Pepe

Here’s a short story I wrote that just won first place in the Annual Texas Short Story contest. It will be published soon with a dozen other award-winning stories as an anthology (currently in pre-sales).   https://books.txauthors.com/product-p/tass4.htm.

Pepe

By

Rich Allan

I don’t know how much time I have left. Doctors say they can’t stop it and my skin is already stretched to the bursting point. I resemble a hydroponic tomato overfilled with enough water to reach giant pumpkin status. Last time they weighed me, the truck scale read 1200 pounds.

The bomb squad used a crane when they placed me in the middle of our town’s little league baseball field and taped off an area large enough to keep people at a safe distance. Squinting my eyes, I can make out my crying mother surrounded by the curious and several fellow students from Monahans Senior High School. The number of people who have shown up is impressive; a bigger turnout than the Jaycee’s July 4th fireworks celebration. Maybe I should hold a flare in each hand to make my impending demise more entertaining?

I know I am to blame for my current situation, but I just couldn’t stand it any longer. The kids at my school picked on me constantly. Teasing me online, as well as to my face, with comments like, “Hey runt, stand up when you speak to me,” or “When did they start letting second graders attend high school.” With my tiny frame, bullies had no problem stuffing me into wall lockers or tossing me through the basketball hoop in the gym. I grew tired of always being the last one picked for sports and having girls laugh out loud when I asked for a date.

Jimmy, the bomb squad leader, who helped bring me to my final resting spot, assuming there won’t be enough of me left to scrape up and bury, shouted out, “Tom, how much longer? I’m due at my bowling league in twenty minutes.”

My stomach gurgled and my circumference increased four more inches. A button popped off my tent-sized shirt, flew toward the crowd, and almost put out a spectator’s eye.

I assured him. “Any minute now, Jimmy.”

But, before I leave this life…let me tell you how I got into this predicament. Just outside of my Texas town is the Monahans Sandhills State Park, featuring nearly 4,000 acres of sand dunes. When I am feeling particularly depressed, I go there with my one friend, Harry, to “surf” the dunes. Some students use a real board, but being poor, Harry and I share a cut-up cardboard box we swiped from behind the grocery store.

The dunes average seventy feet high so it takes a while to wade through the deep sand to the top, but coming down only lasts a few minutes. Sliding is a lot of fun…unless you go on a windy day when the fine sand blows hard, stinging your face and body.

Anyway, we had made several runs and were getting tired, when I slipped off my cardboard sled, and plowed into the sand, banging my knee into something hard. Lamenting my injury, I figured finding the only rock in all this sand was exactly the kind of luck one should expect when residing at the bottom of the food chain. But as I sat there, the sun reflected off something metal, revealing the object that had caused my pain. I used my hands to dig out an ancient-looking brass teapot, similar to the kind vendors sell to tourists at the roadside stands near the Tex-Mex border.

Harry joined me to see why I was still sitting in the middle of the dune. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Look what I found.” I held up the teapot.

“What a piece of junk. The lid is rusted shut and the whole thing is tarnished. Throw it away and let’s do another run.”

“We might be able to get a few bucks for it. Let’s see if I can shine it up a bit.”

I used a corner of my t-shirt and began polishing the sides of the teapot. It started shaking as if it was alive, while smoke poured out of the spout, billowing upward like a miniature tornado. Next came a flash of lightning, accompanied by the rotten egg smell of sulfur, and then poof, out of nowhere, right in front of Harry and me, appeared a swarthy-looking man of Mexican descent, sporting a chipped tooth, a three-day growth, and wearing baggy pants topped off with a traditional red serape. “Gracias, Tom, for setting me free.”

Harry and I stared at the apparition in front of us as he pulled off his boots and poured out the sand.

“I hate sand. Two hundred years crammed into that teapot; it gets in your hair, your ears, up your el trasero, and worst of all between your toes…very difficult to scratch.”

I managed to stammer. “Who the hell are you and where did you come from?”

“From the teapot, mi amigo…and you can call me Pepe.”

I turned to Harry to confirm what I was seeing and hearing, but Harry had passed out on his back and had a dung beetle crawling across his face.

Pepe brushed the sand off his clothes. “Let’s get down to business. What are your three wishes?”

“Excuse me?”

“Didn’t your mother ever read the classics to you? Here’s how it works…you rub the magic lamp, the genie appears, and you get three wishes.”

“This is a teapot and you don’t look like a genie.”

“You want the wishes or not? I can always give them to Harry when he wakes up, although technically he wasn’t the one who rubbed the teapot.”

“Hang on.”

My imagination kicked into overdrive. Three wishes! I pictured all the usual dreams…big house, fancy car, hot girlfriend, millions of dollars, rock god…but then I thought about my miserable school life.

“For my first wish, I want to be big.”

“You mean famous like a movie star, captain of industry, or president?”

“No, physically big. I’m tired of being the smallest kid in high school.”

Pepe lit up like a migrant worker on a Saturday night; producing a multi-page contract and a pen from thin air. “Just sign your name at the bottom of page five.”

“What’s this?”

“A standard genie agreement that defines rights, warrants, representations, indemnifications, fornications, and so forth. Don’t worry about it, just sign.”

I didn’t hesitate. Harry, who had regained consciousness, watched me write my name with a flourish. As soon as I did, Pepe, the contract, and the teapot disappeared in another puff of lightning and smoke. We looked at where Pepe had stood, and then back to each other.

