“THIS STORY HAS NO TITLE” Pt. 2

If you’ll remember, this story has no title. I explained why earlier, but let me briefly add to my reasoning. It’s just this: the purpose of a title is to intrigue the reader, to prompt them to read the next words. By refusing to use a title, I believe I am accomplishing that goal; but I guess I’ll let you decide that. Will you keep reading?

Here we go.

~~~~

Rosa had always believed in the supernatural; a spiritual warfare being waged in the hearts and minds and even atmosphere of those earthly beings. However, her faith in a higher realm had never been personal to her… until now.

When she awoke from her state of unconscious, she was painfully aware of her feeling of uneasiness. It wasn’t only her throbbing head that was bothering her. There was a certain tension in the air, a negative force vying for her attention. She immediately identified it as the Devil, or at least a devil. Some ally of evil was present and powerful. And it scared her.

Where am I? 

She almost immediately identified the building she was in. It was, in fact, the restaurant she worked at. However, it was the run-down, ransacked version of the restaurant. Tables and chairs were strewn across the floor, windows were cracked, if not missing entirely, and dust and dirt had settled in, nearly covering the entire floor. The air felt musty and stale, just like the outside air.

She reached to scratch her nose…

YIKES! I’m tied up!

She hadn’t noticed it a moment ago, as she was taking in her surroundings one piece at a time, but she was bound to a diner chair! Her legs were tied around the legs of the chair and her hands were tied behind the chair’s back. She was also gagged!

Why is it that when you physically can’t satisfy a bodily need, it grows in intensity? Rosa’s nose itched like no itch had ever itched before. She found a way to scratch it, but it took considerable energy and she made quite a racket in the process, not to mention she ended up lying sideways on the ground, unable to move further because of her restricted condition.

She heard indistinct voices from somewhere over there. She tried to turn to see who was coming, but she had no mobility and was forced to lie there quite vulnerably, wondering how she was going to be killed.

This is it. What will your final words be?

Rosa was so prone to fear that she blacked out again, but this time only for a few seconds. She awoke as her captor was lifting her chair to its rightful position on its four stable legs. This time fear took on a different reaction and she thrashed her head wildly, as her head was the only part of her body she had any sort of control over. It hurt and didn’t prove assuring to her captor.

“Ah, so you’re a feisty type, are ya? Well let me assure ya, lady, you’re not goin’ anywhere. You’re tied up pretty good, ya know. My knots are world famous!” Then turning to shout over his shoulder, he said, “Ay, boss! The girl’s awake!” He gave her a smug look before turning to leave.

The one who replaced him was much more evil than he.

She could sense it.

The man walked slowly, cockily. His face was confident, as one who is in complete control. His gaze sent shivers down her spine and shot blood to her face. He was terrifying. He was the personification of evil. He was the Devil. Rosa prayed to God for the second time in her life. Funny how knowledge of imminent doom makes you appeal to God, isn’t it?

“Hey sweetie. Have a good nap?” His words sent ice slipping down the back of her shirt. They were slow and smooth words, words coated in sugar to seem appealing. Rosa saw past his mouth and into his heart; it was black and disfigured, a burnt and withered chunk of limp meat.

You’re doomed now. You’re as good as dead. 

“Don’t worry, girl. I won’t hurt you. My name is Sal.”

He untied the black t-shirt that acted as her gag and pulled it away from her mouth. This was normally the part of a movie where the hostage girl shoots a glare toward her captive and says something hostile and seemingly justified, to which the captor responds by laughing and inciting more fury on the captive’s behalf. Rosa wisely chose to say nothing.

“I’m going to untie you now. Do not run and do not try to attack me. Trust me, I will be forced to hurt you if you do and it will not be pleasant for you after that.”

With that, he untied her and she stood slowly.

“Walk with me.”

Hesitantly, Rosa followed Sal into the kitchen of the restaurant that she had spent so many hours in. He led her through the kitchen and into the very back of the building, where there was a ladder leading up to the roof. He motioned her up first, so she started climbing. She had only been up there once before and she wondered what business this man had with her on the roof.

This is it. He’s going to push you off the roof. Start thinking of iconic last words now.

She made it to the top and paused beside the entrance onto the roof to looked around, making sure no goons were waiting for her. Presently, Sal’s head popped up and he climbed the final few stairs to stand beside her.

“I want to show you something. Come to the edge, don’t be afraid.”

Despite his command, she was afraid. Terrified, actually.

She let him walk to the edge first before making the walk herself.

“Look around and tell me what you see.”

Rosa gazed down below at the buildings and concrete. The landscape was drab, like a western movie set. All that was missing was tumbleweeds.

Then she saw the people. Were they people?

“What do you see?”

“People,” she said softly.

Sal smirked. “They’re not people, honey.”

“Don’t call me that.” It came out of her mouth before passing through her brain. The man seemed unfazed by the comment.

“They’re not people,” he repeated. “Zombies.”

Rosa almost laughed. Not because she didn’t think it was possible, but because of the irony. How many times had her friends ridiculed her because of how seriously she took all those zombie shows and movies. Now it turned out she was right the whole time.

“What’s your name?” he asked after a pause.

The question caught Rosa off guard; it unsettled her. The idea of an obviously evil man calling her by name made her sick. Nevertheless, she couldn’t risk his wrath. It isn’t uncommon for evil folks to have a short fuse.

“Rosa,” she said rather shakily.

“Rosa, I need your help. The world needs your help. These zombies have wreaked havoc on the world as we know it. They walk around looking for a meal and if they see you or hear you, you’re as good as dead. You can imagine how fast the human population is dwindling. Something needs to be done and right now, nobody is doing anything about it but me. I’m assembling a team to make quick work of them. I want you on that team.”

Sal pulled a radio from his jacket pocket. “Give us a show, Vincent,” he said.

Beneath them, a door opened and footsteps were heard. Rosa looked down to see a large group of men and women wearing all black and carrying various weapons advance upon a group of zombies. Before Rosa could look away, the attackers had shot, sliced, and massacred the lifeless walkers and were advancing to others. Nearby zombies began to swarm the group of ninjas, but they effortlessly crushed them as well. They were clearing the entire area around the restaurant, and they were doing it quickly. They were all very skilled with their weapons.

Rosa couldn’t look away. She wanted to, but the grotesque curiosity of the scene held her gaze downward.

Soon, every zombie was lying motionless on the ground. Rosa had just witnessed a slaughter. Was it justified?

“Impressive, right?” Sal said. “With time and practice, you could be one of them. What do you say? You have a chance to help save humanity from the clutches of the undead.”

“Why me?” she asked, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt.

Sal looked over at her. “I am exceptionally talented at seeing the potential in people. It doesn’t take long for me to discern if somebody is right for a job. Rosa, you’re right for this job. You have more potential than maybe anybody else on my team.”

Rosa knew it was a lie. It was all a lie. Sal was a lie. The apocalypse was a lie.

For a moment, the reality of her situation overwhelmed her. She nearly blacked out again, but kept it together somehow. She pushed out all thoughts of her circumstances and focused on the next words that she would have to say.

In a moment of courage, she made eye contact with the devil and said “I’m in.”

Sal smiled.

“Excellent. I’ll introduce you to the team. You’ll start your training tomorrow morning.”

Rosa forced a smile.

As they descended the ladder back into the restaurant, one thought pierced Rosa’s mind: ESCAPE! 

“THIS STORY HAS NO TITLE”

This story has no title. Why? Because it’s ominous and weird and unique. But mostly ominous. Maybe I should have titled this story “Ominous” because that’s what it is. But I didn’t. I called it “This Story Has No Title” which technically means that it has a title. Clearly I didn’t think this through.

Let’s begin.

