Lost in My Storm

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Could you ever stop thinking of me
that way because my arms couldn’t
reach out when you needed them most,
bound as they were by bonds I wove
of confusion and fear? If not,
I wouldn’t blame you, though that’s
a heavy load to carry for so long,
cracking backs and taxing hearts
whose clockworks wind down past
their dwindling supply of twelves.
But if you could, it’d be a blessing
in these latter days granted me,
my leaves tearing from the calendar tree
of this life spent blinded in shadow,
blown from one direction, battered
to another. Ever away from the peace
for which I pray before I fall
and lie forgotten, save for fading lines
on pulp, lost in the emptiness between
the zeros and ones I’ve cast like acorns
in a promiscuous gale of words…
sound and fury signifying I’m nothing
without friends I’ve lost in my storm.

They Also Call It Fall

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The Emptying of the Year Photo © Joseph Hesch 2015

My remaining days are disappearing
faster than I can live them.
Blinks of sunup to sundown blur
past like squirrels who steal life
from me as if I was a jagged old oak
and they know maybe next year
might be mine to topple.
Where they scurry and bury
what once was mine to have and hold,
like my memory, I’ll never remember,
let alone reach. Out my window,
I squint at daylight diminishing
with each spin of this emptying world
and realize why they call Autumn,
even the golden autumn of my years,
why they also call it Fall.

All That Sparkles

Morning Diamonds (Photo by Joseph Hesch © 2016)

Morning Diamonds
(Photo by Joseph Hesch © 2016)

They hide from us in the dark,
growing over centuries or overnight,
these prisms that bend colors
like pouring water, should one
be wrested from the soil or
the other wrung from the night air.
Each is the hardest of their
species, though one is born of
heat, the other of cold.
Of the two, the first might be
the dearest to those souls
who value the finer things in life.
Of course, then there’s romantics
who’ve no fortune but waking dreams
in overabundance, lovers and poets
who see diamonds in morning frost, and
sense rhyme in dawn’s glistening rime.

Tripping on a Rainbow

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What always surprises me, even now on what will be my last time, is the quiet.

When we climb aboard and the cool brass elevator doors close on the marble atrium where we report for our next assignments, the one we hope is the One, they don’t whoosh or shoop. There’s no swell of harp strings or inspiring Muzak pumping through speakers. There are no speakers. You hear only the harmonized breaths of you and Eternity. You don’t even hear the other souls aboard.

Right there in front, next to the door, you see the spectrum of buttons under a placard that reads, “Find Happiness.” Bottom to top, they’re arrayed Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red – primary color chips of a rainbow for those of us who’ve tripped on one once …or even four times.

This is my fifth trip on this four-dimensional magical mystery ride. Well, it would be a bigger mystery if I hadn’t pushed each of those buttons except yellow on my other tries here in the Happy Box. Four shots at happiness that all ended in something less.

It’s not the elevator’s fault, nor Management’s. We all make our own choices and I made four that I didn’t think came with the top prize, a Mega-Millions of Smiles or whatever is supposed to be waiting for you There. Happy-World, or whatever There is.

My first time, when I didn’t know any better, I started on the lowest floor, pushed Blue. I was let off in that youthful Eden, where I bumped up against Nature and Humanity with all the subtlety of a hopped-up, blindfolded linebacker in a flower shop.

But you never know when the call will come for a new assignment.

Red was bad, Green was moldy, Orange was hot and dry but ultimately a little too like Red. That leaves Yellow, doesn’t it? Yellow, the color of sunlight, illumination, the middle of it all, the mean and the median of Happiness. So here I am, looking around at the other souls on the elevator and see something in each their faces that I probably showed in my previous ups and downs in here.

That young guy there with a crewcut. His mug just oozes determination. I’d tag him for a Green. He’s got GI written all over him. Good luck pal. My Green phase included something to do with a little kid wearing a straw hat during my time in Vietnam. Or was that Okinawa?

“You okay, little guy? Your mama around? ”

All about was torn up and tropical. This little kid has absolutely no expression on his face, not fear, nor sadness, no tears. So odd. Gunfire, I hear gunfire over there.

“C’mon little guy, I’m taking you someplace safe.” Why do I remember those eyes turning wide and uniforms and an explosion of red and yellow flame? Hmmph, doesn’t matter now. Semper fi, buddy. Yep, he’s a Green.

