Jo Janoski\’s Blog

Writings, Observations, Poetry, Stories

Discover April 28, 2007

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 8:01 am

Discover


 

April is National Poetry Month.

A story about a poet with writer’s block.

 

Sally leaned against the railing and breathed the clean air deep, filling her lungs with its mountain-fresh aroma and crisp, limitless freedom. Taking this tour via the antique rail car was the smartest thing she’d ever done. From the overlook one could see for miles, a panorama of green-topped mountains and valleys with rivulets streaming through like the swirly designs on her grandmother’s quilts. The trip comprised three days and two nights of beautiful Appalachian wonder. Surely the railroad tour would cure her poetic writer’s block. Carrying her notebook and a selection of writer’s pens, she was ready for duty. Now, just two hours into the journey, inspiration was creeping in already.

“Let’s go folks! We have a schedule to keep!” Larry, their tour guide, clapped his hands and shooed everyone back toward the train like a mother hen. Sally boarded last. She was savoring every moment. The air smelled wonderful out here away from the muck and stink of the city. It tickled her nose, spicy and prickly. Perhaps it was from the abundance of pine trees. Settling in her seat, she opened the notebook to write. Painters working “en plein air” felt the same excitement, working outdoors taking in nature and recreating its wonder on canvas first-hand instead of from memory or photos. She’d do it with her words. Yes, the trip was a great idea.

The train coughed and choked, then proceeded to chug past vistas. She spied a tiny one-room church with white-washed sides and trimmed with pastel blue frames and shutters. It sat reverently on a field of rich green grass. Sally grabbed her pen to start a tanka about the softly colored church and its thin, misty steeple reaching to the sky.

Her work was engrossing, so that at first she didn’t hear the commotion at the back of the car. A voice yelling behind Sally jolted from her seat.

“Everyone freeze!”

She turned to see a wild man at the back of the car. A grizzly beard and crazy blue eyes looked back, glaring in all directions. The fellow was wired, fueled by panic. He brandished a gun, clutching it straight out in front of him with outstretched arms. Holding himself rigid, he was ready to swivel his body in any direction. Those eyes darted around the car. So many people for one man to control even if he had a giant gun.

The conductor hovered in the corner.

The gunman turned on one foot like a machine to point the pistol at him. “You tell the engineer to move this train to the next town, nice and easy, or someone gets shot. If they notify the police and they’re waiting, then I’ll kill everyone before they can get to me.” The conductor scurried to fulfill the wild man’s instructions.

“Everyone throw their wallets, jewelry, everything of value into this sack!” He tugged a cloth bag from his coat and tossed it to the nearest passenger, a neatly dressed man in a pinstriped suit and red tie. The fellow fumbled through his pockets to find his wallet and tossed it in. The crazy guy glared at him, causing the gentleman to throw in his watch as well. It looked like a Rolex.

“Speed it up! Pineville is coming up quick!”

A sea of frightened faces looked back at him, people of all ages…a grandmother in the front wiped tears from her eyes, while a young girl clutched her mother’s arm. Two teenagers glared back with a combination of outrage and fear painted on their faces. Pineville, the next stop, was just a few minutes away. The satchel arrived on Sally’s lap. She had her wallet ready and dropped it in under the watchful eye of the intruder.

“Your watch and rings, too!”

Sally paused, then looked up. “The ring belonged to my mother. She passed years ago. It’s the only jewelry I have that belonged to her.”

“I don’t care. Throw it in the bag!”

“I will not.”

He stepped forward and aimed the gun at her head. “Put the jewelry in the bag or I’ll blow you away.”

“No.”

The train clunked as the engines started their monotonous crawl up Wald Mountain. It started the endeavor with an unexpected jerk, tossing the gunman into a backwards fall. He stumbled to catch his balance. The man in the suit lunged forward at the opportunity to knock the pistol out of his hand. With a grunt and a thud, he next jumped onto the fellow and rolled him to the floor, while producing his own weapon, a revolver from a holster under his jacket and held it to the guy’s chest.

“You can call the police now to meet us in Pineville,” he said. “I’m with the sheriff’s office.” He brandished a badge before handcuffing the fellow.

Sally sat back in her seat, holding back tears. She’s never come close to death before. It changed her. One moment in time had demonstrated the ephemeral fragility of life as she knew it. Her poetry would have an edge forevermore, of that she was certain. And she’d never want for inspiration again either, having learned that day life has many forms and energies to be expressed, both good and bad. A big world existed out there beyond her reach. Time to discover it.