~~~~

Rosa was exhausted, and rightfully so! She had pulled a 12 hour shift at the restaurant and was only now able to get some rest before her next shift early the next morning. Ugh. Work can be such a pain some times!

She set her phone alarm for 8:00 AM the next morning and almost before she closed her eyes she was asleep. Her last thought before drifting away was “I hope I get tipped well tomorrow.

 

When Rosa woke up, it was quiet.

Dreadfully quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She lifted her head off the pillow, awake and instantly confused. This seemed like a dream but felt so real!

What’s going on?

Looking around, she saw that it was light outside.

Weird, it feels like it should be dark!

She reached for her phone and sat up to look at it. Nothing but a blank screen greeted her expectant eyes.

What’s going on? it should be charging! 

She followed the charging cable with her eyes to the outlet where it was plugged in just as it should be.

So why isn’t it charging? This is SO weird!

Rosa bolted to her feet, startled, even though it had been a full minute since she first suspected that everything was different.

Everything is different!

She said it aloud. It sounded weird. The words felt stale in the air; echoey, hollow. Something was definitely off.

Rosa walked five steps that way and reached for her door handle. Fear seized her and she froze.

She let out her breath in a gasp.

I was holding my breath? Whoa, calm down, Rosa. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

She took a few long breaths then opened the door.

