Monday, February 24, 2020

Second Kidnapping of Persephone

Hello Everyone!

     I hope you have checked out my newest series on Amazon: Chronomancer and the Time God. The link to the book can be found here.

     For this month's post, I thought I would fall back to my passion for Greek Mythology. The story is called "The Second Kidnapping of Persephone". As you might guess, the story was written for my short story groups prompt "A Kidnapping".

     I hope everyone enjoys it. Please leave feedback and let me know what you think!


James J Meadows III

"The Second Kidnapping of Persephone"

     “How long have you been waiting for me?”

     The woman’s voice, though light as air, seemed to startle Aeneas. The warrior leapt to his feet as though bit by a snake. Turning his head in all directions, he looked around, apparently trying to spot the source.

     From a grove of tall Cypress trees, just a short distance from where Aeneas previously sat day-dreaming, emerged a long-haired woman. She wore a wreath of fresh flowers around her head and a long green dress, whose great tail merged with the earth as though nothing more than an extension of its surface. Upon seeing her, Aeneas knelt low to the ground, his massive frame more closely resembling a rolling boulder than a prostrate servant.

     “My lady, Persephone,” he said. “I have waited for you since the crops of summer faded and before the snows of winter blanketed the land. I have done so many times before and will do continue to do so for many years, hence.”

     “You really ought to get a life,” she replied.

     Giving a sigh, she turned away from him, her gaze falling upon the budding flowers and rolling brooks dotting the land around her. Aeneas straightened back up and rose to his feet.

     “You, of all people, should understand that my life is to serve,” Aeneas answered. “What your mother dictates, I do. Right now, she dictates that I wait here to bring you home.”

     “Whose home?” Persephone answered, not looking at him. “Surely, not mine. No! You wait to take me back to my prison, where I must spend the long seasons awaiting my return to my husband, my children and my kingdom.”

     “You know as well as I do that your return is necessary,” he said. “You bring hope to the people. You bring the spring to the darkness of their winter.”

     “I end the winter of their discontent by bringing the spring of my own,” she said. “And I have no more choice over my fate than you have over yours.”

     “You mother is strong-willed,” he agreed.

     “My mother is a control freak!” She retorted, turning upon him. “You know it! Perhaps not as well as I do, but you know it, nonetheless.”

     “Your mother loves you,” he protested.

     Persephone gave a harsh laugh.

     “Yeah, the way a python loves his prey,” she said.

     She mimicked the motion of giving someone a big, smothering hug, and squeezing with all her might.

     “And long as it doesn’t try to wiggle free, all is well, right?” She asked.

     She dropped her arms, giving a grim smile, at the expression of horror on his face.

     “Is it a crime for a mother to want to be around her child?” he asked, giving her a side-way look.

     “Considering that she doesn’t even pay attention to me half the time, I suppose so,” Persephone answered, turning away. “I’m like a living security blanket. She wants me around, but ninety percent of the time, she doesn’t even do anything with me.”

     “You get to spend time with your sister,” he hinted.

     Persephone gave a scoff.

     “Are you trying to talk me into going or out of it,” she asked. “Despoina thinks she is the ‘Master of the House’ and everyone needs to serve her every whim and desire. If I could find a self-less bone, anywhere among the gods, I’d insert it into her body, so she’d have one.”

     Apparently, Aeneas had heard enough, for his face turned red, and his body assumed a fierce, intimidating manner, seeming to grow in height to match his fury.

     “You can complain all you like,” he said. “But you will come! You have no choice! It is the law, a law we are all bound to - even your husband and your father.”

     “Father,” she repeated, smirking. “Talk about being bullied into a decision. He would have sided with me, if he could. Goodness knows, he couldn’t stand mother’s controlling demands and endless manipulations, either. Then again, he ended up marrying Hera, so I guess he didn’t do any better. Still, he tried looking after me.”

     “Looking after you?” Aeneas protested. “He let you be kidnapped!”

     “He let me escape,” she retorted. “Seriously, if I didn’t want to be there, would I have swallowed those pomegranate seeds, knowing full well that eating them meant I would have to return.”

     “You were tricked,” Aeneas said. “You were just a child!”

     “I was old enough to know what I was doing,” Persephone argued. “I know the stories you tell, the stories everyone likes to tell, claiming I was defenseless and naive. What do you expect people to say, when my mother provides their harvest! That’s the benefit of having all the power among a group of people that need you. She can tell them anything she likes. They’ll believe it, too, as long as she continues feeding them. But she can’t deceive me, I was there!”

     “This is non-sense,” Aeneas said. “We are wasting time. You will come with me!”

     “And what if I refuse?” Persephone replied. “What if I turn right back around and go back!”

     Whirling toward the trees, she made to leave. Aeneas was faster. He seized her by the arm, pulling her around to face him.

     “You are mad,” he said. “Are you really going to tell me that you want to go back there? Are you really going to claim that you’d rather be there than here?”

     “Of course, I will!” she argued, vainly trying to yank her arm free of his grip. “Do you think it’s coincidence that while my return to the upper world brings my mother such joy that spring spreads across the land, spring only comes to the ‘Land Down Under’ when I return. My sorrow at leaving my husband and children brings winter to the lands below as surely as my mother’s sorrow brings winter to the lands above!”

     “You will come with me,” Aeneas ordered, tightening his grip.

     Still holding her arm, he turned away from the forest, pulling her after him.

     “And who’s kidnapping me now?” She protested, struggling against his grip, as he dragged her along.

     Aeneas gave no response. Face resolute, he continued to pull her behind him, marching toward Olympus.

     “I see,” she said. “Is that what this story is to be then- the second kidnapping of Persephone?”

     “It is, if you make it so,” he said.

     He stopped walking and spun to face her.

     “By your will or against it, you will come with me!” He declared.

     “And why is that?” she barked.

     “Because this is about more than just you and your controlling mother,” he said. “It’s about more than you and your kingdom below! It’s about more than your children, your husband, and even your desires!”

     Persephone stopped struggling as she listened to him. Noticing the change, he released his grip, staring into her eyes with unwavering conviction.

     “What is it about then?” she asked.

     “It is about the world,” he said. “It’s about the people in it. They need the spring as surely as the people below need the fall. The seasons created by your sojourns make their agriculture and society possible. Without the cold, icy regions melt and waters cover the land, drowning the crops and burying the fertile fields. Without the heat, the crops refuse to grow, for they lack the warmth to live.  Either way, without the seasons, there are no people. And, without people, we are nothing!”