Harry said, “What about your other two wishes?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s coming back.”

Harry looked around. “If he was ever here at all.”

As we walked back into town, we decided not to discuss what had happened, since we had no proof and knew our story would only result in more teasing. We wrote off our strange encounter as a result of too much sun and bad cafeteria food.

I went to bed early that night…right after supper. I tossed and turned, dreaming of a crazy Latino in baggy pants, with a chipped tooth, offering me three wishes and a large plate of rice and beans.

When I woke the next morning, I felt the same. Did I get my wish or not? I jumped out of bed and raced over to my height measurement chart.  I had been marking my growth progress on my wall ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Standing as tall as possible, I drew another line, looked at the new mark and hung my head in disappointment…sixteen years old and I remained only four-foot-ten inches tall.

I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Nothing prepared me for the person who stared back at me in the mirror…a teenager in jockey shorts looking like an elf-sized Santa Claus without a beard. I had grown all right…only out instead of up.

As I watched in amazement, my outline split, flesh blurred, shimmered like a spirit and shook like Jello in an earthquake. The two vibrating versions of me went in and out of focus, until they came rushing back together, like two randy cells under a microscope, merging to create an entity twice as big.

This pattern repeated itself several times during the next two weeks and despite hardly eating any food, boot camp style exercises, visits to the doctor, and trying all the fad diets…grapefruit, low-carbs, jellybeans…I kept gaining weight. Sometimes the shifts were violent, like David Banner turning into the Hulk, splitting out my clothes, and leaving me naked…one time much to the amusement of my coed gym class.

Freak got added to the name calling, along with balloon boy, hippo, tons-of-fun, and so forth. When I outgrew my Dad’s clothes, my parents began buying stuff from the big and tall shop. After I outgrew those, Mother would make my outfits from scratch, buying material in large rolls, because I could change up to two sizes in a single day. Mom practically lived at the sewing machine trying to keep up.

I quit going to school because I couldn’t fit through the front double doors. It got to the point I couldn’t walk, sleep in a bed, or live in our garage. The fire department kindly decided to let me stay in one of their large bays, reclining on a flatbed tractor-trailer covered with several mattresses. I don’t even want to talk about the problems that occurred when I had to go the bathroom, but a fire hose and a dump truck was involved.

Finally, fearing the end was near, they towed me to the baseball field and lowered me gently down… covering the entire infield, including all the bases. Right after arriving, my stomach flip-flopped, my body shimmered, and I expanded another two inches. I could hear the ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd that had gathered to witness my latest transition. I held my breath and closed my eyes because I did not want to see myself pop like a balloon, scattering pieces of me in all directions.

A minute went by, then two. Nothing happened. I cautiously opened one eye and looked around. The onlookers had covered their ears and were slowly backing further away. The TV crews and paparazzi had their cameras raised in anticipation of capturing the precise moment I exploded…damn piranhas. I just wanted it to be over.

“Hola, Tom,” a familiar voice whispered in my ear. A man stood beside me…clean shaven, a perfect sparkling smile, dressed in Armani and looking like a movie star.

My stomach gurgled. “What happened to Pepe?”

He laughed. “Pepe is only one of my characters. You probably know me better as Diablo.”

“I’m in trouble here. Where have you been?”

“Rooting for the bulls in Mexico City.”

“Help me.”

“You don’t want to be big anymore?”

“What do you think?”

“Is that your second wish?”

“For goodness sakes, yes.”

He crossed his arms across his chest, blinked and nodded. “I always wanted to do that…every since I saw an episode of “I Dream of Jeannie.”

The crowd gasped, as I instantaneously shrank from blimp-size to ant-size and disappeared somewhere near the pitcher’s mound. Diablo knelt down. “You okay there, Tom?”

I push aside a dandelion stem and addressed the giant face above me. “You tricked me.”

“One more wish to go. Make it a good one.”

“Just put me back to the way I was when we first met.”

Diablo smiled, snapped his fingers, and I returned to normal, spitting out some grass that I had almost swallowed during the transition. The crowd once again shouted and clapped their approval.

“No more wishes, Tom.”

I sighed. “So, I’m right back where I started.”

“Not exactly. You signed a contract.”

“What does that mean?” I yelled at him as he disappeared in a flash of lightning and a puff of smoke, leaving behind only the smell of sulfur and a trail of wicked laughter.

*   *   *

The unusually short old man came out of the confessional at the same time as the priest.

“That’s quite a story, Tom.”

“I swear it’s true.”

“I worry about you. Are you eating properly? You look so skinny.”

Tom glanced around the church. “No matter what I eat, I can’t gain weight and everything taste like rice & beans.”

“Are you hitting the sauce again?”

Both Tom’s hands were shaking. He grasped the end of a pew to steady himself. “No more than I need. I keep catching glimpses of him…on the street, at the store…and hearing his creepy laugh.”

“Say three Hail Mary’s and two Our Fathers and you will be fine.”

“Will that give me absolution?”

“You didn’t sign a deal with the devil. You just had a bad dream.”

“For forty years?”

“Go home, Tom, get some rest. And for goodness sakes, eat something.”