 

Nothing assaulted her, which was good, but something definitely felt off. She walked slowly from room to room in her one story apartment, taking in her surroundings. At the end of her tour, she found herself at the front window. She gazed out upon the neighborhood.

What is it? Why does everything feel so… weird??

OH NO!

She sprinted to the front door and turned the key in the lock. Opening the door, she left it behind in a hurry.

Even the air outside felt weird. The sun felt colder, the sky looked grayer although it was a cloudless day.

Day? How can it be the middle of the day already? I set my alarm! Why didn’t my alarm go off? Why did my phone die? Where is everybody? I hope Mildred is okay!

 

Mildred lived directly across the street from Rosa. She was an elderly woman who was in remarkable shape. She was eighty-eight and still played tennis. Rosa had grown very close to Mildred since she had moved in, visiting at least a couple times a week to engage in friendly chats and the occasional glass of wine. The old woman had always inspired her to live more intentionally. In the back of her mind, Rosa knew that Mildred would die someday sooner than later, and that fear was constantly nagging at her.

Ring Ring!

Answer the door, Mildred! 

After waiting not long at all, Rosa busted in. Good thing she had a key.

“Mildred!”

No answer. Fear crept higher. She checked every room. No Mildred. In fact, it didn’t appear like anybody had lived there for years!

Rosa ran back outside. At this point, she was beyond confused; she was ready to break down in a fit of tears if somebody didn’t explain what the heck was going on!

Where is everybody?

After knocking on a couple more doors in the neighborhood with no success, she returned to her own house, pushing back the emotions that so quickly fought for her attention. She grabbed her keys and tried her car. Dead.

NO! What is going on?!

Rosa was getting desperate. As a last effort of sanity (although as she looked back on it later, she realized it was more of an effort of insanity), she began jogging down her street and out of her neighborhood. The restaurant she worked at was just a few minutes down the road; surely she’d find somebody there!

Normally she would’ve been breathing heavily after a few minutes of jogging, but adrenaline told a different story. She was superhuman in this moment, like a mom saving her child from beneath an SUV.

Keep running. You’ll find somebody. Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.

It’s amazing she found so much positivity in an obviously corrupt and hostile world. If she had had a little more strategy in the moment, a little more discernment, maybe a dash of perception, she may have been able to avoid some future pain. But in her current mental state, the sky could have be falling and she wouldn’t have noticed.

She stopped running when she reached the restaurant. Now she knew something was wrong; everything was wrong, actually.

The restaurant was abandoned. It was run down; crumbling. It looked like the apocalypse had happened there.

THE APOCALYPSE!

 

You have to understand something about Rosa. Although she was one of those weirdos who actually believed the zombie apocalypse was a realistic expectation of the future, she had been too lazy to prepare. Aside from watching The Walking Dead, she had done no more than merely conjecture about what she would do if presented with an apocalyptic situation.

Well now she was presented with an apocalyptic situation, and what did she do?