Copyright 2007 JO Janoski

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Following the Star December 21, 2006

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 11:09 pm

Following the Star…

A Christmas Story


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I wrote this a couple of years ago.

It is one of my favorites.


David yawned and stretched at exactly the same time as a white fire exploded in the sky. A dazzling trail of sparkling dust bled down from the inferno. Next the core of the burst slowly twirled around and around, with sparks jumping off and rearranging into points around a circle to form a glistening star. It blinked once before pirouetting across the expanse of inky black. The young shepherd stumbled in surprise but grasped harder on his staff to keep upright. The white pulsating light danced across the horizon, beckoning the lad with every blink.

David’s heart pounded with such force it was a wonder it didn’t burst into a million particles. The star was alive with fire. It telegraphed a message, a familiar one of love…love in its purest, simplest form. The apparition glided across the expanse of black like a sailboat skimming across the water.

“I’ve got to follow,” the young shepherd murmured. The sheep had settled for the night. He would slip away. Gathering a blanket, the boy glanced at his animals. A lamb slept separately from the rest. Enamored from the start by the tiny creature, he’d given it a nickname, Gentle. He gathered Gentle in his arms and gazed at the sky. The star continued to travel on its glistening path.

David rushed after it in what turned out to be a half night’s journey up and over fragrant grassy hills, until finally he arrived on the dry, dusty road leading to Bethlehem. Moving quickly to keep up, his heart sang on the exhilarating journey. His lungs filled with cool air while the spicy aromas of the countryside tickled his nose. He loved the land in all its aspects.

Father would not be pleased he had abandoned the flock, but an emotion like white fire had overtaken his heart as the starry light led him onward.

Bethlehem proved to be a busy town, as multitudes of travelers wandered in for the census. The Inns were full, and many camped along the road. Children played together as their weary parents prepared makeshift bedding and scoured their supplies for a bit of bread or water. They stared at the intense young man as he passed by. Oblivious to their gazes, David’s pounding heart pushed him farther into the tiny city.

He imagined his father would be exasperated at dawn to find the sheep unattended. David sighed. What kind of life is a shepherd’s anyway. Samuel, his friend, made a good living stealing at the marketplace in Bethlehem. With hands like a magician, he could grab up an item and hide it in his cloak before anyone was the wiser. Bringing the items home to the village, the town’s people were eager to buy cheaper than they would pay in Bethlehem. Samuel would no doubt someday be a rich man. He had offered to teach young David all his tricks.

“That’s what I should do,” the boy said out loud, as though speaking the words would make them true. Satisfied with the thought, David barely noticed the star had stopped moving. It pulsated in the sky over a ramshackle stable standing behind a nearby Inn.

His heart’s fierce pounding sounded in his ears again. A yearning in his soul pushed him toward the stable. He needed whatever was there, but what was it?

A man, a woman, and a baby, who was nestled in a manger of straw, met his gaze. A cow and two horses lingered in the back, the only sound being the gentle swish of the cow’s tail, back and forth, back and forth. What were these people doing in a stable with animals?

The baby opened his eyes and caught David’s glance. The little one’s gaze burnt with the fiery magic of the star. The baby was the star.

Cascading emotions rushed David, dropping him to his knees. His heart was in a cacophonous turmoil of love, reverence, and confusion woven together in a pattern of gaudy mismatched hues. His weakened hand lost its grasp of Gentle and the lamb ambled forward to the babe.

The infant’s eyes paralyzed David in their light. Who was this child? The boy’s heart crashed to the ground as the infant’s eyes, with a waver, read his heart and desire to be a thief, like Samuel. The orbs shot to David a message like a whisper. He had a decision to make, to follow the righteous path and be a proper shepherd, or follow the way of dishonesty to acquire material riches.

Visions of David’s flock floated through his mind, and a rush of its sublime and simple beauty wrapped around him like a satin ribbon. He knew he wanted the life of an honest and simple shepherd. All honest work had dignity on God’s good earth. On the hillside with the sky and grasses and sheep, he would be close to God. He glanced to the child, and a glint in the tiny eyes reassured him.

David averted his eyes as his soul filled to brimming. Looking up, he nodded to the man and woman.

“The lamb,” he said, nodding toward Gentle. “It is a gift…for the baby. For surely this infant is the lamb of God.”

The woman’s smile could light up the entire night sky. David bowed to them and turned to go. The time had arrived for a new beginning, one full of purpose and self-knowledge, and the right path to God.

* * *

Copyright Story & Poster Photo – JO Janoski




 

Ocean Vanity October 29, 2006

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 2:57 pm


The following story is written to go with the above painting, “Narcissistic Bathers” by Jack Vettriano.

