeated this procedure every evening after school and on weekends. A cold front came through on Monday morning, Halloween. Jack didn’t care. The sun was already low in the sky and it was freezing cold. Nevertheless, he stripped down and tied the plastic bag to his waist and floated out to the middle where he’d seen the vortex before.

This time, it happened. The vortex formed. Jack didn’t fight it. He did just as Robin had said. He let the current take him. Soon, he surfaced in what he assumed was the same cavern Robin had emerged from. He followed the stream until it disappeared. He walked toward the light. When he came out of the tiny cave, he saw a naked ten-year-old boy surrounded by a herd of buffalo. 

He yelled out, “Hey Robin, I brought your clothes. And your knife.” 

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Nina’s Potato Salad

COVID-19 is kicking into a different gear here in Texas. That means people are gonna need some comfort food. One of the greatest comfort foods is old-fashioned potato salad. Here is the recipe for my mother’s potato salad. I have only altered it a bit.


Ingredients

  • 5 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
  • yellow mustard
  • Miracle Whip (my mother used Hellman’s mayonnaise – this is my one variation)
  • one large purple onion, diced
  • five kosher pickle spears, diced
  • pickle juice
  • six hard boiled eggs, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is a simple dish, but the procedure matters. The hardest part is peeling the potatoes. Boil them in a large pot until they can be easily stuck with a fork. Drain them.

Put the onion in the bottom of the pot you cooked the potatoes in. Then put the potatoes on top of the onion. This little bit of heat blanches the onions a bit which makes the dish savory and keeps the onions from being too crunch.

Mash the potatoes directly into the onions with a potato masher. Don’t work at this too hard. If this is difficult, you didn’t boil your potatoes long enough. Just break them up nicely. When that is finished, add the mustard. I just squirt it all over the top without any measurement. The mustard gives zing, but the main job here is coloring. However yellow you want your potato salad will tell you how much mustard you want. I know I can add more later, so I play this conservatively.

Add one large spoonful of the Miracle Whip. Again, I don’t measure, but this comes to about a quarter of a cup. In my opinion, you really can’t use too much, so don’t fret.

The real magic is the next step — add two tablespoons (I just eyeball it) of pickle juice. You can’t get enough pickles in dish to give it enough pickle flavor. You need the juice. Throw in salt and pepper as you desire. I use kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Use a mixer (I have an ancient 5-speed electric hand mixer) to blend all these ingredients up. When they are well balanced, taste it. Now is the time to add more pickle juice, mustard, Miracle Whip, or salt and pepper. Make it the way you like it. After adding what was lacking, mix it a little more until it is thoroughly blended.

Throw in your sliced pickles and eggs and stir them by hand with a large wooden spoon. When finished stirring, lick the spoon!

Some people prefer to eat this hot. Mrs. Greenbean is one of those people. I usually pull out a bowl for her to eat right then. I like it cold, so I make it the day before I want it. On July 4th, I serve potato salad, so July 3rd always finds me in the kitchen. It is the perfect dish for a picnic, a large gathering, potluck, or in these COVID-19 days it makes us feel all good inside. It pairs nicely with barbecue, hot dogs, fried chicken, asparagus or fruit. When coupled with a slice of white bread, it makes for a meal all by itself.

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Love The Story, But I Just Don’t Know If A Ford Probe Can Do That Kind Of Damage?

My old friends and I are at it again.

What is “it” you ask? No, not spending our weekends mummifying neighborhood cats. We’re saving that if things get real bad. What we are doing is writing you free stories.

Previously, we’ve shared free COVID-19 related stories. That is now over (although, I hear rumors of a book coming later) but we want to keep sharing stories with you. They are un-themed and unrelated. Our brave leader, Joseph Courtemanche takes the first slot with a tragic tale of music, strong drink, and regret. It is really about crime and punishment. In fact, this is the story Dostoevksy wanted to write!

We will run these free stories every Wednesday. I am scheduled in two weeks (July 22) and all the usual suspects are playing along — Courtemanche, Shaw, Elkins, Cely, Kexel, and Bennett.

Click on the picture of the Ford Probe to read “Mulroney’s Mariachis”.

The Probe really was one of the ugliest sports cars ever.

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Theme Song?

I worked a little this morning on the last Elijah sermon (in three weeks) and a few other housekeeping things, but for the most part me and the rest of our church staff are taking today off as our Independence Day break. Therefore, I have the time to [FINALLY] write that blog which has been in my head for about a week.

With July 1, we crossed over the halfway point of the year 2020. It has been some humdinger of a year. We are all praying for a better second half — for COVID-19 to be tamed, the economy to turn around, peaceful elections in November, and for the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series. But . . . we aren’t yet to that happy ending. So, my question is, which song do you think best describes 2020 so far? Which is your theme song?

I have given you ten to choose from various genres.

Remember, you have to click the big VOTE button at the bottom for it to count.

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Happy 244th Birthday!

A couple of years ago I made this list of things I love about my nation — the United States of America — and it is all still true. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe celebration of Independence Day. Maybe make your own list. I’d love to see it.


  1. I love that we have three co-equal branches of government.
  2. I love that criticizing leadership, elected officials, and policies we disagree with is an act of patriotism. America was born in rebellion!
  3. I love Election Nights. I’ll take Super Tuesday results over a Super Bowl any day.
  4. I love the Bill of Rights and the fundamental freedoms–religion, speech, press, assembly, personal protection, and trial by jury.
  5. I love that we can amend our Constitution to correct wrongs, like slavery.
  6. I love all of those Lincoln/Kennedy comparisons.
  7. I love that spot in Michigan where I can look south and be looking at Canada.
  8. I love that the French helped us beat the Brits, and then we repaid the favor by kicking the Nazi’s out of France.
  9. I love the ideals of our Founding Fathers–equality, opportunity, fairness under the law, and liberty.
  10. I love that we chose English as our language, because English is so messed up and thus is more fun to play with.
  11. I love that Texas history is pretty much American history.
  12. I love the Southwest–desert, cactus, dry, and beautiful.
  13. I love Puget Sound.
  14. I love the sugar white beaches of Destin.
  15. I love the unique characteristic of each region of the nation, that New Yorkers and Idahoans share the same love of country and national destiny, but not the same culture.
  16. I love how we are an amalgamation of so many different peoples–Germans, French, Mexican, Irish, Iranian, Native American, Polynesian, and so many other rich heritages that add to this unique experience of being American.
  17. I love the classic movies of Hollywood–Casablanca, Red River, North by Northwest, Bullitt, and Mars Attacks.
  18. I love Hamburgers with mustard, onions, tomatoes and French fries doused in ketchup washed down with a cherry Coke.
  19. I love American cars and blue jeans.
  20. I love the American Flag. It has an intrinsic beauty beyond the sum of its parts.
  21. I love baseball at the diamond on a hot day.
  22. Speaking of baseball, I love that our national anthem is practically unsingable–because who wants an easy national anthem!
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Under The What?

I’ve got something to share with you I am really excited about.