Rosa fell to the ground, unconscious.

~~~~

Jumping Jack

“C’mon Jack, jump!” Billy yelled at his best friend, who stared down at him from the tall limbs of the oak tree far above the pile of leaves on the ground.

“I don’t know! I’m kinda scared!” Jack yelled back.

“I dare you!”

Dear reader, I don’t know how long it has been since you have been a child, but let me solidify this concept in your head. When one child dares another to do some thing they would otherwise avoid, that thing becomes the only thing that matters in a given moment. Thoughts of crushes, chores, or what’s for dinner disappear and are replaced with one thought alone: I have to follow through. 

And so Jack jumped into the pile of leaves which provided less cushion than either boy had counted on, and a broken bone and a hospital visit were in order, as well as an end to a friendship. That day Billy learned the power of the dare, Jack learned the power of gravity, and Jack’s parents learned the power of the hospital bill.

August Itch: An Extensive Guide On What To Do With Boys Who Turn Into Dragons

*Based on a true story

 

There once was a boy named August. He was an ordinary child, well, mostly.

He had a quirk.

Maybe ‘quirk’ isn’t the correct term here, but ‘problem’ doesn’t fit and ‘disease’ certainly doesn’t apply, so I’ve chosen ‘quirk’. Deal with it.

Back to the story.

The truth is, August had an itch. Constantly. And no matter how much he scratched and rubbed, it refused to leave him. This was a big problem for August and his family too. The poor boy’s mother had spoken with doctors and oracles, fortune tellers and witch doctors; she had tried oils and lotions, snake poison and lemon juice. There was nothing on the planet that had not been applied to little August’s itch-spot. Eventually, all resources had been exhausted, and the sad family gave up hope of curing their little boy. August Itch, as he became known as, was doomed to live an abnormal life. He couldn’t go to school, couldn’t make friends, couldn’t go in public, definitely couldn’t get a job when he grew up; this was the sad reality in which our protagonist lived his life.

August spent most of his time in the woods next to his house playing, listening to the birds, and scratching himself up and down, down and up, on the rough bark of the pine trees. Although he had been told again and again to, no matter what you do, do NOT scratch your itch, it provided temporary relief for his very permanent condition. Scratching became his favorite past time.

I’d love to be able to say that August’s habitual scratching bore him no consequences, but as I am sure you know, all actions carry with them certain repercussions, whether good or bad. August’s habit was no exception, and as time passed, his skin grew tougher and scalier until one day, August and his family awoke to the astonishing realization that little August Itch had turned into a dragon!

That was the worst day ever. August’s parents had had enough, and with a shove and a screech, they tossed him out the door never to return to the small house on the edge of the woods.

August was dismayed. With nowhere to call his home, nobody to call his friend, nothing in the world to comfort him, he entered the forest with head hung low.

What do dragons do? he wondered.

He tried to breathe fire, but of course he was not a real dragon.

He tried to fly, but he had no wings!

August was a lost boy-dragon in a lonely world, betrayed by his parents to live in a hostile forest. Every day he witnessed a poor forest animal being killed and eaten by a different predator. He was next, to be sure!

And he certainly would have been somebody’s dinner if it weren’t for Gloria.

A few days after August’s excommunication from his household and the only life he’d ever known, he was following a small path through the woods when he happened upon an inspiring scene: an enormous indigo dragon, brilliantly perched over a dead fox, nose bloodied from her feast. In a rare moment of vulnerability, the beast had been caught unawares.

“Hello,” said August.

Gloria started and instinctively poised for attack.

“I won’t hurt you, I’m just a boy.”

“Why, aren’t you a curious thing. You’re a boy-dragon!” Gloria said.

“Yes, and I don’t know what dragons do. Will you teach me how to be a dragon?”

“Well where is your mother, young one?”

“She didn’t like that I turned into a dragon so she sent me off on my own,” August said sadly.

Suddenly, in a moment of intensity, August’s itch grew to unbearable proportions and he flung himself to the nearest tree to relieve himself with scratching. It was quite a scene.

“Dear me! Whatever is wrong with you, boy-dragon?” Gloria shouted.

“I have an itch that never goes away,” August said with face contorted in pain as he rubbed his back violently against the tree.

“Why that sounds awful!”

August finished scratching and sighed.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Gloria. What’s yours?”

“August.”

“August, are you hungry, dear? Help yourself to this fox; it’s very tasty!”

August approached the dead fox timidly, smelling it with his very human nose.

“Do dragons eat foxes?” he asked.

“Oh yes, and many other forest animals too!”

August lowered his face to the mangled fox and struggled to tear a piece of bloodied flesh with his very human teeth. He spat it out instantly. Gloria laughed.

“Why don’t you come back to my mountain and we’ll make a fire and cook the meat for you. You can meet my family too, if you wish!” Gloria said.

“Oh, yes please!” August said emphatically.

So little August Itch boarded Gloria’s back and she clutched the limp fox in her strong jaw and together they flew to Gloria’s mountain.

August met all of Gloria’s friends and family that day and they accepted him as their own, and August spent much of his childhood from that day forward in the woods and on the mountain, learning how to be a good boy-dragon.

A Grim Account

Well, dear reader, the story that I am about to relate to you takes place in the summer; the time of year when I, death, claim the majority of suicide victims as my own. According to reliable sources, summer and the months leading up to it are when depressed human beings, weary of their very existence, choose against the will of all who love them to steal from themselves what is held most dear. Is it even possible to steal something that you yourself own, you ask? Well, do you really own life? I’m sure my counterpart would say otherwise. Let me introduce you to my coworker, Life himself.

Life is much happier than I. He (or she, who am I to assume the gender of a state of being? However, for the sake of this narrative, I shall refer to Life as ‘he’.) is full of, erm, well, life! It is indeed rather hard to describe something which the human mind cannot fully comprehend, but can’t you see I’m trying here? No matter!

Life works much harder than I, bringing roughly double the amount of existence into the world as I take out of it . However, my role on the universe does appear to have a greater affect on the lives of these human beings who so cherish the spotlight of creation. It seems to me that anguish is a stronger emotion than joy. Engrain these two images in your mind: the face of a mother who has just conceived and the face of the man whose brother has just died. Which image is clear in your conscience? I trust I have made my point.

Nonetheless, I give Life much credit for this simple reason: without Life, I would be without a job. In fact, I would be nonexistent. So for that reason, I am grateful for the work of Life, though we butt heads on many matters. One such matter is suicide. And it is on this topic that I narrate this story to you.

I will admit, I do not understand, nor will I ever comprehend the emotions and thoughts that exist inside a human mind. I know not what drives a man or woman to such insanity whereupon they would hoist themselves high upon a bridge with weights tied to their ankles, and with a shout (or cry, the difference is indistinguishable) shove themselves into the air, allowing gravity to send them into the water below and ultimately, into my arms. However, when such a moment presents itself, when one of the humans does contemplate suicide, I try to make the most of it.