OCEAN VANITY

Never was there such a strange trio. We lived together. We played together. And well, no, we did not sleep together. But a communal snooze on the living room furniture was not an unheard of idea.

I loved them both–as friends and…well…yes, as friends. Brenda was flighty–a brisk redhead, slender, petite, quick to respond and not long to linger. And Brad, well, he was her opposite–tall, solid, a personality who considered long and hard about every decision. And then there was me, the last member of this group of three. I’m just a regular Joe–I wouldn’t stand out if you saw me on the street, and I’ve got no earth-shattering inventions or ideas to offer the world. I’m just me.

We met in college. Brenda and Brad became an instant couple, and me…well, I just sort of wandered in…an odd extra. It takes three to have a good party, so the other two kept me around. I was a ready partner to go places and see things, and I added that one extra laugh to turn a date into a party on wheels. I was surprised when they asked me to move in. I guess they just wanted to have a party 24/7. I agreed without hesitation. Perhaps I needed a family. We were family, and I was the voice of reason that settled familial disputes.

“Brad, I don’t want to go to the museum. It’s so boring! How about the Skylight Cafe.”

“What, and sit around with a bunch of airheads and get jumped up on caffeine”

“How dare you? Those people are my friends, which I’m beginning to think you are not.”

At this point, I would step in. “Hey, they’re both good ideas. Why don’t you do both, only on a timetable you each promise to obey–Say, 1 hr. for each. That way everything is equal.”

“Will you come so Brad plays by the rules?”

“Yes.” And there I’d be, off on another of their dates. A strange life, but at least the rent was cheap.

I never saw two people so infatuated with their good looks–not each others–each loved his own reflection. Brenda spent hours getting ready to go out–hair, make-up, clothes–whatever else women do. And Brad, exactly the same…well, not make-up, but everything else. Me? I can throw on a pair of pants and a shirt, flatten my hair with my fist, and I’m good to go. It’s a wonder the other two wanted to be seen with me. But I guess I served my purpose, being peacemaker and all.

One day we went for a walk on the beach. A summer day, the sun blasting in the sky produced shimmering jewels on the water while the sand glistened in unison under its glare. The waves crashed against the shore in vigorous strikes. I wished I had a surf board as my mind swirled on the waves with ideas.

Brenda went strolling like a beachcomber until suddenly she stopped, a look of tragedy plastered her face in a long smile and wide eyes. She squatted down and, I kid you not, studied her face in the water’s reflection. She turned right, left, scrunched up her nose, patted her hair, examining, examining.

Brad saw this and ran over and squatted next to her to see his own reflection. She elbowed him out of the way, and he pulled back to stand next to me, red-faced from the rebuff. It wasn’t because he was rejected by her; it was that he couldn’t get in to see the “mirror.”

I stood forever while Brenda, then Brad, had their turns at the “mirror.” While waiting, I pondered how many people in the world would do this–use the ocean for personal vanity. I thought and thought and came to only one conclusion. Only these two. That was the day I decided to leave them.

“Tommy, why are you doing this?” Brenda asked, her mouth fixed in a pout when I told them.

“It’s just time. That’s all.” As soon as I said it, I worried it wasn’t enough.

“Who will settle our disputes?” Brad demanded.

“You’ll manage.”

“And how can we have fun going out, just the two of us.”

“Other people do it all the time. It’s called giving and sharing.”

“But what will we talk about?” Brenda asked.

I studied her a moment and then gave the obvious answer. “Talk about each other.”

“You mean about clothes and hair?”

“Exactly,” I said. In the next instant, I picked up my suitcase and left. I didn’t look back, but I wonder sometimes if the face and clothes talk ever stopped once they got started.

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski

 

Just Doing My Job September 29, 2006

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 10:53 pm

The following is a story written for a workshop, where the assignment was to write a 1000 word (prox.) story with the following elements: a red bike, a mail delivery lady who is pregnant, and an aggressive dog.

JUST DOING MY JOB

Sally climbed the steps, one by one, huffing and puffing with each advance. Twenty steps, twenty steps to reach the porch above. A rusty mailbox, her destination, remained in view, the lid curled and bent, no doubt the result of a collision with a heavy object or fist. Being a mail carrier was not all it was cracked up to be. The civil service brochure had bragged of the benefits–a good pension and health care, but not a peep about the walking, walking, walking.