     “So, you’re saying I need to suffer to make the world work?” Persephone replied in disbelief.

     “Sometimes that is how the world works,” he responded. “Sometimes, that is the only way it works. In life, you have to endure the harsh seasons and bad times, for the greater good, knowing that, in time, the good times will return. If you will be patient, you will see that, soon enough, you will be able to return to your home, your kingdom and your family. Until that time, though, you must make the best of the difficult times. Besides, if you’ll just change your attitude a little, you might find the bad times are not as bad as you think. They may not be good as you want; but, at least, they aren’t a bad as they could be.”

     Persephone sighed.

     “Very well,” she said. “Take me away, if you must. I will not claim to go willingly. But, I will go – for the sake of the people!”

     Aeneas smiled.

     “A decision truly worthy of a queen,” he said. “Now, let us depart – your mother awaits.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A New Beginning

Hey Everyone,

I'm excited to announce that my first novel is currently be converted to audiobook and should be out sometime in February. This is a pretty exciting step for me since it will be the first time I have gotten one of my books converted to audiobook. I will post once it is out on audible so that people know about it.

I'll also be working on a much more extensive marketing campaign once my new website gets up and running. In the meantime, I am working to garner reviews for my new series. So, once you have read my stories, please post feedback on Amazon!

In the meantime, here is my latest short story. It is based upon a writing prompt from my short story group called "New Beginnings" and I borrowed the first few lines from a book my son got me for Christmas called "Complete the Story". It is a fun little book which gives you the first few lines for a story and you are supposed to write the rest. Some of them are pretty "blah" but I thought I would give it a try.

The premise of the following story is based upon a supposedly true story one of the students in my class told me about. Let me know what you think.



The Family Photo

     All at once, and in a matter of seconds, three things happened that changed my life forever. Turns out it’s true what the books say: that a single moment can change your life forever.

     First, I raised my camera toward my wife and children. They were standing a short distance away, leaning against the rail above a several hundred-foot drop. Behind them, the snow-covered Grand Canyon glittered in the bright winter sunlight.

     This was supposed to be our dream trip. My wife and I had talked about coming here for over twenty years. We had never made it until now. Some other trip or location always ended up coming first. Some other responsibility, some other place to go, or some other thing to see had always caused us to push off this location. Now, we were finally here; and, it was perfect. There was no way I could have anticipated what was about to happen.

     The second thing that happened seem equally innocuous: my children squeezed tightly against their mother and everyone smiled. It was a perfect picture - an image which remains forever fixed in my memory. My entire family standing together.

     I had met my wife shortly after the worst traffic accident of my life. I had been struck by one of those reckless drivers. You know, the kind who weave through traffic at twenty miles above the speed-limits, like inconsiderate jerks, not caring a lick about the safety and welfare of anyone else on the road. It was a disastrous moment.

     There I was, driving along about five miles per hour over the speed limit. Not exactly slow. But, apparently, it wasn’t fast enough for those drivers who are so impatient that they probably shouldn’t be allowed behind a wheel at all. The next second, some speed demon comes zooming up beside me so quickly I barely even register the black color of the sports car before they whip into my lane to pass the car in front of them. The rear-end of their car struck the front of mine and we both went spinning.

     I remember very little afterward. I screamed, of course. And I briefly recall the image of the car behind me smashing into my own. I remember flashes of light, the explosion of an airbag and a lot of pain. The next thing I knew, I was lying in a hospital, staring up into the face of the most beautiful, kind and intelligent nurse I could ever imagine meeting. Two years later, that nurse and I would stand at the altar and pronounce the words, “I do.”

     The two children standing on each side of my wife were no less miraculous. After trying for children for almost five years, my wife and I were convinced we would never have any. Yet, one warm summer’s day, after years of trying, my wife and I finally gave birth to our daughter. Four years later, we would give birth to a son.

     They weren’t babies anymore. My daughter was now almost a teenager and my son was in elementary school. They were old enough to have heard us speak about taking this trip many times. They were also old enough to appreciate it. 

     It was there, at that moment, as they leaned against the rail smiling at me, that the third thing happened - the thing which changed my life forever. A bright flash of light, coming from the snow-covered mountains behind them, struck my eyes, momentarily blinding me.

     I blinked against the light and attempted to lift my hand to my eyes. When I did, I found that I couldn’t move my arm. It felt weak and heavy. I tried looking up to see what was happening but the light was so bright that everything was a blur. Finally, after about a second, things came into focus. What I saw didn’t make any sense.

     My family, the Grand Canyon and everything else was gone. The blinding lights above me weren’t coming from the sun. They were coming from white fluorescent fixtures in a ceiling.

     I tried turning my head. It responded sluggishly but enough for me to look around at my surroundings. I was lying in a hospital bed with a variety of cords and equipment attached to me. There was some tube down my throat and there were IVs in my arms. I could hear the sound of beeping and various electrical equipment running.

     I wasn’t sure where I was or what happened. Had there been an accident? Did I have some sort of amnesia? Where was my family?

     It wasn’t until a few days later, when all of the equipment was finally detached and I was able to speak, that I learned the disturbing truth. It was one month since I had gotten into the car wreck. I had spent the last month in a coma.

     My children never existed. No one with my wife’s name had ever worked at the hospital. The last twenty-years of my life had never happened.

     For a long time, I had difficulty coming to grips with the information. At first, I assumed I was on some TV show or something. Any minute my family would pop out from hiding. They never did.

     Next, I became convinced I was dreaming. The only problem was: I never woke up. Later I started to wonder if it was a conspiracy. Soon, however, after many attempts to track down my family, hiring detectives, and even receiving therapy, I was forced to accept the facts. Everything I had known and experienced in the span of twenty years of my memory was a lie.

     It was a tough realization. Even with accepting the truth, it took years of counseling to reach the level to where I could effectively interact with the world around me. Not many people could understand. How could I mourn the loss of people who never existed? How could I weep for a wife who wasn’t even real? But to me, it didn’t feel like a dream. Everything felt real. It still does.  

     The scary part is: how do I know it wasn’t? If a coma could make me dream twenty years of events that never happened, how do I know it isn’t happening again? How can I know if this experience is real? How do I know the other experience wasn’t real? How do I know anything?

     The truth is: I don’t. And I have to live with that.

     Some people tell me I should be glad. They tell me I have gotten a chance at a new beginning, something many people dream about. They tell me I should be grateful. I’m not.