Undoubtedly, Life will beat me to The Boss’s door. He always does (Life is the sort of fellow who is very passionate about his work and quick to respond to the happenings of existence). But The Boss will usually listen to both sides of the case, first to Life’s emotional cries of desperation, and then to my own monotone. But no matter how much we beg and plea and scratch and scuff, the decision is left up to The Boss. Every time. And so, after our measly presentations, we exit His office and proceed to the observatory, where we wait and watch for the fate of the human in question.

It was exactly 12:00 A.M. on this particular summer night, which I thought seemed particularly foreboding, when Anna, the teenaged daughter of a wealthy businessman, stood atop a tall bridge, primed to take the leap. Life and I watched in anticipation from the observatory, oblivious to her fate. I could see her sweating even from so great a distance away; I could tell she was about to make her move, when Life gasped and pointed.

“Angels!” he exclaimed, “Angels are encircling her! She will be saved!” and he jumped from his place in the observatory and rushed down to Earth to greet Anna with open arms. I watched it all from above as, indeed, she stepped away from the bridge and removed the weights from her ankles. The Boss had chosen Life for Anna, and there were tears of joy on her face as she realized what she was almost persuaded to do. Life hugged Anna with all his might while the angels stood by, watching cheerfully, and after the embrace they all danced in the street and rejoiced.

If I’m to be honest, a small tear escaped my eye that night as I watched so intently the scene unfold beneath me from my window seat in the observatory. I believe it was the first tear to ever abscond my tear ducts, and I trust it will be the last as well.

Something changed for me that night. Never again did I view my job in the same light. After that moment, I became more and more aware of the pain that I caused in the world and contrarily, I better appreciated Life’s honorable profession. No longer did I scratch and scuff when I entered The boss’s office to present my side of a case; no longer was I so eager to enter the scene of a crime. I suppose one could say I became soft that night.

After all these years of stealing souls, I’ve learned many things. One is that suicide, above all else, makes me weary. Life and I have had many a conversation about suicide, and we both believe that it is the most hopeless of all crimes.

So, dear reader, let me simply say this: do not worry about removing my career, for that will never happen, but if I can teach you anything at all through this grim account, let it be to choose life.

Grizzly

The children listened intently to the storyteller in front of them, eyes bulging, ears thirsty for more adrenaline-packed words. Their breath was still, like a humid day; they were both in awe and terrified.

Mr. Patterson continued his tale.

“I looked up, over the hedge which I hid behind, into the small clearing where the tracks that I had been following led, and there I saw her – the biggest, most ferocious, wild-looking Grizzly Bear I had ever seen. There she stood tall on her two massive back paws, watching me with eyes the size of baseballs, breathing silently at me. She made no noise, not even the softest growl, and for a moment she seemed peaceful. But when our eyes locked, my neck hairs raised and every muscle in my body went tense with fear.

We just looked at each other for a while – she was magnificent, the most beautiful animal I had ever laid eyes on. I knew I was defenseless against such a monster and she could tear me to brisket if she chose to do so, but I didn’t move; I just stared, refusing to flinch or blink. Until she did. And that’s when I knew I had to act.

I knew what I had to do. In my head, I jumped to my feet, raised my arms high above my head, and yelled so loud my deaf grandfather heard me. But that was in my head. In reality, I made a mistake. I froze.

And that’s when she chose to attack. She raised up higher on her haunches than I knew she could, growled with the force of a hurricane wind, and like that she was off. Straight for me.

The rest of that encounter is fuzzy in my head. All I remember is running, feeling the bear close behind me, and slamming into the ground unexpectedly. She had overtaken me, as you would expect, and when I woke from unconsciousness, I was weak from blood loss. But somehow I made it back home safely and slowly recovered back to health. But the bear not only left behind a distinct memory in my head, she left this.”

Mr. Patterson turned around and lifted the back of his shirt, revealing four massive streaks of darkened scars running diagonally across his spine. The crowd of children gasped in unison.

“I learned a valuable lesson: never underestimate a six hundred pound hunk of muscle and fur in its natural habitat. You will lose. I’m just thankful that Grizzly chose to spare my life.”

The children returned to their homes, imaginations soaring with their newfound input of fear mixed with knowledge.

That night, Timothy, an especially curious ten year-old who had listened to Mr. Patterson’s story, lay in bed, eyelids refusing to close around his eyeballs, mind humming and buzzing. The topic of his imagination: Grizzly Bears.

It was especially late, the latest Timothy had ever stayed up, when he sneaked out of the house and wandered through the misty blackness with only his flashlight to make a path for his feet. When he came to the edge of the woods he did not hesitate but ran between the trees. There was not a stroke of fear in his body, only excitement and wonder, with his only goal to see the big Grizzly for himself.

Abby & Abby

Abbott married Abigail.

They were a happy couple.

Until people started calling them both ‘Abby’.

They wanted the name calling to stop.

They posted on Facebook.

“Stop calling us ‘Abby & Abby’, please and thank you!”

But it only continued.

It got worse.

It became unbearable.

Abigail refused to leave the house.

Abbott was forced to do the grocery shopping.

Their marriage began to crumble.

Meditation didn’t work.

Marriage counseling didn’t work.

Divorce was inevitable.

And then, a brilliant idea!

Abbott changed his name.

Now they were ‘Gary & Abby’.

But nothing changed.

Oh, cruel world!

They divorced.

All because of a silly name.

Pleasant

The artist painted.

Naturally.

His name was Giuseppe. His parents had moved from Italy to New York City before he was born and there they lived happily. His father was an artist too, and his father, and his father before him as far back as anybody knew. Giuseppe had always loved painting, fascinated with the beauty and craft. He appreciated all styles of art but he truly enjoyed impressionism the most. Van Gogh was one of his favorites, but then again, who doesn’t like Van Gogh?

Giuseppe was a street artist. The urban life of New York City was his studio and every day he made his living painting the streets, the buildings, the people there. He would move around the city frequently, for a week at a time, before relocating and painting some more. When he would finish a painting, he would set the canvas on the ground for passersby to look at, admire, and buy. On good days he’d make a few hundred bucks, on bad days nothing at all. He managed to squeak by, pay the bills, make some New Yorkers happy, and have some fun in the meantime.

Most people moved on from this stage of life, he realized. Plenty of people tried to pursue what they loved, but after a year or two of hardship and failure, they seemed to give up. They moved on to stable jobs, ones that made their wives happy, ones that allowed them to own a fancy car or comfortable furniture.

Giuseppe refused to move on. Success is a relative thing, and for him, it meant doing what he loved to do. He felt a profound sense of fulfillment in painting and he simply wasn’t ready to give that up.