She delivered mail daily for two dozen city blocks, lugging catalogs, letters, and magazines. Enthused at first, she wasn’t now. Not now that she was two months pregnant. She’d only just found out about the baby, sending her mind reeling with the news. A leave of absence would be necessary soon; she might need to quit her job. If the truth be told, she wasn’t ready for motherhood–taking care of a new baby, losing her sense of freedom. Hubby would help, but not that much. It would mostly be up to her.

There! She made it to the top, all twenty steps! A  well used red bicycle lay sprawled on the path to the porch, blocking the sidewalk. Tip-toeing over it, a sudden roar sent her stumbling backwards. 

Sally caught herself from falling. It wouldn’t due to risk hurting the baby.

“WOOF!” A pathetic dog emerged from behind the lilac bush, his tongue dripping and dangling from a black wrinkly mouth. Dressed in gray fur, straggly and uncombed, his ugliness spoke louder than his size. Next to the delicate lilac flowers, he was a study in contrast, for sure.

“Did you bark at me? You nearly killed me. I could have fallen back on that bike and hurt myself!” Sally’s outrage juiced her words with venom. This wasn’t the first time that dog has scared the heck out of her. His raspy bark and ugly face would scare anyone.

“Sorry, just doing my job.”

“Yeah, your job, eh? To frighten civil servants. Now don’t try that thing of ‘gimme a treat and I’ll leave you alone.’ I don’t play that game.” Sally’s face flushed red with consternation.

“Honest, I’m just working here! Mom told me to protect the new baby.” The sad sack dog threw his ears back and held his tail between his hind legs in shame.

“New baby? The Smith’s had a baby?”

“Yep! It’s three month’s old now. A real cutie…a little girl. She dresses it in pink.”

“Like a dog has any sense of style! Hmmm, she’s a career woman. I mean having a law practice and all…” Sally remembered saying Good Morning to Ms. Smith many days as that lady emerged from the house wearing a smart business suit and carrying an attache case.

“Well, some things are more important. Besides she still goes in part time. I help them by guarding the house every day. Sometimes Nanny gives me a cookie.” The pooch smiled as he remembered the treat.

“Wow! She’s making quite a sacrifice! What with being considered for an assistant district attorney position recently.” Sally shrugged in disbelief, shifting her heavy mail bag to the other shoulder.  It was getting late. She didn’t usually stop to chat, but something was nagging at her. “Why would she do that?”

“Pshaw! Have you seen that kid? Such a beautiful baby! All fresh and new and full of life.” The dog beamed. His yellow teeth even sparkled.

“Yes, babies are cute and amazing…what with their newness and all,” Sally replied, touching her stomach where the little one lay waiting. It hit her with a bolt, flying in from nowhere and crystal clear. Where were her priorities? A new life! And she would play a role of importance. This wasn’t about her; it was about this new little person who needed to be taught what she already knew. This was about mother helping baby, life helping life, spirit helping spirit. Suddenly she couldn’t wait for her baby to come. What was she thinking–a bunch of letters in a dirty leather bag were no match for a pink, new, bubbly baby to care for and teach…to continue life’s legacy.

“I knew you’d come around!” The shaggy dog looked at her with eyes like saucers. He sat taller like a regular know-it-all.

“How do you know what I’m thinking?”

“We dogs know a lot of things. Like when you’re sick, when you’re sad, and when you’re preggers.” The pooch grinned.

“And you also know how to keep us humans happy…and on track,” Sally replied. And she smiled too.

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski

 

The Pilgrims’ Voyage April 25, 2006

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 4:42 pm

I first wrote this story five years ago. I've dusted it off and polished it. What do you think?

