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Friday, December 09, 2005

An Eggnog Tale (Because it's good with a glass of eggnog)

The man, a husband and father in the prime of his life, placed one hand over his mouth and chin and stood perfectly still. His pounding heart drummed in his ears, but the house was silent except for the relentless ticking of the Grandfather clock.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. You-can't. Find-it. You-don't see-it. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Think, Greg, don't blow this!

If he didn't find it soon, he was going to miss it. He would miss everything entirely.

He raced from the kitchen back up to his bedroom taking two steps at a time. He tossed aside the credit card bills and department store receipts that buried the top of his dresser and then dropped to his knees, patting the ground like a suspect. But it was not to be found among the bills.

He threw open the door to his closet and systematically examined and sorted through the pyramid of presents his wife had hidden. But, it wasn't among the presents, either.

He ran to his daughter's bedroom and shook out the reindeer costume strewn across her bed. It was not there. Neither was it to be found in his son's violin case or under the sheets of Christmas music for his son's recital.

He checked his watch and then rubbed his clammy hands together. Not to warm them, but to steady them from shaking. His stomach flipped and then sank to his feet. Time was marching forward faster than he could catch it.

I can't miss this. Not this year. Not again.

Suddenly, a new idea set his feet on fire.

He scrambled out to the garage, his feet sliding across the smooth wood floor as he rounded the corner. In the extra refrigerator were neatly stacked boxes of home made cookies and breads that his wife had made for the church's food pantry. He opened every lid hoping to find it there, but was disappointed. He should have known it wouldn't be in the fridge.

Suddenly, an idea sprang upon him. He snapped his fingers and stabbed the air.

Ahah! That's it! That's where I'll find it!

He ran back into the living room, to the handsomely adorned Christmas tree. That's where they kept the pile of presents that they gave to the needy. They were a generous family, so there were a lot of presents to look through. Certainly, it would be found in there.

But as he made his way to the tree, he tripped and fell. The great, big lug of a man crashed to the floor and smashed his face into the nativity set. Underneath his nose was the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger of straw.

And he beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Finally, his soul stopped searching. He had found it, the meaning of Christmas. It was there with Jesus and in Jesus. And, it had been under his nose the whole time.

A deep sigh of relief escaped from him. Having the meaning of Christmas embedded firmly in his heart, he was ready to move on. He went to the mirror and pulled himself together and then grabbed the keys from the dish in the foyer.

Swinging wide open the heavy front door, he stepped out into the bright sunshine of a glorious winter's day.

Merry Christmas!!!

by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 24, 2005

November Night

Adelaide Crapsey

Listen...
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house in in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely and dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

Remembering Grandma Blue Eyes

Grandma Cathy left us a little more than a year ago. She was Scottish and I'm certain I inherited my love of story from her. I miss her. She walks among giants on God's downs now, casually, as if she had eternity to think it over. I dedicate this poem to her.

My Heart's In The Highlands
Robert Burns

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birthplace of valour, the country of worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands forever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Living Under Segregation

From The Souls Of Black Folk By W.E.B. Du Bois

Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. (p.38)

Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live,-a Negro and a Negro's son. Holding in that little head-ah, bitterly!-the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand-ah, wearily!-to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty a lie. I saw the shadow of the Veil as it passed over my baby, I saw the cold city towering above the blood-red land. I held my face beside his little cheek, showed him the star-children and the twinkling lights as they began to flash, and stilled with an even-song the unvoiced terror of my life. (p. 160)

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Troll, The Flute, and The Forbidden Music - Part 4

continued from part three...

Up in the tower, once her soul returned into her bosom, our lady sat upright in bed fresh as rose with dew on it’s petals.

“Hello, husband.” She greeted him, startled as he was by her recovery. He stared long and hard at her, making her wonder. Does he hate me for my absence? Of course, our farmer did not hate her. He simply could not bring himself to believe.

But when he kissed her lips, and felt the heat of her breath, and the wine of her tongue, he knew it was no dream.

“You have been my wife.” He proclaimed, “But now you are also my gift. For it is no small thing to be able to love you twice in one life.” And then he tenderly led her by the hand and assisted her to the table by the fire.

“Come. Let me fry some fish and cabbage for you and I will tell you of all the happenings you’ve missed these last weeks.”

