GRIM Cover Reveal

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of amazing people in this business. One of those people is Lisa Vasquez, writer, publisher, cover artist. She’s a do it all type of person. She’s also a close friend. 

When I started putting together my latest collection, I went to her and asked if she would create the cover. After she agreed to do it, we both started looking for images. I found one, then another, then a third. Then I saw the image that would become the cover and I knew it was the one. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but it was definitely an ‘Oh my,” moment. 


A funny thing happened. Lisa came across the same image and sent it to me. I actually laughed out loud. Is it fate? I don’t know, but what are the odds both of us would pick the same image for the cover? Okay, so it’s fate.

Here it is, the cover for GRIM, my new short story collection centered around the Grim Reaper, slated for a late February release.

This cover has quickly became my favorite of any of my books. I absolutely love the way Lisa blended the title with the colors of the image. She also added From the author of Cory’s Way and Dredging Up Memories. It’s a nice touch.

I’ll have more information later this week, but for now, thank you for stopping by and allowing me to share the cover with you. I hope you’re as intrigued and excited as I am.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Broken Shells

A few years ago, I wrote a story titled, Broken Shells. (Brief spoiler coming) In it a teenaged boy who recounts the last night he saw the girl he loved and how he believed it was his fault she died. It’s a terribly sad piece about how things are viewed as ugly or beautiful, how people are viewed in that same manner. 

I wrote the story one night around Thanksgiving of 2013. That year we went to Folly Beach for Thanksgiving with my wife’s family. It was insanely cold during the day and even colder at night. We went out one afternoon, braving the cold and the wind that whipped around us. As we walked, I did what I always do: look for shells. I came across this shell that was nothing more than a fragment. It’s edges were purple and faded into pink. I almost threw it back, then stopped. It wasn’t a full shell, but it was beautiful, probably one the prettiest shells I’ve ever seen.

That’s when the story began to take shape. You see, beauty can be found in anything if you look for it. It’s what the main character of the story didn’t know, but what Mazzy did. I tucked the shell into my coat pocket and wrote the story shortly after.

Fast forward to the end of 2021. Cate and I return to Folly Beach on a warm day shortly after Christmas. We walk the beach for a couple of hours. At one point, we pass these driftwood trees to our right. Cate had seen them on one of her prior trips earlier in the year and she wanted to show me. She takes me to this tree, one with all these half shells attached to it with twine or string or anything that people could find. Up a little high, as if it were the star on top of a Christmas tree, was a starfish with some words written on it. She took a few pictures and we left. But a seed had been planted. Now, all I had to do was water it.

That night, I sat at my laptop and wrote the story, Forever Broken, Forever Beautiful. It takes place five years after Broken Shells. It deals with the guilt of poorly chosen words and the perceived results of those words. Below are those two stories. I hope you enjoy them.

As always, until we meet again, be kind to one another and keep taking one step forward. It’s the only way you get anywhere.

A.J.

Broken Shells (2013)

Mazzy wanted to walk on the beach. I thought she was crazy. I’ve always thought she was a little nuts, but this time, she was taking it to a new level. It was bitter cold—twenty-six degrees—and it was well after noon, so the temperature wasn’t going to rise much, if any. The sun was as high in the sky as it would go before making its descent back the other way. The wind blew off the ocean, dropping the temperature another ten or so degrees. We had tried the beach before lunch, but the gust whipped her blond hair about her head. It cut through my coat and sweater and the T beneath it. It made my face hurt and my nose run and my body like ice. We gave up then after only a few minutes.

Still, Mazzy wanted to walk on the beach.

“Why?” I asked.

“I want to look for shells.”

“Shells?”

“Yes. Seashells.”

“I know what you mean. Why do you want to look for them now?”

“We can add them to your collection.”

With that, I donned my long shirt, my sweater and jacket. She pulled on only a thin coat, not enough to keep the chill from her skin, much less the wind off her bones.

“You’ll be cold,” I said.

She regarded me with pale blue eyes that hid a truth in them I didn’t see right away.

It didn’t take long to get to the beach. It was a block from the house her parents rented. My hands shoved deep into jean pockets, I still shivered, even with the layers I wore. Mazzy gave no indication she was cold at all.

Clouds rolled in, brought by the wind. A threat of sleet or ice hung in the air. 

“We shouldn’t stay out long,” I said.

“You can go back,” she remarked, knowing I wouldn’t leave her.

For the next two hours we picked up shells to add to a collection I had started years before, when I was only a child of six. I picked up one with frozen fingers, dropped it back to the sand, and plucked it up again. By then the sun was setting behind the darkened clouds, giving the clouds a purple hue. I stared at the shell for a moment, before flipping it into the incoming tide. 

“Why do you throw back the broken ones?” Mazzy asked. In her hand she held a curved piece of a conch shell—it was just a piece, and nothing more. 

“It’s broken—it’s not worth anything.”

Again, she regarded me with those pale blue eyes. They were sadder than I had ever seen. She held up her piece, turned it over in her hand. “Is that how you see them? Just broken pieces that have no meaning. Pieces so insignificant you can’t see the beauty in them?”

“There is no beauty in broken things.”

She frowned, looked down and whispered, “A shell is like a life—fragile and easily broken. Each one should be looked at for what it is: once something beautiful before the world destroyed it, before people destroyed it.” She dropped the broken shell and turned away from me.

I wanted to chase after her, but I couldn’t. Even if it had been a hot sunny day, my legs would not have moved, and my voice couldn’t be bothered to speak up when I needed it to most. 

I looked to the sand. The piece of shell was there. I bent, picked it up and had a hard time standing upright, thanks to the cold that had seeped into my bones. With the dying sun sinking further into the horizon, I caught a glimpse of the purple edge of the shell, the way it turned red, then pink. It was a beautiful fragment of something much larger. It was like Mazzy, and right then I understood her grief.

Life had been cruel to her, but she kept going, kept putting one foot in front of the other. At least until then. 

“Mazzy,” I called, but she was gone. I looked up the beach in the direction she had gone but didn’t see her. I saw shoe prints in the sand that led to the water. You can figure it out from there, right? I don’t need to go into all the details of how I called her name until I was hoarse, or how I ran into the water up to my knees, even as the tide rolled in harder and harder, pushed along by the bellowing wind, or how her body washed up on the shore three days later, bloated and blue and nipped at by hungry fish, or how I cried until no more tears would come, and still, my heart lay shattered in millions of tiny pieces. Or do I?

All that really matters is Mazzy is dead, and I can’t help but believe part of it is my fault. The words I said echo in my skull, haunting me daily, keeping me awake until the early hours of morning. 

There is no beauty in broken things.

I was wrong. 

Mazzy was a broken shell, but she was beautiful in her own special way.

I once had a collection of seashells. They were whole and carefully cleaned and sat in boxes in my closet. They were beautiful. They still sit in their boxes, but I haven’t added any to them since Mazzy left. Now, I walk the beach in search of the beauty of broken shells …

Forever Broken, Forever Beautiful (2021)

It’s warm today, even for mid-November. The last time I was here, it was bitterly cold, in the mid-twenties and with a wind coming off the ocean that made it feel like it was below freezing. That was five years ago. Five. Years. Ago.

I can only shake my head at that. 

I left my car in the gravel parking lot. Four years ago, this part of the beach had been wiped out thanks to Hurricane Andrew. The parking lot had been just a dirt road that dead ended at a small building with two changing rooms—one for women, one for men. A sandy path led from the building to the beach; a thin slat fence kept people from going onto the dunes. Now, there’s a building with four ramps leading up, up, up to changing rooms and bathrooms. There is even a deck area with nice wooden tables you can sit at and look out at the ocean. It’s a beautiful view from there. 

Mazzy would have thought it was neat, maybe interesting, but beautiful? I’m not so sure. 

The ramps lead to a long boardwalk that takes you right onto the beach. Real guard rails keep people off the dunes. 

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

I look to my right. Kimberly stands there. Her light brown hair moves with the slight breeze. There is concern in her hazel eyes and written all over her face. She holds a small paper bag with both hands in front of her. She’s a good person, my friend, my heart. She’s understanding, and in so many ways, I don’t deserve her. She knows Mazzy no longer had my heart, but a big part of me still missed her … still mourned her. She knows that, too.

“Not really,” I reply. “But I need to do this. I need to put this behind me. If not now, when?”

She nods. It’s a sweet gesture of pure understanding. She also knows this is as much for her as it is for me. We can’t go on until this is done. 

We walk, not quite side by side. She’s a little ahead of me, and I’m okay with that. She can’t see the anxiousness on my face that way. We go up the ramps and to the boardwalk, where the view is absolutely breathtaking. The tide is coming in and the whitecaps roll along the shore. There are a handful of people on the beach. We stand there for a few minutes, then walk down the boardwalk to the beach. There are three steps that lead to the sand. She goes down. I stop. 

“Are you okay?” she asks after taking a few steps and realizing I’m not there with her. 

I take a deep breath, swallow the nothing in my mouth and nod. I’m not okay, but I hope … I hope, soon, I will be.

Kimberly walks back to the steps and reaches out to me. Her nails are light purple and seem to shimmer in the sunlight. “I’ll be right beside you the whole way. Just take my hand.”

I take the three steps down to the sand and grab her hand. It’s warm and soft and everything I need to go forward.

To the left are a row of houses that span about a mile, then a hotel that seems to extend forever. Just beyond that is the pier loves stand on and grumpy men fish from. To the right is just beach. No houses. No hotels. Just beach. We go right. 