The Pilgrims' Voyage

A crisp autumn morning sent brilliant sun sparkles dancing off the shiny sea. The great vessel, its sails billowing in the wind, anchored in the harbor at Plymouth, England while passengers for the New World struggled along the walkway, lugging their dreams wrapped up in neat bundles along with their possessions. For these were deeply religious people who sought freedom from the Church of England to practice their faith in their own way in a new land.
Anna English and her husband, Tom, struggled with a huge black trunk as William, their boy, tagged behind. This was the last of their baggage and once stowed, Anna stopped to survey her fellow passengers, hoping to find someone familiar. She was acquainted with all, but some were more familiar than others.
"Anna, isn't it a shame about the other ship, the Speedwell?" her friend, Margaret, asked. The other boat had been declared unseaworthy, and now only the Mayflower could make the trip.
"Yes, especially since now we are squeezed in tighter than ever," Anna replied.
"At least we are getting out of England."
Yes, we are getting out of England, and we will be free. Anna's heart beat a little faster as she watched beat-up trunks and heavy boxes moving past. She studied the graceful sails bulging above, the intricate framework of the ship, the wooden deck, and the rugged contraptions used to sail the boat. Seagulls swooped across the sky, and the smell of salt water tickled her nose. Looking toward the horizon she spied the expanse of endless blue, blue that reached forever, a sultry hue that at the other end splashed against shores that would be her new home. It was September 16, 1620, a day of new beginnings. Anna could feel stabss of joy in her heart, painful in their intensity.
Suddenly, the din on the ship intensified as sailors yelled while ropes and white sails twirled in a flurry of movement. Her spouse, Tom, hugged Anna and their son, William, as the massive ship jerked and shook when the heavy anchor was hoisted out of the water and lowered onto the deck. The boat swayed as skillful seamen tugged and pulled to make the sails fill with air.
The ship inched forward slowly, then faster. Her heart pounded as Anna felt the ship's movement, propelling them away from the shore. They were heading out to open sea. The Pilgrims cheered despite their normal seriousness. Anna clutched Tom's arm tight as the vessel picked up speed. She whispered good-bye to England wistfully. Soon they were flying like the wind! The journey had begun.
That evening, the Pilgrims gathered for a meal on board the ship. Their first concern was to thank God for a good and safe beginning to the voyage. They enjoyed an elaborate feast with fruits and vegetables that would not be available later in their journey. The supper was festive, hopeful, and full of good faith. Soon conditions would change.
The going remained slow at first, as the Pilgrims adjusted to the limitations of life at sea. On the ship, 101 passengers took residence, each eking out a space by squatter's rights, and Anna felt hopelessly confined in the tight quarters she had found for herself and her family. A cubicle with enough space to spread out a blanket to sleep was provided, and nothing more. Each day turned into the next in a monotony propelled by the motion of the sea. She made the most of it at first, but after two weeks, the strain took hold. To begin with, the motion of the boat made her sick, and she couldn't get used to it. She didn't dare go to the upper deck for fear the rocking would make her feel worse. Down below, many others were sick as well, and the stench of vomit and diarrhea made her more ill. She spent most of the time confined to her miniature sleeping area, resting and eating little for fear of bringing the food back up. The confinement transformed her into a caged animal, losing touch with life and its refinements, quickly scaling down to brute survival. The only day she ventured out of her cubicle was dreadful.
"Anna, how are you?" Her friend, Margaret, was the first person she saw. Concern cast a shadow over the other woman's face.
"Terrible."
"Yes, you look pale, Sister. Let me get you something to eat."
Anna put out a hand to stop her friend. "No, please. I can't eat." She paused and looked around the ship. "How have things been up here on deck?"
"Not good. You see those people over there," Margaret nodded toward three men clustered together across from them. "There has been some fighting as to who has the right to what and so forth, and there is talk of splitting up when we get to Virginia. We are squeezed in so tight. Tempers are short."
"Splitting up! But we came to seek freedom together! To start a new colony!"
"It appears some folks would like their freedom not so much from England as from their neighbors," Margaret said, arching one eyebrow as she spoke.
Anna glared at the men to see lines of consternation on their faces. What was this unrest about? What had happened to their dream? She caught sight of Myles Standish and John Alden standing far off, studying the other group.
Shrugging her shoulders, she murmured, "God help us," before retreating to her cubicle.
Anna continued to be sick and soon lost track of time altogether. Life as she remembered distanced itself, and now she lived in a strange, new reality. It was a new existence living in a box, always hungry, and never being happy or occupied. Her husband and son gave up on her as incorrigible and waited to see if at the journey's end, she would come back to them. She felt dirty living in the lower deck with its sickening odors. The poor woman wore the same clothes as when they started, and her hair was a tangled mat looking more like a bird's nest than a woman's properly combed tresses.
Sometimes she would look around, and everything would seem suddenly new and different, unfamiliar and frightening, although she had been staring at the same walls and people for weeks. Her mind, suffering under the strain of the voyage, frequently played such tricks on her.
At night, she heard and sensed the sea until it enveloped her with its dark magic, bringing to mind legends of monsters, ghosts, and other ghastly creatures that lurked on the water and under it. Anna became a product of her environment. Fantasies such as ghosts seemed all too real to her as she listened to the ocean splashing against the boat, remaining mesmerized and under its trance. She lay rigid on her bed and listened to every creak and groan of the old boat. With each tremor or squeak, she shivered.
One night, it was worse than ever. She was dozing when a thunderous roar awakened her. A dream of dragon monsters on the sea left its eerie residue in her mind as she woke.
The storm, the worst they had encountered, rocked the boat while thunder and rain bombarded the vessel. Terrified, Anna crawled close to her husband, Thomas, and clung to him. When lightning flashed, illuminating the deck in an instant of electric horror, she screamed in a hollow empty wail that had a life of its own. Rain and thunder went on for hours, while the Pilgrims dug their Bibles out of musty old trunks and read the Scriptures with all their hearts, offering prayer to a merciful God to see them through the storm. A moody pink dawn brought an end to the torment when the rains quit.
The people came up on the deck in small, slow steps, still frightened, but gazing around to ascertain the damage. The Mayflower had made it, but a new problem presented itself. The storm had knocked them totally off course. They had lost their way to Virginia.
The news traveled around the ship like a firestorm. Its urgency snapped Anna back to reality, a slap in the face, a clarion call that something had to be done or she would be lost in this unfathomable hell for the rest of her life. She sought out her friend, Margaret.
"Margaret, what do you know about all this?"
"It's true. We are off course. We will land in the New World, but not in Virginia."
"Not in Virginia?"
"Somewhere else, along the coast all alone and lucky to be alive!"
Anna pondered this news as she felt a new strength rolling over in her soul, growing with each breath. At least they would still land in the New World. We will just have to make the best of things and thank God we are alive, she thought. Making a life in the wilderness would not be easy.
"I must help the others," she said as she gathered up her black skirt and rushed to where the Pilgrims were assembled.
Anna spent the next weeks holding hands and talking people through their fears. She encouraged others to have faith that they could still prosper in the new land although their plans had been ruined.
"We are a self-sufficient people. We will make a good life for ourselves, with God's help," she told one and all. Many felt heartened by her words and prayers. The only area where she had little influence was in the growing schism among the Pilgrims, but Alden and Standish were preparing a Compact to bind the group together again once they reached land.
Finally, on November 21, they spotted the coast. Anna ran to the deck to gaze out, straining to catch a glimpse of the wondrous New World where they planned to start new lives.
"YES, YES! There it is! There it is!" Anna screamed as she jumped up and down and pointed. Gazing at the golden shore, her heart was filled with wonder that was quickly replaced by restlessness. She wanted to get off the boat–needed to get off the boat. Clenching her fists, she waited as the Mayflower glided quickly toward land. All 101 Pilgrims were gathered on the deck when the anchor was dropped. They scattered off the ship in a wave of crazy euphoria as the good earth felt firm under foot again. They jumped and hugged one another in torrents of emotion long kept in check. The hardships and pain of the sea journey were forgotten.
Anna picked up sand in quiet wonder and strained it through her fingers. It glittered and streamed to the ground like tiny gems. She spun around and looked back to sea, pondering the expanse of endless blue, blue that reached out forever, that at its other end splashed against the shores of a land called England.
"With God's help, freedom," she said as she bowed her head in prayer.