     I move forward anyway. Each day, I struggle on, working to rebuild the life I lost. Still, I constantly think about those last few seconds when everything changed. And that one picture, that was never really taken, is burned forever into my mind.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Celebrating the Release of My New Series

Hello Everyone,

It has been a busy past year or so trying to complete all the edits for my trilogy and get it out. There were many times I thought I was just about done only to start all over again because I wanted to incorporate new ideas or new techniques I learned in a writing class. However, I can finally say that the first two books of the trilogy are out and the third should be out before the end of the year.

The first book can be found here.
The second book can be found here.
I hope you'll check them out!

Now I plan to get back to my biweekly - as in every other week - posting of short stories on this blog. (Isn't it funny how biweekly can mean either every-other-week or twice-a-week? There is a pretty big different there.)

Anyway, this short story is based upon a writing prompt I was given for last week called "The Package" and I thought it made a good story for Christmas. Feel free to leave any feedback and let me know what you think!

"Packages for Lilly"

There it sat, beneath the tall sparkling green tree that Lilly’s parents had erected just a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful box, long and rectangular, wrapped up inside that shiny, glistening paper.  The box rested on top of another, much larger package and had several large glass ornaments hanging down around it. Yet, neither the larger package nor the ornaments could grab Lilly’s attention at all. The smaller box was the only one she cared about.

This box was magical. Lilly knew it was meant just for her. There could be no doubt about that because of the bow. It was a large bow made from blue lace, sporting multiple long trailers, which dangled over the edge of the box beneath it.  Something that neat had to be meant just for her. There they hung, waiting for her!

Lilly inched toward the package as if it were a siren calling her name. There was something alluring about it. She didn’t know what was lurking inside the box, below the surface of the wrapping paper. Nevertheless, she knew she wanted the box. Even more, she wanted the bow. She wanted to touch that beautiful blue lace.

She moved closer to the package. 

“Lilly, no!” Her mother’s voice called.

With a swiftness, which caught Lilly off-guard, her mother snatched her from the floor and away from the shiny box. Lilly gave a loud whine of dismay. She also gave a small wiggle, trying to get out of her mother’s arms. But it was a half-hearted effort at best.

Lilly knew any attempts to escape would be pointless. As such, the initial struggle quickly gave way to simply hanging limp from her mother's grip as Lilly was lugged unceremoniously to the other side of the room. There, her mother deposited her gently onto the couch before turning away again.

Without another word, Lilly’s mother went back to the dining room and resumed doing whatever it was she was doing before. Lilly didn’t have the slightest clue what it might be.

As best Lilly could tell, her mother was holding some long cylindrical plastic stick with a point at the end. She kept using it to scribble something onto a bunch of strange square-shaped papers. Then, she would lick some small object and press it onto the corner of the paper.

Under other circumstances, Lilly might have found this activity to be interesting. At the present moment, though, Lilly found herself unable to focus on anything except the tantalizing little box sitting under the tree.

            Lilly had to have it! Why couldn’t her mother understand?

Lilly gave another loud whine of indignation which her mother ignored. This was so not fair! How could her mother do this to her?

Without warning, the sun broke through the hazy layer of clouds outside, temporarily casting its rays through the open window nearby the tree. The rays fell directly upon the package, which sparkled afresh in gentle morning light. Once again, Lilly found herself unable to look away.  

With careful, measured movements, Lilly slunk off the couch, her eyes still transfixed by the hypnotic twinkle of the gleaming package. She took a quick glance in the direction of her mother. As she did so, her mother rose from the table, walking toward her.

For a moment, Lilly hesitated, thinking her mother was coming for her again. Instead, her mother walked right past her and headed into the nearby bedroom. A loud rustling and shifting and opening of drawers soon ensued. Her mother was looking for something.

This was Lilly’s chance. Creeping stealthily over to the package, she examined the string hanging down from the bow. There was something mesmerizing about the way it hung there. It seemed to hang there just for her.

With a fierce swipe, Lilly swung her hand at one of the trailers dangling from the lace bow. It swung away and then returned back to its original location. That was kind of fun. Lilly struck it again, entertained by its swinging.

This was neat but it got old pretty fast. Lilly wanted to try something new. On a whim, she leaned forward and tried to bite the lace. When she did, she discovered she was having a hard time hanging on. No sooner did her teeth latch down on the trailer than it slid from her jaws.

Reaching out, she grabbed it, trying to make it stay still so she could get a better grip with her teeth. No sooner had her hand gripped the cord, though, then, to her horror, the cord seized her.

With a surprising strength, the lacy trailer latched to her hand, refusing to let go. Lilly couldn’t get it off. She gave a cry of alarm and began to thrash her hand wildly about, trying to get the cord to release her, yet its grip was firm. With a yank, she pulled her hand backward, causing the package to fall off of the larger package it was on.

A loud tinkling sound like cracking glass greeted her ears as the package smashed against the floor. Still, the lace trailer clung to her, refusing to let go.

Lilly gave a strangled cry of agitation, struggling more fiercely. Yet, the relentless cord refused to release her from its clutches. Spinning, writhing and leaping around in dismay, Lilly swung, twisted, and flung her hand in all sorts of directions, trying to free herself from the lace’s clutches.

As she did so, her body collided with the ornaments dangling from the tree. These also fell to the floor, with loud cracking noises. The struggle was becoming more intense as Lilly’s panic grew. Still, the trailer refused to cede its grip, clutching more tightly to her hand.

Lilly screamed furiously. She didn’t know what was happening. She only knew she had to get away from this package. Somehow, she had to escape.

“Lilly!” Her mother’s scream of alarm rang through the room.

As if in answer to some unspoken prayer, Lilly felt her mother’s arms seize her, interrupting the battle. Lilly called to her mother for help, relaxing slightly in the woman’s strong grip. Without a word, her mother reached down and seized the lace trailer. Slowly and carefully, Lilly’s mother detached the troublesome trailer from Lilly’s claw.

“Lilly, look what you’ve done!” her mother said angrily, gesturing at the cracked ornaments and fallen Christmas present.

The cat could have cared less. Freed from the attacking package, she raced across the room and hid beneath the coffee table. From her new post, Lilly watched as her mother examined the box and the fallen decorations. After a moment, her mother picked them up and headed for the kitchen.

Lilly turned her attention back to the presents, glaring angrily at the packages which had dared to attack her. They were dangerous. There was no way she was going to go anywhere near those things again!

As this thought passed through her mind, she noticed another package sitting on top of a large box. It was a sparkly package with a bow on top. From the bow, dangled a long green lace trailer.

