Ripped from the Earth

It was in the way, where the tree grew. The roots were strong, but not strong enough for the great jaws that came and ripped it from the warm soil.

“Awww, does it have to go?” I whined.

“It does.” Came the response, calm, cool and collected. There was no emotional reaction there, though I wanted, no needed to see one.

“But that’s the tree we planted with our kiddo.” My lips pouted. “Can’t we just leave it?”


We watched, together, hand in hand as the machine came and dug its neat hole in the ground. We watched as it swallowed up the tree in its jaw, wrapped it in a prickly canvas bundle and drove it away.

“It’s done.”

He pulled away from me and sipped his coffee, engrossed in the newspaper again. I wiped at my own tears as quickly and quietly as I could. Then I stood, collected a bag of my most precious things and walked out the door.

He didn’t even look up.

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“The kids are fighting again.”

The old man fingered his jaw. The lawyers would have to be called again. One on hand, he rued the day he let them take over his business. On the other, well they’d fight it out. The strongest would win. But they’d only win the business.

He thought back twenty years, to when he’d first had his employees make him the box. It was heavy, made of thick, impenetrable steel. He converted his money, his hard earned cash into gold bars and put it in the box. Not all of it, mind you, because that woman of his could spend so much, but most of it.

And no one had even noticed.

The box is too heavy now for him to move. It sits, unassuming, in the back of his Chevy, right next to his rusting tackle box.

At lunch time, he feels new aches, new pains. It won’t be much longer now. He chuckles to himself. They’ll never know. Never.

He could give it to someone. He could. But who? Who deserves it? They all have attitudes, those workers of his. Not like the good old days where people took pride in the work they did. When they kept themselves humble, kept their heads down and got shit done.

These new workers, all they did was complain. How come my raise isn’t as big as his? Why can’t get we get more vacation time? And then there were the ones who left and then had to come groveling back. No. He decided none of them would get it.

He’d have to give it up to the river.

When the workers started shuffling back in from lunch he picked one. The one who looked like he could lift it. “Jeremy! Come here, I have a task for you.”

Jeremy shuffled forward reeking of pot. He shook his head. Now was not the time. “Get in my truck, we’re going for a little ride.”

Jeremy looked confused. But he obeyed. He strapped himself into the front seat. “Where are we going sir?”

Jeremy looked nervous, anxious even. He almost laughs. He knows. He’s heard the rumors that they all think he’s lost his mind. But he’s not feeling fuzzy right now. He’s sharp. As a tack. “To the river.” Is all he answers.

The drive is quiet. He stops the truck along the side of the road, watching the early spring waters gurgle and hiss. It’s overcast and windy, leading to whitecaps on the waves. Perfect.

“Take that box. Can you lift it?”

Jeremy grunts when he picks it up. Although he staggers, he picks it up and follows the old man to the water’s edge. There’s a row boat there, tethered to a weathered tree. The old man unhooks it, and steps in, gesturing for Jeremy to do the same. He follows instructions.

The old man grunts as he rows them out to the middle of the river. “Throw it over.” He instructs.

Jeremy gives him another quizzical look, but does as he is commanded. Surely the old man is mad.

When it hits the water it bobs for the briefest of seconds before breaking through and sinking steadily. He watches it until he can no longer see it. Then he starts rowing again.

“What was in the box?” Jeremy asks when they reach the shore and are tying the boat up again.

“Nothing of importance.” The old man mutters. “Something I don’t want the kids to get.”

They ride back in silence. The old man chuckles now and again. He pulls into the parking lot and turns off the ignition. “Thank you, for helping me Jeremy.”

Jeremy nods. They both get out of the truck. The screeching sounds of arguing adult children reach them even before they make it to the door. The old man smiles.

“They’ll never even know,” he whispers. “Never.”

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The Journal

He found the journal on the train.

It spilled her deepest secrets. Who she wished she’d never let into her life, who she wished she’d kept closer. It betrayed her true feelings about the weeks behind her, even while she managed to keep a brave face in real life.

He imagined her. She’d have light, curly, almost cranberry orange hair. She’d be tall, and stand proud. She’d gaze into people’s eyes and wonder about their hopes and dreams. He put her on a pedestal.

The problem is, pedestals aren’t meant for people.

Three weeks after he found the journal, he went on the same train, the 38 from Central Square to Downtown. He held the journal in his hands, open as he read.

He heard the clicking of high heels angrily moving toward him once the train jerked into motion.

“Excuse me.” She cleared her throat.

He looked up, a blush on his cheeks.

“I believe that’s mine.” Her gaze was not soft and romantic as he had pictured. It was hardened, angry. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She clutched a weathered leather bag with one hand while holding out her other. “I’ll take that now that you’ve invaded my privacy.” She glowered.