That young one over here in the corner, the one dressed in the school uniform is blinking and shaking a little with fear. Might be her first trip. She’s definitely a Blue. My Blue phase… Jeanine, or Janet. Looking into those blue eyes on her back porch.

“Why don’t you stay with me tonight,” I remember her saying. I do.

“Aww.. I’ll be okay,” I said. “Just gonna meet the guys for a few more and then head back home. I’ll see you in the morning. I promise.”

Soft kiss, embrace, breath warm–a sigh?–on my face, a hand holding tightly to my belt. Temptation, testosterone, torment of indecision there in the porch light’s yellow glow.

Why am I remembering this so clearly? Or am I?

I recall a bar called Fillion’s and some other guys drinking as much as we were. One of them, pizza-faced prick with an accent straight out of Hempstead trips one of my guys and it’s ON. Real Red-line stuff.

I hear, “Get the fuck outta here. I’m calling the cops.” And it all rolls outside into the cold. Yeah, cold, dark, snowbanks, and the sidewalks are slippery. Sucker punch haymaker from pimple-puss levels me and I hit my head on the curb.

Streetlights hurting my eyes. They all climb into a Pontiac and peel off. I jump into my Dodge and take off after that piece of shit.

I see yellow lights behind the hazy red of the intersection, gliding sideways, and…

I shake my head and notice that middle aged woman to my right who ignored my nod of greeting feels familiar. I mean we’re all just shadows of shadows here, but I envision some hot piece I took up with in my Red or Orange time. Maybe in both. No, it was Red.

Italian girl? No, Russian, I think. I see me in a leather jacket and I feel something hard between my upper arm and chest. And secrets. I remember secret things and my photos in little books. Different languages and different colored books, And each one, a different name, like I have each time I press one of these damn buttons.

Wait, I recognize that squint-eyed expression of resentment. I recall meeting her in a bar in Moscow. A hooker? That damned testosterone again, but I’m looking for happiness even if my job is kind of dangerous. Yeah, hotel room. Pushed up against the door, my hand cupping her ass, her hand unbuttoning my shirt and her other hand…the red and yellow flash in my face from a pistol.

What the hell did I do to you, sladkaya. Yeah, sweetheart, you! Wait, I know Russian?

The elderly guy in the back, I’ve seen that aura before. Sorrow. Watch, he’ll push Orange. There are those eyes again. I’m lying down, looking up into those eyes. Definitely Italian, I’m sure. Been here a long time and it hasn’t been much fun. The flash of the welding torches and riveting. I hear clanging steel plates and watching the ships roll off the rails into the harbor.

Fights. Screaming matches with this woman. Married and Catholic. Maria or Teresa. Yeah. Mi cara, Yeah, as if.

What are all these wires and hoses? Beeping and disembodied voices. Weak, feeling weak.

I don’t like her. Something’s not right. Smell alcohol, disinfectant.

“You just don’t know enough to give up, do you?” she says.

I can’t answer. Something’s stuck in my throat. Those eyes, brown but burning, burning in my chest. Can’t breathe. Bells and horns all around, can’t breathe, gasping, no air, those eyes, angry but somewhat…not relieved, happy. Peaceful? The light again, that yellow light. I close my eyes.

The elevator doors shut again and I’m left here alone. Haven’t pushed a button yet.

“Ahem,” I hear behind me. I open my eyes and turn.

Female, look of been-there-done-that resignation on her, like she, too, had smushed the four other buttons before and was sure she was headed toward Happiness. We’ve let the others get off at their potential Edens, Nirvanas, Asgaards. We look at one another but it doesn’t feel like the first time.

“Where you been?” I asked.

“Everywhere but Yellow,” she said.

“Me, too,” I said.

She stared into my eyes like she was looking for something.

“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” she says. “You stood here just like I did and watched them all hop off. You’re never sure about what will make you happy until you’ve experienced it, do you? I remember how it was when I pushed There.”

She pointed and sighed a nice sigh, not sad or sorrowful, but really kind of a memorable exhalation of contentment. It sounded so familiar.

I put my arm around her shoulder, maybe even fatherly, and said, “We’ve been there before, I know. But what about…”

Warm, that shoulder, buzzy and fuzzy like a sweater under my touch. Familiar, definitely not fatherly.