There are less people in this direction than the other, mostly out of towners from up north who probably didn’t expect it to be in the upper sixties down south this late in the year. What they don’t know is this is typical South Carolina weather. Today it’s upper sixties, tomorrow it might be lower thirties. Stick around a few days and you can experience all four seasons in less than a week. 

Neither of us speak as we walk along. I try not to look at the ground, at the broken seashells that dot the sand. To the right a few small trees have grown up on this side of the dunes. They look like nothing more than driftwood that sprouted roots and grew into the ground. 

Then I see what I’m looking for. It’s still over fifty yards away. One of those driftwood trees stands by itself. It has no real branches and it looks like it could be a wooden person standing there with two arms extended out and a pointy head separating them. Part of me thought the tree would be gone, pulled into the ocean when Hurricane Andrew blew through, but there it stands. And what lies beyond it is our destination. 

I squeeze Kimberly’s hand. She squeezes mine back. 

We approach the tree. About ten yards from it, we stop. Just beyond the driftwood tree is another bank of smaller trees, these with dozens and dozens of limbs. One, in particular, calls to me.

“Is that it?” Kimberly asks.

“Yes.”

For at least a minute, maybe two, we stand there, staring at the tree.

“Are you okay?” 

I’m not. “Yes,” I lie. She knows. 

I release her hand and take a few tentative steps. I pass the driftwood tree that could be a wooden person and stop in front of one that could have been a bush at one time. Like the driftwood tree, I half hoped it had been swept away. Its branches have no leaves. It holds seashells, put there by people over the years, memories of loved ones or important moments. Most of the shells are gray or white, just boring things that, at one time, I would have thought were ugly and not all that special. I was wrong then. Each of those bland shells means something to someone.

“Here,” Kimberly says and holds out the small paper bag. 

“Thanks,” I say and take it. I open it. Inside is a piece of a shell—something I once thought was insignificant. I reach inside, pull out the shell. It’s the curved piece of a conch shell. It’s white and pink and when the light reflects off it, the pink looks purple. Once upon a time, I would have tossed it back—in fact, I had, five years before, on a frigid November night when the temperatures were anything but warm. Mazzy had picked it up and regarded it with terribly sad eyes. 

“There is no beauty in broken things,” I said that night. I’ve lived with the guilt of those seven words ever since. Mazzy considered herself broken, even at sixteen, with what should have been her entire life before her. She looked at the shell and spoke about broken things and humanity and dropped it back to the ground. Then, as I bent to pick it up, she walked into that icy ocean. Her body washed up on the shore three days later. It may have washed up sooner, but she wasn’t found until three days passed. 

And I haven’t been the same since.

Last night I drilled a hole in the thick end of the shell. I ran a zip tie through the hole and connected the two ends, creating a loop. I wrote on it in tiny print, Mazzy. Forever Broken. Forever Beautiful. Forever loved. This morning, Kimberly put it in the small bag. Now, I hold it in my hands. The sun shines off it, making the pink a beautiful purple. 

I lick my lips and swallow hard. My chest tightens and I struggle to breathe. Finally, I hand the bag to Kimberly and take the few steps to the tree. There is a shell on one branch that someone—either Rochelle or Augustus wrote the words: Rochelle and Augustus 4 Ever 11/02/2021. There’s a dried out starfish on the top someone wrote a bunch of words on that I can’t read it. I guess it represents the star on the top of a Christmas tree. Maybe.

I hold the shell up by the zip tie, turn it over and read what I wrote. Mazzy. Forever Broken. Forever Beautiful. Forever loved. 

I slip the ornament on a branch not too far below the starfish and pull the end of the zip tie, tightening the loop and securing the shell in place. 

“I’m sorry, Mazzy,” I say as tears fill my eyes. “I miss you.”

I lower my head, take a deep breath. The floodgate breaks and I can do nothing to keep from sobbing. A warm hand touches my back, then I turn. Kimberly’s arms go around me, pull me into her. One hand goes onto the back of my head when I lower it into her shoulder.

We stay like that for a while, until I have cried my tears out, until I have wet the shoulder of her shirt. Not once did she remove her arms from around me. Not once did she tell me I needed to grow up or get over it or anything else along those lines. I said I didn’t deserve her. I don’t. 

Then I hear it, a soft voice. Not Kimberly’s but Mazzy’s. Two words. That’s all.

It’s okay.

I look up. I pull away from Kimberly and turn around. The sun shines off Mazzy’s shell and I see that beautiful purple. A soft breeze blows through the branches and the sun catches the shell. The pink and purple and white glisten and seem to wink at me. I smile. It’s nothing much, but still a smile. 

“Thank you,” I whisper. 

I wipe my eyes and take a deep breath. For the first time in five years, I feel light; the weight of guilt lifted from my shoulders. I turn around. Kimberly stands in front of me, her eyes full of her own tears.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

I nod. “Yes.” It’s the truth this time. She knows it.

Patreon: One Step Forward

What’s up all you … hmmm … what do I call the followers of Type AJ Negative? My handful of fans? My new Patreon subscribers? I honestly don’t know. I used to call them Roadies, but something happened a few years ago involving a shady person so I stopped calling y’all Roadies. That actually sucks, because I created a lot of marketing material using that term. But sometimes you have to disassociate with people or businesses and remove all connections to them. 

But that is for another day.

Today, I want to post the link to my new Patreon page. It’s under my name, but I call it One Step Forward

One Step Forward is one author’s take on writing and life. It’s exclusive short stories, videos, background information on characters and books you can’t get anywhere else. It’s discounts on books. It’s exclusive first looks and early content. It’s also a look at the struggles, the doubts, the rejections, as well as the acceptances, the confidence and those moments of success that makes you scream at the top of your lungs ‘What’s going on?’ Oh, wait. That’s not what I scream during the successes. Actually, I don’t scream at all about the successes. Maybe I should. 

It’s the path taken and viewpoints of that path. It’s honesty as one writer sees it. Life is all about taking one step forward at a time, and this is one I chose to take. I hope you will walk with me.

Here is the link. I hope you will consider checking it out. Yes, a lot of content is subscription based but I think it will be well worth it for my Patrons. 

https://www.patreon.com/onestepforward

I will still have content here, on Type AJ Negative and I have a post coming in the next week on what I am striving to do, both as a writer and as a person. 

Also, before I go, if you can think of a name to call my fans and subscribers, drop it in the comments below. Please like, share and comment, as well. And, please, stop by the Patreon page, check it out, subscribe to one of the four current tiers. I truly appreciate it.

Thanks for dropping by, be kind to one another and keep taking one step forward. It’s the only way you get anywhere.

A.J.

WHY?

I wrote a letter at the end of 2020 that I eventually sent to my publisher, editors, proofer and select friends. It is titled, Why I’m Getting Out of the Publishing Business. When I wrote this letter, my resolve to leave the publishing business was so strong I almost sent it without letting it sit, without letting my strong emotions run its course before making such a decision. Instead, I sat on the letter for nearly a month longer, watching things play out, seeing if I would have a change of heart. 

I did not.

One of the biggest reasons for my desire to leave the business of publishing is I feel the system is broken. I feel there are too many small presses with the right ideas but without the funding and/or the understanding of how to make those ideas work for both them and the authors. I feel there are small press publishers who steal the ideas of others to benefit themselves within the writing and publishing communities. I feel there are so many writers out there who don’t care about the readers and will throw anything together to make a buck. 

I feel the business model in publishing is broken. Authors submit their works to agents or directly to publishers, who, if accepted, make more money off the authors’ hard work than the actual authors make. But the business of editing, creating cover art, marketing and so on is why the publisher makes X percent of the royalties and the author makes x percent. Please, understand something important that has been lost throughout the years: without authors, there are no publishers. 

There are rights—so many rights—to published works that authors lose for either a period of time or forever when they sign certain contracts. But those authors get advances, you say. Only with certain publishing houses, but if the book doesn’t sell well enough to meet the advance amount that puts the authors in a precarious position. Sometimes part or all of that advance has to be paid back if the book doesn’t meet the publisher’s expectations. To go with that, sometimes authors have to fight to get the rights to their work back, even after a publishing company has folded. 

That’s not the worst of it. I once had a publisher tell me he would give me the rights to my book back if I paid him five hundred dollars for what he paid out on the book. I asked for receipts and he sent me a bill. I asked for proof work had been done on a book I had not seen edits for though the book was scheduled to be released in less than two weeks. I had not seen cover art, either. The publisher had not done anything he said he would in the contract, and I pointed that out. We had a bitter back and forth until I finally told him he can talk to my lawyer from that point forward. I had already been in touch with an attorney and he had found the contract was null and void and that I could sue the publishing company if I wanted. I did not want to do that. I just wanted the rights to my book back. In the end, I was lucky. The publishing company’s contract provided an out that they didn’t realize was in there. A lot of authors aren’t so fortunate.

Then there is Amazon. I loathe Amazon. There is a mindset among some readers that if your books are not on Amazon, then you must not be that good of a writer. That’s a bogus mindset. Amazon is not a publisher. It is a provider. It provides people who want to publish their books with an avenue to do so. It also provides a means for readers to get those books. It is, in no way, an actual publisher. They don’t edit, they don’t proof. Don’t try to get them to market. They just provide. 