Tom, unable to stop the cancer-induced series of hacking coughs, broke out in a sweat as he shuffled out of the church. He hurried down the street, his coat collar turned up against the wind and the cold. Pulling a key from his pocket, he entered the small apartment; ceiling and walls papered in pictures of Jesus and complemented with several large crucifixes. He locked the door behind him, turned the three deadbolts into place and fastened the double chains.

He sat down in his easy chair, turned on a small lamp, and began reading the Bible, as he did every night. Was it a dream? Harry died years ago in a car accident and his Mother insisted she never saw anyone standing near him on the baseball field. The doctors explained his weight “condition” had been caused by a rare gland problem that miraculously cured itself.

Tom put down the Bible and took a swig from the nearby flask. Another round of coughs racked his body, as he used a handkerchief to wipe the blood from his mouth. It wouldn’t be long now, ten days at most, and then he would know for sure…

Copyright Richard Allan Jones 2018

Rich Allan spent 18 years living in Dallas as a member of the DFW Writers Workshop, traveling around the state enjoying the bluebonnets, Cowboys, and BBQ. “Pepe” is a combination of classic children’s stories mixed with equal parts of Rod Sterling and Stephen King.  In addition, Rich is the author of two five-star rated novels, “Drafted,” — the comic adventures of a teenager drafted illegally into the U.S. Army, and an award-winning political thriller, “Identity Check”  – After his mother is murdered, college student Scott and his zany girlfriend Jessie, embark on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and Lily the beagle. http://www.richallan.net/author.html.

 

What’s On My Bookshelf

woman reading harry potter book
Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

I saw this on Naty’s Bookshelf and it looked like fun. Here’s what this tag is all about… looking on your bookshelf and choosing a book which fits each category.

Rules:

  • Link back to Naty’s blog site so she can see everyone’s answers
  • Link back to the person who tagged you
  • Name one book for each category; try not to repeat books
  • Tag at least 5 people

A library book

Ashamed to say I haven’t been to a library in years. I got lazy and either get free Kindle copies or buy them online. I did borrow a paperback copy of “The Stand” by Stephen King, the unabridged version, 1150 pages. Does that count?

A book you got as a gift

Been awhile since anyone gave me an actual book as a gift. Author friends will send me e-copies to read so I can write a review, but that’s more of a trade since they do the same for my books. Last “gift” book I can remember is “Great Political Wit,” signed by the author, Bob Dole.

A childhood book

That’s easy. My first “adult” book I got from the library & read when I was about 8 or 9, was “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain.

A magical book

The Harry Potter series would be the obvious answer, but I first read the “Lord of the Rings” series in the early 70’s, including “The Hobbit” and even attempted to get through “The Silmarillion” all authored by J.R.R. Tolkien.

A romantic book

I don’t do “romantic” books or what some people call mommy porn. I do like romantic comedies in the movies, some of which might have been a book at one point, like “It Happened One Night,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “An Affair to Remember,” and “When Harry Met Sally,” all of which I own on DVD.

A steamy book

“Tom Jones” the story of a foundling by Henry Fielding. This was also a fun movie starring Albert Finney. Rent it and check out the eating scene–erotic and gross at the same time!

An old book

I love the classics and have several on my shelf, some first editions: “Tarzan the Terrible” by Edgar Rice Burrows, “Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemmingway (I have his autograph!), “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, and “The Count of Monte Christo” by Alexander Dumas.

A book that makes you laugh

“When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops” by George Carlin is a killer.

A book that makes you emotional

Any book that costs over $10 makes me cry unless it’s one of mine on a 60/40 split.

A book whose ending you dislike

I’ve tried to read quite a few of the free monthly books that you get with Amazon Prime, and several I couldn’t even get to the end to see if I disliked it, because I already disliked the beginning and the middle. I’ll list no names because it’s not that easy to write a good book that everybody loves.

A book you wish had illustrations

“The Complete Kama Sutra” by Alain Danielou.

A book or genre you love reading when it’s raining

Well…since it never rains in southern California so I wouldn’t get to read any books very often, so I’ll just share my favorite genres…Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, and Thrillers…really anything with a lot of action, good characters, and intriguing storyline.

I tag…

https://littleblindbookfinds.wordpress.com/2018/07/28/whats-on-my-bookshelf-tag/

https://notsomoderngirl.wordpress.com

https://mariesbookboutique.wordpress.com

@jordanpeterswrites

thebrunettebookwormblog

 

 

Writing a Novel

quill (2)You have to be crazy to write a novel…and I’ve done it twice, so I should know. So why did I decide to start a new series of mystery books after fifteen frustrating years with the first two — writing, proofing, re-writing, proofing, looking for an agent/publisher, proofing, giving up on finding an agent/publisher, and agonizing over the need for never ending promotion? (Assuming you want somebody to read what you wrote).

The flip answer might be I write because I’m lousy at tap dancing, but the real answer is I like to tell stories.

I’ve been making up scenes and characters for as long as I remember, as well as reading books since I got my first library card at eight years old. I like to make people laugh too, so no matter how serious the story, you will find a lot of humor sprinkled into the action.

Example from Identity Check:  “Okay,” she said, “It’s your turn. Strip for me.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Don’t tell me you’re shy. I could put on some music and whistle loudly.”

“To be fair, I never got to see your act,” he said, throwing the clothes in his arms onto a nearby chair, “just the remnants.”

“All right, I’ll let you look, but only a peek. Normal men have been known to lose their sight at such a vision.”

“Have you been flashing down at the blind school again? That’s just mean-spirited.”