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski

 

A Night with Edgar March 23, 2006

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 2:29 pm


Story time…


A Night with Edgar…


Black clouds slammed together producing a thunderous roar as Emilie Smit closed the door against the storm after shaking torrents of water from her umbrella. Dusk was falling and the rain gave no indication it would be over soon as water streamed down the windows from horizontal blasts propelled by an angry wind.


Emilie had been shopping, and a tiny smile passed her lips as she laid a tiny bundle on the table. Her lucid blue eyes never left the package as she removed her coat and settled in an overstuffed chair. The lady sunk into the chair's comforts, but sat up quickly to reach for the bag, jostling her abundant auburn curls with the movement. They bounced around her shoulders and halfway down her back in cascades of shiny movement.


Her slender fingers undid the wrapping and lifted out a white box. Lifting the lid, she caught her breath spying the beautiful ring. The circle of gold was embellished with three tiny sapphires, gleaming blue and two little pearls at each end of the grouping. Lifting it up to the light, Emilie's heart fluttered with delight.


Slipping it on her finger, she stretched out her hand to see the sapphires sparkle. The jewels danced and glimmered in her view with all the beauty and grace of a dancing angel. They spoke to her of another era, where ladies draped in elegant long dresses entered grand drawing rooms bedecked in jewels such as these. Emilie closed her eyes and imagined an elegant ball where the wearer of this ring would be the center of attraction.


Clutching the jewelry to her heart and twirling on tiptoes around the dimly lit room, she swirled past the television and bumped into a chair. Even as she stumbled, Emilie smiled in contentment.


