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PORTFOLIO NORTH ANTHOLOGY

one more community project from People of Progress!


Anthology of North State Writers
Fiction . Nonfiction . Poetry . Children's Literature

Works from 59 authors from
Shasta, Tehama and Siskiyou Counties

2005 Edition    $17.95   450 pages

All four editions of Portfolio North are available in Redding at:

People of Progress
1242 Center St. Redding, CA 96001

The most current edition is available at:

Shasta County Arts Council
in Old City Hall, corner of Shasta & Market

Turtle Bay Museum Gift Shop


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This juried anthology is a project of People of Progress and helps us contribute to building a healthy, vibrant community. Portfolio North is produced by volunteers. Entries fees & book sales fund printing costs.

People of Progress’ Emergency Assistance Program provides food for 190,000 meals for over 16,000 people. We provide 9,000 clothes, 1,800 bus passes, 500 voicemail boxes, blankets, hygiene items, information/referrals, emergency casework and other immediate need services.

We have two community gardens. We lead and/or work with collaboratives to address many community issues such as homelessness, hunger, housing, and transportation.We also assist after disasters with food, clothing, information and referrals.

We are supported by our thrift store sales, local/state/federal grants, the United Way and generous donations from individuals, businesses, churches and occasional grants from foundations.

Stories emerge from our communities that are often unique to our region. People of Progress publishes the regional anthology, Portfolio North, to capture these stories and help create an enriched sense of community. There have been four annual editions each showcasing approximately 90 works from 60 authors. Portfolio North is a juried project that results in inventive, high quality work being published that otherwise would not be available to the public.

Excerpts

Terrestrial Invitation
Jim King
 

Oh come with me-
emerge from your terrestrial cocoon.
Shed the husk of bitter fatigue.
Escape the serrated edges of deafening lips.

Come,
cross the double yellow line.
Plunge from the blistering asphalt edge
through the ceiling's liquid mirror.
Go past its barbed surface tension
to fluid crystalline atmosphere.

Oh come into the cool liquid blaze-
inside the prismatic glow of scintillating light.
Feel the levitation of fluid energy,
feel the massage of frothy feathered foam
spawning sunlit caddis like fireflies.

Go on, take a chance,
be transformed to quick silvered chameleon
adorned with sequins,         rose petal gills
and transparent marks          of cobalt blue.

Come dance with me-
we'll catch the slipstream's thermal,
ride it like wind blown ravens into the current's French curve,
invisible to drifting possibilities.
Prowl with me and sift through a thousand flavors.

Oh come,
we'll feast on emerger's of May,
dine on succulent Blue Dunn.
With caudal fins cocked, loaded, unlocked
we'll leap like missiles for helicopter dragons.

Oh glide with me-
over meandering cobble tapestries,
grassy wheat fields of velveted moss
grazed on by herds of crustacean.

Come,
bask in the current's funnel,
rest in the calm lair of rock pillow.
 
Oh please, taste the earth's sweet juice,
live the truth of your wits
inside my wild
primordial
prism.
 
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The Lucky Lucky Earth
Larry Greco Harris
 

I am driving down the street
of our small town and notice that
most of the people outside or in & out
of the local store fronts
were not even here a few years back-I mean
not even born.

But now, at the last wag
of the tail of this century,
they have suddenly appeared
in my world. In their teens and early twenties,
they are populating,
occupying, trodding this old city street
that still leads all of us outward
to our futures and inward to ourselves.

And I watch them tap their feet
on the curbs to wait for this light to change;
or press, in rapid-fire, the pedestrian button
to the signal overhead that eventually
obeys them and stops my car right here in front of
the bookstore.

And inside this split second,
(when all lights run red)
I am in awe at their mere presence;

When you consider the odds of these particular sperms
having found these particular eggs on their only and ever
particular day (Like snapping a camera at an open window
in hopes of catching the assassination of a president-
and catching it!);

When you consider the odds of brief passion
finding a foothold in just this circumstance of being,
just these genetic messages in bottles that have
washed up on the shore of this crosswalk;

When you consider this happenstance
of day * them * car * year * here * me * light...
well, the math of the whole thing just sits
my poor brain down in a chair and tells it
to be quiet and quit fidgeting. And I do just that dumbfounded
here in the car at the crosswalk,
foot on the brake, hands on the wheel, staring out the window
at the local children of life's mystery.

What were the odds we'd all be here together
like this? Hell, we oughta stop and have a party!

But we won't. And 1 sit here
in what only looks like the driver's seat
meditating on the luck of it all,
and counting the beats of my four-cylinder motor
as it falls into syncopation with the click of the planet
wobbling on its axis through these star fields
we call home.

And you can just tell
we don't quite know what to say to each other
about this whole thing.

So the sunshine glances off the bookstore wall.
And a finger of its heat ricochets into a crevice in the sidewalk.
Where a tiny seed waits under the dark, dark soil.
And the Lucky, Lucky Earth spins, spins.
 

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Evidence to the Contrary
Patricia Wellingham Jones
 

I remember my father through child's eyes -
impossibly tall, stork-like, articulated
limbs jutting at angles, articulate in mind, too,
in thought, though not always in deed.
                   Light
glinted on wire-rimmed glasses, on
shiny dome fringed in baby-fine
strands, snipped with no discount
for their sparseness and

light shone from clear blue eyes,
frosty with humor at the world's foolishness,
yet warm as he tucked his two
little girls into blankets shoved so snugly
under arms, buttocks, ankles we could
hardly breathe.
                   My father
hunched, bookish, over early morning
pads of lined yellow paper, jotting
column after column, number after number,
remote, unfailingly polite to mother,
distant as a comet's trail.

I used to wonder how my sister and I
got here. In our teens we almost
believed immaculate conception
explained our family's dynamics.
Last year, in a rummage through
a box in the old home's basement,
I found the only evidence I've ever seen
to the contrary.
                   A faded photograph,
top right corner bent until broken off,
a young couple with faces recognizably
my parents', a shining dome over
wire-rimmed glasses.

He was sprawled, loose-limbed
and under-shirted, on the broad wood steps
of a beach house in Avalon,
cigarette in long fingers and arm
flung behind her.
                   She hunkered,
knees to chin, in the curl of his
armpit and ribcage, white trousers
flapping against sandaled feet
dazed smile on parted lips.

My aunt said it was the week before
the wedding. I arrived three years later,
could never know any of it.
 
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Smoke
Sharon Brisolara

 "El humo sale blanco, pero el tabaco se quema."
   Athaulpa Yupanqui

The smoke is white, but it's the tobacco that burns
grown hard and fast
then bathed in poison-
heat dried, shredded, packed.
Shades of black and brown
catch fire and curl red
leaving ash in this bowl and in the wind
and one long trace of translucent white smoke.