She hugs me close and stares right into me again and this soft look that matched her sigh comes over her. We’re close enough that our chests move against one another in a harmony I hadn’t felt since..well, since..

I take her hand in mine and we nod to one another, sure we’ve made the right decision, no hesitance, no remembering yellow lights, yellow flames, yellow anything. Yellow has been staring at us all this time.

Together, we push Blue and, sure enough, we’re There again.

Only this time I’m not letting go.

Supposed to write a story in my favorite voice. Well, that could mean ten different tones on ten different days. Hard boiled, gritty city voice, romantic poet voice, Old West voice, warrior voice, kid’s voice…you get the picture. But, if push comes to shove, I’m told this is as “Joe’s voice” a story as you’ll read. It’s a mildly revised favorite of my old writing group, along with a handful of other tales I might share with the world someday. You know, when I push that blue button again.

Some Hermits Call It Home

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I know a man, we call each other
Friend, who also calls himself Hermit.
In truth, he does live almost alone,
save for his dogs and
the glowing, dusty, snowy,
piercing beauty of his mountains.
He is content there in the wide open,
greeting the sun each day, Inviting
it in and sharing it through his third eye.
I know a man who some call Hermit,
who resides in the suburbs, so close
to the whirrings of highway and flyway
that they’d awaken him, if he would listen.
But he doesn’t even hear.

This one hides in the cut of stone
behind his eyes and burrows within
the shadowy side of his heart.
He throws rocks when you try
to get close, and struggles to bring
himself out of the dark to perceive
the dawn in life shining on all his good——
people, accomplishments, memories, joy——
that surround him like those mountains
embrace the friend he never met,
the one who calls himself Hermit,
who loves the world and it loves him back.
Perhaps, one day, the second one might
emerge to embrace your bright love, but
first he must learn to love himself.

The Siesta

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The Afternoon Siesta 1889 Vincent Van Gogh

In the still oven-like shade of a stack of wheat here in this field outside Arles, Louisa and I lie in a midday siesta. Meanwhile, my Maitane is home, heavy with our first child.

When Maitane arrived from up in Donostia, I wished my love welcome to this blazing Purgatario, this stopover on our journey from Infernu to blessed Zeruko. Or perhaps to our own farm in the dreamy someday of a siesta.

“That is why I have come to be with you, Josu,” Maitane whispered as she laid her head upon my chest, disregarding the sweat-drenched shirt and all-too-quick drowsing. “If you are on such a journey, I do not wish to be separated from you another day. Such an adventure we shall share together. What God has joined together…”

“Yes, Maitane, we will chase this dream together, stopping here in this Purgatario of Provence on our way. It is much like the fable the brown-robed fathers taught us about the comforts of the Afterlife. Such tales and such an afterlife are mere myth, no more. But I suppose a myth is better than nothing. Yes?” I said.

“For me, my love, Heaven will forever be in your arms, no matter where they are, no matter what task they do,” Maitane said, smiling with drowsy eyes, herself.

I never wished to leave my family in the Basque country to the northwest, but times there had been harder than I can remember. The sheep were dying, as if being sacrificed on an altar of grassless fields.

“I shall find us a place to keep us whole if it takes moving halfway around the world to find it, Maitane,” I told her back in our town. It turned out all I needed to travel was only halfway across France, which was not Heaven, though beautiful nonetheless.

The red-haired painter from Holland who I befriended in a cafe one night offered to have his lover, the whore Sien, provide me with similar companionship.

“Vincent,” I said, “I have not yet reached that state of desperation, though I bid you thanks.” I put him off for a week, when one night I drunkenly fell from a cafe stool and somehow to a bed in a room of blue into the arms of a girl who smelled of the fields of lavender where she worked as well.

“Well, my friend, was she not an angel to warm your body and cool your buried desires?” Vincent said. Blushing, I nodded.

That night I wrote Maitane and told her to come here to be with me, because I couldn’t bear anymore her absence from my arms. My dreams of her were not enough.

Vincent laughed when I told him what I did.

“You have the soul of a cleric, though from what Louisa told Sien, the ardor of three bulls in the rut,” he said. “I believe Louisa may have fallen for you in but one night of passion, my friend. Shall I give her the news of your return to the celibacy of the marital bed from here forward?”