"Rachel, my darling, at last we are together. It is I, Edgar." The deep voice rattled her out of the sweet reverie.


A startled oh escaped as her eyes met a pair of brown ones that screamed with what looked like hot unbridled love.


"Rachel, I thought you'd never come," the tall man murmured, grabbing Emilie and placing little kisses up and down her neck.


"Excuse me! Do we know each other?" The words rushed from her mouth in a torrent of excitement ignited by the kisses. Next, startled, she backed away with quick, little steps.


"Rachel, why do you act like you don't know me?"


"I don't, and how did you get in here? Ooooh, I demand you leave my house immediately," she replied, her hand touching the moist spot where seconds ago he had showered her with pecks of love.


"I don't understand. Are you not Rachel? You certainly look like her." The love in his eyes transformed to disappointment.


"No, I'm not. Now how did you get in my house?"


"You put on the ring. Putting on the ring always releases me…from the ethers. I've been waiting for you, for centuries, you see…my love." His hand reached to stroke her cheek.


She pushed him away, repeating his remarks in confusion. "I put on the ring, and it releases you to come to Rachel, or since I have the ring, to me."


"Are you not Rachel…or perhaps you would like to pretend to be?" He murmured the last phrase in a steamy whisper while taking her face in his hands and searching for an answer.


"Would that be okay…if I pretend to be Rachel?" Emilie asked in a little voice. Her eyes widened while her lips tensed into a slit above her chin.


"Well, the 'powers that be' would not be amused, my love. But I would never tell them." He showered her with kisses on her cheeks and neck. Emilie felt warm all over.



The following morning Emilie padded to the kitchen early to make coffee. Edgar was gone for now anyway, but she fully intended to summon him back again. A dark day presented itself in rain and thunder again.


The watery sounds of streaming rain and stormy booms offered a startling contrast to the soft contentment in her heart. Last night she had been loved in a way that heretofore had been unimaginable. Fluid, total, wrapped in his arms–the object of his devotion, she surrendered because there was no way she could resist. A sigh escaped as she measured the water for coffee. Thank goodness she bought that ring. As long as she had it and put it on, dear Edgar would come and make passionate love to her.


A bam sent her jumping in fright. Glancing out the window, she spied a tree on fire in the yard, struck by lightning. Running outside, she met her neighbor who had emerged at the sound, as well. The trunk was engulfed in flames wrapping it around it like sultry dancers, turning the old oak by the inches to a smoking black pole. The rain had reduced to a drizzle, allowing the flames to do their evil work unimpeded.


"Looks like that tree's a goner," the neighbor said, his hands on his hips like the undeclared authority he was. "I'll call the fire department."


"Thanks, George," Emilie replied while stepping back from the flaming tree. The excitement made her forget the previous night for a moment, but glancing up to her bedroom window reminded her again.


Another bam propelled her heart into a startled orbit. Confused, she spied with dismay as another boom issued a bolt of lightning. The white hot streak danced its tendrils across the sky, reaching, stretching…to touch the roof of her house. With a crackle and a pop, her home ignited. The flames roared, proceeding to consume the roof like hungry animals, next wrapping down along the walls. The wood frame house offered no resistance to the fire.


"MY HOUSE! MY HOUSE!" Emilie screamed, running up and down the street trying to summon help, stumbling and getting up again to run again. The neighbors gathered, but there was nothing they could do. The fire department arrived to see the last of the walls crumble. Emilie's life in minutes became a stack of charred embers and ash. Her friends soothed her as she sat on the curb, dismal and empty.


"Well, at least I have Edgar," she murmured reaching to stroke the ring on her finger. As long as she had the ring, she could summon him up..it was then she realized her finger was bare. She had removed the jewelry and left it on the bed stand.


"OH NO!" she shrieked, getting up and rushing into the embers. Falling on her knees as black dust flew, she ran her hands through the ashes hoping to feel the tiny ring in her grasp.


"Emilie, you're going to get burnt! GET OUT OF THERE!" her neighbor cried.


"NOT UNTIL I FIND MY RING!" she yelled. After an hour, she found it among the ruins, the stones blackened and the gold melted. It was no longer a ring, but only a dull blob of metal and rocks. Only she knew its worth. Laying the dusty chunk on her blackened hand, she hoped perhaps the magic could still work. But she knew it would not.


For years afterward, she wondered if the universe paid her back for pretending to be Rachel or if it all was merely a coincidence how a disaster happened after she lied. Figuring she'd never know, she took pleasure in the fact that at least she would always have the memory of her time with Edgar.