White smoke, but the tobacco burns. . .
this is the order of things:
white paper
covers black tobacco
red fire covers paper
hand covers fire, smoke covers hand
throat, lungs  yours and mine
this is the way the world has worked
the only change has been
the shade of the hand.

The tobacco burns, but the smoke is white;
where there is smoke, something burns-
for fire, there is fodder.
It is the fodder, sister,
the brown wood, black coal, black oil
that runs the machine
that thrashes the wheat
that makes the shirt
that clothes the well fed body
It is the fodder we forget
though it remains within
both the bread and the thread.

Tobacco burns and there is smoke
and the pleasure that comes with it
and the pain that comes with it-
the question is: how much of each
for whom
and who decides.

Tobacco burns to white smoke
so all is transformed
all has this power within
to send a message to the spirits of the north,
the spirits of the east, the spirits of the south,
the spirits of the west:
Before fire,
that which burns
is sacred.

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On the Last Train to Oakland
Charlie Price

 Trebone wrestled the woman with long black hair and flashing teeth. He held her wrists and she laughed and keened as they twisted and pumped in their lovemaking. She bit him unexpectedly hard on the forehead above his left eye and he flinched and woke to a black sky with silver white stars.
     What the hell?
     He tried to sit up but he had no strength to raise his head. Gradually he became aware that his whole body ached, his head the worst. He raised his hand to feel the bite and came away with blood on his fingers. He rearranged the scene in his mind.
     He was outside. He had been dreaming. He hurt all over. He was lying in the open on the ground. Where was he? He consciously slowed his breathing and searched his memory.
     He had been traveling. He lived in Oakland... . He filled in a mental picture of his second story Port Security office with gray metal furniture and huge windows looking out over the concrete loading pads, the cranes and cargo ships, and the charcoal-green water of the Bay.
     He started to sit up again but his stomach turned over with nausea. His head was impossibly heavy.  He started over.
     He was lying in the open, on the ground. To one side he could make out rough hills with scrub, yucca, maybe manzanita. He had no idea where he was. He could smell creosote and the dusty flint of sand. The dry air was still, neutral. No flies. No crickets. No freeway. No noise at all.
     He consciously slowed his breathing and searched for more memory.  He had been traveling. Why?  He recalled his office at the Port Authority. Who was the woman with black hair? No idea. He was taking a train to ...Mexico for a vacation! No. That didn't seem right. He remembered drowsing in his seat by the window looking at the desert evening as the train left the Potosi Municipal Station. He had bought a paper plate of enchiladas from a vendor on the station platform. Then what?
     He felt his chest. Where was his sport coat? His wallet?  His passport?  Jesus! His shirt for chrissakes? He let the tension go in his muscles and his body relaxed into the ground. Another deep breath.
     He reached to his hips and was relieved to find his pants were still on. He moved his feet. Still had shoes. He turned over to his side and used his elbow and then his arm to push himself to a sitting position. A wave of dizziness passed through him. He could feel pebbles and grit stuck to his back. A hundred feet away a railroad track ran to each horizon. His shirt was piled on his coat a few feet over and near that, a shape that looked like a wad of blankets or maybe a woman in a dark dress lying on the ground.
     He called out but couldn't hear any sound leave his mouth. He tried again. Got a croak. Then a groan. Then a weak "Hey!" No response. No movement. Nothing.
     Some more bits of memory returned in a rush. A large wooden container box had blown off a load the number three crane was lowering to the dock from the U.S.S. Truman.  It had been empty when the men went to survey the damage. It smelled like feces. The bill of lading said it was from Huatulco, Mexico, destination Oakland by way of Manzanillo. Addressed to the  Transworld Wholesale Art Consortium. The invoice said the container had weighed in at over 3800 pounds. The pieces of crating on the dock weighed about 250. Where was the cargo that had been inside originally?
     He had taken the question to the Port Authority Office. Six similar containers had been shipped from Huatulco to Oakland in the past four months. All addressed to Transworld Art. Either on the Truman or the Coolidge, both vessels of the Republic Lines.
     His thoughts shifted back to the train. He had gone to the dining car, more for a drink than anything else and sat at the remaining empty table. And the woman with dark hair had come in shortly after and asked if she could sit at his table since he was the only single diner. She had an easy smile and he began noticing her teeth. They were amazingly even and bright, like a model's, and she wore a soft red dress in a style somewhere between dinner party and tropical vacation. He didn't smell any perfume on her, and if she wore any make up, she had a very light touch. And she said her name was... . And the clip of memory ended. No name. Did he have a drink? Did she eat?
     And he was back to the Port. He remembered calling the Republic Lines. An administrative assistant provided no information that hadn't already been on the shipping invoice except to say there had been only six such shipments from Southern Cross Exports based in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico to Transworld in Oakland.
     He had called the Oakland office of Transworld Art, and the shipping and receiving manager had been curt and officious. She asked for the Port's insurance adjuster's name, number and e-mail address. In clipped sentences she threatened suit for breakage and loss, said all other shipments had been received as ordered without problems, suggested that the offensive smell had come from the ship's hold and not from the art, and accused the port of inept disembarkation protocols and lax port security no doubt leading to the mishandling and theft of Transworld's property. She hung up with the obligatory "our attorney will be contacting you."
     And Trebone had smelled, not the malodorous container, but the proverbial "rat." As Deputy Security Chief for Port Authority, he launched an investigation. He put the supervisor for his port watchmen, a flat-faced pig-eyed man named Dreese, on the task of checking the shifts for the past four months to identify the crew members who had been present for the unloading of the six containers and decided to... to what?
     Why had he been on a goddamn train?
     Did he even ask her name? He remembered starting to revise his opinion of younger women. Maybe he could feel an attraction when their conversation stayed in the realm of art, or literature and cinema, and away from topics like their parents or their next promotion. He remembered feeling rather intoxicated with her loveliness and the transition it had evoked. He had stopped conversing easily and began self consciously trying to be brilliant and entertaining. He could see them getting up and leaving the dining car together. Was his hand on her arm? Did their hips brush?
     Harvey Kerrigan, his boss, had suggested he should call the Bureau of Trade and ask about any documentation on international commerce involving either Transworld Art or Southern Cross Exports. Bingo! Up until four months ago there had been a regular shipment from Oaxaca to Oakland once a week by container train into the Oakland AMTRAK Cargo and Shipping Station. He called AMTRAK to find a new Receiving Supervisor who seemed to know less than nothing. The one prior had been terminated approximately four months ago for reasons undisclosable.
     And there it was. It all came back. He wasn't on vacation. He wasn't going to Mexico. He was coming back on the train from Oaxaca to San Antonio and then to Oakland, locating and speaking with the freight handlers along the route that had any contact with the Southern Cross containers. And yesterday a man named Ortiz in the railroad yard office on the outskirts of Queretaro had the piece of information he had been seeking. After accepting a considerable "gift" to refresh his memory, the man admitted giving food and water to the people standing shoulder to shoulder in the Southern Cross container. Men, women and children ­ from Guatemala or maybe San Salvador, he thought.
And hours later Trebone had met the woman on the train and now he was out here. Again the stench of rat. His arms ached and he moved his right hand a foot or so farther back to brace himself better as he sat. The same rattlesnake that had hit him above the eye earlier, as he tossed and moaned in his dream, now struck his forearm just above his wrist. It's mate hit him on the same arm below the elbow. Too lethargic and too sore to flinch this time, he turned his head to see them curved across a depression in the sand where he had been lying. Their nest. He could see at least one broken egg.
     He clawed at his memory for the part after the dining car. Did she have her own compartment? Did she offer him liquor from a flask?
     He should move off this spot right now. He knew he should. He should move very slowly away from these snakes. He put more weight on the bitten arm and lifted his other hand. He grabbed his pants down by the knee and was able to lever the injured arm slowly to his body. The snakes were still, except for their tongues flicking in and out. He made himself roll sideways and forward, closer to his coat. Was his throat closing?
     What was her goddamn name?  That's the key, he felt. Remembering her name.   And water.  Maybe he had some water in his coat. He decided to rest a while. And then he would roll to his coat. And then he would see if that was blankets or her over there. And then he would get up and go to the tracks and get the hell out of here.  She had been so much fun. And so lovely. He thought they did kiss. Her lips were very soft. What did they call that? Gluten? No. Celluloid? Colloid? Collagen! They were big and soft and they cushioned his whole mouth. He could rest his head on her lips. And her breath smelled like plums.
 