~~~

It was a breezy day, the trees moving together in a strange sort of synchronized dance. The smog that typically hovered about the city was gone, the sky impressively visible above the high cityscape, and it was a rich sapphire color. Clouds like islands drifted along the currents of the ocean sky. Below them, birds soared, enjoying every second of flight gifted to them by the good Lord above.

Down below, Giuseppe had found a quiet park to paint in. It was serene.

With a smile plastered on his face as he hummed contentedly, he drew a scene that sat picturesquely before him. Sitting on the edge of a fountain with the full grace of the water splashing at his back, a musician strummed his guitar and sang passionately. He was good. Giuseppe was within ear shot, enjoying the melodious tunes as he ordered his brushes around like soldiers on the battlefield of his canvas.

Here was the man’s head, now his guitar, now the fountain behind him, all created out of nothing on this white canvas. He was rather pleased with his painting thus far and thought about keeping this one for himself.

“Very nice.”

A voice behind him startled Giuseppe. It was the street musician, who was standing behind him, admiring his artwork and grinning widely.

“Scare you?”

“Yes, a little,” Giuseppe smiled back at the man, “I did not even notice you were gone from the fountain!”

The man was bigger standing up than he had seemed when he was sitting. Giuseppe perceived he was about six and a half feet tall.

“I like it,” the man gestured at the painting, “Can I buy it when you’re finished?”

“Of course! What is your name?”

“Thomas,” he said, extending his hand around his guitar to shake Giuseppe’s hand.