“For that cruel comment, you’ve forfeited your shot at a piece of heaven.”

“Okay, I’m taking off my clothes, but, I don’t want to hear any crude remarks from you.”

“Me? Never. Whoa–somebody let the stallion out of the barn.”

“That’s it. I’m turning off the lights.”

My new fictional YA series features a private investigator, nicknamed “Tracker,” that uses his Native American skills to solve mysteries (aided by his teenage nephew). I’m about 25,000 words into the first book about a murder that happens in Crater Lake National Park…and the suspected killer is Sasquatch!

People ask me, “How do you get your story ideas?” My first novel, “Drafted,” drew heavily on my personal experience of being drafted into the US Army during Vietnam…an adventure filled with terror and humor.

I can’t wait to see how it all gets resolved. I don’t do an outline when I write, although I have a vague idea of the direction the story is headed. My technique is to create characters, put them into a situation, and see how they handle it. I’m also big on action and stingy on description. I hate writers that spend three pages describing the wallpaper (unless it is smeared with blood).

Well, back to the computer…another 75,000 words to go…maybe I’ll write a few pages describing the wallpaper.

Novel – DRAFTED – Chapter 37

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Our six-man squad was issued a map, compass, flashlight, and a canteen of water then dropped off in the middle of nowhere. We had to travel ten klicks, undetected, through woods, swamp, and river, all crawling with the enemy. If caught, we’d be sent to a P.O.W. camp, where we would be questioned and tortured. The torture part, I hoped, was added to scare us, but we couldn’t be too sure since our Vietnamese buddies helped construct an authentic NVA prison and would be undergoing all the questioning.

We huddled in the dark around the map, I had laid out flat on the ground. I risked turning on the flashlight so we could plot our course. The woods were too wide to go around, but we might be able to skirt the swamp. Crossing the single bridge over the river at the finish line was where we stood the greatest chance of getting nabbed–if we managed to make it that far.

I checked the compass, turned off the flashlight, folded the map, and stuffed it inside my shirt. Without the moon, we strained to see as we moved single file through the forest with Sam on point. We tried to be quiet, but a twig cracked or leaves rustled, with practically every step. The night air smelled musty and mysterious.

I whispered up the line. “Keep alert for anything that moves.”

Every shadow contained a potential ambush. We strained to hear anything that might give us a few seconds warning. Forty meters to our right, bright lights mounted in the trees came on, turning night into day. Simultaneously, lots of shouting and AK-47s being fired broke out all around us. We froze–then dropped to the ground, hoping we hadn’t been seen.

Several of the training cadre dressed as Viet Cong had their weapons pointed at two other six-man squads. They yelled, “Put your hands behind your head and drop to the ground.” When one of our guys moved too slowly, he got hit with the butt of a rifle in the middle of his back. The man cried out in pain. Shit, I thought, these guys aren’t messing around.

The trainers put a thick stick through each prisoner’s arms, tied their hands with rope and threw them in the back of a truck. Two of the armed VC jumped in as guards. As soon as the truck drove out of sight, the remaining Viet Cong cadre turned off the bright lights and once again plunged us into darkness.

We remained perfectly still until I figured it was safe, luckily missing the first capture point. I low crawled over to Sam. “Let’s go.”

Twenty minutes later, I halted the team to check the map again. “It looks like they are herding us into established ambushes that have been set up along the easiest route to safety. That’s why those guys following the road got nailed back there.”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “They hit that guy hard.”

I replied, “Exactly. So, unless we want the same treatment, we need to go where they least expect it …which means through the swamp and swimming the river.”

Sam looked at me askance. “You want to go through a swamp at night with no lights?”

“You want to be caught?” Nobody did.

I led the team away from the path that circled the swamp to the west. Just as we reached the edge of the large quagmire, more bright lights, shooting and shouting happened right where we would have been, had we not changed direction. “Good call, Eli,” said Sam.

Looking at the creepy morass ahead of us, I didn’t exactly relish going into the goop, but couldn’t think of a safe alternative. “Anybody know if there are alligators in this part of Georgia?”

One team member said, “Oh yeah, and lots of poisonous snakes too.”

I shook my head. “There has to be a better way. Spread out and find another trail.”

Sam returned in a few minutes. “Come over here. I think I found something.” He pushed aside a pile of sticks and brush covering a flat bottom skiff, complete with oars. When a teammate started to climb in, I grabbed him by the arm. “Wait. Check for booby traps.”

We found and disconnected two trip wires attached to the boat oars. One wire had been hooked to a power switch and a series of four lights mounted in a nearby cypress tree. The second wire disappeared into the dirt. We carefully dug up a buried satchel charge and took it along in case we needed it later.

The swamp, thick with vegetation, contained a myriad of twists, turns, and dead ends. Animal cries in the dark didn’t sound very friendly and the many swirls in the water next to the boat likely hid unwanted slimy creatures making their way through the water just below the plant life on the surface. We would never have made it through on foot. Finally, after a lot of rowing, and use of our faithful compass, the cypress trees started to thin. Up ahead I could make out the bridge from the several bright lights mounted on the structure. A dirt road lay between the edge of the swamp and a six-foot high levee that ran parallel to the river. Three enemy soldiers were posted on the bridge making it impossible to cross from the swamp to the river without being spotted.