Back in March when the first round of COVID-19 happened, we stopped having in-person worship services. One of the tools we used to substitute (there really is no substitute for congregational worship, but doing nothing really is not an option) was a podcast feel in which we talked about the material I was planning on preaching. Some of this was on Daniel and some of it was from encounters people had with Jesus.

Those were fun, but they were, intentionally, built like a group sermon experience with no real surprises and not conversational. But what we discovered was we had the technical ability to do it.

That planted in our mind an idea: our small groups are all, for the most part, in a kind of limbo right now — what can we do?

What we decided to do was develop a podcast with me and our pastoral staff talking about Biblical material as you would a small group. The more we planned, the more we decided this was just a good idea all around to supplement our teaching ministry and to provide something that might substitute (again, there is no substitute for real life small groups) during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

We have recorded and published two episodes and will record one weekly for the foreseeable future. We call it UNDER THE WATER TOWER because our church building is right underneath a city water tower. We even have bumper music! How cool is that?

I hope you enjoy it. Click on our artwork below (thanks John Trapane for building it) to listen.

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Its A Free Story — About Freedom!

Joseph Courtemanche started us off with the very first COVID Chronicle about a hundred years ago (actually, it was only three months ago, but it feels like a hundred years) with disease, death, and ABBA. CLICK HERE to read that inaugural story again, or, read it again for the first time? It is only appropriate that he finish us up with another great read. I am always impressed with how efficient Joseph is with getting the short story out there. He doesn’t need a lot of time or words because his prose is tight.

It has been a real honor to write with all my colleagues here. Paul Bennett makes me want to take a walk in the woods. Kathy Kexel inspires me to consider the sweetness in life. Derek Elkins brings a sense of fun and joy to the story. Rob Cely is a reflective thinker who takes us deep into our own soul. Joe Shaw is destined for celebrity because he speaks with mighty plots. and here we have Courtemanche, the wordsmith.

We’ve written these stories for your enjoyment. No fee, no charge, no paywall, no newsletter signup, no gimmicks. You can find the links all here by scrolling down my blog or at their own individual blog pages. Do visit them, and buy their books — Rob, Derek, Paul, Joe, Joseph, and I all have books for sale at Amazon and whether or not our children eat dinner next week depends on how many books you buy. So, there is that.

Click on the chainsaw to read What About The Window.

Click on the Husqvarna label. If you click the tree, you’ll wake up in Minnesota in January. Courtemanche tells me that is awful.

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The Light Is Free, Even Though It Is Costly

Today in the penultimate COVID Chronicle Derek Elkins goes full on Derek Elkins with a great three-scene story about light in a dark world. His story reminds me of the famous MLK quote — “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Click on King’s picture to read “Light and Darkness”

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Free Sermon

I’m feeling a theme for this week’s COVID Chronicles. It is our last week, and the theme is theology. Trust me, no one coordinated this because we’re not that smart. But that is what has happened — Kathy on Monday, Shaw yesterday, and then today Rob Cely does it again.

Click on the garden hose to read his story, “The Last Sermon of Daniel Ramone”.

After you read the story, you’ll see how dark this image choice was. You’re welcome.

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A Free Translation

This story . . . oh my. I just don’t have the words to do it justice. Joe Shaw is a treasure we know about and the rest of the world will some day recognize as such. Today’s COVID Chronicle is a parable we need today. We. Us. All of us.

Click on the Codex Vaticanus to read Joe’s story, “New Translation.” You might want to pray before you begin.

It dates to the fourth century A.D. So it is nearly as old as Joe Shaw himself.

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The Warm Fuzzies You’ll Get Reading This Are Completely Free

Last week Paul Bennett hooked us, and this week he reels us in. I have to admit, there was a ‘plot twist’ here I didn’t see coming, so that was good.

Click on the baby bottle to read, “As It Is In Heaven: Part 2.” If you missed the first installment, CLICK HERE to read, “As It Is In Heaven: Part 1.”

Click on the bottle to read the story, but not the nipple. If you click the nipple a baby will show up on your doorstep.

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The Tree Might Be Dead But The Splinters Are Free

When you read a short story, and then its over, and you spend a lot of time trying to think what it was telling you and deciding it could be fifteen different things — all of the fifteen things — you know the story was good. That is what we have here with Joe Shaw’s outstanding “Dead Tree”. Those of you who are regular readers of Shaw expect a certain level of gore and mayhem but this one is tame by his standards and that means it is safe for all audiences.

Click on the Creature From The Black Lagoon to read the story.

Click one of his claws to read the story. If you click his nose, all your trees will die.

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Free Amish Literature — Bonnet and Buggy Not Included

You need to read today’s COVID Chronicle from Joseph Courtemanche for one simple reason: crust production. I don’t think I’ver ever seen those two words put together before in a working English sentence.

Click on the bucket of apples to read “The Bishop’s Son, The Mule, And The Maiden”.

Don’t click the bucket! Get it, instead of kick I said click. It’ll be funnier after you read the story

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The COVID Chronicle in which Janelle Gets The U.S. Government To Pay For Her Vacation At A Wisconsin B & B

You will definitely want to read the conclusion (I think?) to Kathy Kexel’s “Secrets” Storyline. It seems to be a consensus among us writers in this little crazy COVID Chronicle cadre of characters that Kathy needs to develop Janelle and introduce a novel. I have ideas for her to work into the plot, but I don’t know if aliens know where Kronenwetter is. Is that a real place, or did she make that up? You read it and tell me what you think. Sounds like middle-aged incontinence to me. I guess it all Depends.

Click on the thumb drive to read Secrets III. If you haven’t read the first two parts, CLICK HERE for Secrets and then HERE for SECRETS II.

If you click the trackpad the CDC will confiscate all the dairy products in your home.

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This Free Story Comes With Free Tears

One of the things we love about Paul Bennett is his vocation. He is a real-life doctor. As such, I wonder how much of this COVID-Chronicle’s backstory comes from his own experiences? You will love this one, and I can’t wait for the second part.

Click on the deer in headlights to read “As It Is In Heaven, Part 1”.

You must click on the buck’s antlers. If you click the headlights, you’ll wake up smashed into a tree.

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FREE (Story) Delivery

Joe Shaw specializes in twisted stories with a strong dose of violence. Don’t believe me? Check this one out (click here) or this one (click here).

But not today. Today we have a heartwarming story about a man who recovers hope. Click on the road leading up to the Oregon vineyard to read his story “Special Deliveries”.

If you click on the barn in the background, a dragon will dismember you. It is what Joe wants.

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This Is The Free Story You Need Right Now

Stories help us in so many ways, but one palpable way they help us is by giving respite from the pressures of our world. We’ve been writing COVID Chronicles to help with this, and now we find in our culture even more turmoil.

Stories can help.

Stories always help.

Derek Elkins has written a story to take you from our world for a just a minute and join his. Our Chronicles have had all kinds of genre mashups, but we’e not had myth and fantasy. Derek gives us both. Click on the tear catcher to read “The Farmer, The Demon, and the Canyon of the Four Winds”.

Click on the middle of the vial. If you click the top, the water demon will suck your soul from out of your eyeballs. Just saying.