On many nights, she looked at the starry sky and wondered if he ever found Rachel; after all, that was the woman he truly loved.



Copyright 2006 JO Janoski




 

Following the Star December 21, 2005

Filed under: Short Stories — jojanoski @ 7:14 pm


Following the Star…

A Christmas Story


I wrote this a couple of years ago.

It has been one of my favorites.


David yawned and stretched at exactly the same time as a white fire exploded in the sky. A dazzling trail of sparkling dust bled down from the inferno. Next the core of the burst slowly twirled around and around, with sparks jumping off and rearranging into points around a circle to form a glistening star. It blinked once before pirouetting across the expanse of inky black. The young shepherd stumbled in surprise but grasped harder on his staff to keep upright. The white pulsating light danced across the horizon, beckoning the lad with every blink.

David's heart pounded with such force it was a wonder it didn't burst into a million particles. The star was alive with fire. It telegraphed a message, a familiar one of love…love in its purest, simplest form. The apparition glided across the expanse of black like a sailboat skimming across the water.

"I've got to follow," the young shepherd murmured. The sheep had settled for the night. He would slip away. Gathering a blanket, the boy glanced at his animals. A lamb slept separately from the rest. Enamored from the start by the tiny creature, he'd given it a nickname, Gentle. He gathered Gentle in his arms and gazed at the sky. The star continued to travel on its glistening path.

David rushed after it in what turned out to be a half night's journey up and over fragrant grassy hills, until finally he arrived on the dry, dusty road leading to Bethlehem. Moving quickly to keep up, his heart sang on the exhilarating journey. His lungs filled with cool air while the spicy aromas of the countryside tickled his nose. He loved the land in all its aspects.

Father would not be pleased he had abandoned the flock, but an emotion like white fire had overtaken his heart as the starry light led him onward.

Bethlehem proved to be a busy town, as multitudes of travelers wandered in for the census. The Inns were full, and many camped along the road. Children played together as their weary parents prepared makeshift bedding and scoured their supplies for a bit of bread or water. They stared at the intense young man as he passed by. Oblivious to their gazes, David's pounding heart pushed him farther into the tiny city.

He imagined his father would be exasperated at dawn to find the sheep unattended. David sighed. What kind of life is a shepherd's anyway. Samuel, his friend, made a good living stealing at the marketplace in Bethlehem. With hands like a magician, he could grab up an item and hide it in his cloak before anyone was the wiser. Bringing the items home to the village, the town's people were eager to buy cheaper than they would pay in Bethlehem. Samuel would no doubt someday be a rich man. He had offered to teach young David all his tricks.

"That's what I should do," the boy said out loud, as though speaking the words would make them true. Satisfied with the thought, David barely noticed the star had stopped moving. It pulsated in the sky over a ramshackle stable standing behind a nearby Inn.

His heart's fierce pounding sounded in his ears again. A yearning in his soul pushed him toward the stable. He needed whatever was there, but what was it?

A man, a woman, and a baby, who was nestled in a manger of straw, met his gaze. A cow and two horses lingered in the back, the only sound being the gentle swish of the cow's tail, back and forth, back and forth. What were these people doing in a stable with animals?

The baby opened his eyes and caught David's glance. The little one's gaze burnt with the fiery magic of the star. The baby was the star.

Cascading emotions rushed David, dropping him to his knees. His heart was in a cacophonous turmoil of love, reverence, and confusion woven together in a pattern of gaudy mismatched hues. His weakened hand lost its grasp of Gentle and the lamb ambled forward to the babe.

The infant's eyes paralyzed David in their light. Who was this child? The boy's heart crashed to the ground as the infant's eyes, with a waver, read his heart and desire to be a thief, like Samuel. The orbs shot to David a message like a whisper. He had a decision to make, to follow the righteous path and be a proper shepherd, or follow the way of dishonesty to acquire material riches.

Visions of David's flock floated through his mind, and a rush of its sublime and simple beauty wrapped around him like a satin ribbon. He knew he wanted the life of an honest and simple shepherd. All honest work had dignity on God's good earth. On the hillside with the sky and grasses and sheep, he would be close to God. He glanced to the child, and a glint in the tiny eyes reassured him.

David averted his eyes as his soul filled to brimming. Looking up, he nodded to the man and woman.

"The lamb," he said, nodding toward Gentle. "It is a gift…for the baby. For surely this infant is the lamb of God."

The woman's smile could light up the entire night sky. David bowed to them and turned to go. The time had arrived for a new beginning, one full of purpose and self-knowledge, and the right path to God.

* * *

Copyright 2005 JO Janoski