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Thousand Yard Stare
Bill Siemer
 

     Alf leaned his bony back against the cool wall of the old hotel, hugging the shade before the sun turned the red brick into an oven.  The Redding summer gave him another half hour.
     The jangled buzz from his first cigarette and Styrofoam coffee left enough oxygen in his brain for him to have the thought that maybe he'd had a little too much last night.  Between the alcohol, the pot and the sleeping pills, his morning was a blur.
     "Maybe I need to slow down before my liver's cooked," he thought.  "Well, shit, my lungs are shot, why not my liver, why not the whole thing?"  He had a mental image of a guy in a white lab coat explaining:  "Here we have a glass jar with a Vietnam vet pickled inside.  We didn't have to add anything, just cleaned him up and squeezed him in."
     Alf pictured his naked, wrinkled body, shrunken to fit in a wide mouth quart jar, like his mom used to can with.  Like some of the hooch the Vietnamese were selling to former grunts who returned to cure their wounds and came home this time with a pickled Python in a bottle of alcohol.
     Some former Beret Snake Eater had come into the Team House, daytime home for vets with nothing else to do, with a case of snake brew.  Thought he could sell a few.  The gang looked at him like he was nuts and went back to their coffee and cigarettes.
     Alf shifted on his haunches to watch a young woman walk by, on her way to work, discerning the movement of her thighs and buttocks under her summer dress.  She passed within lunging distance but didn't glance in his direction.  They never did.  She doesn't even see me, he thought.  He saw her naked on his single bed upstairs.  He did that often, pictured women on his bed.  Good thing I got a fertile imagination, he thought and suddenly laughed to himself.  He'd have to take a shower first, maybe clean the room up or find one that didn't care.  How long had it been?  The one at the Rose Bud he'd picked up when he first came to town.  He had plans then, shared them with her.  It was enough.  They both got twisted on pot and beer and made a night of it.
     That was before his life had settled into a pattern.  Before the VA said he was screwed up and gave him enough to live on.  Simple needs, he thought:  beer, cigarettes, coffee and a dry place to sleep.

    . . .

     Sam tiptoed down the carpeted stairs in the dark, careful not to wake Sara.  The gym bag was already in the silver BMW's trunk.  He hit the garage door opener and backed the car out onto the gravel, flicked on the lights and idled down the driveway.
     A handsome six-footer, successful, liked, admired, though he didn't think in those terms.  Instead, when his eyes snapped open at five a.m. he thought about the things he needed to do that day.  It was like firing up a high performance V-8.  His heart rate jumped from somewhere in the 40's to about 80 in the same time it took a double A fueler to flash down the quarter mile.
     He listened to the news on the way to town then jumped on the treadmill at the Y for a half hour, while pumping twenty-five pound chromed weights in each hand, followed by a half hour in the weight room and a shower.
     Sam was the first guy in the office normally unless Crazy Dave, the ex-cop who went to law school at night, beat him.  He held the top slot in the busiest personal injury firm in town.
     There was one picture hanging with the degrees and certificates on the wall behind his mahogany desk:  a bicycle race in which the winner flashes by the leader at the finish line just as the leader looks back over his shoulder.  Most people saw the winner in his moment of triumph.  Sam saw the moment of failure.  "Never look back," he said.
     Somebody asked him once what the key was to his success.  "Thirst," he said, without hesitation.  "I want it all.  When they put me in the stable for the last time, I want to be dripping with sweat."
 It's why he skis in Canada, has the mini mansion, the Beemer, the Perfect Sara, and two kids who live with their mom in San Leandro.
    . . .
     Retired Sergeant Major Elvin Flynn surveyed the receding, close cropped gray hair in the mirror held by Danny.  He nodded and the barber removed the cape that protected a cardboard starched, short-sleeved khaki shirt.  It was as close as Flynn came to civilian dress.  It only lacked a name tag and unit insignia.  Not that it needed any.  One look and you'd recognize a former marine, a lifer, who carried the pride of service to his country into the angry afterlife of retirement.
     He gave Danny ten bucks, just like he did at seven a.m. every other Wednesday morning.  Danny wasn't like the piece of shit leaning his worthless ass against the hotel wall outside.  Danny came back with half his body shot off and opened a barber shop.  He specialized in vets.  But the World War II  guys, the soldiers in the war he'd wished he'd fought, were dying off.  Now he was being left with the potheads and the drunks.  Men who took no pride in what they did or who they were.  Untouchables.  Maybe if Danny's shop wasn't in the same building as the Team House it would help.  No, Danny felt the need to take care of those guys.  The top sergeant didn't understand why.
     As he opened the door he noticed the piece of paper taped to the glass.  He stepped outside to read it, straightened quickly and turned to catch Danny watching him as he swept the floor around the chair.
     "You're not turning traitor on me?"  It was an accusation from a man Danny knew and respected.  He'd been cutting his hair for ten years, ever since the Sergeant Major had moved to town when he retired, to be close to his son.  This was the first time there had been a harsh word.  It was also the first time Danny had let a peace group put a flyer up.
     "They're protesting the war!" Flynn explained, as if maybe Danny hadn't previewed the flyer.
     "I know," Danny said.
     "They're fucking traitors!"  Flynn exploded, with the clear indication that the term might apply to Danny as well.
     Danny just looked at Flynn, not saying a word in his defense or in explanation.  The Sergeant Major slammed the door.
 