Reluctantly, he handed it over. “Oh, I’m sorry. There was no address to return it to.”

“So you thought you’d just have a go at reading it. Someone’s private journal. In a public place, no less. How dare you. You’re really something, Mister, you know that?”

She stalked off.

In his head, he tried again to conjure the girl he’d imagined. With soft, warm eyes and the cranberry-orange curls. Inviting him in, exposing her deepest fears to him. Wrapping him in warmth and acceptance.

The train jerked to a stop and he stepped onto the platform, both embarrassed and surprised as the doors closed and he watched her face disappear into the darkness.

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The Garden

“The vine was just looking for something to crawl up. I gave it a statue.”

She smiled at the realtor. The realtor smiled back.

“Well it’s something most people don’t get in their yards. Speaking of, the landscaping is incredible. What’s your secret? Do you employ a specific company or do you do it yourself?”

“Oh I do it all myself.” She smiled proudly. “I woke up one morning with a hankering to garden, and I came outside to find soil already overturned, so I just started planting.”

“Wow,” the realtor breathed.

They continued walking around the property. “This is the Joseph garden. It has only Kingsblood tulips, a rare, deep, red color. This was the first garden I planted and it’s always been my favorite.”

She waved her hands to the next raised bed. “This is the Christopher garden. Here it’s full of pale butter yellow flowers from the Elsie Eloff tulips, to the Tickseed Moonbeam. I thought about adding some Prism Sunshine Petunias, but then changed my mind.”

They turned and looked at another sprawling garden area. “The Nicholas garden came next. Since he loved blue, I had to include all the favorites: Belladonna Blue Delphinium, Forget Me Nots, Hydrangea, and the Hyacinthus Delft.”

The realtor stopped nodding her head. “I’m sorry did you say these gardens are named after past friends?”

“Oh did I?” She looked surprised. “Well, yes, I’m sure I mentioned it. After my past loves.” Her frown deepened and she lowered her voice. “But they all mysteriously disappeared. I mean, I just can’t figure out where they’d all go. Just the other day, Charles left to go to the store, but hasn’t returned.” She turned back to the realtor. “But that hasn’t stopped me, no it hasn’t. That’s when I put up the statue for the vine to climb. He always did love ivy.”

Her smile turned wistful as they walked by the garage. “You know, it will be really sad to leave this house, and my gardens. But it’s time, I think. Don’t you?”

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Selling Time

She meekly walked up to the booth. “Excuse me? Do you sell time?”

His laugh was hearty. “Sell time? To you?”

“Please.” She was almost begging.

“And what would you do with it?” His eyes peered at her attempting to determine her character with a look.

“Take care of my ailing child. And work.”

There was silence as the two glared at each other. Finally the man rubbed his beard. “What is your child ailing of?”

“The new disease. The unnamed one.”

He frowned. No one that had it lived. “Selling time to you would be pointless.”

“I know,” she sighed. “But I have to try. I can’t miss any time with my baby before he goes.”

He looked over her torn clothes. He noticed the smudges on her cheeks, her gaunt look. “Fine,” he muttered. “But only this once.”

He turned to the teenage boy straightening the clothes on the table. “Atten? Can you watch the shop?”

The boy looked up with an eager smile. “Of course, sir.”

He pulled the frail woman into the back room after glancing around to make sure they weren’t being witnessed. “I had a son once. He too, succumbed to the illness. Here’s enough for what he most likely has left.”

Tears in her eyes, she nodded. “Thank you. And-” she sniffled, “I’m sorry about your son.”

He cleared his throat and wiped at his eyes. “It cost me my job, my wife, my entire family. Everything.”

She handed him as much cash as she could. “Is this enough?”

“I won’t take anything. You need it more than I do.”

“Thank you.” She turned to leave.

“Tell no one else.”

“I promise.” She gave him another teary smile before leaving.

She was far enough away that he wouldn’t hear before she pulled the phone out of her purse. It rang as she lifted it out. “Did you get all that?”

Her laugh was shrill. “He fell for it, hook, line and sinker.”

“Of course I have the goods. I’ll have to give them a test to let you know if they’re the real deal. Yes. Then you can close in and confiscate the rest of his supply. Yes, I’ll take one now. Stand-by.”

She took a swig of water from her bottle, and popped the silver pill into her mouth. She swished it around once, then twice before gulping it down.

She watched, somewhat fascinated as the merchant quickly packed up his tent. Her thoughts went fuzzy, and she found herself pondering her life’s choices up until this point. After several moments, she realized she was dizzy and the world was swaying around her. Her phone sat beside her on the bench, a constant “Hello?” coming through. She swayed along with the world. When the blood started dripping from her eyes, she wiped at it absentmindedly.

The men dressed in black came towards her, while others shrieked and ran away. She waved at them all. Then the wave of pain hit her at once, reverberating down through her body. She screamed, and everyone around her went still.