It seemed to call to Lilly. She knew it was meant just for her. Lilly wasn’t sure if it was as dangerous as the last package. Still, it couldn’t hurt to investigate. Slowly, Lilly inched toward the package, as though it were a siren calling her name. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Conversations with a Quilt

Greeting Everyone,

This story was written a couple of months ago for my short story group. I didn't post the story at the time because a lot of my other stories were better for the various holidays. Now that the holidays are over, I am going ahead and sharing it with everyone. 

The piece is intended to be humorous, though I don't know how well the humor comes out in the story. I would be interested to get any feedback on it.

Hope all of you are having a great week!


"Conversations with a Quilt"
by James J Meadows III

                The clop of Carmen’s boots, echoing along the dank prison corridors, was strangely audible in the odd silence lingering over the normally busy prison.

                “Are the prisoners outside on break?” She asked the prison warden, who was accompanying her through the facility.

                “Nah, they’re just very subdued, right now,” the warden replied, his voice betraying traces of a strange, almost nervous, uncertainty. “They’ve been like that ever since your brother passed. I can’t explain it. I’ve never seen the prisoners go into such a funk following the death of a fellow inmate. Some of them are hardly recognizable as their old selves.”

                Carmen nodded wordlessly. Though never incarcerated herself, her many visits to see her brother had provided a greater familiarity with the environment of this prison than she believed any thirty-five year old law-abiding citizen should possess. The solemn silence hanging over the prisons was certainly not part of its normal ambiance.

She stared down the various corridors lining the main hall. The dingy white walls, whose stained and moldy exteriors gave the impression of not being touched by a scrub brush once in the last decade, contrasted sharply with the noxious fumes of ammonia, likely lingering from a recent and highly ineffective attempt to clean them. At least some things never changed.

                “This way, Miss,” the warden said, leading her into a small chamber, where a sloppily dressed prison guard stood inside an equally disheveled room, separated from Carmen and the warden by a set of bars atop a high counter.

                “We’re here for Mr. Varker’s items,” the warden announced to the man, guiding Carmen to the counter.

                “Yes, sir. I have them right here,” the officer replied, lifting up a small plastic container, resembling a recycling bin.

                He placed the container on the counter and began pulling out the items, handing them to Carmen.

                “Keys, wallet, clothes, and watch” he spoke aloud, listing each item as he handed them to her, almost as though he expected her to have some sort of inventory to check off inside her head.

                Carmen scooped up each item as the guard placed them on the table, sticking them in her pocket with an almost dismissive gesture. She paused at the watch, though, studying the dark golden face, inscribed with the words, “Rolex”. She gave a small humph.

                “Last of all, the blanket,” the guard said, placing what appeared to be a small hand-made quilt onto the table.

                She reached down and lifted the quilt to her eyes, allowing it to unfold as she examined it. The quilt had a strange smell, almost like body odor mingled with burnt leaves, and felt grainy, a trait she attributed to the prison sheets it was made from.

                The only truly remarkable thing about the quilt was the pattern. Across the front of the quilt, stitched using a wide variety of colors one might not normally expect to find in a prison’s craft room, was an incredibly life-like representation of her brother wrapped in a dark black cloak. His eyes stared out of the cloak at her with an almost eerie quality, every thread perfect in its place.

                “Pretty amazing isn’t it,” the warden said. “He spent nearly every free moment he could in the crafts room building it. You have to admit: he was a pretty talented artist.”

                “Yes, he was,” Carmen said, still staring at the eyes.

    After a few seconds, she lowered the quilt and began to refold it.

                “You said his body was found with the quilt in his possession?” Carmen asked.

                “Yes,” the warden said. “At the end of craft time, the guard came in to find him slumped over the finished quilt. Apparently, he suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after completing it.”

                Carmen nodded. She finished the fold, completing it in such a way that the face and eyes were upright, where she could ssee them.

                “Is that everything?” she asked, extending her hand to sign and initial a form the guard had offered to her.

                “Well, aside from some random garbage and waste products littering his cell,” the warden said. “Just garbage - stuff no one would want. The janitors cleaned it and threw it away.”

                “Sounds good,” she said. “Well, if there is nothing else, I will bid you a good day.”

                The warden escorted her back through the silent hall and out of the building. Carmen walked quietly to her car, climbed inside and tossed the quilt into the passenger seat next to her, the face still upright, where she could see it. After starting the car, she pulled out of the station and onto the road. For several minutes, she drove in silence before turning to the quilt with a furious glare.

                “Really?” she addressed it, speaking to it as though it were a person, her voice an odd mixture of incredulity and exasperation. “You couldn’t even complete a full three years of your prison sentence without dying? And this is what you leave behind, a stupid quilt?”

                She yanked the watch out of her pocket, brandishing it at the blanket like a lawyer accusing a witness.

                “Couldn’t even leave me your watch?” She declared. “Couldn’t put a note on it saying, ‘Here, thank you for all the things you did for me’?”

She reached a stop sign and, pausing her speech momentarily, glanced both ways to ensure everything was clear before turning back toward the quilt.

“You spent your entire life trotting around the world on random archaeological missions seeking ancient ‘arcane secrets’ and ‘lost texts of magic and power’, squandering our parent’s funding until their death. Then, after they pass away, you have the audacity to constantly beg me for pieces of their former wealth to continue your quest. All the while, you’re out there walking around with a effing Rolex on your arm!”

                She slammed the watch down into the chair. Turning back toward her driving, she barely swerved in time to avoid hitting a stalled vehicle.

                “Do I ever get any thanks from you for anything?” She continued fuming. “No! God forbid. Did you ever think about sending me a Rolex? Maybe, I’d like one too, you know!”

                She cast a sideways glance at the quilted image.

                “Oh no,” she said sarcastically. “You just send me random old scrolls for old potions. ‘This potion will bring you great wealth.’ As if! Seriously, even if I could force half that stuff down my throat, how was I supposed to make them? ‘Wings of a Dehydrated Scarab Beetle’? Oh, sure, let me just pull those out of my butt! ‘Eye balls of a still living venomous cobra’? Yeah, right, let me run down to Target and pick those up!”

                Here, she began to do an impression of a shopper visiting a checkout counter.

                “’Excuse me, ma’am, where can I find the dried testicles of blue newt cut off on a Friday?’”

                “’Certainly ma’am,’” Carmen continued, dropping her voice low to mimic a cashier. “’Just go right down aisle five on the left side. It will be between the ‘hoof-nails from the first born baby giraffe’ and the ‘pickled ears of a hornless yak’.”

                She turned back toward the blanket, once against grabbing the watch and brandishing it.