We sat in the safety of the swamp shadows and pondered our fate. “What are we going to do Eli?” asked Sam. The others looked my way as well. “I don’t know. Anybody have any ideas, besides suicide or surrender? We could try a diversion, but that means one of us would have to be sacrificed.”

The image of the gun-butted officer candidate remained fresh in my mind. If capture got that rough, what would prison camp be like? Nobody spoke for several minutes. I sighed. “You talked me into it. Give me the explosives and a ten-minute head start. When you hear a big bang, pick up the boat, scale the levee, and into the river as fast as you can, then row like hell.”

“Are you sure, Eli?” asked Sam.

“No, but before I chicken out…hand me the satchel charge. Wait for my signal before you scale the levee.”

I worked my way along the dark edge of the swamp. My plan was to blow the explosive, distract the lookouts, give my team a chance to escape, and by some miracle run across the bridge to safety. It could work.

The soldiers never took their eyes off the path or the road. So, I grabbed a good-sized rock and gave it a heave into some heavy brush near the swamp path. The distraction gave me enough time to scurry unseen across the road and under the bridge. I held my breath.

No reaction, so I hooked up the satchel charge wires to a detonator, stood as far away as I could and pushed down the plunger–BOOM! A soldier yelled and there was the clatter of boots running overhead. I wondered which side the enemy would pick to come after me. When the first soldier rounded the bridge support to the west, I ran the opposite way. When I got to the top, one of the soldiers had remained. But, he was leaning over the rail, looking at the action below and didn’t hear me coming. I shoved him off the bridge, waiting until he safely splashed into the river below and then started running toward the far side at top speed. It looked like I was going to make it when three new soldiers appeared on the bridge in front of me. The trainers I had eluded previously had already recovered and were now standing behind me. I was trapped.

I braced myself for a beating, as the tallest enemy soldier walked up to me. “Are you the one who set off the explosion?” I cautiously lowered my arms protecting my head and nodded. “That was really cool, man. You scared the shit out of those guys. They must have jumped a foot. Where’s the rest of your squad?”

“Safe and sound, I hope. They were crossing the river while you were chasing me.”

“No shit! You guys found the boat and disarmed the trip wires? So, that’s where you got the explosives. You’re the first squad to ever make it this far.”

“You mean nobody wins?”

“The course is designed to catch the candidates and send them to the prison camp. And I’m afraid that’s where I have to take your squad, even if you did successfully complete the assignment. But, I’m going to make sure you receive top marks, maybe even a weekend pass.”

They escorted me to a waiting truck. I climbed in the back with the training staff. They told me the other five candidate squads had already been caught, so they were shutting things down on the course. They found my squad hiding in the bushes a hundred yards from the bridge. “Did we make it?” Sam asked hopefully.

I answered. “The good news is we made it further than any other candidate team and might earn a weekend pass.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“We are still going to be tortured.”

#

We rode in silence for twenty minutes over bumpy roads, until we reached the compound, a twenty-foot, wooden stockade wall with sharpened points, intertwined with barbed wire. The place was ablaze with lights with mounted guns in each corner guard tower. The tall VC soldier warned us before got out of the truck. “We all have to play our part here, so just along with it, okay?”

Our captor banged on the gate. “Open up, we’ve got more prisoners.” As soon as we were inside, more training cadre guards in VC costumes started shoving us around, while cursing, “Swine Americans,” and “dirty imperialists.”

The Vietnamese officer candidates added a certain realism to the exercise, but our buddies at the moment did not look too friendly. Le Huu Duc, a quiet, introspective candidate, now wearing an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) uniform, turned loud and mean. “Why are these prisoners not bound?” He demanded.

The capturing officer explained. “They were the last ones caught, sir, and we did not want to delay longer than necessary getting them to you for questioning.” Officer Duc, seemed to accept this answer. “Put them in the holding pen.”

We were shoved into a fenced area with several other candidates, including my buddy, Steve, who apparently had been assigned to pick blades of grass while on his hands and knees. “Steve,” I called out and promptly received a rifle butt from one of the guards. “No talking.” I restrained from taking a swing at the guy.

Facing away from the guards, I whispered, “Why in the hell are you picking grass?” Steve, without looking up, answered, “It’s part of the punishment. Whatever you do don’t tell them anything when they interrogate you.” I leaned down. “Thanks for the tip.” The same nasty VC threatened me again with his rifle butt. “Get away from the other prisoner, he is being punished.” I backed off.

Sam covered his mouth as if coughing. “Can you believe this shit?”

Before long a new guard approached. “Follow me.” As we walked, I noted the compound was divided into four main areas of activity with screams coming from everywhere except the holding pen. Armed guards roamed everywhere. Escape looked impossible.

We reached the command tent located in the center of the prison. The guard shoved me inside. With only a small lamp as a light source, it took a second for my eyes to adjust. Commander Le Huu Duc sat behind a table appearing very authentic dressed in an NVA cream-colored officer’s uniform, complete with medals pinned over the right breast pocket and gold braids on both shoulders. Guard on both sides, each held a rifle and stared straight ahead.

My cadre companion pushed down on my shoulder and told me to kneel in front of the supreme commander. When I resisted, he hit me with his rifle behind the knees, catching me off guard, and down I went. “Watch it, asshole.” For my remark, he slapped the back of my head hard enough to knock me on my face.