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A Story So FREE It Will Make You Smile

Today’s free story is from Joseph Courtemanche . . . so they say. The tone is a little too cheery and upbeat, too optimistic. I wonder if someone didn’t ghost write this?

But let me take a serious moment. Joseph lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Anyone of you watching the news know what that means. Please take a moment to pray for him, his family, and his city.

After you’ve prayed, click on the charcoal grill to read “There Are Masked Men In My Driveway”.

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Today’s Story, In Which We Learn Janelle is A FREE-loader

Kathy Kexel brings the conclusion (maybe? feels like room for a sequel?) to her murder mystery centered around mysterious envelopes, unpaid for soda at the bar, shockingly well appointed bed and breakfasts, and a lot of town names that sound like they were just made up.

Click on the Maine Coon’s gigantic head to read “Secrets–II”. If you missed the first part, “Secrets”, CLICK HERE.

If you click on the woman, you’ll be arrested for arson and attempted murder OR worse
you’ll have to pay Janelle’s bills

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This Free Story Is Daring You To Read It!

I went full on sci-fi spec-fit for this one. I hope you like it.

Remember, these COVID-Chronicle stories are free — no hooks or gimmicks, no paywalls or email’s to give. We just want to give you something to read during the quarantine. Of course, if you like or stuff, feel free to buy something over at the Amazons. I have books over there just waiting for you to read them.


The Parallax

A COVID Chronicle Short Story

Jamie D. Greening

 “The humans are in trouble,” Archon Streegan stood as she made her report. “And the situation has become,” she snorted before continuing, closing all four of her eyes, “worse.”

“We know all about the problems they are having with the malady. My hope is for their numbers to decrease and so too their impact upon the world.” The Exalted Alpha of the Council of Wise Ones was famous for his disdain of humans. Since they exploded atomic weapons he’d secretly itched for their demise. Many of the Nunaki agreed with him, which is why he was chosen as the Exalted Alpha. Sharing the same planet with humanity was a judgment they accepted from The Creator, but it was not one they enjoyed. 

“The good news, then,” Streegan said, “is that very well may happen. Our prediction is ten percent of their population will perish from the malady.”

“That is not near enough for my taste,” The Exalted Alpha hissed. Many of the other council members chirped their approval. “Ten percent doesn’t remove the stench of their combustion engines or cleanse the waves in the air of their perversion.”

Streegan’s face turned from its natural blue to a bright yellow. This quieted the group. “I must present evidence from our science departments about the nature of this depletion and its implications to my brothers and sisters, fellow archons and superiors. Please allow me.” She bowed and tilted her head to the archon side of the room, then to the superior side of the room, and finally to the Exalted Alpha on his pedestal.

“Many apologies, dear sister archon,” The Exalted Leader said. “Please continue.”

“Blessings and thanksgivings to you, O Exalted Benefactor.” Streegan said, still bowed. Then she stood upright again. “The malady is spread by contact with people. This is a situation we do not deal with in our realm, but in the other parallax, this is the way this particular malady operates. Because of this, the common people will mostly be spared because they turn in fewer circles. It is the leaders, heads of governments, the archons, superiors, and exalteds of human society who will expire in greater percentages. Leaders of business, industry, science, and the learned classes will fade away leaving the masses to their own devices. The result will be incompetence. Great incompetence is already occurring. It will get worse. Destabilization will occur. Wars will erupt. Warships are even now being deployed across our seas. Suspicion and paranoia are rampant. Conspiracies are fluid.

“We’ve been monitoring humans for millennia and know their patterns better than they know themselves. Wars, violence, and societal dislocation will take another fifty percent. Many who are left will die of other diseases and starvation.”

Streegan could see from the looks on their faces they were unconcerned. Their inability to see the symbiosis of their two races frustrated her. The ancient books were clear about how linked the two were, but since the rise of New Thinking there was nothing but disgust for the humans. 

“If this were the only news I had, I understand why you would dismiss it,” she said. “And I would concur there would be nothing we could do. But there is more to convey. Our analytical team has retrieved a sample of the malady and we have spent considerable energy dissecting it. This is not a new woe. It is old. Very old. We don’t know how the humans reacquired it. It dates back to the Time Before.”

“The Time Before?” Archon Dmnstryn was embarrassed by his outburst, but others chirped. He would not be punished for the breach in protocol.

“Yes, Before. This is the same malady which took our ancestors away forever. It is the same.”

“Are you sure, Archon Streegan?” The Exalted Leader’s color became green.

“Yes. I am sure, and I share the concern.” Her color turned green as well, as did most in the room. We have checked and double checked. It is identical to the First Woe.” She took a deep breath and twitched antennae. “But we have a plan and we have retrieved the remedy from the Holy Place. We should give the remedy to the humans. If we can stop the spread of the malady in their realm it will not penetrate our parallax. Our survival depends upon saving them.”


Superior Ptolmex stepped to the middle of the room and bowed low toward Archon Streegan then pivoted toward The Exalted Leader. Her actions indicated she was requesting to ask a question. The Exalted Leader’s color turned red signaling his approval.  

“How can this be done? There is no place of concourse which now exists between our realms? The last concourse closed when The Flood came.”

“This is partially true,” Streegan said. “Open intersection is no longer possible. Yet there remain humans who still see glimpses of our realm. There is one we have identified who sees well. Our plan is to give the remedy to him. What I need from this council is permission to proceed.”

The severity of the situation and the consequences of inaction overwhelmed the normally slow decision-making process. There were no conventions held or days of fasting and reflection. The Council members all turned ash gray without deliberation. Permission was granted.

***

Sometimes the air shimmered. Other times it folded, the way a meringue folds on itself while being whipped in a copper bowl if it were translucent. Often, he could see shapes moving but mostly he could only hear pleasant tones of beeps and chirps, like birds, but with a sense of grammar. 

 Ezra Feldman tried to explain it to his mother when he was twelve. He was rewarded for his honesty with a year’s worth of visits to a psychiatrist. When he was in college, he shared the experience with a professor. The professor suggested he take LSD to explore the possibilities of opening his mind to what was happening. He followed this advice with his girlfriend one night. They were awakened the next morning by the person trying to clean the bathroom of the Taco Bell. He had “Don’t Fear the Reaper” written on his chest with magic marker and a phone number written on a piece of cardboard in his underwear. 

He never called the number.

After his firstborn entered the world, he developed a good relationship with his rabbi. One night at dinner, he spoke with him about it. The rabbi suggested Ezra might be one of those people who could peer into the in-between space. He encouraged him to open his mind and clear his thoughts when he had those moments and to focus upon the transcendent and endless nature of God. 

“Perhaps,” his rabbi told him as he stuck Peking duck into his mouth with a chopstick, “you are having a philosophical breakthrough into the essence of being.”

“Or,” Ezra said, “I’m a lunatic.”

“It must remain a distinct possibility,” the rabbi laughed.

That was twenty years ago. 

When the air shimmered and folded this time, he didn’t care about existence or lunacy. He only hoped for one thing. He hoped to see Jo. “Maybe if I look hard enough, I can see you,” he whispered.