                “You couldn’t possibly send me a potion for making a Rolex, could you?” She shouted. “I bet I could find those parts!”

                Carmen threw down the watch down again, resuming her drive.

                “And then of all things, you get yourself thrown in jail,” she continued. “Now, I will admit, I wanted to butcher that son-of-a-bitch serial killer who murdered our parents as much as anyone did. And, I commend you for tracking him down and capturing him. But seriously, did you have to make a pentacle shaped altar and strategically drain all the blood from his body in imitation of an ancient Sumerian dark-arts ritual? It’s kind of hard to pull off a good ‘self-defense’ argument when you do stuff like that, you know. Though I dare say - after the things he did to his victims - if their families were sitting on that jury, they would have found you innocent. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t stupid. ‘Trying to become a lich’, indeed. It was all just another way you could waste even more of our parents money.”

                She gave a sigh.

                “Of course, I never could say no to you,” she said. “You are my baby brother after all. And I love you. At the same time, a nice ‘Thank you, here have a fancy Rolex’ wouldn’t have hurt!”

                A few moments later, she pulled into the driveway of her parent’s old house, a large luxurious manor home, whose upkeep exhausted nearly all of the considerable stipend she received annually from her deceased parent’s trust.

                Grabbing the watch, the blanket and the rest of her stuff, she marched into the house. Evening was beginning to descend and most of the staff had already left. A young butler, who would normally be off-duty at this time, opened the door for her.

                “Randall, what are you doing here?” Carmen asked.

                “Making sure you returned safely, my lady,” he said, with a small bow. “Now that you have, I will bid you ado. In the meantime, I have turned the fireplace on for you and there is a tea kettle boiling in the kitchen.”

                “You always take good care of me,” Carmen smiled. “You have a safe drive home.”

                The butler thanked her before heading out the door to his car. As he did so, he closed the door, locking it behind him.

                Carmen crossed the hall into the warm living room, where a bright fire crackled merrily in the hearth. She placed the wallet, keys and the watch onto a table and crossed over to the fire, still clutching her brother’s quilt in her hands.  On the mantle above the fireplace stood her brother ashes, whose arrival the previous day, along with a letter which her brother wrote just days before his death, had spurred her to finally pick up her brother’s items from the prison.

                Glancing back down at her brother’s face gazing up at her from the blanket, she gave a sad smile. As she did so, she heard Randall's car start up and head down the driveway toward the street.

                “At least someone takes care of me,” she said, still speaking to the face. “Goodness knows that you never did.”

                With these words, she tossed the blanket into the fire. Flames started to nip at the edges, causing a horrible stench of burnt cloth - and other stuff she didn’t even want to speculate upon – to fill the room. Ignoring the scent, she grabbed the vase with the ashes and hurled it angrily into the fire as well.

                “There,” she growled. “I hope you’re happy.”

                A cloud of ashes and black smoke rose from the fireplace where the cloth and ashes fell, yet she paid them no more mind than she paid to the smell. Instead, she turned and strode into the kitchen. There, she grabbed a small tea cup, which she filled with tea leaves before adding steaming water from the nearby tea pot.

                Holding the cup firmly in her hands, she strolled back into the living room and extended the tea toward the large cloud of smoke and ashes floating in front of the fireplace. But they were not a cloud of smoke any longer.

                The smoke and ashes had congealed into a solid form. And the solid form, had taken the shape of her brother, standing before her wrapped in a black cloak identical to the one he wore in the quilt.

                She wasn’t afraid of him. She and her parents had seen him do enough odd things over the years, that nothing surprised her anymore. His letter said this would happen. And, the truth was, she was still too angry at him to feel either shock or relief.

                “I made you some tea,” she said curtly.

                He studied her for a moment, his eyes scanning the glass before lifting to her face. A wry smile crossed his features.

                “If you really want the watch that badly, you can keep it,” he said, taking the cup from her.

                “I may,” she replied, haughtily. “In the meantime, I don’t suppose you are going to tell me what you did to your fellow prisoners.”

                “They’ll be alright,” he said. “I needed to trap their energy in order to make the spell work. Now that the blanket is burned, the energy is released. They’ll be back to themselves in a day or two.”

                “Humph,” Carmen said, spinning around and heading into the kitchen.

                Her brother seemed to sense she was angry, for he followed hastily behind her still gripping his cup.

                “Look, it wasn’t my fault,” he said defensively. “You don’t know how much energy it takes to work those spells. The ‘foreskin of a black goat born on a Friday’ had to be heavily charged before it could be attached to the quilt to complete the spell.”

                Carmen looked down at her hands in sudden horror.

                “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe I touched that quilt! What all did you have in there?”

                She raced to the kitchen sink, grabbing a whole bottle of soap and turning the water on high.

                “How did you even get that past the inspectors?” she exclaimed, scrubbing her hands with all the vigor she could muster.

                “Well, I mean, there weren’t technically any rules against it,” he said. “Besides, after I received ‘the dissected liver of a fully fed vampire bat’ no one wanted to check my packages anymore.”

                “Dissected liver of a vampire bat,” she exclaimed, switching off the water and turning toward him in disbelief. “Where the heck did you get that from?”

                “,” he replied, with a sly smile.

                “Go figure,” she muttered.

                Throwing her hands in the air, she marched from the room, leaving him grinning behind her. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Gifts from the Forbidden Room


I had originally planned to wait until after Christmas to post my next story. But the writing prompt for my short story group this week was "Christmas Eve" and I couldn't resist posting my story while it was still Christmas time.

Unlike most of my stories, this one is being posted here within minutes after finishing it, which means I haven't gotten any kind of review or feedback on it yet. So, as always, I would be most eager to hear any feedback, suggestions or ideas.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

James Meadows

Gifts from the Forbidden Room
by James J Meadows III

It was the coldest Christmas Eve the village had ever experienced, the deepest snow the village had ever experienced and the strongest wind the village had ever experienced. No one was out walking the streets on their way to visit friends and families. No carolers broke the howling gale with their croaking voices. Nor did any church bells ring, announcing the end of their Christmas Eve vigils. Anyone looking through a window or peering through the night might wonder if the village was a ghost town.

The lack of distractions made the night perfect for my needs. Not that anyone ever interrupted me. Despite being the only daughter of the wealthiest family in the village, and having inherited my parent’s fortune after they passed away, few people wanted anything to do with me. My family had a bad reputation. Most people avoided us if possible.