Giuseppe received the man’s outstretched hand with his own.

“Giuseppe is my name. I enjoyed your music, you are quite talented!”

“Thank you! You’re very kind. I’ve been playing for ten years and never regretted it once. What about you? How long have you been painting?”

“Ever since I was a kid. My father taught me how to hold the brush and make nice strokes. I have always known that this is what I wanted to do forever.”

They conversed a few minutes longer before Giuseppe returned his attention to his art and painted a magnificent brown and green tree in the distance.

Thomas watched, enchanted with the artist.

“That’s incredible! I wish I could draw,” Thomas said.

“Here, draw a little tree next to that big one.” Giuseppe offered Thomas his brush. “Take it. It is your painting anyway, you will not ruin it.”

Thomas took the brush emphatically and painted a sloppy tree next the magnificent one Giuseppe had made. He laughed.

“It is not so bad. Here, let me finish the painting and it will be yours to keep,” Giuseppe said, taking back the paintbrush. It was turning out very nicely, he thought; Thomas thought so as well.

“How much?” Thomas asked.

“You can have it for free, my friend, but would you play a song for me?” Giuseppe returned and smiled up at Thomas’s beaming face.

“It would be a pleasure!”

Thomas played a sweet tune as Giuseppe finished his painting and handed it to his new friend; they both admired it for a minute before Giuseppe spoke.

“I will be here for a week, will you be at that fountain every day?”

“Yes, I’ll always be here I’m afraid. I’m destined for a street musician’s life.”

“I am sure you will find where you are meant to be soon. This can only be a phase. Just like me! Painting for passersby is just a phase. I will one day soon have a nice studio and gallery and people will come from far and near to see my art! You wait and see, Thomas, my friend, It will happen soon; sooner than later! And the same for you. Not too long and you will be playing your music in front of thousands of people. ”

“I wish that would be true. Maybe it will happen one day.” After a long sigh and a moment of silence, Thomas added on, “But if I’m destined to be a street performer the rest of my days, I’m okay with it. It’s not about being famous and getting to play for a bunch of people, it’s about making a living and enjoying life with people. I truly believe that. Although it would be nice…”

They chuckled.

For the next week, Giuseppe painted in the same spot by the fountain, selling his work and Thomas played his music for the passersby, occasionally receiving a few dollars in his open guitar case, and a few times throughout the day, Thomas visited Giuseppe and they would banter amiably.

Finally, at the end of the week, Giuseppe had to move on to another location. Before he did, however, he spoke to Thomas one last time.

“Why don’t we pool our money together and rent a place where we can show my artwork and you can play music? This is what I am thinking, a small show with a stage up front. I am painting and the people are watching, and you are playing your music, and the people are listening. We charge five dollars for them to enter, and we share the profits. This way, I have a place to show my talents and you have an audience to enjoy your music.”

“What a great idea! Let me think about it. I’ll tell you tomorrow. Let’s get lunch and I’ll have an answer by then.”

They agreed and parted ways.

Thomas was late to lunch the next day, but when he finally arrived, he looked excited and happy.

“Come with me, Giuseppe!”

Thomas led Giuseppe to a small, vacant shop that was ready to lease.

“This is it!” Thomas said with enthusiasm, “This is our venue, Giuseppe! It’s perfect. Big enough for you to display your art and it has a stage for us also!”

They were in business.

In A Cave Somewhere

What if?

There could be a bug. An ugly, creepy critter. 

Who knows?

She could get bitten by a vampire.

A monster could lunge out at her and maul her.

Or maybe.

Jazmine’s mind wandered frantically this way and that, exploring all the endless possibilities.

She was scared, that much was obvious.

“Calm down, Jaz. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” said Merle, her fearless and intrepid boyfriend and guide.

“Easy for you to say, you’ve been in how many caves?”

“Don’t you trust me then?”

“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of –AAH”

Jazmine jumped with fright, hitting her head on the ceiling of the cave. Merle laughed, his sentiment resounding off the walls.

“That’s my favorite part about caves; the ECHO!”

“Shh! Stop that, Merle!”

Jazmine gripped the back of her boyfriend’s shirt.

Merle laughed again. “You really need to ease up.”

They continued their spelunking journey in silence, well, if you consider Jazmine’s terrified thoughts escaping her brain and pounding off the walls as silence.

Was that a spider?

Where did that gust of wind come from? Was it the breath of a creepy cave bear?

What if the bats are just waiting for us around that corner?

“Merle, let’s go back. I can’t handle this.”