    . . .
     Sam stepped from his air conditioned office into baking heat at 3:55 p.m., instantly realizing that he would be soaked in sweat from the five-minute walk.  He had been looking forward to the diversion.  Instead he got into his unprotected car and turned the AC on high.
     None of the usual suspects were hanging around smoking and looking sad outside the barber shop.
     "Hi Danny,"
     "So how goes it, Sam?"
     Their relationship went back 15 years.  Sam joined a small firm in a town as far north as he could get from San Leandro and still make a living in California.  Danny had just opened his shop.  There was an article in the paper about this one-legged Vietnam vet trying to make a go of it.  Sam tried him out.  Normally he avoided too much contact with vets.  A lot of them were not where he was.  They just dropped out.  Not doing anything with their lives.  The ones' he knew were just like himself.  And they talked about other things.
     Danny and he never talked about it either.  But in fifteen years they knew each other as well as two men can, who haven't almost died together.
     Danny needed someone to talk to.  Someone who understood, who wouldn't judge, who would be sensitive yet sincere.  He had planned to talk to Sam even before Top went ballistic.
     "Can I talk to you about the war?"
     Sam was getting ready to sit down.  It would be easier for him to say "no" if Danny didn't have a razor at his throat.
     "I saw the flyer," Sam said.
     "An earth momma came in with a smile I couldn't refuse."
     "Don't tell me this is a vegan, save the whales deal," Sam smirked.
     "It isn't for me," Danny said seriously.  "I can't handle what's happening.  I need to do something."
     "You know, it isn't something I think about,"  Sam said.    I don't think about Vietnam or foreign policy or why things are the way they are.  I just live my life.  That's why we elect politicians.  It's their job."
     "I want to quit making veterans," Danny said.
     "Jesus!  Now that's a novel concept."  Of course Danny would want to prevent kids from suffering his fate, Sam thought.  It made sense.  It had taken Danny a long time to become a peacenik.
     "I'm going to be a speaker," Danny said, with a little pride.  He handed Sam a flyer.  "It's tonight, if you have time."

    . . .

     By seven o'clock the heat was bearable.  The sun had set but the hundred plus day was hanging on, complements of blacktop, cement and brick.  Sam left the car behind his office and walked four blocks to the swath of green that was the miniature park behind the hotel which housed Danny's shop.
     Danny was scheduled after the drumming, the multi-faith prayers and the poetry.
     Sam recognized a young, woman reporter for the paper on the fringe of the thirty or so faithful who had showed up.  In a town of 100,000 it struck him as sad that only this small percentage were concerned about war and peace.  People living their lives, he thought, just like me.  There were probably baseball games tonight.  These people weren't driving vans to three different ball fields around town, picking up and dropping off kids.
     Sam stayed in the background, avoiding the association that would come from being in the midst of a few worn out hippies, some kids outfitted in black and metal studs, a dozen or so middle class true believers, a couple of wasted vets and Danny.   He seemed to know and be comfortable with the organizers, which surprised Sam.  A side of Danny he didn't know.
     When Danny took the microphone and turned to face the audience, Sam saw the row of medals, recognized a purple heart and a silver star, on his shirt.  Sam leaned forward, a rush of emotion gripping him.  Oh God, he thought.  Suddenly he was back in Jump School, making his first jump.  His chest tightened.
     "For too long, too many of us have been paralyzed by The Vietnam Syndrome," Danny said, his voice clear and slow.
     "We think that when our country goes to war we must support it.  That to question the war is to be against our soldiers, our children, who are carrying our flag, shooting guns we bought for them, dying for the values we have defined for them.                    .
     "When we go to war there should be no other choice.  Otherwise, we waste lives and we make it difficult for the young men and women who survive.  They need to be able to justify the war to themselves when they come home damaged.  I can tell you, they all do.
     "We couldn't justify Vietnam and that created an impossible dilemma for those of us who came back:  we could admit that fact to ourselves and join the protesters, or we could bury the experience.
     "I buried myself for fifteen years in this barber shop," Danny said, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder.  "It's not easy to hide when you have a plastic leg," he said, drawing a few polite laughs,  "I've been cutting hair for veterans, listening to their stories, watching them suffer because they never say what's on their minds.
     "I'm tired of hiding!" he said, his voice rising and pausing as the people around Sam burst into applause.  Sam, chills running up his spine, was frozen.
     "I never demonstrated against "our war."  I couldn't demonstrate against my comrades, my buddies.  I felt betrayed by those who did, even though I knew this," he said, pointing to his leg, "was for nothing.
     "We can't expect our children, who we send into battle, to understand our protest when we realize that this war is not worth their precious lives.
     "We can, however, demand peace in the future.  We can stop making veterans.    We can stop killing our children.
     "In a democracy, our job, as voters, is to pass that word along to our leaders.  It is their job to figure out how to achieve it.
     "We have to demand peace.  Demand it with our money, our votes and our actions.  It does not matter whether we are Republicans or Democrats or Independents.  It doesn't matter if we are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews or Muslims.
     "We must demand peace!"

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Dedication
Carolyn Warnemuende

     Analese paused, her gnarled hand resting atop her walking stick, her breath coming in deep gasps. She gazed at the sparkling ocean and rugged rock formations dotting the coastline. Her eyes lingered on the small fishing village nestled in the cove at the foot of Promontory Point. She spotted her little wooden frame bungalow tucked among the redwoods.
     Her climb to the top of the Point was the last she would make. She knew that it was only with strong resolve that she would make it up this morning. And she needed to. She needed to sit one more time on the bench she had dedicated to Zach so many years ago. The last of the benches Old Tom had built for weary hikers climbing the trail. Benches that citizens could purchase with their hard-earned money and dedicate to a loved one knowing that the money would be used to maintain the lovely path winding to the top of the Point.
     On shaky legs Analese climbed the last steep stretch of trail. She slumped onto the bench and sighed. While she waited for her heart to settle into a steady rhythm, she stared, unfocused, at the harbor and the gentle waves lapping its shore.
     Slowly she turned and fingered the small bronze plaque on the back of the bench. Its edges, now corroded by the salt air, had become so thin that the tiny screws barely held it in place. Her mouth quivered as she read the words she had chosen to express her love to Zach.