No one visited me on Christmas. No one invited me to parties or dances. No one brought me any gifts or sent me any cards. It was a lonely existence, resulting in many long nights spent wishing there were someone who cared. Still, just because I didn’t have a friend, didn’t mean I wouldn’t get exactly what I wanted for Christmas. Those people couldn’t get me what I wanted anyway.

Collecting the last of my supplies, a small jewelry box filled with salt and a bowl filled with water, I proceeded through the wall of darkness, whose grip upon the drafty old house remained despite the dim glow of the tiny candle in my hand.

Reaching the staircase leading to the second floor, I started my progression upward, eyes focused intensely on the vaguely discernable steps my feet ascended, and not on the waves of visions swirling around me. Images of wars fought and not fought, babies yet to be born and children yet to die, mingled with visions of blood running down the stairs before me. All fought for my attention. I didn’t want these visions, yet they came nonetheless. They always did on this night.

Reaching the top of the steps, I veered right, down the longest darkest hallway of my family’s ancestral estate, past the small room with the four post bed, which served as my own during my parent’s lifetime, and around a corner to where another staircase led even further upward.

Here, the light was just a formality. I had walked these stairs so many times, I felt confident I could do it with my eyes closed. How many times, as a child, had I scaled these steps to gaze or listen at the doors of the forbidden room above? How many days did I count until my coming of age when I would finally be allowed to open them? And how many Christmas Eves since that day had I returned, each time wishing I had never ascended them in the first place?

More visions swam before my eyes, visions of my parents, both how I knew them and before I knew them, visions of distant ancestors and relatives, some I knew and some I didn’t know, all crossing these stairs throughout the ages on Christmas Eve night, to perform the same ritual. For the door could only be opened on Christmas Eve, and on every Christmas Eve, I was there, just as my parents were there during every Christmas Eve of their lives. And someday, when I too married and had children, my children would come to this door, too, just like their mother. I know. I had seen that in the visions also.

I shut these visions out too. I needed to focus on what I was doing and where I was going. Twenty one steps carried me to the top floor of the manor where, on the opposite side of a long wooden landing, now covered thickly with the dust of a year’s neglect, for no one came up here to clean, stood the only pristine-looking objects in the whole house, a pair of ornate oaken doors, perfectly polished though no rag had ever touched their gleaming exteriors.

A deep steadying breath crossed my lips as I fought to control the waves of emotion washing over me. I had performed the ritual more than a dozen times, ever since I was old enough to memorize the words and movements, with the same precision of my parents. And yet, despite all of these years of experience and the incessant days of practice I always went through leading up to Christmas Eve, I never ceased to feel, as my parents admitted they felt, a certain sense of apprehension toward what was about to happen.

Ultimately, however, the nerves meant nothing since, regardless of any anxiety I might feel for the experience ahead, there was no turning back. And, to be perfectly honest, the thought, though perhaps tempting to other people, never even occurred to me. This was, after all, whether blessing or curse, my family’s legacy, passed from generation to generation for as long as any we had owned this house, which was as long as any written records recorded.

Placing down the candle, a slow and rather more complicated process than it might seem, since I could not risk letting a single drop of wax fall on the floor or chance the candle going out for any reason, I proceeded to empty my hands of all items, positioning the salt and water on their proper places.

The house was much chillier up here, where no grates were built to support a fire, and the thin roof overhead did little to muffle the howling winds rattling across its aging shingles. The conditions, uncomfortable enough on their own, only worsened as I unlaced the front of my dress, allowing the garment to slither off my lithe frame onto a pile at my feet. Now naked, the cold was almost unbearable, and I shivered uncontrollably as I picked up the dress, holding it outstretched before me and headed for the door.

I placed the gown neatly spread across the floor right in front of the doorway, the neck of the dress toward the door and the skirt facing away. I straightened back up, surveying it, making sure everything was correct. It was. I turned toward the door, curling my fingers into a fist, and raising it level with the elegantly carved face of a young woman, staring at me from the front of the left door.

There I stood, breathing deeply, resolving myself to continue, accepting that I had no choice, steeling myself against what I was about to see, determined not to turn back now.


My fist fell, hitting the door. The ceremony had begun. I struck the door a second time and, after another five seconds, a third. Then, my hand fell to my side and I stood there, listening.


A loud knock sounded from the opposite side of the door. My heart leapt into my chest, so I could barely breathe. I turned away from the door, heading toward ceremonial supplies. A series of five carefully measured steps carried me back to the candle, beside which sat the water and the salt.


The knock sounded again. I bent over and collected the salt, grabbing a handful of it as I straightened up. I held the box before me, casting the salt in a circle across the floor with my free hand.

“To the East from which the sun’s light awakes,” I shouted, my voice rising above the harsh wails of the wind, which seemed to grow louder with each second. “To the North, where the flowers grow when spring comes; To the South, where the flowers wither as fall approaches. To the West, where the sun fades as winter ends, bringing darkness and sleep to the now weary land! Seal this circle with the magic of this sand.”


With the last crash, the doors flew open revealing the briefest glimpse of the room within: a glimpse so bizarre and indescribable that there seem no words for it. How can one describe a darkness of immeasurable depth, which, by its very nature, singes the eyes with its brightness; or explain a smell so subtle one can barely taste it, yet so overwhelming that the senses can hardly cope; or express a sound so quiet one can hardly hear it, while at the same time so pervasive it stings the ears. There are no words for such things. They can only be experienced.

Yet, just as quickly as the sensations came, the doors shut again, barring the room from my view. At the same instant, the dress, previously resting upon the floor, rose into the air before me. In a slow gradual manner, reminiscent of a balloon inflating before my eyes, the dress expanded, filling as though some unseen force were slipping it on. A second later, the force ceased to be unseen.

I stood facing a figure I knew only too well. I recognized her long blonde hair, her bright green eyes, her smooth skin, and every other feature about her without the slightest difficulty. An easy task, since she was me.

“Hello Melina.”

Her lips never moved, yet her voice drifted softly across the room, as if carried by a summer breeze.

“Merry Christmas.”

The words hung in the air for a several seconds, while the woman looked at me. I wasn’t sure if she was waiting for me to reply or not. I chose not to. This was not the first time the spirit had assumed my form for one of these meetings. But that didn’t mean it annoyed me any less and I didn’t feel much like wishing it a Merry Christmas.

I didn't know how the spirit first came to occupy the house. Some legends claimed my ancestors trapped it here, demanding it grant them favors. Other diaries claimed the spirit came to live in the house of its own free will, awarding the family boons for allowing it to stay.