What it boils down to is a story is an author’s intellectual property. It is also an art form—yes, even bad stories are artistic in some way. More than those things, a story is the brainchild of the author. It is a part of them, one the author cherishes. At the end of the day, publishers should respect the authors under their imprint. They should treat them like customers they long to get and keep. A writer is not a dollar sign, and yes, I know the business of publishing is about money. Or is it? Rather, should it be? Maybe it should be about entertaining the readers and giving them the best bang for their buck. I honestly feel doing that will lead to more dollars down the road.

The thing is, it’s not just the publishers doing this. It’s the authors. I work hard on crafting atmospheric and emotional stories. I work hard on putting stories out that move readers. I work hard to give the readers an experience. I work hard on the logic of the stories I tell. I don’t just write some words on a screen and call it good and publish it to make money off readers. That would be tantamount to screwing them. But many authors do. Sadly, readers eat those writers up, hang on their every misspelled word or poorly constructed sentence. 

The art of telling a story is dying and we’ve watched it happen. Sadly, authors have allowed it to happen. It makes their job easier. They don’t have to invest time and energy and heart and soul into crafting something memorable or something that moves you. Just give the readers a beginning, middle and somewhat of an ending and call it a day. Smoke your cigarette. Drink your wine and smile your yellow-stained teeth smile.

I can’t do that. For every story I’ve published, there are at least ten stories I have not. If you do that math, only nine percent of the stories I have written I feel are worthy of seeing the light of day. Nine. Percent.

I’ve always done things my own way. I question things. I question rules. One of my favorite questions is simply, Why? If I’m given an answer I feel is satisfactory, then great, if not, I ask again. Why? The biggest of those questions is why is it done this way? Because it always has been is not a good answer.

So, I left the business for about six months. I wrote more in that six-month period than I did in the previous two years. I cleared my mind. I didn’t watch the business. 

When I decided to step back in, I went with a book I had released in January, then pulled before it could get a head of steam. It’s a good book, one of my favorites. I also went about it differently. I focused on the fun side of the business, which has always been about creating. In September of 2021, nearly seven months after leaving publishing, I rereleased Five Deaths, and I was excited to do so. I was excited to talk about it. I was excited to promote it. I was excited to get it in people’s hands. What a glorious feeling.

That leads us to here, to Patreon. Why? Why Patreon? Patreon is a platform for artist, and as I stated before, writing is an art, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes it can be amazing. Patreon allows the artist to offer you, the fans of such an art as writing, the opportunity to get content no one else can get through a subscription. It allows fans to help artists continue to create. It allows the artist more control over the content you receive. It allows the artist to actually make a little money off their work. 

I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve seen how writing organizations treat those who are not members and it is shameful. I’ve witnessed biasness firsthand. I was once told by a publisher who rejected one of my stories that he would have taken the story if a more well-known author hadn’t sent him one for consideration. Someone had to get booted so the well-known author could have a spot. He went for name recognition over quality of story. Sadly, that happens a lot in this business. 

Admittedly, I see things differently. I feel this business fails its readers more than it should. I won’t kiss butts to get further in this business. I won’t lie to a reader. If I feel my work is not a good fit, I tell the reader. It might cost me a sell, but if it’s not for that person, what are the chances that person will read it to the end? And what are the chances they will ever buy from me again?

I stated earlier without writers there are no publishers. There’s one other thing that goes with that: without readers, there is no reason to write and be published. The most valuable person to a writer is not the publisher, editor, proofer, cover artist, or beta readers. It’s the book buying reader. You are the most important thing to me, as a writer. Without you, then I’m not writing this. 

So, what do you get by subscribing to my Patreon page? Depending on the tier you subscribe to, you get exclusive stories, either in a series format or as stand-alone pieces, once a month. You get first looks at new books, you’re the first to know about new releases and you are the first to see cover art. You get a quarterly print booklet, much like my original Brown Bag Stories or Southern Darkness booklets, mailed to you in February, May, August, and November. You get an exclusive first look at my novel Unbroken Crayons—once a month (over a twelve-month period) a new portion will be posted, and you get it all before it is released. There is a 25% discount on print books. You also get what I call ONE STEP FORWARD—one writer’s journey in this business of writing. You also get a birthday shoutout video from me and your name goes in the Great Big Page of Appreciation at the end of my books. Again, all that depends on what tier you subscribe to. I absolutely must stress that. It’s not free. 

So, if you are here, I thank you. You’ve taken time out of your life, from your daily activities, to come here and read my words. Thank you for your support, here on my Facebook page, and hopefully, over at Patreon.

On January 1st, I will share the link to the Patreon page. Why not now? It’s not quite ready yet, and it won’t be launched until January 1st. I hope you will consider checking it out, and subscribing to one of the four tiers. And please spread the word. Help me build this Patreon page. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another and keep taking one step forward. It’s the only way you get anywhere.

A.J.

Be Astounding

What do you want in life? No, I’m not talking riches and popularity. I think most people want that (at least the riches part). What do you REALLY want in life? Do you want a better job? Do you want to get in shape? Do you want a better marriage or relationships with your friends, family, and the people you care about most? Do you want to write a song, a book, a play? Do you want to play a musical instrument? Do you want to paint, draw, or sculpt? Do you want to go back to college or go for the first time? Do you want to learn a new language? 

What do you want in life? Think about it. I mean, REALLY think about it. 

I listen to people when they talk. Some may not think I do, but I do. I listen to what they say, how they say it. I pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, and the tone in their voices. As a writer, all these things play a huge part in my stories, and I’ve gotten good at listening and hearing what people say. 

I’ve seen or heard a few things this week that have made me ponder the question I posed above. One of those things—and to me the greatest deterrent from chasing dreams—is fear. That fear is based off the unknown. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I will be any good at it. I don’t know what tomorrow holds or how this will play out. Some of that fear is based off previous experiences. This happened to me before so … 

In many cases, I see fear of failure. I’m afraid if I try, I will fail. What if I don’t succeed? What if I fail? 

Hey, in your mind right now, I want you to look me in the eyes. Come on. Whatever color your eyes are, I want them to look into my blue ones right now, and hear the words coming off my fingertips. Are you ready for this? I understand how you feel. I have been there, and I am certain I will be there again. I hate the very idea of failing at something. It is a normal feeling. 

The following are a handful of quotes from Thomas Edison, you know, that guy that invented a bunch of things. The first of these is fairly well known. A couple of the others are not.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Yeah, so you’ve probably heard of that one. How about this one:

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

One of the things I feel is important in order to doing anything is to believe you can do it. So often we don’t believe we can do something. We see someone else do it better and when we don’t do it as well as they do, we give up. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not Edison, but Theodore Roosevelt.

You may not do something the way someone else does, but that doesn’t mean you failed at it. That means you did it differently, and sometimes differently is a good thing. Don’t make the mistake of comparing how you do something, how well you do something, or your success to how well someone else does something and how successful they are. Don’t do that to yourself. Again, look into my eyes: don’t do that to yourself.

Okay, here is the third Edison quote, and it’s powerful:

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Did you get that? Seriously. Did you get that?

Giving up on something we want feels like failure. Giving up on ourselves feels like failure. It feels like shame and smells like regret later on. Keep trying. That next bit of effort might be what pushes you across the finish line.

Here’s another important thing to keep in mind: Not trying is worse than trying and not succeeding. At least by trying, you gave it your best effort. I would rather try and failed, than to wonder if I would have succeeded.

There’s one more thing and I promise I will let you go: we are a people of excuses. I can’t do that because I am too young, too old, handicapped, too fat, too thin, not strong enough, don’t have the money, don’t have the know-how, don’t have time. 

For those of you who say any of the things involving physical limits, go read my post called I’m Possible. (https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2021/04/07/impossible/). I understand the don’t have the money part. I deal with that on a regular basis. But there are ways around not having money to do things. The don’t know how I get as well. However, the University of Google and Youtube University are your friends and they are free. Also, you can ask people who know what they are doing for help. Sometimes they will surprise you and give you the information you need to do something. Google it. Youtube it. Ask for help. Do it. 

The issue of time. Whew. That’s a good one. Yeah, that’s mostly an excuse. If you have time to watch two hours of television at night or spend half an hour on social media five or six times a day, then you have time to pursue a dream or a desire or a better life for yourself. Sure, sometimes people are truly busy to the point of not having time for anything else. I get it. But, let’s be honest with each other, if you want something bad enough, there is always time for it because you will make time for it.

Cate and I have grabbed hold of a saying and it has become our mantra over the last half year or so: Be stronger than your excuses. We have developed separate goals for ourselves as well as goals for us as a couple. We will be the only reasons we do not reach those goals. Sure, things will come up, but excuses are no longer an option for us, and I don’t have time is the biggest excuse of them all. 

I guess there is one more Edison quote I want to share, and it’s good:

“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Wow. That’s just … wow. I have nothing to add to that.

So, I ask you again, what do you want in life? What do you REALLY want? Don’t be afraid to go after it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t give up on that dream or yourself. Don’t make excuses. Be astounding. 

Much love and peace to all of y’all.

Abel

I was excited. That excitement and joy was short-lived when we found out that most of his friends were in another league and he ended up on a team where he knew exactly none of the kids.

We were an hour into our first practice of our first t-ball season. My son wanted to give baseball a go. After all, his friends were playing, and he was five and what kid at that age didn’t want to do the same thing as all of his buddies. We signed him up in a league close to home—one with a pretty good reputation for grooming young boys into good ball players. 