It was predawn, about five-thirty in the morning. Ezra drank coffee and read the news on his phone. He heard it first. When he looked up from his phone, for the first time in a very long time, he saw the air shimmer. The folds seemed more pronounced, truer than ever. There was color to the moment, but he couldn’t make out what color it was or where it came from. Jo loved color. Everything about her was shining color. Maybe she was trying to speak to him from wherever it was the dead lived.

“Jo, is that you?” His voice lifted at the end. “Please God, let it be her.”

The memory of her crushed him. The virus. The coughing. The hospital. Not being able to see her. Saying goodbye on a phone. The pathetic funeral with no mourners. 

“Jo,” he said again, standing up. He reached out his hand toward the ruffle in space. “I love you. Come back. Please baby, come back.” 

He focused as hard as he could, but he couldn’t hold grab the essence. The shimmering stopped. The color drained. The feeling left. The moment was gone. 

Ezra left his study to take a shower. He was at work by seven. There were two heart procedures he had to perform before noon. It was lighter than his normal workload as the COVID-19 restrictions on surgeries put regular operations on hold. But these couldn’t wait.

By five he was home to his empty house. He ate an apple and drank a half glass of mineral water then decided to go for a walk.

The park was lovely with the leaves golden; it was exactly the way Jo loved it. It was their park. They even bought a row of benches for the alder trees. A bronze plaque with “Ezra and Joanna Feldman: Earth Day 1998” on each one. The autumn sunlight faded as he returned home.

He was as agitated and antsy as he was before he’d left. The pills were in the medicine cabinet. He thought about taking a couple. It would probably help him. He doubted he’d be able to sleep without them.

He didn’t take them, though. He wanted to feel the misery. It was the only thing he’d felt since April. 

***

“We are ready for our next attempt, Archon Streegan.” The keeper of science stood erect on two of her four legs as she waited for a reply.   

“Good. This time, we will succeed.”

Streegan took her spot underneath the ancient terebinth of Avram. The first attempt had taken a toll on her mind and body. The tree too, needed time to heal. The ancient bark had cracked. They mended it with balm and words of love.

One hundred and forty-four lengths away, The Order of Keepers formed a circle around the tree and their archon. When Streegan turned the color of amber, they began to chirp in rhythm the incantation they’d kept for thousands of years. Archon Streegan allowed her mind to rest, then placed her flat face against the knot on the tree. She formed the image of the human in her head then chirped the liturgical response of the keepers. She forced the energy from her feet, through her torso, and up to her brain and out of her antennae.  

There he was. The one named Ezra.

She called his name in her heart. Words would not work. The beautiful clicks and chirps of her language was too different from the barbaric grunts of humanity. She had to make the connection through her soul to his. 

Ezra heard his name.

\He’d fallen asleep in his bed while reading a book. He awoke to the shimmer. 

And the sound. 

“Jo,” he said. “Jo?”

“Ezra,” Streegan called to him.

He sat up. His nightstand light still on, but the light from it danced. The space at the foot of the bed shimmered, and parted. Ezra squinted his eyes at the rainbow colors which poured out of the prism of energy that created the doorway between the two realms.  

“I have something important for you.” Streegan said.

“You don’t sound like Jo?”

“I am not Jo. I am another. We must make haste. I do not know how long we can maintain the portal. Speed and efficiency are necessary. Do you understand.”

Ezra did not, but he said, “Yes.”

Streegan began her rehearsed speech. “You are a healer. We have for you the way to heal your realm of the malady.”

“COVID-19?”

“Yes,” Streegan said. “Open your mind and I will give it to you.”

 “Open what?” The middle-of-the-night visitation made Ezra a literalist as he thought the voice from the rainbow was intending to open his skull. “Are you about to hurt me?”

“No, it will not hurt.” Streegan picked up Ezra’s underdeveloped brain patterns and saw his concern. “We will not touch you. Be calm and let me tell you the balm. Rest your thoughts.”

“You sound like the rabbi,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and thought about the rainbow of light. Streegan found the thought thread she was seeking, then her antennae began to vibrate at supersonic speeds. The crackle came through the portal; it carried in one message the precise technique and materials necessary to formulate a cure.

Ezra opened his eyes and stared into the rainbow. His bond with Streegan was strong enough now to see her on the other side. He saw the tree she stood under, her four legs, four arms, horse-like torso, hard angular face similar to an ant, blue color, glowing antennae, and four eyes.

Thinking of his grandson he asked, “Will the cure you gave me hurt the babies?”

“No,” Streegan said. Her tone reminded him of his grandmother. She sounded very old and wise. “The unborn will not be harmed. Larvae are precious in the eyes of The Creator. It is not necessary to destroy life to save life. The malady itself is alive and has agency. To destroy its evil, you must use the essence of new life which has not seen the corruption wrought by freedom. Purity is needed to remove and replace the impure.”

Ezra said, “I am only a surgeon. I don’t treat this kind of illness.”

“You must find a way. Two realms depend on you.”

“I’ll do my best.” His eyes widened, “Did Jo send you? Is she with you?”

“None of your kind are here.”

“Why are you helping us, then, if Jo didn’t send you.”

“The malady, what we call The Old Woe, affected our realm a long, long time ago when the two realms were closer together. In those days we had concourse with your kind. Your people were just beginning, and the pestilence did not cause as much damage to humans as it did to the Nunaki, but it did indeed come to us from you. I remember, I was a pupa then. To prevent your filth from repeating the same contamination of our realm, we have decided to help you in order to preserve our way of life.”

“I thought Jo sent you. This seems like the kind of thing she would do.” Ezra shook his head. “Do you know where Jo is? Do you know where the dead go?”

“The dead go Beyond to the Ultimate Realm.”

“Will I ever see Jo again?”

“I cannot answer that. But I can tell you, in our realm, we do not live for those who have left. We live for those who are to come.” 

The rainbow disappeared. 

Streegan squeaked. “I am growing weak. The link must end. Make haste, Ezra Feldman.”

“Wait,” Ezra said, but Streegan was gone. He was alone in his bedroom again with only the Wisconsin murder mystery book to keep him company. And his tears. 

Time vanished as he cried. At some point in the night he stopped crying as a thought came to him. An old friend from med-school was his friend on social media and that friend worked at a pharmaceutical lab which he believed had a contract with the CDC. He grabbed his phone and sent his friend a message detailing the cure which was shared with him.

\He put on his walking shoes and walked to the park again, in the dark. He didn’t need light; the harvest moon was up high and bright. He sat on one of their benches and listened to owls talk to each other. At dawn he walked home. His feet were cold, but his heart strangely grew warm. 

When he walked in the door his phone chirped. His friend had replied, “This is brilliant. How did you figure this out?”

Ezra typed out, “I saw it in a dream. I think Jo sent it to me.”

***

“Archon Streegan, how are things with the vexatious humans?”

“I am happy to report, Exalted Alpha,” Streegan bowed low and turned blue, “our plan has prospered. The malady has been healed and a woe has been averted.”

The archons and superiors all turned yellow. The remainder of the meeting consisted of issues from other archons and superiors such as food allocations and education. When the meeting ended, Archon Streegan went to the Cave of Memory. She found the alcove her tribe and then the stalagmite with her clan. There she saw the names and images of her larvae and their offspring for numerous generations. Then she came to the name and images of her father and mother. They died in the Old Woe. She remembered, and her color turned to ash. “Where do the dead go?” she asked. 