Either way, I didn't trust it. The spirit was an unstable entity, dangerous and unpredictable, often creating mischief with even its most benign gestures; hence, the reason I took the precaution of surrounding myself in a protective circle.

“You have come to me,” the voice continued. “The one who can see all secrets kept and to be kept, who knows all things learned and unlearned, who can reveal all mysteries and lore past and future. Yet I sense few questions in you. What would you ask of me?”

I took a deep breath. Though I had said these words many times before, I still felt nervous every time I spoke them.

“I wish to make the visions stop,” I said. The wish was, itself, somewhat futile, since I already knew the answer.

A small smile spread across the spirit’s face.

“Every year you come here asking for this,” she said. “Can I not give you so much more? Can I not show you all the secrets of the past or reveal all the majesty of the future?”

In response to these words, images swam before my eyes; images hinting of secret knowledge, ancient mysteries, lost glories and of equally magnificent splendors yet to be created. The spirit’s speech and visions took me by surprise. Rarely did she ever converse with us in such a manner. I shook my head.

“These my family already has, and, if I could, I would give the gift back. Yet you will not take it.”

The spirit ignored the second part of my statement.

“Why not accept power, instead? I could give you magic beyond your wildest dreams, physical talent to make the mightiest man jealous, or charisma to make all people bend before your will.”

“All such gifts I may have, and yet find no happiness in their acquisition,” I replied. “For power is a dangerous ally, and all who seek it find themselves consumed, as so many of my ancestors learned.”

“Indeed, absolute power can make one lonely,” the spirit said, giving a mischievous smile. “Is that not what you fear the most?”

I felt my blood run cold. A new image swam before my eyes: that of a handsome, gentle man with a kind smile, a warm touch, and a deep soul, sitting, his arms wrapped around me, upon the warm couch beneath a soft blanket, as the wind rattled the night outside. A deep longing crept into my heart. This was what I longed for more than all the wealth and the power of all the worlds: an end to the seemingly perpetual loneliness haunting my days since my parents passed.

My hand, lost like my mind in the waves of unbroken desire to feel the warmth and love of the image, drifted unconsciously away from my body, extending to touch my lover's face. At the same instance, a warning cry sounded in my brain. I drew back, realizing with a sudden horror that my arm almost crossed out of the salt circle surrounding me.

“All of those things will come on their own, in time,” I said, regaining my composure. “Now is not yet that time.”

The vision vanished.

“If you would have none of these things, why have you come,” the voice responded. “You know I cannot take the visions away from you. They were a gift demanded by your first ancestor. And, the gift cannot be taken away.”

“But it can be suppressed for a year,” I replied, “just as you do every year.”

“But why waste your wishes on this?” the voice responded. “Every year your one wish, your family’s one wish they can make of me, is wasted on such a silly purpose: to take away the gift of clairvoyance I graciously bestowed upon them generations ago. Why such waste?”

“You know why,” I answered. “You know what I see when it is active. I can’t sleep; I can’t talk; I can hardly even walk because of all the visions. Your ‘gift’ was a punishment meant to render us helpless.”

“Learn to master it and its secrets,” the voice responded. “Who knows what you might learn?”

I pondered these words. Again, it was very unlike the spirit to engage in such a conversation. Was this some kind of trick?

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“You are special,” it responded. “I’ve watched you since childhood. Of all your family through the many generations, none has shown as much promise as you. Why not use your gift…”

“Our curse,” I interrupted.

“Whatever,” the spirit replied impatiently. “Why not use it in a constructive manner, the way your ancestor first wanted. Master it! Learn it!”

“I have made my wish,” I said, a sense of stubborn indignation rising in me.

“Very well,” said the spirit, in a voice which almost sounded like a sigh. “Your energies are suppressed! Now begone! But you will think about what I said before next Christmas! And you may yet change your mind.”

As she finished her words, the doors behind her swung open but this time I didn’t look inside. I merely gazed ahead at the fading figure before me, as she disappeared from view. Then, the doors closed and the dress flopped to the ground.

The strange tension in the room seemed to fade. There was a moment of silence, interrupted only by the sound of the wind.

Hearing the wind brought my thoughts back to the storm and I suddenly remembered how cold I was. I hurried through the rest of the ritual, picking of the water and ceremoniously washing away the salt circle before retrieving my dress.

As I retied the strings on the blouse, I couldn’t help pondering what the spirit told me. Was I really special? Could I really master the visions? Or was the spirit just playing with me, tempting me to not make the wish on the one night of the year I was able to - a trick to make me suffer for the next year, unable to escape the prophetic dreams and nightmares haunting my waking hours?

I didn’t know. I did know the spirit was telling the truth about one thing, though. I had a feeling I was going to spend a lot of time thinking about her words before next Christmas.

Frowning at the thought, I hurried down the steps. There were no visions or images to trouble me as I walked. And in that way, at least, I knew I had gotten exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Night Owl's Guide to Houston


       This story, entitled "A Night Owl's Guide to Houston," was actually written back in 2012 and is based upon an actual experience from that summer. It was such a bizarre experience that I felt the need to write it down, since I wasn't sure anyone else would believe the tale. I hope you enjoy the story and would appreciate any feedback!

        Since my next story will be after Christmas, I want to wish all of you a Happy Holiday Season and a wonderful Christmas time.


          James Meadows

Night Owl's Guide to Houston
by James J Meadows III

            “Night Owl’s Guide to Houston: Our town is full of all-night venues for eating, drinking and making merry that aren’t full of drunks. We’ll meet at 9pm and choose where to go from a list of more than 100 destinations that are fun for even sober people. By 10, we’ll be en route to great adventures! Guide: Ella Tyler.”

            These words in the Leisure Learning Center catalog gripped my interest. As a 30-year old single male tired of spending my Friday nights surfing internet personals ads, a work friend recommended I check out the leisure learning center. They told me it was a great way to learn new things, meet other singles, and have fun in a casual environment. A flip through the catalog revealed endless possibilities including horseback riding, kayak trips, and even classes on how to have winning first dates. Among them all, I found this ad and I was hooked.

            This was my chance to meet people in a setting free from drunks and alcohol. It was a chance to learn about night spots and hangouts where I could interact with singles or take future dates. I’ll admit, the rather expensive 45 dollar registration fee and the requisite 40 dollars in spending cash were a touch discouraging. I’m a single parent and rather strapped for cash, not to mention sitters. Still, adventure awaited and I wasn’t about to let a little money stop me. I signed up for the class.

            On the designated day, I headed to “Grey’s Café” in downtown Houston to meet the group. Upon entering the 24-hour café there was one thing I noticed immediately. There was not a soul in the place except for the staff and one table in the corner with three customers. One of the customers called out to me.