          Zachary...
               May our love be as constant
             as the shifting tides and
           as deep as the sea.
         I love you.
                       Analese

     Analese remembered the afternoon she had come with the Women's Preservation Society to attach the plaque to the shiny, new redwood bench. She had picked it up from the bronze smith earlier in the day. "Very nice, Analese," he'd said. "That new husband of yours will be pleased to see it when he gets back."
     She had felt a surge of pride with the recognition of being Zach's wife. "Oh, and he'll be back all right," she'd replied. "It won't be long now."
     But Zachary had not come back. The telegram had arrived instead. She had opened it with trembling fingers already knowing what it said.
     "Dear Mrs. Hall," she had read. "We regret to inform you..." She remembered screaming, "No! No!" Then only darkness.
        .    .    .
     Analese tasted the salt of her tears. She felt the sun warming her arms and legs. Slowly she traced the words I love you on the worn plaque. "I love you still. I've always loved you, Zach," she murmured. "And I've always been faithful to you. Through all these years, there's been only you."
     Analese hoisted herself up with her walking stick. With deliberate steps she started down the trail toward town. Ahead of her, just before the first bend, stood Zach. He held out his hand grinning from ear to ear. As sprightly as a young bride, she ran toward him. She touched his hand. "I knew you'd come," she whispered. She caressed his hair, his cheeks. "I knew you'd come."
 

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Man Comforted by Paper Towel
Greg Pate

     A Pittsburgh man who recently lost his job, his home and his girlfriend has found solace in a paper towel, news sources reported yesterday.
     Jack Ricketts, 42, of the highly industrialized Spleen area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says that all of his worries are taken away when he reads the encouraging message imprinted on the towel.
    "I was pretty depressed, especially last week, when I slept in my car every night," said Ricketts, whose life essentially collapsed after being fired from his job at Spleen's Hometown Buffet.  "But I've found a friend in this paper towel.  A good friend who won't go away and who gives me good advice when I need it."
     The paper kitchen towel, a double-ply 10" by 12" by Brawny, has the saying "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" printed on it.  The towel also has a decorative leaf-like border running down both sides as well as the wording "A good friend is" printed just above the perforation.  The towel is slightly off-white and all the printing is in an avocado green ink.
     Ricketts claims the towel has seen him through some tough times.  "When my girlfriend BethAnne found out I lost my job, she threw me out of her apartment and said she never wanted to see me again," he states.  "Lucky for me, I found the towel that very same day.  If I hadn't, I don't know, man.  I might have killed myself."
     Ricketts reports that the very night of his eviction he was sitting and weeping in his car, a rusted-out 1989 Ford Escort.   When he looked in the car's glovebox for something to blow his nose on, there, under an empty pint bottle of Jack Daniels, he found the towel.
     "I had it right there, in front of my face, ready to blow, when suddenly it was like, 'Whoa,'" Ricketts says.  "I read that thing about lemons, and then it was like, 'Man!'" he explained.
    He read the towel over and over many times that night, Ricketts said, until he fell asleep clutching the towel to his chest.  "It was the only thing I had to hang on to," he commented.
     Ricketts now reports that his general outlook on life has become quite optimistic on account of the towel.  "I don't know exactly what I'm going to do now," he stated, "but I still have about $26 and some change left over from my last paycheck.  I figure with that, and the good advice of the towel, I'll make it somehow."
     Although the towel is stained with oil where Ricketts once used it to clean off his car's dipstick, he has no further plans to use the towel, other than as a friend.  "I was thinking I might get it laminated, and hang it on my office wall some day, or something," he said.  "But for now I'm keeping it close to me at all times."
     "In a way, I feel lucky I lost my job and my girlfriend threw me out," Ricketts stated philosophically.  "If none of that had ever happened, I never would have met this towel."
     Neither Ricketts' ex-girlfriend nor the manager of the Hometown Buffet had any comment.

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Feelin' like a Million Bucks
Gerald T. Kelly