Duc said, “Enough! We’re not barbarians. Answer questions, then we give you a hot meal and sleep.” I realized how late it had become and how tired I felt, so what Le Huu proposed sounded tempting. “We know you are a spy and we can shoot you anytime. Understood?”

I was in no mood to dick around. “Whatever, pal.”

“What is your unit and where are you based?”

“Mickey Mouse and Disneyland…in that order.”

“How many men are in your company and types of weapons?”

“Well, me, Goofy, Donald, and Minnie, oh wait, she’s a girl…you only wanted men. Weapons-wise, I think Goofy has a slingshot, but I’m not sure.”

“Think you funny, spy? Maybe need convincing?”

“Hit me with your best shot, doorman, and then call me a cab, so I can get the hell out of this place.” I got rewarded with another smack to the back of the head.

Commander Duc, red in the face, leaped to his feet and shouted. “Take this filthy pig to the triangle!” The “triangle” didn’t sound too bad; maybe they wanted me in their orchestra?

The cadre guard grabbed my collar and dragged me backward to an odd device consisting of two poles, a rope between them, as well as a triangular metal bar connected to a handle, so it could be rotated. I was ordered to roll up my pant legs and kneel on the bar while holding onto the overhead rope. But the rope had been mounted so high that you had to practically do a chin-up if you didn’t want your body weight resting on the bar. Starting on the flat side, the guard rotated the instrument to a point right against my shins where the bone is closest to the skin’s surface. I held my weight as long as I could, while the guard spit on me, threw dirt in my face and said nasty things about my mother.

Finally, with my arms aching, I had to relax. Most of my weight now rested on the point of the triangle. What started out as extremely painful got worse when they rotated the handle. The triangular bar alternated between point and flat working its way down my shin from the knee to the ankle. My eyes were tearing, but I refused to cry out. When he reached the ankle, the guard began rolling the triangle back toward the knee. I tried to pull myself up again, but no strength remained in my arms. After the guard reversed his direction for the third time, I’d had it and told him so. He helped me down. Both my legs were bleeding. I hobbled into the command tent and faced Commander Duc. He gave me a creepy smile. “You ready to cooperate?”

“I’ve always thought of myself as cooperative.” I wanted to keep him talking to allow the pain in my shins to subside.

“Good. Now, name of unit, how many men and where is located? No one will think less of you for giving me such unimportant information.”

“No problem, doc. My unit is Loony Toons, with Elmer Fudd, Tasmanian Devil, Roadrunner, Wiley E. Coyote, and a few others. We all hang out at Warner Brothers in L.A.”

“What is this nonsense? Think you can mess with me? Guards, take him to apache pole and then the pit.”

“Couldn’t I just go pick grass? I’ll make you a nice green salad. Remember pal, this is just training.”

Once again they dragged me out after another smack in the head. The guard took a second swing at me, but I ducked and laughed, and then paid for my insolence with a rifle butt to the ribs. I was becoming really pissed off.

He ordered me to hug the Apache pole “backward,” while lashing my wrists and ankles with braided ropes until I resembled a human sail. I don’t normally bend that way, which strained my sore muscles even further. The guard smiled as he walked behind me and suddenly shoved down on my shoulders. I let out an involuntary cry and swore my back crack.

“Now do you have something to say?”

I bit down on my lip. “Yeah, check if my cab is here yet. I’m ready to leave.” He punched me in the gut. “You wouldn’t try that if my hands were untied.”

“Oh yeah,” said the big guy, freeing me. I struggled to my feet. He got right in my face, “So, what are you going to do about it, punk?”

This “training” exercise had gone too far and I didn’t want to play anymore. I brought my knee up into the man’s groin. When he doubled over in pain, I grabbed his hair and slammed his head into my other upcoming knee, hearing the satisfying crunch of his nose breaking. As he bounced off my knee, I doubled both fists and with all my remaining strength hit him with a huge uppercut. He landed with a thud on his back in the dirt–out cold. I ran toward the gate and had it half opened when four more guards grabbed me and dragged back inside.

They carried me kicking and cursing to the pit, which turned out to be full-length wall locker buried three feet in the ground. They threw me in unceremoniously on my back, which still smarted from the apache pole. I cried out in pain, but they slammed the metal door shut and locked it with a loud click.

My narrow container didn’t allow me to turn over, even if I wanted to. The only light came from three slits in the door near my face. Squinting through the opening, I could just make out the angry guards standing around the hole, staring down at me. Commander Duc gave an order in Vietnamese. Had I done something to offend him back at 62nd Company?

Next I heard a scraping sound, and then a soft thud on the locker door. The sound repeated itself, followed by another. Dirt trickled through the slits and landed on my face. I’m not normally claustrophobic but started to sweat. I yelled. “Hey guys, we’re on the same team here.”

Before long total darkness enveloped me and I found it difficult to breathe. Pressed up against the cold, hard metal, my back started to throb. My last conscious thought before passing out, “I’ve been buried alive.”

****

Want to read more? #amazon reviews welcome

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Identity Check – Excerpt

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s a scene with Scott and Jessie trying to find his true father…

Jessie parked the BMW in front of 4417 Westbrook Road. Scott stared up at the two-story, shotgun-style home that shared a covered porch with its paint-peeling twin next door. A few feet of calf-high grass separated the duplex from the other deteriorating homes on the block. A single FHA tree provided shade for the uneven broken sidewalk, and a brightly painted ceramic gnome family occupied a corner of the tiny front lawn.