“Oh come on, don’t be a wuss. Why don’t you talk or sing or something to get your mind off it?”

“And practically beg all the monsters to come attack me? No thank you!”

Merle laughed.

“I find it funny that you’re not claustrophobic or scared of the dark, you’re scared of the bugs.”

“Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and found a cockroach crawling around on your hand?”

Merle laughed again as Jazmine shuddered at the memory. If only she had known that it was a toy roach.

They squeezed through a tight tunnel which opened up into a massive cavern.

“Wow, this is cool!”

“See? Caves are cool!”

“I feel safer in a bigger space I guess,” said Jazmine, releasing her grip on Merle’s shirt and timidly exploring around the cave.

“Hey look at this map engraved on the wall,” Jazmine said from across the chamber. Merle walked over to check it out.

“Hm. That looks like this cave system,” he pointed to a segment of the map, “that’s where we just were, and this is the cavern where we are now. It looks like it goes a ways farther and leads out the other side.”

“Hey look, there’s a poem here also.”

She began reading slowly, squinting to make out the crudely carved words in the rock:

Where bones are buried,

And something else too.

Ignorance is bliss!

What will you do?

“What does that mean?” Jazmine wondered aloud.

“And there’s an arrow pointing to this spot on the map,” said Merle, furling his brow.

“Dude. It’s a treasure map!”

Merle’s eyes brightened and he looked at his girlfriend and they shared a hearty laugh.

“There’s no way this is a treasure map, right?”

“Let’s go check it out anyway!” Merle never was able to quench his curiosity. “Modern day Indiana Jones!”

They were off, hunting treasure a hundred feet beneath the earth’s surface. When they reached the portion of the cave where the arrow had pointed on the map, they began exploring, looking for some ancient chest. Merle was giddy with excitement, Jazmine was meh at best.

“C’mon, why aren’t you getting into this?”

“Merle… we’re following a crude cave map in a creepy dungeon where bugs and bats and monsters live to try to find some golden crown worn by the king of Atlantis!”

“Hey, nice imagination!”

Merle was about to give up searching for the hidden treasure when something shiny reflected his headlamp. With a shout, he rushed over to it.

“Just a rock,” Jazmine said unenthusiastically, “let’s get out of here, I’m hungry.”

“Look Jaz, this spot in the ground is soft, like dirt or something. I bet the treasure is here, help me dig!”

“You’re nuts.”

Merle rummaged through his small backpack and grabbed the chisel and hammer that he always kept in case he found some rare gem. Chiseling away at the soft ground, he uncovered the earth. A mere foot below, his chisel struck something hard. Merle’s heart skipped a beat.

“Jaz,” he said, eyes wide as the sky.

He frantically dug and dug until the object was uncovered. It was a small wooden box.

“JAZ!”

Merle held the box up into the light of his lamp, and he looked ecstatically with his girlfriend.

“The map was real!” he said much too loudly.

“What– is this for real?”

Jazmine took the box from Merle and peered at it. Merle grabbed his water bottle and poured a little water over it, cleaning off the dirt.

“Open it?” Jazmine suggested.

“Yeah,” Merle’s voice cracked.

Slowly, with breath suppressed, Jazmine lifted the tab that held the lid of the box shut.

What’s inside? Is it gold? Some rare artifact?

What if nothing’s inside?

What if it’s a joke?

What if there’s a spider!

“A watch!” Merle’s echoes lingered in the cave.

They examined the watch in the light. It was made of brass, a large face with hands that had stopped working ages ago. It had a rusty chain extending from it.

“Just a watch,” Jazmine sounded disappointed.

“Well, who knows? Maybe this was Captain Blackbeard’s old pocket watch or something.” Merle’s sense of humor was relentless; what a guy. “Well this was a rush. Let’s take it with us and we’ll see how much it’s worth when we get home. Maybe we’ll be rich!”

Little did the two spelunking love bugs know that this was only the beginning of a lifetime of treasure-hunting adventures.

Time Is A Funny Thing

“I’m just reading so much lately.”

“So?”

“I don’t have time to write anymore!”

“You don’t?”

“No! All I want to do is read now. I think I’m giving up writing forever.”

“Dramaqueen.”

“Ugh. Maybe you’re right.”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“Yes I am right.”

“Oh.”

“You have time to write. You always have time.”

“How’s that?”

“You just have to make time.”

“Yeah, maybe…”

“Not maybe.”

“Okay, I guess so.”

“It’s not about how much time you have; we all have the same amount of time in a day. It’s about what you do with that time.”