And so our lady sat at the table and nourished her bones on the dinner her sweet husband set before her, washing it all down with goat’s milk and finishing up with figs rolled in sugar. He told her of every well wisher who’d stopped by and she was shocked at how many people cared about them. And she laughed at the folly of the candle maker’s wife and was scandalized by the relationship between the pastor’s daughter and the black smith’s apprentice. But, mostly she was satisfied. Her husband was holding her close and she delighted in that place.

From that time on, our fair lady was careful to never give her affection or talents to any man other than her husband again. She renewed her commitment to the care of her home with pride and passion. Indeed, she excelled at the art of homemaking. Theirs was a gay abode founded upon understanding. And soon, the rooms were filled with the patter of tiny feet and the cacophony of family. Thus, they lived out their days in peace on the farm her husband’s family had planted for generations.

Even still, she would ever be haunted by the river. A moan escaped it’s depths like a groaning, an inexpressible longing. The villagers noticed and were baffled, but not our lady. It was not because she witnessed the fate of our troll before she flew through the tower window, but because the moan coming off the river was familiar to her. They were her flutist’s melodies, only changed. He now played his love songs in a minor key.

She would pass the night sitting by the open window in all seasons, listening as she did her needlework. And in her soul she would vow, “I have not forgotten, my flutist. I shall never forget.” She was confident he heard her, wherever he was.

“Why do you love that sad sound, so?” Her children would ask her.

“It is not sad to me.” Was her invariable response.

Our fair lady lived to be the oldest person in her village by many years, and happy were most of her days. One morning, as the wilting flower lay prostrate on her bed, as her surviving children kept a death vigil by her side, a thick and oppressive fog rolled off the river enveloping the small, stone house with it’s tower and the surrounding countryside. Never had such a fog been seen in that country before and never has it appeared since. So thick was this fog that villagers reported not being able to see their own hand in front of their face even when touching their nose.

Remarkably, by noon of that same day an unseasonably hot sun seared that cloud-on-earth away. And it seems that with the fog, went our lady. For, when her children went to her bedside to tend to her, they found her gone.

Vanished!

Not a trace she left behind, nor footprint to follow. A woman who was quite simply too weak to lift her head from her pillow before the fog came, had disappeared without a trace by the time it left.

The villagers reported strange sightings and sounds down by the river after her leaving. Once the river only made a low, bass noted groaning when the wind whipped over the water. But after, a high noted whistle could be heard atop the groan. It was almost harmonic, some villagers insisted. And then there was the lady, who seemed oddly bathed in light no matter how dark the night, who many witnessed walking the banks of the river alone. Generation after generation, people would report this lady, always giving the same description, and yet oddly, she never seemed to age.

Vanishing made her legend.

Those who do not know, who cannot understand believe that the ghosts of two lovers haunt the river. But they are wrong. Our lady and our troll do not dwell with the dead but with the eternal.

Love never dies.

Goodnight! Finis! It's Over! The End.

by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Troll, The Flute, and The Forbidden Music - Part 3

Continued from part 2...

And then, one day as autumn approached, the flute made her move. They were back in the mud hut, biding time till night arrived and their liaisons resumed. The troll stood by the hearth stirring brain stew, unsuspecting. Leaping out of the cupboard where the troll kept her, she hurled herself across the room and beat him viciously about his backside.

“What are you doing?” He yelled. “You’re a maniac. You’re unstable, I tell you.” And all the while he skipped and howled due to the ensuing attack. “Stop that.” He pleaded in between cries and curses. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Establishing exactly who’s in charge here.” The flute replied with cool calculation. “Any questions?”

Her point was made convincingly and the troll cowered accordingly.

"What do you want then?” He asked the flute, full of suspicion and dread.

“I must have that bird.” The flute demanded.

“She has an ‘usband, you know.” The troll protested. “He fancies her too, I bet.
We’ll not easily persuade the bird to come with us. We won’t.”

“I don’t care.” The flute had of sudden adopted the sensibilities of a spoiled royal. “She’s mine and I want her here with me, all the time. She became mine once she made harmony with my music and our notes became one, and now I won’t share her.”

“She thinks it’s me making that music, you know.” The troll informed her. He had an ego, like any other. “Besides, I can’t just snatch her. The last time a troll tried that his entire village was butchered and burned to the ground by those angry humans. They get funny about things like ‘at.”

The flute aimed her mouthpiece towards the troll’s lips and, with a zap, turned them into two striking snakes that hissed and sank their fangs into him, biting him all about the face and neck. The troll, wide eyed with panic, pulled and yanked at the snakes in an effort to subdue them, all the while doing harm to his own face as they were as much a part of him as his own lips had once been. And then, in a blink, he was returned to normal, although, breathing heavily and shaking like a leaf.