“Are you going to sit there all day, or go knock on the door?” Jessie asked.

“Look at the time. We should come back tomorrow.”

“My watch says five o’clock.”

“They might be eating supper.”

“Or be in the living room half-naked, playing strip dominoes,” she said.

He shrugged. “Possible.”

Jessie got out of the car, grabbed Scott by the hand, and dragged him up the three steps leading to the porch. “Close your fingers into a fist, and bang it against the screen door frame–exactly three times.”

“What am I going to say–hi, I’m the bastard grandson you never met?”

“For an ice breaker I’d suggest, hello, I’m Scott Harold, Jr.”

“No wonder mom always liked you best.” He took a deep breath and rapped loudly on the door. No response. “Nobody’s home, let’s go.”

Scott turned to leave, but Jessie rotated him back. “Knock louder. I hear a TV.”

A few seconds later, the inside door swung open. A pleasant-looking elderly man, wearing leather slippers, smiled at them from behind a torn screen door. He wore a white t-shirt tucked into dress slacks held up by suspenders. The Cincinnati Enquirer sports section rested in his right hand. “May I help you?” he said, looking over his reading glasses.

Scott stood there with his mouth open, but no words came out. Jessie came to his rescue.

“We are looking for a Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Harold. Is this where they live?”

The man said. “You got the right address, but they don’t live here anymore. Are you family?”

“Could be,” said Scott.

The man said, “Either you are or you’re not.”

“If we could speak to them, I could give you a better answer.”

The man frowned. “That makes no sense.”

“Can you tell us where they moved?” Jessie interrupted.

“Sure.”

A couple minutes of silence went by. Scott finally asked, “Well?”

“Sorry, it won’t help.”

Scott said, “Why not?”

“Are you two selling insurance?”

“No,” said Jessie, “we need to ask them something very important.”

“I’d like to help, but you still can’t speak to them.”

“Please?” Jessie said.

“They’re dead.”

“Jesus, is everybody dead?” Scott said, throwing his hands up in desperation.

“I’m feeling okay,” the man offered.

“You don’t understand,” said Jessie, “We’re trying to find out if their son is Scott’s father.”

The man said, “Why don’t you ask him?”

“Who?” Jessie asked.

“Arthur’s son.”

“We can’t,” said Scott, “He died in Vietnam.”

The man shook his head. “Not him, the other one, Billy. He’s the one who sold us this house.”

Jessie said, “Scott Sr. had a brother?”

“The Harold family have been friends for years. Billy took it bad when he lost his kid brother.”

Scott said, “Any chance you have Billy’s address?”

The man nodded. “Sure, he lives in the other half of this duplex.”

*********************************************

Check it out on amazon.com. Honest reviews welcomed!

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Menehune Twins – “Day at the Beach”

 

I’ve never done this before, my friends (no, not that), but I need your help/opinion. I have drafted a children’s story to be read by parents to kids age 6 and under as a fun, exotic adventure to amuse the little ankle bitters and maybe share interesting facts and stories about a mix between an ancient Hawaiian legend and a Road Runner cartoon. I would compare this story to the popular children’s book, “But, No Elephants” (although I have been delusional before). I have no one to illustrate the story yet, so fill in with your imagination.

What I need from you is an honest opinion (You are my writers’ feedback group):

  1. Is it an interesting story kids would enjoy hearing?
  2. Does it in any way insult, denigrate, or appear offensive to the Hawaiian people or their culture?

Okay, enough setup here’s the story…

The Menehune Twins

“Day at the Beach”

by Rich Allan

Jake Menehune woke early, leaned over from his top bunk, and yelled at his six-year-old twin sister, Jessie. “Wake up sleepy head. It’s Saturday morning.”

“I’m already awake, goofball,” she said, standing on her bed, pushing up with both hands, launching her brother’s tiny body in a high arc where he bounced off the ceiling, landed on the overhead fan, swung around until he got dizzy, laughing like crazy, shouting “Whee-e-e!” before falling to the floor.

He stood up, shook his head and checked over his body. “Head okay, arms okay, fingers okay, chest okay, legs okay, feet okay, toes okay…” He looked over his shoulder and said, “Uh-Oh, no-o-o-o butt.”

Jessie Menehune giggled as she watched Jake hold his nose, stick his thumb in his mouth, and blow hard enough until his flattened butt popped out to its normal bubble shape.

The twins, shoulder to shoulder, rushed the three-foot round opening to their room, barely squeezing through at the same time. They then raced out to the water-filled Kikiaola ditch in front of their home and in perfect sync, leaped into the air and splashed down in matching cannonballs. Dunking their head and body in the cool water, they rinsed off, climbed out and shook off the excess water like a dog who has just finished a bath.

Mother Kiana called from the kitchen, “Breakfast!”

Arriving at the table, Father Kane sat in front of a stalk of apple bananas. “Dig in, kids!” he said. Jake and Jessie climbed up into their chairs and started stuffing the bananas into their mouths…skin and all! Mother Kiana smiled, sat down and joined in the feast.

Some important information about the Menehune…who are a bit different than you and me. They are little people, only three feet tall when fully grown, living in the Hawaiian Islands, mainly on the island of Kauai. They are busy, happy people, building dams, ditches, fish ponds and stone temples.