They let the disease run its course.

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She looks for the quiet, the dark.

She turns left, then right. But each time she spies a glimmer of light off in the distance. Some flashlights, some lanterns, some candlelight.

She recedes deeper between the trees.

She dares not make a sound. She uses her spells to keep her inches off the ground. Not too noticeable, mind you, but enough so that she soundlessly moves.

She has to catch them off guard.

When she spies the next flickr of light, she also sees the glint.

She hikes her black velvet over her head, shielding her own eyes. She remains floating but her ears perk up, listening for the rustle of fur. It’s a soft sound, softer even than a baby’s breathing.


She hears it to her left. The fluid motion begins. The hunt is on. She follows.

Soon, she catches the smell of fear. The panicked prey, running as fast as it dares, knowing that something is behind it. Something is coming for it.

She can hear the frantic heartbeats.

There is no cry as the beast pounces. There is no cry as the prey falls.

Only silence.

She removes the hood. He grumbles, his jaws tear into the prey. He ruffles into the protective stance. Then slowly, lowers his head, acknowledging her presence.

She moves forward, her frail, human body stepping closer. He remains quiet and still. She lowers her head and begins to eat. He watches the woods for any sounds, but he knows she would hear any first. Then, when she’s had her fill, she backs up, and nods respectfully to him.

With a growl, he’s back at dinner.

And she merely floats away.

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Red Sky At Night

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

She sang with the innocence that only a young little girl could sing with. But that didn’t take away the unease from my own brow. Nor did it quell the ache that split my heart in two.

I watched her skip across the weathered deck, not a care in the world and wished I, too, could be young again. Instead, the worries of the world felt heavy on my shoulders.

I anticipated that any day now, we would reach the shores. Any day now I’d see my beloved, holding in her arms another little bundle of joy, but the unease shattered the dream. I had to concentrate hard to picture it in my mind’s eye: the curve of her lips into a slow smile, the freckles kissing her bright cheeks, and her bouncy curls just like the little girl dancing on the deck and singing softly to herself.

With shouts and cries, I turned my attention away from my daydream, back to the harsh realities of life on the ocean. Looking stern side, I saw what caused the attention: an enormous beast. It was larger than anything I’d ever seen, and looked like a monster a scared little boy would draw. I tried to find the tangled clothes on the back of the chair or the winter jacket hung lazily on the dresser, but this monster was real.

Rushing from my post, I reached for my daughter’s hand. She saw this thing, too, and stared: gaping mouth hanging open, silent tears running down her cheeks. She could barely utter my name when I pulled her away and ushered her into the only chance for safety I could see, anything below deck.

There was no call for attack. I think most everyone was in shock. The sea monster lazily seemed to stretch and it sure did glisten in the sun. It’s colors were unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but more beautiful than an original Monet or Picasso.

Somehow I knew that if I lived, nothing else would ever compare.

When the boat made a creaking sound, almost as if it was being snapped in half, everyone sprang into action. Guns were found, bullets loaded. Cannons brought to their rightful places, and they too, were loaded.

“Wait!” I cried out, desperate for anyone to hear.

The monster seemed to know what was coming. With a deafening roar, it slipped easily below the surface, just as the first bullet was fired.

Everyone stopped. Breaths were held for the longest moments of their lives. We watched as the lone bullet fired landed in the water, a distance away. We watched as a pod of dolphins jumped and splashed about in the water.

But the monster did not surface.

I walked to the bridge. The captain was staring absently out the window. I gently touched his shoulder. “Captain?” I said, softly.

He blinked a few times and pulled his eyes from the water. “Oh. Hey, Max.”

“We should leave this place. Head for home. Tanks are full anyway.” I gave him a few pats on the back. He nodded.

When the ship started moving again, the spell was broken. We had a ship to run, and jobs to do. The frenetic pace picked up again.

I slipped below deck and found my little girl curled in a corner, crying to herself softly.

“It’s okay, baby,” I whispered in her ear, while gently stroking her hair. “The monster is gone.”

She fell asleep soon after and I gently laid her in bed to rest.

When we landed, there was a hush over our entire crew. We pulled our gear, and waved instead of said goodbyes. No one wanted to be the first to report what we’d all seen.

Innocence lost, my daughter had nightmares from then on. She never stepped foot in a boat again, not even a paddle boat on the neighbor’s man-made lake in the backyard. My wife asked me what happened, but I spoke not a word.

“Just a routine trip,” I’d tell her. But I knew she didn’t believe me.

Sixty years later and I can barely stand straight by myself. This will be my last trip, I know. I watch as my daughter and her children wipe away tears.

Throwing my arms around her once more, she whispers in my ear. “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. I hope you find it again this time, Daddy. I love you.”

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