Featured

Liberty Isn’t Free But This Story Is

The primary theme of our COVID Chronicles, of course, has been having fun with a very serious issue. By fun we mean everything from diabolical mad scientists to serial killers in nursing homes to Faustian deals with a mint julep drinking Devil.

Joseph Courtemanche, though, as the chief architect of these stories, likes to add extra themes on significant days. On Easter he brought the power of Resurrection alongside the reality of COVID. Today he continues with a gift that weaves our overarching theme into the solemnity of Memorial Day by wondering aloud: What if everyone forgot?

Enjoy today’s patriotic story, because tomorrow I’m the featured writer and I’m bringing some weird stuff.

Click on the picture of the Boy Scout to read “Where Did They Go?”

Click On The Boy Scout to Read the Story: Click On The Flag And You Will Wake Up In Boot Camp

Featured

FREE KITTENS! — Okay, Not Really: FREE KITTEN STORY Is More Accurate

Paul Bennett is the resident nature writer on staff here at the COVID Chronicles. Today he gives us a heartwarming, bittersweet story about a young boy who makes a surprising find in the underbrush that changes him.

This is the last story for this week. Joe Courtemanche is bringing our Memorial Day story on Monday and I am bringing the HEAT on Tuesday.

Click on the confused face of the goat being milked to read “A Funeral For A Sparrow”.

‘Handle With Care’

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This Story Is Free But So Was The Coke Janelle Never Paid For: You Have To Read It To Understand That!

Kathy Kexel sets us up with the first part of what feels like a kind of conspiracy theory meets crime mystery meets Murder She Wrote meets Butch Gregory. Seriously, this could have been a scene from one of my own novels, especially the part about . . . oops, I almost told too much.

Click on the very center of the “trip around the world” quilt to read “Secrets”.

if you click on the animal, Joe Shaw will eat your soul

Featured

Free Flowers For The Yard Of Your Imagination!

Oh wow! I just got home from a long day at work — we are working hard planning the re-opening process of our church as COVID-19 restrictions ease — and I find Joe Shaw’s terrifying parable of modern life. The phrase, ‘This is the way we do things now” will stay with me a while.

If you want to read Joe’s story, “The New Family On Beecher Street” click on the middle red hyacinth. Not the one to the left nor the one to the right. The middle one.

The Middle One!

Remember, these stories are all free — no gimmicks and no tricks. We just want to give you something to read and make you think during this COVID crisis.

Featured

Running With The Devil — Or Something Like That

Derek Elkins creates a memorable character in this story. Before the end comes, I feel like I know her. In my ministry, I’ve spent a lot of time in care facilities, and Elkins catches something of the feisty nonchalance I find in most people who are for one reason or another in a long-term residence.

Click on the WB emblem at the bottom of the picture to read “The Race”.

I wonder if this was the inspiration for Derek’s story?

Featured

That Moment You Realize Where This Story Is Headed . . . Priceless (But Free)

Someone has been reading his Hebrew Bible again!

We’ve all had moments during this COVID-19 lockdown where we’ve ended up mildly obsessing about something a bit too much. Today’s story takes off ‘a bit too much’. I only squirmed a little bit.

Click on the rubber cement bottle to read Joseph Courtemanche’s story, “God’s Rules”.

For the record, I think he’s gonna need a lot more tissue

Featured

This is Free Until Zucc Finds Out About It . . . Then We Will All Pay!

Today’s author, Joe Shaw, calls this “Conspiracy Week” on the COVID Chronicles. Boy is he right. Today he brings us a hum-dinger of world domination, murder, and water quality.

Contrary to what I had said last week, we are not finishing today with the Free Stories. It has bee decided to go another couple of weeks, so be looking for another FREE STORY on Monday. For now, click on the Sweet Potato to read “No One Will Ever Know”.

If you click on the russet potato, you will be put in Facebook Jail

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Free Humus — Another Outstanding COVID Chronicle Story You Don’t Have To Pay For

It is a word a lot of us have wrestled with in the past six weeks: Essential. What is essential, and what can wait? And who gets to make these decisions.

In my state knee replacement surgery is not essential, but liquor stores are. Think about that for a moment.

Along these same lines, Rob Cely has really pushed us to imagine a world where ‘essential’ takes on a whole new meaning; inside that meaning we find a shocking truth that speaks to our hearts about who we are.

As we are accustomed, Rob has shoved some theology in here for you. Enjoy his story “The Unessential” absotively free. Click on the disgusting bowl of humus to read it.

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Featured

There Is A Smattering Of Social Commentary In This FREE Awesome Story

If you’re still shuddering from yesterday’s terrifying angel of death Derek Elkins introduced us to, then today will be a great elixir. Kathy Kexel gives a delightful, and metaphor evoking, tale of invisibility.

Click on the Invisible Man’s shady sunglasses to read her story “Healing Waters.” Remember these are absolutely free, no pay walls, no sign ups, no gimmicks. Our merry band of writers just wants to entertain you a bit during your lockdown.

Featured

The Story is Free, So Are The Nightmares

I need to warn you.

For reals.

Today’s COVID Chronicle is not for the faint of heart. It is good, and very entertaining. But . . . it is not for people who are squeamish or disturbed by images of violence.

That being said, Joe Shaw and Joseph Courtemanche will love it.

This particular tale has a kind of “what makes a serial killer” vibe to it. The difference is this one is written By Derek Elkins, who is an amazing storyteller. Enjoy.

Click on the squirrel in pillow to read “The Man In The Eyes.” We’ll be back tomorrow with another story.

Click on the squirrel — if you click on the bell, bad things will happen to you tonight when you sleep

Featured

What If It All Worked Out Awesome? A Free COVID Chronicles Story

It is with a tinge of sadness that I present to you my last COVID Chronicle. We are wrapping things up next week with five amazing stories from five different authors, but today is my last [checks notes], unless of course we get a great big book deal. Then all bets are off.

Today’s story is one of the first I dreamed up when Joe Shaw, Joseph Courtemanche, and I first started talking about the idea of writing stories for the COVID-19 lockdown. I played with it a whole lot, and enjoyed writing it and hamming it up a bit. I hope you enjoy it, too.


The Vid Kids

A COVID-19 Chronicle

Jamie D. Greening

January 2021

            “That’s six,” Jackson stepped into the break room. “Six this hour.” He plopped onto the sofa, taking off his mask to sip a soda. 

            “I can beat that,” Sandy said. She was the senior nurse in the delivery wing at Memorial Hospital. “I had eight in a single hour Sunday afternoon – from three to four. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Five little girls and three boys.”

            Jackson nodded, “I heard a rumor they are converting part of the hallway on the third floor into a secondary labor and delivery unit until this crisis is over.”

            “It is a nationwide issue we are feeling right here.” Sandy stood up and put her mask back on. “We had more babies born here at Memorial last week than we did the previous five months put together.”