I chose not to admit how heavenly I felt after our time together, Louisa’s and mine. To do so would be to sink further into the abyss I see Vincent sliding into. He is a good man, though with frightening eyes that see all, but in a way only he can see it.

When I received Maitane’s reply that she would be coming to me in Arles, I was both thrilled and worried. That was because I had become almost as enamored of Louisa as she of me, even though I still left a sous behind as tribute to her sharing her precious body with this Basque farm boy.

And so I still reside in this purgatory between two angels and the hell into which I have thrown myself and don’t wish to escape, despite the pain it brings me. It is much like this shade within which I lie with Louisa. Out of the sun yet still burning with heat. And she still smells of lavender.

Meanwhile, Vincent stares with his devilish and brilliant all-seeing eyes and chronicles my sins upon his flaming canvas, hopefully not capturing them like hell, for an eternity.

Perhaps a Heaven really is just over that hill where the sun sleeps with tomorrow. For now, though, I will find it sleeping with my angels, gifts like cool rain dropped from the clouds. They comfort my dreams with their bodies as I hold them to mine.

Our couplings are prayers for the rest of my journey, where, without fear, I test the truths of Purgatario and Zeruko, because heriotza, death, my inevitable end, is just another fork in this road.

Hot Day in January, Cold One in Hell

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We’re way past that,
the mushy mess of emotion
that roils and boils
the essence of him and her,
her and her, him and…
It seems the passion’s now
the equivalent of a dead fire,
blackened and cold,
where glowing red heat
once scorched virtual fingers,
slapping them away, leaving scars
reminding me it’s okay to look
but don’t touch, even if only
with gentle words.
Those old lines burn today
whenever I touch them, and wonder
if you ever do too, whoever
you’ve become. Because now I know
no longer does it matter
what circumstances we were born in.

A warmup 100-word poem for the day, based on one of my favorite exercises. I took the fifth line of the Avett Brothers’ song January Wedding to begin the poem and the fifth from last to end it. The creamy filling between is all my imaginings and subconscious insight. There’s no need to protect the innocent. None of us were.

Just One More Cup of Coffee ~ A Twitter Story

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Each day Pain ruled more over his mornings than coffee and the meds meant to ease it. Today, a final dose. A smile. The great sigh. Relief.

Catching up today with a request for a Twitter-length story of 140 characters or less. I hit 139 after more revision and editing than I normally do for my full-length stories. Maybe more than even my 100-word poems. Probably a lesson in that somewhere.  Nevertheless, here’s Story #1 for today. I hope to have another for you later. Maybe even a poem.

We Drink to the Old Fox

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The old man shivered as he sat upon his white horse. He sat as tall as he did in the old days, when he led armies into battle, even though the effort to do so was excruciating.

In some ways this feeling reminded him of the debacle from that winter so many years ago. The enemy commander a martinet who considered anathema the celebration of The Lord’s birth with song and libation. To him, it was just another day in the field for Prince and some other country. They were ready for the General’s force and cut it to ribbons.

The army he led this day was even less organized, untrained and most certainly less disciplined than that one. But that was a different fight, for a different overall goal, even if the reason these two armies faced one another across this western Pennsylvania field was one of the causes of the war that enabled them to be here in the first place. Taxes.

The old general stared across the field and could see His Excellency, once again at the head of his troops. He shook his head. That man’s courage and stupidity are exceeded only by his disregard for his own casualties and his amazing luck. He should have been killed or injured in ‘77, but for being thrown from his horse and landing upon a pile of his own dead, he thought.

The General estimated the opposing force as something more than 10,000 men, which was not a surprise, since His Excellency wanted to make a show of his power and station no matter where he sat, be it in the executive mansion or on the back of a black horse while he wore the Cornwallis’ surrendered saber.

“What are your orders, Gen’rul,” a Scots-Irish militia captain from hill country the other side of the Cumberland Gap said, his broad-brimmed hat in one hand, a dazzling curly maple piece of some Pennsylvania gunsmith’s art in the other.

The General, knowing his army of farmers and moonshiners would matter-of-factly drop the reins of their plow horses, pick up their long rifles and fight off seemingly overwhelming numbers of Shawnee at the first whoop, squinted with his diminished vision at the opposing army and said, “We wait. If His Excellency wishes another revolution, let him start it here.”