The coach was a big man with a mainstay five o’clock shadow along his chin. He had two assistant coaches I would later find out worked with him. One of those coaches was the son of the man who built the ballpark. I sat on the hill watching as the three men tried to corral the group of young boys, Cate beside me, my daughter playing on the play set across from the field. Then the behemoth of a coach walked up the hill. 

“We’re a coach short and could use the help.”

“Me?” I asked. I looked around, thinking he really was talking to someone else.

“You played baseball, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then we could use your help.”

That was the beginning of my days as a coach in little league baseball. It was also the day I noticed Able, a shy boy with brown hair, and almond shaped eyes that didn’t seem to focus on any one thing. He looked at the ground, his shoes, his momma’s leg, back at the ground, his eyes and head never staying still too long. He looked as if he wanted to crawl inside himself and never come out. I could see him physically trying to blend in with the air around him, his elbows hugging his sides, his knees slightly bent in. He leaned into his mother’s legs. If he couldn’t disappear into the air, why not vanish into the black denim of her jeans?

I didn’t say anything at first, but I would later, at the season’s Opening Ceremonies, which other than having all the teams on the field at the same time and announcing the coaches, it was pretty much a waste of time. I hate to say that, but it is what it is.

During those ceremonies, the team mom, a lady named Patricia, held Abel’s hand as we walked onto the field to join the other teams, our hats in our hands. We waved at the crowd of onlookers when our team was announced. Like with his mother, Abel tried to fade into Patricia’s leg, the cheering and clapping from the crowd making him shake as if tiny earthquakes rumbled within his seemingly frail body.

Before the end of the ceremony his mom was on the field with him, and he clutched her leg and cried. I shook my head. I’m not going to lie when I say I thought the mother was being cruel for making him do something he clearly did not wish to do. I’m also not going to lie and say I didn’t think he was a bit on the spoiled side. I would soon learn I was wrong on both accounts, but not on that day. No, on that day, I looked down at my son, the eagerness on his youthful face, the dazzle in his blue eyes—there was excitement there, just like in the rest of the faces of the boys on our team. All except Abel’s.

The following Tuesday we had practice—the first of three that week before the season opener on Saturday. The coaches broke the team up into two groups, one dedicated to fielding and learning the bases, the other dedicated to learning the nuances of holding a bat and hitting, as well as learning how to stand in the batter’s box and keeping their eyes on the ball.  

I didn’t see Abel at the beginning of practice, and I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe his mother had come to her senses and decided not to force him to play. That relief fled as I saw her coming down the sidewalk, Abel melded to her leg. She stopped near Coach Jim, spoke a few words.

“Abel,” he said loud enough for all of us to hear. “Let’s get your helmet on and take a few cuts.”

From where I stood between Jeromy and Jamille, a troubled child with divorced parents, I could hear Abel crying and mumbling words I couldn’t understand. He finally let go of his mother. While Coach Jim slipped a helmet over his head, she ran to her car. Yes, she ran. A minute later, Abel held a bat in front of the tee, his shoulders hunched, legs bent in. He was still trying to disappear. The bat seemed too heavy for him and he held it near his stomach, the barrel pointing down. Coach helped him, putting his arms around his shoulders and easing him to the tee. He showed him the sweet spot of the bat, pointed to it and told him to swing.  

It was agonizing watching him barely get the bat to the ball, striking the tee or whiffing altogether. Then, he did it—he swung hard, struck the ball with good force. He jumped up and down, excitement ringing from his voice in unintelligible words. He swung several more times, hit the ball and squealed happily.  

When it was time for him to come into the field with me, he closed up again, his excitement having faded.

“Come with me, Abel,” I said and knelt beside him, trying the teacher approach of welcoming a new kid to class. “I’m going to be right beside you the whole time, okay?”

He looked up at me, his brown eyes slightly rolled up, his lips a twisted frown. My heart sunk. Not because of the realization that Abel was a child with special needs, but because of how I had felt about his mother, angered by her forcing him to play baseball. She wasn’t forcing him, but helping him, a mother hoping her son can adjust in some way or other into a world where he didn’t seem to fit in.

It was the single most eye-opening moment of my life.

Having friends with autistic children, I realized right then I needed something to relate to with Abel. I needed something he related to, something that could get his interest. That’s when I noticed he wore an Atlanta Braves jersey. Number 10. Chipper Jones.

“Abel, do you like Chipper Jones?” I asked.

His head jerked up; his eyes brightened. He smiled his crooked smile. “Chipper Jones? Chipper Jones? Chipper Jones?”

“Yeah, Chipper Jones,” I said. I glanced up at his mother. His grip had loosened, and I had a feeling I found the relatable content I needed. “Abel, do you want me to teach you how to hit like Chipper Jones?”

“Chipper Jones? Hit? Chipper Jones?”

“Yeah. Do you want me to teach you how to hit like Chipper Jones?”

He repeated his questions of Chipper Jones and hit. Yeah, that was the ticket I needed to get him to pick up what I was putting down.

“If you want me to teach you how to hit like Chipper Jones, you need to let me teach you hot to field like Chipper Jones, and how to catch the ball like Chipper Jones. Can you do that?”

Again, he said Chipper Jones several times. 

I stuck out my hand, “Come on, Abel, let’s go learn how to catch the ball like Chipper Jones.”

As Lady Luck would smile on a gambler from time to time, she smiled on me and Abel that day. He took my hand and walked with me out onto the field at some little elementary school I had never been to until we started having practices there. I helped him with his glove. I showed him how to stand and how to cup the ball in the glove using the alligator method. Chomp your bare hand down onto your glove hand when the ball gets to it. I pointed to the batter.  

“If the ball comes your way, you run and get it. Okay?”

He cringed a little but nodded. He could hear me; he could understand me. Then Coach D stepped up to pitch. He tossed the first ball, which was hit sharply by Cole, the boy at bat. The ball rolled toward Abel.  

“Abel,” I yelled, my heart lifting, “Get the ball!”

Without hesitation, he ran. The ball hit his foot, bounced off his shin. He picked it up and cheered himself for his efforts. I cheered, as well. Abel danced as the coaches clapped and yelled their “way to be’s.”

His mother stood from her car, clapping. Later, I saw her crying as she hugged him tight to her chest. I went up to her, tussled Abel’s hair and knelt beside him. “Abel, will I see you at the next practice?”

He smiled, gave a hearty nod.

“Give me five, buddy,” I said and stuck out my open hand. He slapped it hard and laughed. To his mother, I said, “Thank you for being a good mother.”

She smiled as another trail of tears slid down her face.

After practice, I went to my son and hugged him tight.

“Did I do good, Daddy?” he asked.

“Yes, buddy. You did great.” 

That’s not where this story ends. Where would the lesson be if I ended it here? I would love to say that Abel was the easiest kid to coach. He wasn’t. He tried, but his mind wandered a lot and so did he. But he stuck with it. His mother stuck with it. I stuck with it.

Coach Jim had a way about him that both scared the kids and enthralled them, so they listened, and our kids advanced far further than the tee ball level. By midseason our kids were hitting live pitching, whereas a lot of the kids on other teams were still hitting directly off the tee. Well, I need to correct that last statement. Except for Abel, the rest of the kids on our team were hitting live pitching. Don’t get me wrong, we pitched to Abel. He just couldn’t hit the ball. His hand/eye coordination and timing never seemed to flow together.

We had played nine games and Abel had not gotten a hit all season. I spent a lot of time with him, teaching him how to swing, teaching him how to hold his bat, teaching him how to stand, and no hits. I had not taught him to hit like Chipper Jones. Still, he tried. He swung as hard as he could, missing and usually hitting me with the follow through. I carried away many bruises that year. 

The season came to an end one hot June Saturday. Abel had been up to bat twice and had no luck hitting pitches thrown by Coach D. Then came his last at bat. I’m sure you can figure out where this is going, but I want to tell the story anyway. 

Abel came up to the plate, his orange- barreled bat in his hands, his dark blue helmet on his head. 

By this point in the season, I played catcher and caught the pitches Coach D threw that the kids didn’t hit. I had caught every one of them thrown to Abel. 

“Are you ready, Abel?” I asked as I knelt beside him at home plate. 

Abel nodded, but it wasn’t very confident. He looked like he did that first day I saw him, like he wanted to crawl into his own skin and hide away from the world.

“Look at me, Abel,” I said.

He fidgeted but didn’t look up.

“Abel, look at me.”

Finally, he lifted his head and held his gaze on me long enough for me to tell that somewhere in his mind he absolutely knew he couldn’t hit the baseball. I could almost feel his pain. Though he was special needs and I wasn’t, at one time I couldn’t hit a baseball, either. When I played the game, I got lucky to get a couple of hits every ten at bats. I just wasn’t that good of a hitter. I would get frustrated and down about it. I couldn’t imagine how he felt. My heart almost broke right then.

“Abel, you’re going to hit that ball, do you hear me?”

At first, he only stared at me. I repeated my statement, then he nodded. Again, it wasn’t a confident gesture.

I settled him into his stance and did the robotic diatribe I did with all the kids. “Elbow up. Bat back. Tuck your chin, Abel. Watch the ball. Watch it all the way to the plate.”

Coach D tossed the ball. Abel swung, missed and spun like a top trying to dig its way into the ground. I caught the ball, tossed it back and looked at Abel. He shook his head but didn’t look at me.

“Get your bat up, Abel. Elbow up. Bat back. Tuck your chin. Watch the ball, Abel. Watch it all the way until the bat hits it.”