            Jackson said, “I heard the same thing. I just didn’t think it would happen here. I didn’t know there were this many childbearing aged women in the whole county.” He shook his head. “I sure do wish I’d bought stock in diaper companies nine months ago.” Jackson took another sip of his soda. “I guess we’ve finally discovered what people were doing during their COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine.”

            Sandy began to laugh, “Well, yeah. My preacher says from his perspective everyone was either getting pregnant or becoming an alcoholic during those two months.”

            “It seems so distant now,” Jackson said. “Back in the spring we thought the world was ending but the whole thing fizzled. Now here we are with all this renewed life,” he chuckled, “and all these names. Have you taken time to look at some of them?”

            “You mean the one on Monday, who was blessed by her parents with the name Daytona Sharona Corona?”

            “Yeah, that one,” Jackson nodded. And then Saturday there was one called King Covid IV. I’m not kidding—that was the name. King Covid IV. I don’t know what happened to the first, second, and third but the fourth has dark curly hair.”

            While they were talking, a young nurse who had just begun working at the hospital in the summer entered the room. She caught their conversation and said, “I helped deliver twins this morning. A boy named Shelter and a girl named In Place.”

            “You’re making that up!” Sandy waved her hands in protest. “There is no way.”
            “If I’m lying, I’m dying,” the young nurse said. Then she added, “Those kids don’t stand a chance.”

September 2026

            The wind blew the hair of the television reporter for Channel 9 Action News. She stood on the front steps of the school district headquarters. Her camera drone filmed the piece that would lead the local evening news. “They have different names,” she pushed the hair out of her face. “Some call them the Corona Cribbers. A few people use the moniker BabyZoomers in homage to the once popular video platform. Others prefer the double entendre of Trumps Humps. But most call them Vid Kids, the large number of babies born between December of 2020 and February of 2021 as a result of the brief but frightening COVID-19 pandemic. Some communities saw as much as five times the number of children born, and now most of those children are entering the school system. It is the largest demographic since the BabyBoom, and many people are asking what the school district plans to do. Superintendent Bowman is here to answer some questions.”

            The technician operating the camera drone from his home office north of town panned the lens out to include the middle-aged man with an expanding waistline and a shrinking hairline. 

            “Superintendent Bowman, what makes these Vid Kids different from our grandparents who were the BabyBoomers?”

            “Timing. The BabyBoom was a unique demographic and sociological moment in American history, but it took place over a period of about ten years. There wasn’t an instant growth, but rather a ramping up. By contrast the class of 2039 are coming at us in one large group. The class before them is relatively normal sized, and the class behind them, those in preschool right now, is average sized.”

            The reporter turned her head sideways and asked, “What problems does this cause?”

            Bowman snarled, “It would be hard to find a problem it doesn’t cause. We have physical space limitations because we need five times the number of classrooms. We have material problems because we need five times the number of computers and tablets. We have personnel problems because we need five times the number of teachers. We have nutritional problems because we have five times the number of children to feed.” His head quivered. “The problem is compounded by the normal numbers behind this class. Any changes we make will be for one year only which creates instability for twelve consecutive years and that is something we simply can’t abide. We can’t provide five times the number of everything for a single year and then dump it when that year is over for each progressive grade. It would be disastrous.”

            “What is the solution?” She asked him.

            “The solution is radical, but it is the only way the school board can see to move forward. We are asking a group of teachers, some current faculty and many new members of our team, to commit not to teaching kindergarten for one year to accommodate explosive growth, but to commit to thirteen years of moving through the education process with this unique class. We are asking them to embrace the challenge as a possibility for innovation.”

            The reporter’s mouth dropped wide open. “A group of teachers will move through the entire process with the students?” She blinked and bobbed as her mind processed what that would look like. “No new teachers every year? No strange transition to middle school? No freshman awkwardness?”

            Superintendent Bowman nodded his head without saying anything. The reporter recovered and asked, “What about space? This doesn’t solve the space problems?”

            “You’re right, it doesn’t. What we’re doing is partnering with some local churches and religious communities to use their buildings in a rotation system over the next thirteen years. It keeps us from having to pay for new buildings.”

            “Is that legal?”

            “It is perfectly legal, and what is more, it is necessary. It was an extraordinary situation which gave us these children, and it will require extraordinary measures to rise to the occasion. I am convinced this will not be a negative, but instead a positive. We may discover something important about ourselves and the education process.” 

May 2039

            Her red and white graduation robe was uncomfortable over the expensive dress. She didn’t want to wear such an elaborate dress, but her father had insisted. She should focus on the speech instead of shoes and hemline.

            The High School Principal was finishing up her own speech, and then she gave the cue line: “It is my pleasure to present to you the valedictorian for the class of 2039, Miss Ronarita Beech.”

            The audience stood with massive applause. The graduation had to be outside in the football stadium of the local college team because no other building could hold that many parents, family and friends. It was the largest event in school history – larger even than when the team won the state football championship in 1990. Twice that number watched from home. 

            “First,” Ronarita said, and she patted down her robe over her dress that she still didn’t like, “I’d like to thank our parents.” There was a smattering of applause. “I’d like to thank our parents because back long ago when the whole world was afraid they were about to die, our parents had the foresight and wisdom to use their time wisely.” Her face twinkled as the crowd laughed. Her friend had talked her into putting that line into the speech.

            “Second, I’d like to thank all of the teachers, too many to name, who sacrificed their time, and some of them their professional promotions, to ensure we got the best education ever. I personally want to thank Mr. Lopez. It is not often the same person who teaches you how to read also teaches you about Hemingway. Mr. Lopez has been a source of encouragement to me from my first day of kindergarten until this very moment. I know,” she waved her arms toward her fellow graduates, “we all have our own story and our own Mr. Lopez. I wish we could all say it.” 

            Ronarita paused, then she said, “There wasn’t a way to do this, so we created one.” In that moment, the lights in the football stadium went dark, and holograms of men and women, teachers, at various stages through the past thirteen years appeared all over in every section and every row. Holograms of teachers on the playground, in the lab, at computer terminals, and in the lunchrooms. The images moved around for almost a minute, then each hologram somehow found the person for whom it was an avatar, sitting in the crowd, and they all said, “Thank you,” in unison. 

            Everyone in the stadium wept and none more than Ronarita. She was just happy her hologram program had worked—and her dress stayed put. 

January 2051 

            The young man stood in the airport bookstore looking for something to read on his long flight to Rio De Janeiro. He tried not to think about the presentation he was making. He’d done the math and the physics a hundred thousand times, it seemed. He knew his plan for biodomes on the Martian surface would work. He just needed to convince TIC (The International Consortium) his plan was the best. His only real competition was from a woman about his same age from Italy.

            He preferred old style books with covers and pages. His great-grandfather had been a college professor back in the old days when everything was written on paper. He’d inherited the old man’s library and somewhere along the way he realized the value of the physical presence of knowledge that can’t be erased with a command to the digital cloud. 

            The section for real books, as he liked to think of them, was small but useful. He started in the biographies and skimmed a tell all from Jared Kushner. Politics didn’t interest him. He saw a new scholarly work about the life of aging Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence. He’d never heard of her, so he moved on. There were a couple of sports books about the reasons why American football had finally been banned internationally and baseball was enjoying a resurgence. He wasn’t much of an athlete so he kept looking.