But the old man, his arthritis grating, his jaw throbbing and his once-buoyant ego now raised solely by its location upon this bluff and a 15-hand white gelding, began to think his hoped for rebellion against the unfair tax on individual distillers was doomed before it began. His show of force and resolve paled to the force and resolve of His Excellency, the President. These weren’t tax collectors and marshals they faced, but a standing army and organized militias.

He turned to his second-in-command, Nat Greene, who also suffered the wrath of Congress after December ‘76.

“I would say, General, that we have once again been overwhelmed by a superior force, not that our men don’t have principle and courage on their side. Does fighting Hamilton’s accursed tax merit the loss of life that we will no doubt suffer here?” the old soldier said.

“We’ve been on the losing end of too many of these scrapes, I fear, Sir. Would one more make that much of a difference in our already tarnished legacies?” Greene said, still the doleful devil’s advocate.

The blue-clad General weighed the odds and what capitulation would mean to his men, as well as himself as the proprietor the largest distillery in all the states. Better to give up some profit in whisky tax to that traitorous Hamilton then to lose all in a bloodbath here in western Pennsylvania.

Memory of his first defeat came back to him. His surrender to French and Indian forces out here in western Pennsylvania nagged at him his whole adult life. The retreats during the war for independence were one thing, but surrendering to a smug opposing leader was another.

The old General turned to Greene and his other lieutenants and said, “I think this has gone far enough. Bring me a white flag and tell the over-mountain men to return quickly to their farmsteads. I’ll take care of this. It’s men like me they really want their pound of flesh from. Besides, the revenue agents have to find our Kentuckians before they can collect from them. I’d say they stand a better chance of being killed by Shawnee, Chickamauga and Mingo than getting a patch of skin off our westerners.”

“You’re surrendering, General?” Greene asked, a look of disbelief and disappointment crossing his face.

“In a way. I’m surrendering so our neighbors won’t have to. I know His Excellency for what he is, courageous but foolhardy, hot-blooded and given to polishing his medals. I believe I shall bring along a piece of white cloth with which to help him,” the old General said.

Greene smiled and nodded.

“Yes, sir. I believe in a way you shall defeat him here without firing a shot.”

The General, Greene and some of his whisky-making colleagues from Virginia rode slowly out into the would-be field of combat under their white flag. Almost without hesitation, His Excellency spurred his black toward them, waving his lieutenants to follow him, as always, at the gallop.

Reining up, he smiled his smug smile as his men slowed to a trot behind him.

“Good day to you, Your Excellency,” the old General said, his jaw clenched, but in pain, not embarrassment.

“And to you, General. You look well, sir. I see the infirmities of rustic camp life have not diminished your old vigour,” His Excellency said. He stared intently into the old General’s eyes, judging what he deemed jealousy simmering in their rheumy condition.

“General, violence will not solve this dispute. It is the law of the nation, established by your very own erstwhile adjutant. You and your ‘army’ stand no chance against the assembled arms you see behind me. In fact, I see scores of your rebels already melting back into the countryside from which they came,” he said.

The old Genral turned in his saddle and hid a painful grin.

“I must agree with you, Your Excellency. Such a battle would leave this field littered with our dead. And while it would be a tragedy for independent men who turn the bounty of their crops into a public necessity, such bloodshed would leave your government bereft of individuals from whom to bleed your tax, something you and I fought a war to free our people from,” the General said.

“So, General, will you retire from the field and send your people back to their loving families and bountiful farmsteads?” His Excellency said.

“Aye, sir. You have bested me once again with a reputation built upon the bones of your enemies. You may send your tax collectors where you may to bleed us dry so the nation may drink to your honour,” the General said, and wheeled his white horse without another word.

“And to yours, good sir, and to your continued good health,” His Excellency replied.

As His Excellency returned to his cheering army, he couldn’t help but feel the swell of pride in his latest victory. This one not as a mere soldier anymore. No, this one, over the man Congress had once picked for leadership of colonial forces. This victory now as President of the United States.

With the huzzahs of his men ringing in his ears, President Benedict Arnold never heard the laughter of his opponent and his party at the pomposity and puffed up gullibility the Old Man had just leveraged to save his men from bloody defeat or capture.