Again, Coach D tossed the ball. It was just an underhanded lob to the plate. Abel swung with the ball still fifteen feet away. We did this two more times. The league had a five-pitch rule. If a kid hasn’t hit the ball after five pitches, then he has to hit it off the tee.

“Settle down, Abel,” I said. At this point I was sitting on my butt, legs criss-cross Indian style, the way they taught us in school when I was a kid. “Abel, listen to me. You’re going to hit this ball, and when you do, I want you to run all the way around the bases. Don’t stop, you hear me?”

He nodded.

“What are you going to do, Abel?”

“Hit.”

“That’s right. Then what?”

“Run.”

“Don’t stop.”

“Don’t stop,” he repeated.

“Get in the box,” I said.

He stepped into the batter’s box. He was slouched over, the barrel of the bat touching the ground.

“Abel, bat up. Elbow up. Bat back. Tuck your chin. Abel, watch the ball, hit the ball, and then run.” Then I added, “Hit the ball like Chipper Jones.” 

I tapped him on the back of his helmet, a gesture I hoped he took as encouragement. I squatted behind the plate, looked at Coach D, then nodded. Coach D tossed the ball. It seemed to float toward home plate. I swear I saw the seams of the baseball.

Abel lifted his front leg and swung the bat as hard as I had ever seen him swing it … and it connected. The ball rolled a few feet in front of the plate. Abel stood looking at it. Well stood is not quite accurate. He appeared to have full body shivers.

“Run!” I yelled. So did half the crowd in the stands watching the game.

Abel took off down the base path, but instead of heading for first base, he headed for third.

“Abel,” I yelled and chased after him. “Wrong way.”

I caught him halfway up the third base line and redirected him. 

It was one of those moments I wish I could have caught on video. But, really, I don’t need it—I have it in my memory. Every detail, as if it were yesterday and not ten years ago.

The infield was orange dirt, covered in the footprints of all the kids who played that day. The on-deck circle was still pretty much a circle, but the chalk outline had spread out and had been scuffed up quite a bit. The outfield grass was as green as it would get that summer and the kids in the dugout were all jumping up and down. I don’t know what they were screaming, but I know they were cheering as loud as they could. 

Abel was still holding the bat as he cut across the field from the third base line to the first base side. I remember this because I yelled for him to ‘drop the bat, drop the bat, Abel.’ He did drop it just before stepping on first base and jumping up and down as if he had just won the lottery. In a way, I guess maybe he didn’t win the lottery, but the rest of us had. You see, we were witnessing one of the greatest moments in our own lives. We just didn’t know it right then.

One of the coaches from the other team pointed to second base and yelled, “Run. Run. RUN!” I yelled for him to run. Abel did. Head down, arms flailing and legs pumping in an awkward gallop that was simultaneously one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The kids on the other team didn’t chase after the ball, as were their instincts to do so. They didn’t try to tag him as he rounded second and headed for third, then rounded third and headed home. 

I don’t know when I dropped his bat and fell to my knees just on the other side of home plate, but I had. I was yelling for him to ‘run, don’t stop.’ I waved my arms for him to run toward me. I don’t believe he ever saw that. His head was still down, and his arms were still flailing and his legs were still pumping for all he was worth. 

Halfway down the line he looked up.

He looked up.

Ummm … 

I get a little choked up here, and I’m hoping you will understand why.

You see, there was this … this … broad smile plastered on his face. His eyes dazzled brighter than I had seen on any child’s face before that day. I saw this through the face mask on his helmet, even as the helmet itself bobbed up and down on his head with each awkward step he took.

The little boy with special needs was living his dream, and for a brief moment in time, he was just like any other kid. But he wasn’t. He was flying. Somewhere in his reserved mind he was soaring through the clouds as he ran the bases. Then, just a few feet from home plate he dove, feet first. It was just as awkward as his gait, but just as glorious as well. He landed next to home plate and stamped one cleated foot on it emphatically. 

Then he stood and started his lottery dance again. I gave him a hug, just as I would my own son, then we gave each other a high five—him slapping my hand as hard as he could—and he continued to jump up and down, even as his momma stood in the dugout door, her hands over her mouth and nose, tears streaming from her eyes. 

That’s when I noticed everyone in the bleachers were not only standing but clapping and whistling and cheering. There were others crying, and there were tears in my own eyes, though I didn’t realize it right then.

Abel’s mom met him at the dugout gate, picked him up and hugged him tight. I don’t know if it was what she envisioned for him—I’m certain it’s not—but I know it was a proud, emotional moment for her.

It was over entirely too quickly. A season full of hours of practices and games. And it was over in less than five minutes. After the game, Abel’s mom came to me as I was getting my son’s gear together.

“Thank you,” she said. 

“Thank you,” I responded with a smile.

We talked for a few minutes. The words exchanged really doesn’t matter. What does is for a moment in Abel’s life he was just another little boy on a baseball team, wearing the joy in his heart on his sleeve as he ran the bases and slid into home plate. I bet in his mind it wasn’t just a hit, but a game winning homerun by Chipper Jones in the World Series that played out somewhere in his mind.

As I left the field with my family, holding my son’s hand, I was reflective of the season, of the first day I saw Abel and his mom and how wrong I had been in my assessment of the situation. That wrongful thinking drove me all season to help Abel play the game he loved. I think that was a heaping of guilt I carried on my shoulders until Abel got his hit. Then all that guilt was gone.

“Daddy, we played good today,” my son said as he tugged on my hand. 

I took his bag and slung it over one shoulder, then I picked him up. “Yeah, buddy, you guys played great today.”

***

If you’ve read this far, thank you. This is a true story. I changed the names of most everyone mentioned, including Abel’s. I chose the name Abel because I thought it was important to use something that showed it was possible to do this and what better way to show someone was able to do something than to use a name quite similar to the word ‘able?’

Abel would be around 16 or 17 now. I haven’t seen him since that last game. I wish I knew how he was doing, what he was up to. 

This story originally appeared in my short story collection, Ball Four. If you would like a copy of the book, drop me a comment below. 


Thanks for reading.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Crumbled Blacktop–Rough Cuts #3

I saw the woman on the bridge right before she jumped. 

A little context: I often take long drives on the weekends. I get in the car, crank the music up and drive until I want to turn around, then I usually come home. I usually go on either Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes, especially if the world has been particularly cruel, I go on both days. Still, on a handful of occasions, I drive until it gets dark, stopping only for gas and food, then park for the night on the side of the road at a rest stop or in a state park if one was near. On those occasions, I usually spend the next day driving home.

This was a Saturday, which was shaping up to be the first day of a two day bender. My head ached, as did my heart. The lady I loved—Lelani—left me a couple of days earlier, while we sat at a restaurant during my lunch break. She barely touched her food and she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked her. 

She stared down at the table. Her hands were in her lap. When she brought her right one up she had the ring I gave her when I proposed four months earlier (and she said yes then) in it. She set the ring on the table. 

“What’s this?” I asked. I knew what it was. I knew she was breaking up with me. 

She shook her head. “I can’t do this.” She stood and walked off, leaving me sitting at the table, staring at the engagement ring. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to chase after her and find out what was going on, what happened and how I could fix it. The other part told me it was over. Our turbulent on again, off again relationship was over and chasing her down would do no good. That part won out. 

I paid for our meals, stood and walked away, leaving the engagement ring on the table. 

This is what I thought about as I drove roads I don’t remember and lost hours I would never get back. And my head hurt and my heart hurt and I wanted nothing more than to stop hurting.

I got off the interstate hours before, following road signs for a town I never actually found. I did come across old houses along the road with rusted out cars in drive ways or sitting up on blocks in front yards. I didn’t see any people and I didn’t pass any other cars. The road was blacktop that was more crumbled than whole with weeds and grass growing through all the cracks and crevices. 

I drove slowly, as if on a dirt road with deep ruts that made the front end shiver and the back end shake. At some point, I turned the music off, silencing some punk rock band or other—I truly can’t recall which one it was. The world grayed at some point and the music felt off, as if where I traveled commanded a quietness that felt loud in my ears. 

I rounded a curve. Ahead about a hundred yards or so sat the bridge. Even from that distance, I could see it was old and wooden. I won’t lie and say my curiosity didn’t suddenly pique. There I was on an old forgotten road after spending all day in my own head and that was in my sights. I drove on, but by then I was mostly on the road’s shoulder and trying to stay off the bumpy black top. 

About fifteen feet from the bridge, I pulled off the side of the road and parked next to a tall, thick tree with bare branches. It was well into mid-afternoon by then and I would need to start trying to find my way back to the interstate. But the bridge … I had to see it up close. 

That’s when I saw her. She stood in the center of the bridge, her back to me, looking out at the world to her right. She wore a light colored blouse and blue slacks, kind of like the ones my grandmother wore when she was alive. Her hair was gray and she was thin—maybe too thin, as if she were sick. 

I got out of my car and closed the door gently. I didn’t want to startle her. Thinking about that now, it sounds stalkerish. I wasn’t trying to be creepy but I thought it odd that there was an old lady out on this road that didn’t seem to have a name and with no other cars to be seen besides mine. I was afraid she might have wandered off from a home and she was lost, or maybe her car had broken down and she needed help.