            "Are you looking for the Night Owl’s Guide to Houston?”

            I acknowledged I was and they waved me over to the table. I headed that direction surveying my new companions. First of all, I wish to point out that I enjoy foods and deserts. At the same time, I am not a person who spends lots of time eating. I am very conscious about my weight and appearance. Likewise, I tend to prefer hanging out with people who also care about their appearance.

            This may be a touch superficial. Still, the truth is: birds of a feather flock together and people typically prefer hanging out with others who have similar values and priorities.  You rarely see paparazzi pictures of professional athletes hanging out with people who look like they’ve spent the previous week eating donuts. If you have a work-out fanatic family member or friend, you probably haven’t seen them walk through the door with a date capable of swallowing them and not showing it.

            On that note, I can say without a doubt that all three of these people were in shape. By that I mean: round. The table was positioned against a wall and I could hardly squeeze between them and the table behind to reach a vacant chair. There were two women and one man. I was glad to see one of the women, a middle aged African American, wasn’t eating. The other two had pancakes, bacon, hash browns, waffles, omelets, toast, and milk sitting in front of them; and those were the plates they hadn’t already finished.

            The woman who called me over, a large Caucasian woman, informed me between mouthfuls of food that she was Ella Tyler, the guide for the class. She presented me with a print-out of available activities and hangouts. My spirits dropped as I perused the list. They were all 24-hour restaurants, including such unique hang-outs as Whataburger and Denny’s.

            I searched the table for a second page. I found one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much better. It consisted of almost all bars. Meanwhile, the few “late night hang-outs” appearing on the page included the Houston Aquarium, which closes at 10pm, as well as the Winter Solstice Wine and Lights Festival - which would have been an exciting possibility...if it wasn't currently July.

            My mind began searching for some excuse to get out of this mess when our last three classmates entered the restaurant. The first was a middle aged woman with short black hair; but, the second one caught my eye. She was a beautiful and fit woman in her upper-twenties with long flowing brown hair and green eyes. I started thinking this night might not be a waste after all. That was when a fit, athletic male of about the same age walked in behind her. He took her hand and they headed for the table. My enthusiasm dwindled. Still, it was good to see someone of closer to my own age, and I hurriedly struck up a conversation with them.

            The couple was from San Francisco and was visiting the girl’s mother here in Houston. The middle-aged woman who entered with them turned out to be said mother. She was looking for a way to show her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend the sights of Houston. The best part was that they weren’t interested in eating. They wanted to see popular hang outs and fun venues around the city. My hope became rekindled as they expressed this preference to Ella.

            The guides readily agreed to this plan and proceed to pack everyone into a compact car for the tour. The Californians and their mother wisely decided to follow in their own vehicle and we headed for the first destination. As I sat in the car with the other three, I listened to them discussing the numerous eating groups they were members of. They encouraged me to join an eating group also. They said meals usually only cost between fifty to a hundred dollars and told me it was a great way to try all the unique restaurant venues in Houston. When I told them I wasn't really interested in an eating group, they became more insistent. 

            The previous discussion of my eating habits and finances as a single parent probably already tipped you off to this fact. However, in case it didn’t, I will admit that having a group of people who can barely fit in their own car seats pressuring me to join eating clubs so I can go around town spending a hundred dollars on meals wasn’t my idea of a fun ride. Needless to say, I leapt out of the car as soon as we reached our location.

            Said ‘location’ turned out to be an empty bridge in the middle of an empty park beside a suite of empty office buildings. Something told me this was not one of the premier hangouts in Houston.

            The guides led us through the darkness to the edge of the bridge. There I was greeted with a smell unlike any other in the world: Guano. I didn’t need their explanation or the barrage of siren sounds to know that a swarm of bats lived under the bridge.

            Now, I like seeing bats as much as the next person and enjoy watching them fly. Please note, though, that the operative words in the previous sentence both dealt with visibility. Now, please see the first sentence in the previous paragraph referring to the darkness. You couldn’t see anything! We were at least informed there were bats under there, even if we had no way to see them firsthand. We were also told scientists liked to come here to study the behaviors of bats or harvest the guano for agriculture purposes. Then, after loitering about for several minutes, we were led back to the car.

            Okay, stop one, not so great. But Ella announced that the next stop would be more exciting. This second stop was a new skate boarding park built by the city of Houston. It was complete with concession stands, modern art and loud music. They said it was a popular hangout for young people. Things were looking up again. There was only one small fly in the otherwise wonderful ointment. We arrived to discover the park closed at 8.

            We spent the next thirty minutes walking around the chain link fence so we could stare into the well lit concrete obstacle course. While we did so, I visited with the young couple from California. Since I lived in California during my military enlistment, I found myself sharing stories of life up there and how different it was from Texas.

            Eventually, Ella announced our next destination: New China Town. She talked about how the place was filled with stores, restaurants, and other locations which are open all night. She said people are always milling about and enjoying the night life. Again, the idea showed promise. 

            Hopping back into the car, we began a 40 minute drive out to the small suburb of Sugar Land to see China Town. On the way, the host received a phone call from some old high school friends. These friends wanted to join us for the remainder of the event. The hosts obliged them and told them we were heading to China town, where they agreed to meet us. We arrived in China town and parked in an empty parking lot full of closed buildings. A small still-open coffee shop became our point of rendezvous with the coming high school friends.

            We ordered tea and waited for their arrival. I was pleased to see for the first time some signs of life and activity. Neon lights in Chinese and parking lots full of cars stood in a single large shopping center across the way. Unfortunately, we weren’t going there. We were sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive.

            A half an hour later, we were still sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive. Forty-five minutes later, we were still sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive. So far the only interesting thing I’d done in China Town was share more conversation with the California natives. When forty-five minutes turned into an hour, however, the California natives were ready to go. Feigning being tired, they excused themselves and prepared to leave. Possessing the good sense to act before my chance passed, I also excused myself, informed Ella that I had a nice time, and convinced the Californians to take me back to my vehicle. The ride was nice. We had a pleasant visit on the way back to the café.

            When they pulled into parking lot, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Then they were off and so was I. The next morning, I pulled out my leisure learning center catalog and noticed another event I had circled to go on. I hurriedly scratched the event off my list and threw the page away. It read:

            “Houston Secrets: See secret Gardens, international and local foods, and fascinating places to shop on this tour of little-known spots in Houston. We’ll meet a 9am and leave by 10. Guide: Ella Tyler”.