Congress never appreciated these skills, he recalled; but that was politics, something he never wanted to play back in 1777 or now. The old fox was happy to return home to his farm and distillery on the Potomac and live out his remaining days as gentleman farmer George Washington.

Trying to catch up with my Story a Day challenge. I’m sure I win’s beat the calendar this time, but I’ll still try to get as many written as possible. Today’s story was supposed to be a third-person version——a changed point of view——from my first-person story in Week One, Another Victory for His Excellency. Had a little trouble figuring out how I’d accomplish it, but it came to me this afternoon. Two hours later, here’s your (a touch too long for flash fiction) first draft of how old General George, in his own way, outfoxed President Benedict.

Taps

US flags at graves at Veterans cemetery

US flags at graves at Veterans cemetery

My brother Eddie and I stared at the backs of the solemn folks in ill-fitting dark suits and veterans’  VFW garrison caps surrounding our father’s old drinking buddy’s casket. Eddie whispered, “I gotta take a leak.”

Typical Eddie.  Total mammal.  If he was outdoors, country road or golf fairway, he just couldn’t help stepping into the brush and watering the flora.

The reverend droned on about a better place and dust.  I couldn’t imagine anywhere better than this military cemetery, welcomed by its perfect white smiles of tombstones.

As gunshot salutes faded, Eddie reappeared, grinning like a fool.

“Where you been?” I said.

“Behind those bushes over there.”

“You were serious.”

“Heck, yeah, I was serious.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

“What’s so funny?”

“Ten years ago I had an argument with this guy at work. When they pulled us apart, I told him if I ever got the chance, I’d piss on his grave. Well, while I was over there, guess what I found?”

“You didn’t.”

“Uh-huh, I did.” He laughed through his crooked smile.

“And you think this is some kind of joke, right?”
“On him, yeah.”

“What if someone did something like that to your grave?”

“I wouldn’t know about it.”

“What if Ma decided to come visit your grave one Sunday and found some guy relieving himself on your head?”

“Never happen.”

“Could. How would you like it if visited Grandma’s grave and found some drunk kid off-loading Milwaukee’s Best on her headstone?”

“I’d kill him,” Eddie said.

“What if someone saw you?” I said.

“Look, I always look around to see if I can take a leak without being seen. I really didn’t piss on his grave. Just nearby. No harm, no foul, okay?” he said.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” we heard behind us. We turned to find a tall, black Marine in dress blues staring hard at us.

“Saw what you did, man,” he said to Eddie. “That’s just wrong and you gotta come correct. Or I’m gonna correct you.”

“I don’t know what you’re taking about,” Eddie said, choking on a dry gulp.

“It’s bad enough you dishonor the brave man who’s being buried here today, but then you go and dishonor another one.”

“My brother is very sorry for his abhorrent behavior.  Aren’t you?”

“Look, corporal, I’ve got a bladder problem and sometimes I just have to go…fast.  This was one of those times,” Eddie said.

“I heard you laugh and say you thought what you did was funny.  You know what I think is funny? When a tough guy gets called out and turns out he’s nothing but a bunch of air.  You a tough guy? Or something else?”

Eddie reached for the car door.

His hand was consumed by a large brown hand that seemed the size of a baseball mitt, only not as soft.

“Ow, leggo,” Eddie said, “that hurts.”

“You know what really hurts? That guys like you can be assholes in this country because of guys like me and the men you disrespected today.”

Eddie tugged, but the Marine just squeezed harder.

“Oh, God,” Eddie sobbed, dropping to his knees.

The sound of breaking china came from where their hands met in what seemed a sign of peace. Tears appeared in Eddie’s eyes.

“That’s the kind of behavior I expect in honoring the dead,” the Marine said. “I think you’ve come to accept disciplined, honorable behavior. Please stop by and honor these brave folks again, sir. Semper Fi.”

He released Edie’s hand, about-faced, and melted into the bushes where this all began.

Eddie tells everyone he broke his hand catching it in the car door. The tool.

A place-keeper story today for my ruptured duck of a Story a Day quest for September. Couldn’t get to the prompted one, but had this in the old sack. Poor story from a stumbling, sleep-starved September writer.