For a minute or so, I stood at the front end of my car and stared at her. She didn’t move. The slight breeze that came off the water blew through her hair and ruffled her shirt. I took a step forward, suddenly very concerned for this woman I had never met. My head swooned and the pain that had been small earlier, bloomed.  I was slow about it but I made it to the edge of the bridge. The wood was mostly rotten; there were quite a few holes in the planks and some boards were missing all together. The rails to either side were mostly warped but still in place. 

“Ma’am?” I called. “Are you okay?”

She didn’t look back at me or even flinch like she had heard me. 

“Ma’am?” I called again, a little louder this time. “Are you okay?”

I took a deep breath. My head still thumped but it wasn’t swimming. I stepped onto the bridge. The wood was soft beneath my feet and I hesitated, afraid I might fall right through to the … the what? I couldn’t see water in either direction, just land on my side of the bridge and land across it. Up until that moment, I didn’t notice what was beneath the bridge or what it crossed over. I leaned to my right to peer over the rail. I saw muddy water, but it couldn’t have been much more than a wide creek; the bridge probably wasn’t needed.

When I looked back at the woman, she had turned around and now stared at me. Her jaw was slack and her eyes were blank. Beneath her eyes looked like bruises. Her hands hung down at her sides and the front of her blouse had a large brown stain on it, almost in the center of her chest. I knew immediately she had been shot, or at the very least, stabbed.

“Ma’am …” I said. Both of my hands were out in front of me, as if trying to keep her from moving. “You’re hurt.”

I looked down, then took a few unsteady steps toward her, then looked up again. She hadn’t moved. Her eyes still looked distant and her jaw was still slack. She didn’t see me. I was almost certain of that. It didn’t matter if she could see me or not. I could see her and I couldn’t leave her out there to die. Every few feet I looked down to make sure I didn’t step through a weak spot or fall through a hole that was already there. And every few feet my head spun and I had to regain my bearings.

Thirty or so feet from her, she seemed to notice me for the first time. Her eyes seemed to clear and her jaw clamped shut hard enough for her teeth to clack together. She looked out at the world beyond the bridge’s rail. 

“No,” I yelled when she moved far quicker than I believed she could. She took four quick steps, put her hands on the top wooden rail, her foot on the bottom one, then launched herself off the bridge. She didn’t scream. She didn’t yell. She just plummeted. 

I went to the rail and looked over, the pain in my head forgotten. The woman was gone. She didn’t land in the water or hit dry ground. She was just gone, as if she had never been there before. Maybe she hadn’t been. 

“No, no, no, no,” I said over and over. Then, as if someone watched me, my skin began to crawl. I was in a horror movie come to life and fear gripped my heart. I backed away from the rail and hurried back toward my car the best I could. The pain in my head intensified with each step I took. I reached the end of the bridge, stepped off and started to run for my car …

And somehow ended up back on the bridge, standing where the woman had been when I first saw her. I turned, first to my left to the side of the bridge I had no intentions of walking to, then to my right, to where I stepped onto the bridge and where my car … my car didn’t sit on the side of the road where I parked it. It was off the road, the front end smashed into the thick, tall tree. The front windshield was splintered right about the spot a head would have struck if …

I touched my forehead and pulled back red fingers.

“What’s going on?” 

I touched my head again, this tim planting my palm on my forehead. The skin there was torn. I could feel flesh bunched up near my hairline. I probed a gash that seemed like it ran the length of the top of my head, feeling something hard that could only be my skull. I pulled my hand free and looked at it again. Blood dripped from my fingers and palm. I wiped my mouth with my other hand and suddenly felt the urge to run, that something was terribly wrong and I was in danger. 

I ran for my car, not worrying about the holes or weak boards in the bridge. I couldn’t hear my feet or my breaths or feel my heart beat hard in my chest. I only felt the heavy weight of panic and fear in my chest and mind and the sharp, intense pain of the headache that seemed to split my skull. I reached the end of the bridge, stepped off and was back in the center where the woman had been. 

I almost ran for my car a third time but didn’t. Instead, I walked toward the other end. My legs grew weak as I walked and I didn’t think it would matter what happened when I reached the other end. I reached it and stepped off the bridge and back onto it in the exact same spot as before. 

Now, I stand here, in the center of the bridge. I can see both ends of the bridge, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t step off of it. But this waiting, this feeling of being trapped here with no way to get help isn’t the worst of it. That’s reserved for the creature standing at the end of the bridge where my car is. It came up in an old style horse and buggy, both of which are black. It stepped away from the buggy. It is not much taller than I am and it wears a hooded robe. In one of its hands—hands that look skeletal—is a long pole with a sharp blade on one end. It’s spoken a couple of times, but I can’t make out what it’s saying. It can’t be anything good. It’s on the bridge now and coming toward me. A darkness spills off of it, like a thick fog rising into the air and going out before it. It’s coming for me. It’s …

I can’t run away. I’ll just return to this spot and it will be waiting for me. But what if … what if I jump over the rail and off the side of the bridge? What if …

AJB

Coming Soon: Five Deaths

Andrew Colson never intended to kill anyone. The dead that haunted his childhood had other plans.

The first ghost to appear to him was Billy Jumper, a four-year-old special needs child murdered by his stepfather in a drunken fit. Billy was followed by Sarah Lockingham and Janie Whiteside, then the one person who he loved most, his father. 

After the death of a close friend, Andrew learns what the ghosts want from him and sets out to fulfill their needs. In doing so, Andrew discovers a devastating truth that may push him beyond setting things right for the dead. It might lead him to revenge.  

Coming to an e-reader in your hands or get your hard copy on September 13th.

Spread the news. It’s coming.

Meredith’s Umbrella–Rough Cuts #2

Today’s Rough Cut is a quick piece I wrote based on a comment to a Facebook post I made. The post was an image of a red umbrella on a blacktop road with what looked like blood around it. Honestly, it could have just been water. The question I posed was: What do you think of when you see this picture? There were almost 40 responses of a wide variation. 

One response, in particular, caught my attention. It was from Chaz Robertson, whose wife, Briana, is the author of some really dark and emotional stories. Chaz answered in a writerly way:  

“There is a rain drenched sobbing mother being held up by an equally wet and distraught police offer just off scene, stage right, there is a crashed car off scene up stage and stage left, there is a teddy bear hanging from the remains of the wrecked grill. The man behind the wheel reaks of booze and cordite. The pistol he used to kill himself after seeing the little girl under the umbrella lays on the passenger seat his limp hand close by.”

Another individual stated, simply: write that story. I know she was talking to Chaz, but my mind kept coming back to it. Over and over it kept saying what if? So, I finally sat down yesterday morning and pounded out this little story in about an hour before work. I sent it to Chaz, who liked it. Then, since it was his idea, I asked if I could post it here, as one of my Rough Cuts stories. With Chaz’s permission, I present to you Meredith’s Umbrella.

***

Meredith saw everything but she wished she hadn’t. 

Rain pelted the world. It came in sheets that went sideways, aided by gusting winds. It didn’t help that Main Street was a wind tunnel from the capital building all the way down to the courthouse eight blocks away. The road was the center of downtown, with shops, little eateries, apartment buildings geared towards college students, big hotels geared towards business types and coffee shops geared toward everyone. 

There wasn’t much traffic and the stores and eateries were mostly empty. The storm saw to that. Maybe tomorrow things will be back to normal. Meredith wasn’t so sure. Rain had been constant for the last three days and the weather man on Channel 6 News this morning said it would be here through the weekend and possibly into the early part of the following week. 

Meredith stood in the doorway of the small shop her mother owned. It catered to those with a sweet tooth. It wasn’t quite a bakery but was the closest thing downtown had to one. The treats were good, the coffee okay, the staff friendly and the atmosphere cozy.

She could get one of the pastries from the display case—she was fond of the raspberry cheese Danishes, but she wanted real food and the Mexican restaurant on the corner half a block down had the best chicken burritos. She stood at the door, her red umbrella in hand, and waited for the wind and rain to die down enough for her to make a mad dash the half block and not get completely soaked. 

Her stomach grumbled. She pressed a hand to it and whispered, “Be quiet.”

“You know that umbrella isn’t going to do much good,” Jim called from behind the counter. 

She glanced back. He was tall and lanky and his gray hair was slowly turning white. She wasn’t a fan of the man, but Mom liked him and allowed him to work there. Meredith guessed that was one of the perks to sleeping with the owner. She shivered at the thought and said nothing to Jim. Instead, she looked out the window as rain drops hit the glass and rolled down as if racing against every other rain drop. 

Maybe not, she thought, but I hope you’re wrong.

She doubted that. He was rarely wrong.

Meredith watched as the rain began to slacken and the wind tapered off so the trees on Main Street didn’t look like they were doing hula dances. 

“Now,” she said, not realizing she spoke out loud. She pushed the door open. A chill and a smatter of rain greeted her before she could get the umbrella up and open. She lowered her head and lifted the umbrella. With a press of the small silver button, the umbrella opened with a whoop and click. 

Meredith left the store and turned to her left, away from the wind. She held the umbrella slightly tilted behind her but still covering her head. With shoulders hunched and both hands clutching to the umbrella she hurried up the road. 

Two buildings down she came to the corner. The light was red in her favor and the crosswalk sign showed a white stick figure crossing merrily. She thought she might look like that stick figure, but with an umbrella over her head and not looking so merry. She went to step into the road, then stopped. The drain overflowed and the rain was ankle deep. Maybe that’s what saved her life—that one moment where she debated going back and eating a raspberry cheese Danish instead of crossing the road to the Mexican restaurant with the awesome chicken burritos. 