Not only are Menehune small and magical, they are good at hiding, living in out of the way places and rarely seen by full-sized folks. They love to dance, sing, cliff-dive and shoot their little bows and arrows. Some say one arrow can change an angry man’s heart to love.

Oh, they are full of mischief, especially with the other islanders, like moving things around when people aren’t looking and trading lava rocks for necessities.

The Menehune wear only a loin cloth, although some of the older folks have flip-flops. On special occasions, the women put on colorful feathered Hawaiian headbands and the men may grow mustaches or beards. They cover up when they sleep with their thick, black, waist-long, curly hair or when the trade winds turn chilly.

Nobody knows how long the Menehune live, but the twins’ grandfather, Kamaka, recently celebrated his 200th birthday. As the Menehune grow older they tend to grow a pot belly, their hair turns gray and is reduced to a strip on the crown of their heads and fringe over each ear.

Now back to our story…

After they finished off all the bananas, Mother Kiana said, “Today, we are going to the beach.”

“Right,” said Father Kane, “…and we are stopping by the fish pond on the way back to gather more food before the winter monsoons.”

“Can we go cliff diving, father?” asked Jake Menehune.

“And swim in the ocean?” said Jessie Menehune.

“Yes,” said Mother Kiana, “but only if the waves aren’t too big or the cliff too high.”

“YAY!!” The twins shouted.

(Remember,  Jake and Jessie are only 18 inches tall, so what seems like a small ocean ripple is a giant wave to them and jumping off a five-foot pile of rocks would be so scary!)

The Kane and Kiana Menehune family live on Kauai with twelve other extended Menehune families deep in the forest near Nawiliwili Harbor and the Alekoko fish pond. Because they are so small, today’s trip to the beach will take them a long time, even though it isn’t that far.

When they reached the shore, Jake and Jessie were tired but excited. The waves appeared mild, so with Mother’s approval, Jessie threw off her loin cloth, ran across the sand, and plunged into the ocean, with brother Jake close behind.

Mother and Father watched as the twins body surfed and paddled about in the blue water inside the protected reef.

When Jake first spotted ‘Opelu Mama or what most Hawaiians call The Great Barracuda, he shouted “Kaku” to his sister. They immediately started swimming as fast as they could toward the shore with the silver submarine-shaped fish with two rows of razor sharp teeth close behind.

“Swim, kids, swim!” yelled Father.

“Snap,” the barracuda bit down. “Snap” the barracuda stuck a second time.

The twins flew out of the surf, big grins on their faces, landing with a thud on the sand. They looked at each other, shook off the sea water, and in unison said, “Let’s do it again!” followed by “Head okay, arms okay, fingers okay, chest okay, legs okay, feet okay, toes okay…” Looking behind, they smiled…”Uh-Oh, no-o-o-o butt.”

Jake and Jessie giggled as they held their nose, put their thumb in their mouth, and blew hard enough until magically their bit off butt resumed its normal shape.

Kane and Kiana Menehune chuckled and Mother said, “Well that’s enough fun at the beach for one day, let’s go to the fish pond.”

Arriving, Father Kane said with some pride, “Legend has it our ancestors overnight built the Alekoko fish pond over 1000 years ago by passing stones hand-by-hand from the village of Makaweli, 25 miles away, and damming up the Hulei’a Stream with a 900-foot long by five-feet high lava rock wall, so the Menehune people would never go hungry.”

Father then pulled a lasso from his pocket and looking deep into the clear water spied a thirty-inch Ono just below the surface. Carefully dropping the loop down, he slipped it over the fish’s head until the strong fiber caught on the top dorsal fin, and then Kane jumped on the back of the Ono and pulled the loop tight.

“Ride ’em, Daddy,” said Jake, as the startled fish took off at full speed. The Kane Menehune family cheered him on as he tightened the loop to keep the Ono from doing a deep dive. The fight between Father and fish went on for so long, the twins got bored and asked if they could do at least one jump while they waited and Mother agreed.

Jake and Jessie climbed the nearby giant pile of rocks and stared down at the pond far below. Father was still racing back and forth across the five-acre pond, but the Ono appeared to be tiring.

“Ready?” Jake asked his sister.

“Ready,” said Jessie.

The twins joined hands and leaped off the rocks aiming for the pond. Unfortunately, they lost their grip with Jake reaching the water, but Jessie falling short, bouncing across the stone rocks until she finally skidded to a halt.

Jake watched as Jessie got up, shook herself off and announced, “Head okay, arms okay, fingers okay, chest okay, legs okay, feet okay, toes okay…but, Uh-Oh, no-o-o-o butt.” She grinned, held her nose, blew hard on her thumb and returned to her normal self.

Meanwhile, Kane Menehune was making one final run across the fish pond aiming for the stone wall, waiting until the very last moment to pull up hard on the lasso, causing the fish to clear the edge and flop onto the bank.

The family joined together to lift the large fish onto a skateboard, a useful tool the Menehune village had acquired for this very purpose from nearby Lihue by trading lava rocks for it (at night and unseen, of course).

Once loaded, the family rolled their Father’s catch all the way back home, safely arriving as the sun set with enough food to last them through the winter.

The twins, Jake and Jessie, exhausted, fell asleep in their daddy’s arms, as Father Kane Menehune carried them to their room and tucked them into bed, the day’s adventure complete.

–The End–

Looking forward to your slings and arrows….Rich Allan