 Late Sunday afternoon, two days before Christmas

     My friend Barry says, "You're only as lucky as you are smart."  There's truth in that.  I've always made my own luck; seems the harder I work the luckier I get.  And then there's timing.  It really is everything.  I'm convinced.  My little brother Kenny has leukemia.
     He was always the 'good one' between the two of us.  Good grades, better athlete, stayed in school, went to college ­ even graduated.  Then he got married and had two children, a little girl and boy.  His wife is pretty and he has a great job.
    I was always the screw-up, in trouble a lot ­ mostly small stuff.  I was the one that helped turn mamma's hair prematurely gray.  I couldn't keep a job, let alone a good woman ­ still can't seem to.  It seems that between the two of us logic would dictate that it ought to be me and not him.  But he's the one that's sick.  Really sick.  And luck?  Luck couldn't find Kenny in a closet with spotlight.  And this has been his worst luck so far.  On top of everything, money is tight and his insurance isn't paying enough.  I don't know if I'm his last hope but what kind of brother would I be if I waited for him to ask.
 So, here I am and I can feel the afternoon sun through my second story window as it warms the stainless steel frame that elevates my legs.  Necessary the doctors say, to keep the swelling down on my badly sprained left ankle and to alleviate as much pain as possible from the bullet wound in my right thigh.  Despite the bandage wrapped around my head, I can hear people talking as they walk by on the sidewalk below and the wind as it blows through the trees, rustling the leaves.  All in all, a quiet New Jersey winter afternoon.  Lying here I'm glad to be alive.  Although, I suppose looking at me now, most people would be hard pressed to describe my situation as lucky.  Still, from this vantage point, the view is a calm contrast to the last twenty-four hours.
 Yesterday afternoon, thirty miles north of Trenton, I was headed for Piscataway when a tire blew out on my lousy old car.  I got out and checked the spare, found it was flat and realized I was stranded in the middle of nowhere.  I'd passed a gas station 15 miles back and could only guess at how far the next one was.  My cheap cell phone showed 'no service' and what little traffic I saw on the road was headed back toward Trenton.  The only way I knew how to help Kenny was to take care of some business I knew about in Piscataway so for me there was no goin' back to Trenton.  I thought I might get lucky and catch a ride so I started walking north and decided to worry about my car later.
     I'd walked a couple of hundred yards when I heard the deep rumble of an eighteen wheeler coming up behind me.  All the stories I'd heard about truckers made them out to be a friendly group, almost always willing to stop and help.  So, I turned around and stuck out my thumb.  The driver must have missed story time.  He not only didn't stop he accelerated and swerved toward me.  Watching the truck as it got closer, I inched off the pavement onto the gravel shoulder.  When I was sure the truck wasn't going to turn away I dove off the edge of the road pushed by a rush of air from the speeding truck that drove me into the grass.  The truck's tires sank down onto the gravel shoulder and threw a shower of rocks and dirt into the air peppering my back.  I landed on my chest in wet, dead, grass and tumbled ass-over-forehead down the hill landing on my side in a pile of rocks near a survey stake.
 Screaming every four-letter word I knew, I was slow to get to my feet.  I watched the truck belch a cloud of black smoke as the driver swerved back onto the road and pulled away ­ apparently without a care if he'd hit me or not.
      During my circus-like tumble I took a pretty good whack on the side of the head from a rock and I was a little dizzy.  I reached up, rubbed a large bump and pulled down bloody fingers after touching a nasty scalp wound.  I could feel the blood collecting in my hair and trickling down in front of my ear.  I held my arm up to the side of my head, pushed the sleeve of my jacket over the cut and stood there a minute, taking stock.  I was alive.  Still stuck out in the middle of nowhere, but alive.  Lucky I could jump out of the way.
      Trying to climb up to the road I slipped twice in the wet grass, the second time I went down, hard.  I fell face first on to a large, dark brown, thick canvas bag about three feet long and as wide as a couple of basketballs.  It had a shiny zipper running between two large leather handles. An unlocked padlock hung from the zipper pull.  I stood up and tried to lift the bag but it was very heavy.  I had to use both hands to lift and drag it up and out of the tall grass.  Still a little woozy I fell to my knees, unzipped the bag and spread the top open.  I don't know what I was expecting but what I found was a boat-load of money.
     I popped my head up like a ground hog and took a fast look around to make sure the road was still deserted.  The bag was stuffed with bundles of used bills wrapped with green slips of paper, each marked by hand with a black marker that read "$10,000."  I reached in the bag with both hands, grabbed as many bundles as I could and pulled out almost a hundred grand.  Feeling like the whole world was watching me I looked around again and knew this wasn't the best place to be counting money.  I shoved it back in the bag.  My mind was racing - there had to be a million bucks in that bag, at least. The adrenaline was starting to kick in and I started to laugh.  That kind of money solved every problem I had ­ hell, every problem I've ever had.  It was serious money.  Movin' and shakin' money.  Enough money to help Kenny.
     I had no idea how the money got there and didn't really care.  I did know that whoever lost it would probably be back to look for it.  So, I knew I had to hide it or run with it if I was going to hang on to it.
     I considered my options quickly.  I could hide it off the road in the trees and leave a marker so I could find it later, or, take it back to my car and hide it in the trunk.  The trees were closer, only about fifty yards away, the car was a lot farther back down the road.
     The better choice was the trees.
     The irony of all this was not lost on me.  I was in the exact center of nowhere with less than twenty bucks in my wallet, a flat tire and no spare, a cell phone that wouldn't work and I had a bag full of money ­ a  million dollars, maybe more than a million ­ that weighed a TON.  All I could think about was, "Hot damn, lucky me!"
     Actually, lucky didn't come close to covering the feeling I had and I couldn't stop smiling.  A million bucks! This was way better than any daydream I'd ever had and I never even thought of giving it back.
     I was still swimming in euphoria when I heard a car coming toward me from less than a mile away.  I knew I only had a few seconds to get away from the road, get out of sight and hide the money.
     I dropped to the ground, slid away from the shoulder and dragged the bag with me until I was below road level.  Then with both hands I grabbed the leather handles, heaved the bag off the ground and ran, crouching, through the grass toward the trees.  The engine was getting louder as the car grew nearer.  I ran as fast as I could over the uneven and rocky ground, tripping a few times and almost going down.  Thirty feet from a clean get-a-way I stepped in a hole, badly twisted my ankle and fell sideways.  The full weight of the bag fell on me and wrenched my shoulder.  My ankle felt like it was broken.  I couldn't get up and make it to the cover of the trees so I laid low, watched through the grass, and tried not to move.  Bad timing.
     I was hoping the car would speed past me when I heard the tires screeching.  The driver, trying to stop, put the car in a 100 foot slide before coming to a stop on the shoulder of the road in a cloud of dust.  I stretched my arm to relieve my aching shoulder and then laid flat again.
     The driver stomped on the gas and spun the car's tires onto the asphalt causing the car to fishtail through a U-turn in a cloud of tire smoke.  Then the car turned back in my direction, whipped through another sliding U-turn and stopped exactly where I went off the road.  I could barley see the driver and passenger through the tall grass as they got out of the car and walked toward the edge of the road.  They were looking right at me.