            Then a book piqued his interest. The title was “How Coronavirus Saved The World”. He picked it up and read the back cover:

A forgotten pandemic and a quirky moment in history provided the incredible matrices that have changed the world for the better. The Vid Kids, as they were called, have solved most of our problems in an amazingly short amount of time. This new work reminds us how their unique educational and sociological situation gave them the courage and the tools to creatively tackle things that had gotten ‘stuck’ in old thinking. 

This book is a brief study of ten people like Nguyen Lee who at the age of twenty-five found the key to curing cancer in one pill. Read how Vito Virus Regio stopped trying to end combustion engines and learned how to completely remove carbon emissions from automobiles, airplanes, and power plants. Look at how at the age of twenty-one, in her dorm room at The University of Washington, Ronarita Beech wrote what would become the definitive holographic program that drives all modern computing and communications, and made her the wealthiest person in the world. 

The Vid Kids just turned thirty. Imagine what they will do for an encore.

            He looked at the front again. The author was Jamie Greening, the famous writer and pastor from Central Texas. He’d read a couple of his fiction works and enjoyed them, so he put the book under his arm, grabbed a mineral water, found his favorite gum, and went to the check out. As a Vid Kid himself, he added a little prayer to the Lord, “Help me add to it by helping human beings colonize outer space.”

            The teenage boy at the cashier desk asked him, “Will you be using your global account or local currency?”

            “International Account,” he said as he swiped his thumb over the print reader. 

            “Is that your real name or is it a stage name?” The kid asked.

            “It is the name my mom and dad gave me,” he smiled. It was a question he got all the time. 

            “Cool name,” he said.

            “I think so, too.” King Covid IV popped a piece of gum in his mouth as he left the little store and made his way to gate thirty.         

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It’s Kinda Of A Free Scratch-N-Sniff Story–With An Axe

Paul Bennett concludes his boyhood saga with the second part of “An Acre of Peace”. It is really heartwarming with a strong sense of nostalgia. It too me back to walking the woods in East Texas as a boy.

Click on the the left index finger on the old work gloves to read Part 2. If you missed it last week, click here to reread part one.

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Deep Questions: Free, But Deep

Pestilence and disease is nothing knew; and neither are the questions and issues brought out by hard times. Derek Elkins takes the existential pain of loss, death, and illness to its sharpest place. We are writing fiction here in our Free Covid Chronicle stories, but fiction gives breath and legs to our fears so they can walk around and we can talk about them at a safe distance. Derek has done a great job of doing that with “Let The Day Perish.”

If Derek’s story had a soundtrack, it would definitely be “Exit” from The Joshua Tree, so click on the much younger and hairier Bono to read Derek’s story, “Let The Day Perish”.

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Some Free Spec-Fic To Provoke Your Mind

Yesterday we had a sweet story of generational care (click here to read) from Kathy Kexel, but today we get frightening dystopia from Rob Cely. I like it; as it has a certain Ray Bradburyish feel to it–kind of a redeemed Fahrenheit 451 motif. I dig that stuff.

We’ve got free stories lined up all week, and I am scheduled for Friday. Remember, these all are 100% free. Scroll through my blog to see all of them, we’ve at this for seven weeks now.

For now though, click on the earring to read “In Memoriam”.

Only click on the earring. If you click on the ring on her finger, the Feds will know.

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Free Heart Warms: All The Heart Warms

There is a sweetness to this story that melts the heart at the same time it brings the tears. Kathy Kexel’s “Annabelle” may sound like a frightening story about a demon possessed doll, which is what I or Shaw or Elkins would have written, but no, not this time. This is an affirming story of humanity and of generational care.

Remember — these stories are free; no gimmicks, no hooks, no newsletter sign-ups, no bait-and-switches. Our goal is to keep you entertained and happy during the COVID Quarantine.

Click on the left headlight of the Rambler to read “Annabelle”.

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Free Nematodes, Get Your Fresh Hot Nematodes

We all see how dangerous COVID-19 has been, but what about COVID-20?

What are you doing to prepare for that moment when COVID-20 becomes the most pressing disease in human history?

What? You haven’t thought about COVID-20? Don’t worry, Joseph Courtemanche has. He even reads the story to us in his silky smooth voice. Also — this story has this line: “he had the social skills of an abused hamster on meth.”

Click on the dairy cow to read Joe’s story, “Nema What?”

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The Secret Pine Tree Garden! A Free Covid Story

I thoroughly enjoyed the calm and relaxing tone of Paul Bennett’s tale which seems to come from a different time and place than most of us live: life is slower, dirt roads, dull axes to be sharpened, and lonely pines. Reminds me in many ways of my own childhood in East Texas. Except we weren’t as polite and nice as all of Paul’s characters.

Enjoy today’s story, and keep your eyes open for ancient plots of earth which hold mysteries and challenges.

Click on the axe blade to read the first part of Paul’s story — “An Acre of Peace, Part One”

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Remember When The Apocalypse Was Fun? — A Free Covid Chronicles Story

I wrote four different intros for today’s freebie, but honestly, there is no way to introduce this except to applaud the imagination of Derek Elkins. You will laugh-out-loud at least twice during as you read his short story, and one of those will be as someone dies a horrible death.

Click on the Weinermobile to read “Them Ole Pandemic Apocalypse Blues”. We will be back tomorrow with more COVID-19 stories to entertain you during your lockdown. Remember, stay safe out there — love each other — check on your neighbors — and wash your hands!

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So That’s Why . . . A Free COVID Chronicle Story

Rob Cely did it again – he wrote another thought provoking terrifying story about COVID-19. AND he explains one of the great mysteries of this pandemic that seems to have gotten all of us . . . in the end. Just a friendly reminder these are all free — free stories to keep you entertained during the COVID Captivity. No pay walls, no newsletter sign-ups, no gimmicks.

Click on the scientist’s beard to read “The Scarlet Queen”. We will be back with another story tomorrow.

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“Let’s Do It” — A Free Covid Chronicle Short Story

I was out of the rotation last week, so we decided to have me lead off this week’s round of COVID Chronicles. I was inspired last week by Paul Bennett’s romantic tale, so I took a go at it myself. I can’t tell if this story is Hallmark Channel genre or maybe one of those After School Special’s about a very important subject . . .

I almost titled this, “I’m Really In Like With You” but decided to go with something more provocative. Enjoy!


Let’s Do It

A COVID Chronicle Short Story

Jamie D. Greening

            “I’m ready,” Kristin hit send on the text message. 

            “Are you sure?” Dakota’s response came back to her so fast she hadn’t time to exhale the breath she’d been holding. 

            “Yes,” she typed. “We’ve waited long enough.” 

            What she meant was she’d waited long enough. Dakota had wanted to after their second Zoom date, and he wasn’t shy about it either. He told her in several colorful ways what he wanted. 

Kristin wanted to as well. But she was afraid. Her fear was ebbing as the hot summer got to her. The longing wouldn’t go away.