When she looked up, the stick man was gone, and a red hand replaced it. A couple of seconds later, the light turned green in the other direction. Though only one car poked along through the intersection, its wipers swooping quickly from side to side, its headlights on, Meredith waited for the light to change. That’s when she saw the woman and child crossing the street in the other direction of the intersection. They wore raincoats and rain boots—the mother’s were yellow and the little girl’s were pink. The girl couldn’t have been much older than five, or maybe younger. Meredith couldn’t tell. They held hands and the little girl seemed to stomp in the ever widening puddles. Clutched tight to the little girl’s chest was a teddy bear, who also wore a raincoat and boots—blue ones, in fact. 

Meredith smiled. It was one of those moments where she wondered if she would be a mother one day, if she would have a little girl she could stomp in puddles with. She hoped so. 

The mother and daughter reached the sidewalk and rounded the light pole on the corner. They stopped opposite Meredith. It gave her a chance to see the dimples on the little girl’s face, her soft pink lips and the brown bangs hanging down her forehead. 

When the light changed, Meredith looked in both directions. Though there were no cars coming down Main Street, one did come along the intersecting road. It swerved, it’s driver’s side tire hitting a puddle. Drain water sprayed into the air. The car swerved again. 

“No!” Meredith yelled as the car bumped over the edge of the curb and towards the mother and daughter. The mother had time to look back but nothing more. Somehow, the car missed her. Hours later, Meredith believed in her heart of hearts the woman would have rather been the one struck and would second guess why they were even out in the rain in the first place. 

The front of the car struck the little girl. She did a spin, like an ice skater would a graceful pirouette. The teddy bear was pulled free from the girl’s hand and the girl landed in the road several feet from where she stood less than three seconds earlier. The car turned sideways, spraying more water up from the road. The passenger’s side struck several parking meters before coming to a stop against one of the trees planted in the center of the sidewalk. 

There was a scream that seemed to last for minutes. The mother ran to her daughter. She dropped to her knees along the drain that had been too full to hold all the rain. Meredith didn’t need to see the girl’s face to know she was dead. Her little hand floated in the water, the hood no longer covering her head and her hair spread out like a halo beneath her. There was blood. She could see that much. 

Meredith wanted to run to the woman, to put her arms around her and pull her away from something no parent should ever have to see. Her legs felt like concrete as she hurried across the street. Her skin was cold. At some point, the umbrella had been lowered. Though the rain and wind began to pick up again, Meredith didn’t notice. 

Before she could reach the woman, a loud sound, like a gun going off, rang out to her right. Meredith didn’t duck. The woman didn’t move from where she cradled her daughter’s head in her arms. Meredith turned to where the car now sat. The driver’s side window was broken. A splatter of blood and hair clung to where part of the window was still intact. In the car, the driver’s head had tipped back, his mouth open, the top of his head missing. 

Meredith’s belly grumbled, not from hunger, but from a sudden rush of nausea. She bent over and vomited.

“Ma’am. Ma’am,” came a voice from somewhere nearby. Meredith wiped her mouth and stood straight. Over where the little girl lay dead, a cop stood. He was young, maybe not even in his thirties yet. He took the mother by her arms and helped her to her feet. The mother collapsed into his chest, her hands to her face. The officer—in a gesture Meredith would later say was the sweetest, most caring thing the cop could have done—put his arms around her and stroked her hair with one hand. She didn’t know what the officer said, and never would, but in that moment, she thought the officer was an angel and had come to the mother’s aid. 

Meredith glanced back at the car. The front end faced the road. Stuck in the grill was the little girl’s teddy bear. Her heart cracked and tears finally fell down her face. Meredith stumbled to the car, passing the blown-out window and the dead driver. Though it was faint, she could smell alcohol and what she thought was the residual odor of cordite from the gun. Meredith pulled the teddy bear free and started back across the road. She didn’t know its name, but she thought it was something cute, like Mr. Stuffings or maybe something simple like Teddy.

The rain increased; the wind picked up. Off in the distance came multiple sirens. But the little girl … she still laid in the road, her hand still moving with the steady flow of water running down the street, her eyes facing a sky they would never see again, her hair flowing out around her. Meredith’s shoulders slumped. On her heavy legs, she walked over to the little girl. She didn’t look directly at her as she bent down and placed her umbrella over the girl’s body. It bobbed in the water, but it did its job. It covered the little girl’s face and upper body. 

Meredith sat down on the curb, the water rushing over her shoes and sloshing onto the sidewalk, soaking her pants. She cradled the bear in her arms. As she rocked back and forth and cried into the soft fur of the stuffed toy, a brief thought entered her mind, then fled: Jim was wrong.

AJB

8/06/2021

GONE–ROUGH CUTS

Over the last couple of days, I wrote this story based on the picture in the body of the post. I saw it on social media and it really hit home with me. IT IS COMPLETELY UNEDITED, so please don’t trash it because of errors I may have made. Yes, I know I could have edited it, but I want to try something. When you get to the end of the story, I would love for you to leave your thoughts on it. Also, would you like to see more of Abigail Sherman and find out what happened later in life? If so, what would you like to see? I hope you enjoy the first story of what I’m calling ROUGH CUTS, completely unedited first draft pieces. 

Here is GONE. Please like, share and comment. It is very much appreciated.

GONE

Her name is Abigail Sherman and she used to live in a small neighborhood where everyone knew her as Abby and knew her parents as Gail and Wes. She was six when her family moved away from their nice home with the chain link fence, a huge back yard with lush grass and a pecan tree in the back corner. Sometimes they set up a tent and slept under the stars. They had cable television and this thing called the internet, though Abby didn’t quite know what that was. She wore cute pink dresses and took baths daily. She went to a good school for first grade and had made several friends whose families often had cookouts or ‘get togethers.’

When they left home one morning, she didn’t know they would never go back. Her mom handed her the pink book bag she used for school and her stuffed bunny, Floppy Ears. Then she took her hand and they went to the car, just her and Mom. 

“Where’s Dad?” she asked from her car seat in the back.

At first her mom said nothing but in the mirror Abby saw her wipe at her wet eyes. Then her mom spoke and said one word. “Gone.”

For Abby that word didn’t mean much. She didn’t understand such a small word. 

Gone is just Go with a N added, she thought, so he must have went somewhere. He’ll be back. 

For Gail, gone meant everything. Abby would learn that in time, but at first, it was just go with a N added

She’s still six and Gone is what she and Mom now were. Gone from their comfortable home, gone from her bed, gone from the big back yard with the pecan tree in the corner. Gone from the school where her friends still were, but where she no longer belonged. This is something she didn’t understand either. If she belonged before, why doesn’t she now?

They went from a place Mom called a hotel to another one, to sleeping in her car. Eventually, the car became Gone as well. She didn’t understand that, but she understood things were bad. Mom didn’t smile and she was constantly on the phone at the hotel. Abby tried to ‘mind her own business,’ but with just Mr. Floppy Ears to keep her company, she couldn’t help but hear Mom’s end of the phone calls. It was after one of those calls where Mommy argued with someone on the other end about it not being her fault Wes did what he did. She slammed the phone down on the receiver. That’s when Abby approached her mom with questions.

“Mommy, why did we leave home?”

At first, Gail didn’t answer. How was she supposed to answer such a question from her sweet, innocent child? Then she did. The conversation went like this:

“We had to.”

“Why?”

“Your dad … well, your dad …”

“What about Daddy?” Her blue eyes were wide and full of wonder and how can you lie to a child who will eventually learn the truth?

Gail pulled Abby onto her lap and put her arms around her. “Your daddy got into some trouble and …”

“Bad trouble?”

“Really bad trouble.”

“Is that why the police came?”

“Yes. The police were not happy with Daddy and they took him away.”

Abby nodded, said a soft “Oh.” Then she added, “But why didn’t we stay home so when he came back we wouldn’t be gone?”

Gail sniffled. “We had to leave. I didn’t want to, but they made us.”

“Who is they?”

“The police.”

Abby sat up and looked up. Tears were in Mom’s eyes and she stared off toward the wall of the hotel that held a large painting of a bull and a man with a red cape and his arm pulled back to throw a long spear he held. “Are we in bad trouble, too?”

Gail shook her head, sniffled again. This time, she wiped at her eyes with the palm of one hand. “No, Sweetie. We’re not in bad trouble. Just Daddy.”

Abby stared at Mom. She didn’t know how, but she knew Mom was lying. She only called her Sweetie when things were not good. They were in trouble. In six-year-old Abby’s mind, they were in bad, bad trouble. 

Abby pushed away from her mother’s chest and slid off her lap. She went to the hard chair with the blue cushion on it where her book bag sat. She put her crayons in it. Then went to the small dresser near the foot of the single bed the two of them shared and pulled the few clothing items from it. She put those in the bag. She then picked up Mr. Floppy Ears and set him next to the bag.

“Abby, what are you doing?”

“Getting ready.”

“Getting ready? For what?”

Abby turned to her mom. She almost rolled her eyes but didn’t. “To be gone again.”

And they were gone again. This time, with no car to go in. They walked, Abby with her backpack on her shoulders, Mr. Floppy in one arm and holding Mom’s hand; Mom carrying a black trash bag over one shoulder and her head down toward the road. They walked until they came to an overpass.

“Stay here,” she said.

“Why?” Abby asked.

“Just do it. If anything happens, scream.”

That scared Abby. Chills ran up her small arms. “Where are you going?”