      "Hey, Robin Hood," the driver yelled, "how ya' doin'?"
    He was one of the biggest human beings I've ever seen.  He wore tan slacks, a black shirt and a dark brown, suede sport coat.  Well over six feet and 250 pounds, he looked trim and fit.  He had a New York accent.
     I didn't answer.
     The passenger hollered, "Hey buddy, if I havta get my boots dirty comin' out there to get ya', it's gonna' piss me off."  The passenger was even bigger.  He was dressed in a black leather biker jacket, a black T-shirt, black jeans and boots.  He had a southern accent.  Maybe, Georgia.
     New York raised his voice, "Hey, we saw you go down and we saw the freakin' bag. Hell, I can see it right now, and you left a trail this wide so, get up and bring it here. Now!"
    I was going to stay put and see if he was bluffing until I saw him reach into his coat and pull out a huge gun.
     "I'll make you dance," New York yelled as he rocked his head back and forth for emphasis.  "Then I'll break your knee caps and shoot your toes off one at a time, unless, you get up right now and get your ass over here!  Ya' know what I'm sayin'?"  He casually lifted the pistol, held it sideways suspended under his hand, aimed it in my direction and fired.  The bullet hit the dirt two inches from the bag and ricocheted into the trees.
     I waved my good arm and yelled, "OK! OK!  Don't shoot!"  I stood up and started limping toward the road.
It was Georgia's turn, "Nice try, Gomer.  Take a couple of steps backward, easy like, grab the bag and let me see those hands!"
     I reached down with both hands to grab the bag and New York fired off another round, blasting dirt up between my shoes. "Carry it with one hand, slick, and let me see the other one in the air.  Let's go."
     I was scared, my ankle and shoulder both hurt, I could barely walk and I had to pee.  I managed to limp over 15 feet of rocky ground before I let go of the bag.  "I think my ankle is broken and I have to pee."  I was whining.  "Do you mind?"
Georgia again, "You're tryin' my patience boy."  He reached into his jacket and pulled out what looked like an Uzi.  "Whip it out and do your business, then get over here.  NOW!"
     I turned around to pee and the ground erupted near the bag as the Uzi barked and shattered the silence.  Georgia raised his voice again, "You ain't got nothin' we haven't seen, so turn around slowly and keep them hands where I can see 'em."
    I unzipped and stood there.  I couldn't go.  I had one hand in the air and the other keeping things steady, I had two guys with guns staring at me and I couldn't pee.
     "Are you some kind of pervert or somethin'?" New York asked.  "Either you take a whiz or I'm gonna try some target practice. Get my drift?"  He turned toward Georgia and spit,
I believed him.
     When I finished I zipped my pants, picked up the bag and started limping toward the road again.  In less than two minutes, I'd been shot at three times.  I was so scared my teeth hurt.  New York, looking frustrated, turned to Georgia and said, "Let's just pop him right here, who'd know?"
     "Can't do it cowboy," Georgia grumbled back. "Gotta' talk to him first, check out the bag and make sure he didn't hide any of the boss's money."  Turning toward me he said, "Boy, you look a mess.  You're bleedin' like a stuck pig.  You didn't get any on the money did you?"
     I could feel blood and sweat running down my neck into my shirt.  I was covered with dirt and mud from falling down, my ankle was swollen, straining the laces in my shoe and my shoulder was sagging.  I had all my weight on my right leg.  "No I didn't."  I answered.  And then in a higher voice I said,   "And I didn't take any either, it's all in here."  I wasn't feeling so lucky anymore.
     "Well son, this ain't no time to start lyin' I promise you."  Georgia said.  "Now throw that bag up here."
I managed to walk as far as the bottom of the incline and stood below the road level about 20 feet away.  "I don't think I can. This thing weighs a ton."  I was tired, weak and scared.  I was sure they were going to kill me.
     "If I have to come down there and get my boots dirty I'm gonna' stick this gun in your neck and fix you a new earhole." Georgia talked like he was used to having people do exactly what he ordered them to do.  I picked up the bag with both hands and fell over as I tried to swing it forward.  It rolled down the hill and a couple of bundles of cash fell out and wedged together in the tall grass.
 Georgia turned to New York, waved his gun and said, "Jump on down there and grab that thing so we can get out of here."
     "You talkin' to me?" New York shot back, "You talkin' to me?  You jump on down and get the damn thing.  It's your fault we're here in the first place.  If you'd tied the trunk shut like I told ya' we wouldn't be dealin' with this right now."
      "It's not my fault the rope slipped off."  Georgia was waving his gun in the air for emphasis.  "Shit happens man, I've seen the bumper sticker.  Besides we found the bag so we're home free.  One of us has to pop this pervert and grab the bag and I'm not gettin' my new boots dirty."
     While they were arguing over who was going to kill me I got back to my feet, moved a little closer and said, "Oh hell, keep your boots dry, I'll try it again."  They looked at each other, wondering I'm sure, just who I thought I was talking to them that way.
     There must be a complicated psychological explanation for what I was feeling.  A kind of resignation.  As each minute passed I lost a little more blood, my ankle and shoulder hurt a little more and I cared less and less about what might happen to me next.  I was scared but I'd reached the point where I didn't want to give them any satisfaction by showing it.
     "Look out, I'd hate to hit you with this thing."  A little sarcasm. Using my left leg for balance and my right for leverage, I coiled myself and looped the bag as high into the air as I could.  It landed at the edge of the grass about two feet from New York.  I lost my balance again and fell, dropping my cell phone, twisting my shoulder and banging my bad ankle on a rock.  I hollered in pain and started rolling around on the ground holding my leg.  When I looked up at Georgia he seemed very sympathetic.
     "Oh did the little man fall down and hurt his little self?"  Then he stopped smiling.
     New York shook the bag at me with one hand and barked,  "Did you take any money outta' here?"  Then dropped it on the ground for emphasis.
     "No," I said again, "I didn't take any because I was gonna' keep the whole thing ­ all of it.  I was trying to hide it in the trees when you two showed up. There has to be a million bucks in that bag."  I was exhausted.
Georgia joined in, "That's none of your business, bud.  It don't belong to us so it don't matter and we don't know nothin'.  And believe me the less you know the better." He looked over to New York for confirmation.  New York, sounding just like Rocky Balboa, nodded his head and said, "Absolutely."
     What little hope I held for wealth and freedom was slipping away.  Resigned to being poor again I decided to work on the freedom part.  "You don't have to kill me ya' know, it's almost Christmas for Christ's sake."
     New York gave me a straight answer.  "You've been a stand-up guy, for a thief that's caught red-handed.  You were honest about keepin' the money, it doesn't look like you took any and we didn't have to get dirty chasing you.  So, I'll make it quick, a couple of shots behind the ear, bada-bing, bada-boom. It's over."  He took a step closer and held the pistol against his leg.
     "You're a peach of a guy."  I said, holding my ankle off the ground.
      Georgia grabbed the bag, zipped it closed as he stood up and hit New York on the arm,  "Hey, man, it is Christmas, maybe we could do a nice thing here.  It can't hurt."  He raised his eyebrows and looked at the sky.  "Might just get us some points with the Man upstairs."  A ray of hope.
     "Are you crazy?"  New York shook his head.  "You know the freakin' rules, we're just the help.  We don't make decisions like that."