“I can do worse.” The flute informed. And the matter was more or less settled from that moment on.

That night, when the bird was getting ready to return to her farmer in the stone tower, the troll tried a direct, if lame, approach.

“Come with me.” He said. “ I will take good care of you and then we can make music whenever we please.”

The bird looked at him as if he were daft, laughing lustily at the notion.

“Don’t be silly.” She dismissed him. “Our music belongs to the night, but the day to my husband. And I will never leave him.”

And then she started for the heavens, pointing her beak beyond the tops of the trees and into the – dirt, brown eyes of the troll who was breathing his horrible brain breath all over her. He held her carefully, yet firmly, by her little bird legs. And it became crystal clear to her that in less time than it took to breathe out, she went from being a companion to a prisoner.

“Fast as lightning.” The flute spoke in the bird’s presence for the first time, very pleased with the troll’s skill.

“What have I done?” The bird breathed out, heavily.

The flute barking orders like a general and cackling with delight, the troll trudging diligently behind doing as he was told, the unfamiliar forest rushing past her in a whirl, and the night sky dawning purple and orange; These are the things of which our bird took note before she fainted away in the troll’s hand.

Back at the stone tower, day broke. Our farmer yawned and reached for his wife to greet her with a kiss but found her absent. Bolting upright in bed from the shock of it, he saw her standing strangely still at the window and called to her.

“Fiore! Fiore! The morrow has come and have you been so observant as to meet it at the window?”

But she answered not; She was not.

He grabbed his wife by the shoulders. They were cold, like the waters of the river and while her eyes were open, staring, they were blank and vacant. The magnitude of his wife’s condition came crashing down on the farmer’s head. His life shattered.

“Fiore! Fiore!” He begged, “Return to me, Fiore, bloom once again.” He carried her body in his arms to their bed and covered her with the quilt to warm her. “You are withered and have faded away. Your fragrance is gone but yet your beauty remains. Oh, Fiore, Fiore, may life return to you again.” Throwing himself over her body, the farmer drenched their bed in tears.

It is true that he became undone. But, it is equally true that his pure devotion would eventually undo the spell. For, this maxim is sure and tested and can be relied upon, that in the end, love wins.

Back at the hut, the victory the flute was so certain she’d secured in stealing the bird, quickly turned into defeat. For a mysterious illness descended upon the tribe, affecting the bird worst of all. She lay in the cage the troll had crafted for her in a state of fever-induced delirium and could scarcely lift her head.

Down at the well, where our troll was drawing water for the feverish bird, he heard his troll mates talking.

“I tell you it’s those blasted watermelons.” Said one, “They are bad news, those fruits, full of fever-n-ague. Every time the fever-n-ague comes along, you can bet some worthless troll’s been filling his hairy stomach with that melon.”

“Well, I ate some of those watermelons.” Said another, “And I don’t have the aches. How do you explain that?”

“Maybe, it’s all that bog whiskey you drink killing off everything that would kill you first.” Said the first one.

“I like watermelons.” Said a third.

“Besides, fever-n-ague don’t account for all the trees that are dying and the frogs and lizards that are turning belly up by the bog.” It was an odd, and terrifying fact that if one took time to notice, it was apparent that not only were the trolls in the tribe sickly and some unto death, but that the very earth around where the trolls lived was under some kind of attack from disease. “No, something altogether nefarious is come upon our tribe,” The second troll rightly concluded, “And if there’s not a malefic and powerful spell behind it, I’ll give up whiskey. I will.”

“You’ll give up breathing, before you’ll give up whiskey.” Said the first.

While they continued to bicker, our troll hurried back to his mud hut with his bucket and attempted to drop sips of water into the bird’s mouth with a tiny spoon. But, it was no use. Our bird was fast becoming non responsive. She would be dead soon, as would his whole tribe, and perhaps even the whole forest if he did not return her to whom she belonged.

The troll thought hard about his present predicament and this is the way he saw it. The witch had taken what was not hers because she was greedy and just plain mean. The flute had demanded what was not hers because she was power hungry and full of pride. The troll had taken what was not his first because he was greedy and then because he was afraid. The bird had given away what was not hers to give because she was lonely and miserable. And even our farmer who, back at the tower, attended to his sick wife in an unbroken vigil, praying for her recovery, was not innocent for he did not give what he should have because he was afraid.