            “Where?” her phone lit up. Just as fast a second message came in, “Can you get out of the house?” 

            That would be the tricky part. Her mother and father kept everything tight. Her older sister snuck out last week to meet friends in the park and got away with it. Kristin suspected their mother knew what happened and let it slide to keep the police out of it. 

            She was certain her mother wouldn’t let this slide. 

            At fifteen Kristin was two years younger, but she was smarter than her sister. Her plan was better. She’d make it out of the house without any problems.

            “Yes,” she fingered the digital keypad faster than an aging GenXer can think. “Meet me at the stand of trees behind the abandoned elementary school at ten.”

            Dakota sent a heart emoji in reply. 

***

            A half hour before their rendezvous she went downstairs. Dad was watching news in the recliner. Mother was already in bed.  The situation was perfect. 

            “Have you seen Zuko?” she asked her father.

            “No, why?” 

            “He probably needs to go out one more time before bedtime. The book says new puppies need lots of encouragement or they may regress and leave a boom boom on the floor.”

            “We don’t want that?” 

            Kristin laughed, then walked through the house as if looking for the dog she knew was asleep on her bed. 

            She walked through rooms, one eye on Dad. His attention went back to the television report about destabilization of the Korean Peninsula due to COVID-19 outbreaks. She took the leash from the entryway table and rattled it so her father’s subconscious mind would register the sound, and then she went out the front door. She left the leash on the porch.

            The day’s heat radiated off the sidewalk and street. It felt good on her face. The elementary school was only five blocks away. The distance felt like traversing the Rocky Mountains. All she could think about was Dakota. He was a year older and oh so cute. She imagined what it would be like to run her hand through his curly hair.

            Kristin blushed. 

            She spied him sitting underneath the oak tree next to the playground fence. It took everything in her not to run to him. An overhead safety light from the playground shined on him like a spotlight in a theater. He wore a pair of blue jeans and an Aeropostale t-shirt. Her heart fluttered. He was the most gorgeous thing her hazel eyes had ever seen.

            Social learning kicked in as she stopped walking about six feet away from the object of her affection. 

            “Hi,” he said and waved.

            “Hi,” she smiled. Her head looked down and then back up.

            “You look pretty,” Dakota told her. “Prettier than on my screen.” 

            He shifted his weight on his feet, and then his eyes enlarged. “I’m ready to this, but I don’t want to have any accidents.” He pulled something from his front pocket. “My parents taught me to be safe.”

            “Me too,” she said as she also pulled out a vial from her own shorts pocket. “I believe in being safe.”

            In the forest of the abandoned schoolyard the two teenagers both applied large quantities of hand sanitizer to their sweaty palms. Each one took a lot longer than normal, uncertain about the commitment they were about to make and what it might mean for their relationship. Both aware of the rules they were breaking. Both aware of what might happen. Both not caring. The urging was too great.

            Dakota made the first move, stepping closer to Kristin until he was right in front of her. “I know what a big deal this is,” he held out his left hand, palm up. “If you’re still unsure, we can wait. I will wait for you.”

            “I don’t want to wait any more,” Kristin said as she brought her right hand toward his extended palm. She touched his thumb with her index finger. Her hand trembled while she traced the rest of his fingers and then his palm. She moved her finger up along the edge of his wristband and then came back toward his palm. In one motion, she plunged her hand into his and wove their fingers together the way she had been practicing in her room under the covers for two months. Electricity shot through her. She tingled from head to toe.

***

            It felt like they stood for an eternity, young love engaged in forbidden physical contact before God and all nature. Hopefully, that was all that saw them. 

            She spoke first. “I’ve never held hands with anyone not in my family before.” She looked into his eyes, “You’re my first.”

            She assumed he had experience because he was older, but he didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he said, “I think we should walk. That is what they do in all the movies and television shows from before in the old days. They walked when they held hands.” 

            “That sounds good,” she said. “I’d like that.”

            They walked through the woods, talking about everything and nothing. Eventually the woods ran out, and without deciding to, they found themselves walking along the sidewalk. 

            “Youve told me your family moved here last year, but you’ve never said why.” Kristin said.

            “My mom got a job. When my father died, she needed to make more money. She found a job here working for a lawyer. She does all his filing for him.”

            “Does she go to a real office?”

            “Only twice a week. Her busy days are Monday and Thursday when she has depositions and video conferences with judges and lawyers and stuff.”

            “Sounds exciting.”

            “Sorta,” he said. “If she knew I was here, she’d give the lecture about how this kind of thing,” he held up their intertwined hands, “could get her fired.”

            A car came around the corner. They thought nothing of it until the vehicle stopped. The doors flung open. It was then Kristin saw “Sheriff” written on the side. 

            “Freeze,” a woman’s voice came through the darkness as lights flooded them. “Detach your hands and step six feet away from each other. Now.”

            It was the hardest thing Kristin had ever done, but she let go of Dakota’s hands and obeyed.

            The officer spoke into her radio, “I found ‘em. Tell her parents they are in custody.” She brought down her plastic faceguard and proceeded to wrap Kristin in a plastic gown. “Put this mask on,” she told Kristin. “You too, Romeo.” She tossed one to Dakota and then she made him put on the same plastic gown. “Stand still,” she told them as she baptized them with an aerosol disinfectant.  

            “Have you kissed?”

            “No!” Kristin and Dakota said at the same time. 

            “Did you do anything else?”

            Kristin couldn’t think of anything else. “We talked”

            “Talked?” The officer said. “Are you sure you didn’t do anything else?”

            “No,” Dakota said. “We just talked and held hands.”

            “Hand holding,” The officer said, “with anyone other than immediate family requires a permit from a judge and a doctor’s signature and can only be done by consenting adults over the age of twenty-one.” 

            She forced them into the back of the squad car. Plastic dividers separated every seat in the car from floor to ceiling. 

            An intercom came on as the officer said, “Your parents are recommending the maximum penalty for the two of you.”

            “Why? We used hand sanitizer.” Dakota’s eyes narrowed. 

            Kristin said, “What does that mean? Maximum penalty?”

            The officer spoke again into the intercom, “It means after your two weeks of decontamination and isolation in the county jail you will have a month in-residence community service at the coronavirus wing at the hospital. Following that will be three more months of re-education training.”

            Three other officers stood outside the building, waiting. Two of them took Kristin while Dakota was taken the other direction. Kristin twisted her body, pulled her arms away and ran toward Dakota. She clawed at him, ripping away his plastic gown as she tore her own gear free. They embraced. 

            The four officers pulled them apart, cuffing their arms behind their backs. 

            “It was worth it,” Kristin said, tears streaming down her eyes. “It was worth it.”

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I Can’t Believe It’s Free! The Story Finishes Strong

For four weeks the Bard of Florida, Joe Shaw, has been weaving a tale for us about making deals with the devil. Today, he finishes the story with a great flourish. I enjoyed the whole thing so much I can’t believe it was free, but it is so totally free because we are writing you, almost every day now, awesome free content to make your COVID Captivity better. Enjoy!

Click on the “3” in 11:30 on the clock to read Part Four — “Heart’s Desire” of the Novelicious Novella Two More.