     Georgia looked at me, "Throw me your wallet and that cell phone too."  I dug in my back pocket and threw my wallet up into the dirt.  As he bent over to pick it up, I tossed up the cell phone.  Georgia turned back to New York and held up my wallet.  "Now, we know who this guy is and where he lives."  He laughed,  "He's all beat up, he'll probably starve out here anyway, besides he's a civilian.  And, we can always kill him later.  So, come on, doin' a good deed for Christmas will make me feel better."  Things were looking up.
     New York was thinking it over, so I decided to work the situation a little.  Since the freedom thing now had a chance I thought I'd work on the wealth part too.  In the best "poor me" voice I could muster I said, "My car is history, I can't walk and I'm flat broke. If I ever get out of here, I could sure use some of that money."
     I thought New York was going to explode.   His eyes bulged and his face turned red like he was going to bellow at me.  Instead, he burst out laughing.  "I've gotta' hand it to ya' buddy, you've got guts."
     I stayed with a rational approach when I said, "I haven't got a clue who you are and you've gotta' bag full of money, who's gonna' miss forty or fifty grand?  That's all I need.  I did find it for you so call it a finder's fee, I don't care.  You'll never see me again."  Made sense to me.
     Georgia and New York were staring at each other.  I never felt more alive than in those few seconds as they decided my fate.  I could almost hear them thinking as I held my breath.  Like waiting for a verdict.
     New York suddenly turned toward me, "Ah hell, let's just kill the little chump."  He raised his pistol and fired.  I didn't have time to react.  The blast was deafening but I thought I could hear laughing.  I could hear!  I wasn't dead!  I was thinking, "Holy cow, he missed!"  When I looked up I saw those two goombahs bent over laughing.
     "Did you see his face?  That was great!  I'll bet he has to change his shorts now."  New York was having fun.  He straitened up, looked at me, and said,     "Tell you what pal, if I shoot you we ain't gonna' see you again either.  But," he nodded toward Georgia,  "my friend here wants to do a good thing.  And I might feel good about doin' something nice too.  So I'll make you a deal.  You keep your head down and promise not to look at our license plates when we leave, and we'll let you live."
      "Oh hell yes!" I said without missing a beat.  And then, holding on to a sliver of hope, I asked, "What about the money?"
     Georgia, still snickering, pulled the zipper open on the bag, reached in, took out a bundle of cash and threw it at me.  "There you go button-head, this is your lucky day."
     I thought 'in for a penny, in for a pound.'  "Come on man, you got your money back and fifty grand gets me where I need to be."  I was pushing my luck, no doubt.
     Georgia stopped laughing. "Maybe you oughta' just shoot him."
     New York was still smiling. "Well, we'll have to make it look good, and come up with a good story, but ya' gotta' admire the guy.  Let's just make believe we don't see that money layin' in the grass."
     Georgia zipped the bag closed again, raised an eyebrow and said, "Make it look good?"
     New York paused while he looked at me, "Gonna' have to shoot him in the leg or something, so at least we can say we shot the guy that took the money."
     There was thirty grand laying in the grass, a lot more than I'd have scored in Piscataway.  I thought, maybe I could talk them into something other that a bullet in the leg when I looked up.  New York was pointing his pistol at me.  I was trying to stand up and scoot backwards at the same time when he fired.  The bullet hit my leg with the impact of an NFL linebacker.  I was spun around and thrown backwards into the dirt.  I knew I was hurt but I wasn't sure where the bullet went in.  I think I was going into shock, but I was mad as hell.  "What did you do?  You shot me!"  Brilliant come back, under the circumstances.
     "There ain't no free lunch, pal.  So have a Merry Christmas."  New York was very matter-of-fact now.  "Quit your whining.  You're damn lucky you're not dead.  Pull your belt off and wrap it tight around your leg.  And put that money away, I'd hate for someone to come along and steal it from you."
 Georgia wanted to leave too. "Roll over and close your eyes until you can't hear the car anymore.  When we get near town we'll make a call with your cell phone and get some help out here."  Walking toward the car he turned back and said, "I wouldn't bother buyin' any lotto tickets anytime soon 'cause this is all the good luck you're ever gonna' have.  We never do this kinda' stuff."  He started whistling Jingle Bells as he turned back and got in the car.
     New York blasted through another U-turn, spinning the tires and throwing rocks and dirt into the air, heading back in the direction they came from.
     As the sound of the car faded away I sat up, undid my belt and wrapped it around my upper thigh.  I was bleeding but not as badly as I expected.  I gathered the bundles of money, took off my coat and pulled the threads apart along the inside edge of the lining.  Then I shoved the money into the lining of the jacket and put it back on.
     My ankle looked like a balloon and I couldn't feel my toes.  My right leg was stiff and I could barely lift my arm.  I was a mess.  I decided to take the shortest route to the road, straight up the hill, and hoped that help would show up soon.
     I tried to make it to my car but the road ripped at my hands and knees like a giant piece of sandpaper.  I managed about fifty yards before I gave up, laid down on the shoulder of the road and passed out.  The siren from the ambulance startled me awake.  I was struggling into a sitting position as the siren clicked off and the vehicle came to a stop just past me in the gravel.
     A couple of EMT's took off my jacket, laid me back down, tore open my shirt, listened to my chest and went to work as a team.  One cleaned my face and forehead then wrapped on a bandage.  The other cut the laces on my shoe to get it off and put a cold pack on my ankle with an Ace bandage.  Using scissors, they both worked on the bullet wound in my right thigh, cutting my pant leg, cleaning both the entry and exit wounds and finally putting a bandage completely around my upper thigh.  They stuck me with about a hundred needles.
    As they laid me on the ambulance gurney one of them said,  "Hang in there buddy, you're gonna' be fine."
     I said, "Thanks. Hand me my jacket will ya'?"  I held it under my good arm.
     Turning toward me, the other EMT said, "Mister, you're lucky to be alive."
     As I was passing out I said, "If you only knew, man.  If you only knew."  Good thing I was wearing my lucky socks.
     When I woke up in the hospital the damage report went like this: I got a pretty good bump on my head but the cut needed only seven stitches to close.  My shoulder, partially separated from the fall, was reset and should be fine.  The bullet went through my thigh cleanly but missed everything important.  I may need a little bit of surgery to clean things up and it'll be sore for a while.  Overall, I lost a lot of blood, I'll have a limp and a scar but I should be no worse for the wear.  I told the police all I saw was a red pickup headed for Piscataway.  They suggested it must have been a random drive-by shooting.  I told them, "Yeah, go figure."  They left and I haven't heard back from them.
     I wonder now how all this came together.  Luck or timing.  Kind of like a marble on a roulette wheel bouncing from red to black. Two wiseguys only shoot me in the leg but I manage to stay alive and keep thirty grand.  Definitely red.  Then, there's the flat tire in the middle of nowhere and nearly getting run down by the only psycho trucker within fifty miles.  Decidedly black.  Luck or timing. I don't know.  Right now I just feel lucky that Kenny is my brother and that I can help a little.
     Maybe if I'd spent a couple more minutes in the shower that morning none of this would have come together.  Then again, "Shit Happens."  Period.  I'll be here in the hospital awhile so I'll think about it.  Either way, I can help with some money and compared to what Kenny is dealin' with this ain't so bad.
     Oh, one other thing comes to mind as I lay here waiting for dinner, Georgia still has my wallet and knows where I live.  I guess I'm not all that hungry anyway.
 
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