Gail jerked her head toward the dark underpass. “To make sure it’s safe.”

Though her mother wasn’t gone long—two minutes at most—it seemed to last the entire night. Abby peered into the darkness but could only see a faint impression of her mother. Tears formed in her eyes and her bladder suddenly felt like it would let go. She licked her lips and held Mr. Floppy Ears close to her chest. She let it her breath out when her mom came back into view.

“Come on,” she said.

“Is it safe?”

“As safe as it’s going to get tonight.”

Abby took Gail’s hand and they stepped into the darkness of the overpass. Once beneath the road above them, Abby’s eyes adjusted to the dark. It wasn’t a big area and the road connected the small downtown area to what looked like a neighborhood on the other side. A long fence separated the two sections of town. 

“Here,” Gail said and reached into her trash bag. She pulled out a pink blanket, one that Abby hadn’t seen in a while. It was her ‘sweet sweet,” at least that was what she called it when she was smaller and younger than she was then. One corner was frayed where she chewed on it when she was teething. Abby took the blanket and held it to her cheek. It didn’t smell freshly washed, but stale, as if it had been at the bottom of her closet or under her bed in her old house.

Gail led her close to one of the walls of the overpass. On the ground was a long piece of cardboard. “Lay on that,” she said. “It will be better than laying on the hard concrete.”

“What about you, Mommy?”

“Don’t worry about me, Sweetie. I’m going to be right here beside you.”

Abby first sat on the cardboard. It was thin and old looking. Then she laid down. It was stiff and hard and nothing like a mattress on any bed, not even one of the firm ones in the hotels they stayed at. She pulled the blanket over her shoulders. Her legs stuck out and that bothered her, but at least her arms were covered. She clutched Mr. Floppy Ears tight to her chest and stared off at the fence separating one part of town from the other. Before she could close her eyes and fall asleep, she wondered if that was their life now. Living under a road that cars passed by overhead on. Eventually, her eyes grew heavy and the last thing she saw before falling asleep was her mother with her knees to her chin and her arms covering her face. Abby thought she might be crying.

When she woke, the sun was out. Her body hurt when she sat up and the blanket lay beside her. Mr. Floppy Ears was still in her arms, but Mom was nowhere to be found. 

“Mommy?” 

She stood. Her heart sped up. 

“Mommy?”

She spun in a circle, taking in her surroundings and hoping her mother had just laid down in a darker corner or was sitting somewhere else. Maybe she was beyond the fence. The couldn’t have gone too far. She left without Abby and her trash bag laid near the cardboard bed. 

“Mommy?”

She ran to the open end of the overpass and looked up the road, then down it. Cars passed overhead, their tires thumping on sections of concrete. A bird chirped from somewhere. A lawnmower grumbled angrily from the neighborhood behind her as it chewed up grass. A dog barked then grew quiet. But Mom was nowhere to be found. 

“Mommy?”

Abby ran to the other end of the overpass, crossed the crumbling blacktop and stood at the fence. She clutched it with her right hand as Mr. Floppy Ears dangled from her left. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She sniffled.

From where she stood, she could see a road and the fronts of several yards. Most of them were neatly cut. On the porch of a house painted yellow with several creepy looking lawn dwarves standing watch in the yard, an old woman sat in a rocking chair. Her hair was gray, verging on an ugly shade of blue. She wore a long gray gown with some sort of pattern on it that Abby couldn’t make out from that distance. The old woman stood and went to the edge of her porch. She looked toward Abby then went down a couple of steps. 

Abby turned and ran back under the overpass. She went to the piece of cardboard she slept on the night before and sat down. She pulled the blanket over her knees, then pulled her knees up to her chest. With Mr. Floppy Ears sitting tight between her chest, Abby cried. 

After crying, Abby straightened her legs and stared toward the entrance of the overpass. Her stomach grumbled. Abby crawled to the trash bag and looked inside. There were clothes and some toilet paper. There were a couple of dollars in a clear zip up bag. There was a grocery bag with a couple of small bags of chips. There were no other food items and no drinks. Abby took a bag of chips, sat back on her cardboard and ate quietly. It did little to satisfy her hunger, but it was better than nothing.

Abby remained on her overnight bed. Her bottom hurt from sitting. Her back hurt from laying the night before. At some point, she saw the old woman near the fence. She pretended not to see her. After all, she was a stranger and strangers meant danger. Instead, she reached into her bag, hoping to find something to do until Mom came back.  Her crayons sat at the bottom of her bag. She pulled them out—a box of 64 with a convenient crayon sharpener in the back. She never used the sharpener, preferring to peal away a little of the paper wrapper at a time until it came completely off on its own.

She looked for a pad or any paper but couldn’t find anything. Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head. She let out a sad breath that rattled in her chest and sniffled. Tears threatened to form in her eyes again. From the corner of her eye she saw the woman walk away and all the tension in her little body went with her. 

Abby thought about Mommy and Daddy and got angry. Daddy did something bad and was gone. When she fell asleep last night, Mom was beside her. Now, she was gone. But Abby was not. No, she was still here and she was alone. She thought of home, her room, her table where she drew pictures at. So many of those pictures hung on her walls and …

Abby stood. Her legs and back hurt as she did so. She looked at the concrete wall she had leaned her back on. It was rough to the touch, but not too bad. Once, when she was only four, she drew on the wall behind her bed. Daddy had made her a tent of pink sheets and closed tacks and she hid inside with her crayons and her imagination. She got into trouble that day and Daddy painted over the walls eventually. 

“Daddy’s not here,” she whispered. “He’s gone.”

But … Mommy …

“She’s gone, too,” she whispered. That word—gone—she still thought of it as go with a N, but it started to take on a new meaning. It wasn’t just go it was never come back. Maybe that was what the N stood for: never. 

Abby picked up her box of crayons and flipped the lid open. She plucked out the black and set the box on the ground. She didn’t care that it tipped over. She cared only about the things that were gone in her life. She thought about drawing stick figures of Mom and Dad, but decided they left her—they were gone by choice—and drew something else. To the left of her cardboard bed, she drew a series of squares that formed a dresser with a television on top of it. To the right of the cardboard, she drew a table with a bird cage on it. She never owned a bird, but had always wanted to. Next to the bird cage she drew a box, then wrote the word CRAYON on the top of it. Directly above the cardboard and between the dresser and table, she drew a window, much like she would if she had drawn a picture of a house. In the body pane, she drew a candle with a flame she imagined flickered from time to time. 

When she was done, the crayon was not much more than a nub. She stuck it back in the box and sat down. At some point, she picked up Mr. Floppy Ears and laid back on the cardboard. She pulled the blanket over her shoulders and stared at the crude window. Her eyes grew heavy and Abby slept.

She woke to the sound of a car door closing. She sat up and blinked several times. It was still daylight out and Mommy was still nowhere to be seen. 

“Hey, little girl,” a woman called. 

Abby looked to the edge of the overpass. Two women stood next to a police car. The blue lights were off. One of the women wore a police uniform. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She might have been Mommy’s age. The other woman wore a gray gown and her hair was a shade of ugly blue. 

Abby grabbed Mr. Floppy Ears and pulled her knees to her chest.

The lady cop walked up to her, knelt beside her. “Hey.”

Abby said nothing.

“You don’t have to be scared. I’m not going to hurt you. Mrs. Hayworth saw you and thought you might need some help.” She pointed back to the lady with the blue hair. “What’s your name?”

She licked her lips. Her heart thumped hard in her little chest. Her skin felt cold and wet at the same time. 

“It’s okay,” the officer said. “My name is Camilla. It’s nice to meet you.”

“My name is Abby. I like your name.”

“Thank you. I do, too. There’s not many Camilla’s out there these days. I like your name, too. Is it short for Abigail?”

Abby nodded. 

“Okay, Abby. Can I asks you a couple of questions?”

Abby nodded again. She squeezed Mr. Floppy Ears a little tighter to her chest. 

“It’s okay,” Camilla said. “I’m not going to hurt you. Neither is Mrs. Hayworth. We’re just here to help you. Okay?”

Another nod came.

“Abby, are you here by yourself?”

A nod.

“Okay. Umm … did you run away from home?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“How did you get here?”

“My mommy brought me.”

Camilla looked around. “Where is your Mommy?”

Abby shrugged. “Gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Where is your daddy, Abby?”

Another shrug. “He’s gone, too. He got in trouble and he’s gone.”

“He got into trouble?”

A nod.

“Abby, do you know where you live?”

Another nod.

“Can you tell me.”

“I live here. See the window and the dresser and the table. I watch tv from right here and I draw on that table with my little bird. He doesn’t make much noise.”

“I see.”

“Are you hungry, Abby?”

She nodded, a little more intensely than before.

Officer Camilla stood. She held out her hand. The nails were pink. “Come. Let’s get you something to eat and we’ll see if we can find your parents.”

“They’re gone.”

“Yeah, but I hope I can make them un-gone for you. Would you like that?”

Abby nodded, reached up and took Camilla’s hand. They started to walk away, then Abby let go of the officer’s hand and went back to her piece of cardboard. She picked up the box of crayons and took the nub of the black one out. With it, she wrote on the wall just below the window. When she was done, she dropped what little bit of black crayon was left into the box and shoved it into her book bag. She zipped it up, slung the bag over her shoulders and took Officer Camilla’s hand again. 

As they walked away, she glanced back once. On the wall below the window were two words: Abby GoN.