Our troll assessed the damage and in a moment of raw bravery, counted the cost and accepted the bill. He set his jaw and determined in his heart that although he was not alone in the sin that caused this disease, he alone would take the consequence, however terrible. Choices, it seems, make or break people. What happens after is for destiny to sort out.

He was to return the bird to her tower that night. But first, he sought out his bed to rest and gain strength for the mission looming large only hours away. When he slept, he dreamt of Viking ships and foreign shores.

Unbeknownst to the troll, the flute was becoming rapidly weak and feckless. Her power was derived from the sound the bird’s song had upon her melodies. But because the farmer’s grief was making the bird ill and unable to sing these many weeks, the magic was quickly dissipating. So, when evening settled upon the tribe and our troll, readying to go, grabbed our flute and stuffed her into one of his shirt pockets, she was helpless to do anything about it.

The troll carried the bird gingerly to the river in the cage meant to constrain her. When he came to the banks, it became quite clear that our bird was too ill to fly away home. He would have to cross the river and brave the crocodiles with their chomping jaws, and fight the currents that licked at his ankles wanting to drag him to a muddy death.

Before he began, he said goodbye to the bird, whom he loved. They might not live to see the other side of the river, after all.

“Forget me not, my song bird.” He said, laying bare his heart. “Or I will go down to my grave in grief.”

Barely conscious, yet somehow aware of the sacrifice her troll was making for her, our bird responded, “I shall keep the music we made in my heart, my flutist, and take it with me into eternity.”

Of course, by “flutist” she meant “love” and that is exactly the way he heard it.

Having settled that matter, the troll was careful to spy out where the crocs where hiding, they looked like logs but different and he knew the difference. Presently, there was a nest of them about a quarter mile upriver, but that was only a matter of minutes away with the way a crocodile can swim. And, then he found a natural bank in the river where the waters didn’t look over his head. This was important because our troll was a poor swimmer and it was vital for him to cross the river quickly, as it was his only chance against those dreadful lizards.

Carrying the cage high over his head, for he knew the bird would not survive the temperatures, he quickly slid down the side of the bank into the icy water of the Red River. The water was intensely cold and felt like fire on his skin and a hammering to his marrow. It sucked all the breath out of him, sucking it like a vacuum and not letting up. His heart felt like it was exploding and he thought he would die. But then he caught his breath and found new focus. He was alive, he was still holding the bird above the water and other side of the river was large in his vision. So he trudged onward.

Trolls are big, lumbering brutes and this was to his advantage. A smaller creature would have succumbed to the river’s death call. For the currents were indeed strong. So much so that our troll had to concentrate and fight to keep his feet on the narrow bank where the water was shallow. Exasperating the struggle was the fact that the bank was built up by many shells and rocks made incredibly smooth from erosion and he found it nigh impossible to find sure footing. One slip and he would be done for.

At one point, still several feet away from the other side, he was splashed in the face with a huge wave of water and was blinded momentarily. It was the tail of a crocodile swooshing the water as it turned away from him. And that’s when he noticed a low rumble, that familiar bass noted hum emanating from his chest. It was the flute, still nestled safely in his shirt pocket. She was using her magic against the crocodiles. And here he thought he had been doing this all alone.

At last, when our troll was reaching to grab hold of the solid roots of a willow growing on the side of the bank and pull himself out of the river, his foot failed. Swiftly, the currents dragged him along, like a leaf blowing in the wind. The troll clawed the earth, desperate for something to hold onto. The muddy riverside was rough with broken limbs, and exposed roots and stones and his hand quickly became cut up and raw. But, the troll ignored the pain and continued to grasp for something to save his life. Our bird was submerged once, twice and over again, each time gasping for air and feeling her death near her bosom. The river moved him with startling speed and determination and as strong as he was, he was no match for her. Finally, mercifully, his shirt snagged on a protruding limb rescuing him from the claws of the currents. He was able to catch his breath and set the birdcage on solid ground. Groping clumsily, he opened her little door and set her free. Looking up, she saw that she was underneath her window at the stone tower.

Home. Her spirit revived within her.

“Go!” The troll yelled through clenched jaw when she looked back at him, hesitating.

With all the strength she could muster, our little bird flew up through the window and back into her body where she was instantly made whole.

In the water, our troll’s shirt began to tear away from the limb. The currents were unrelenting, like a ghoulish army pulling him down to Hades. Suddenly the shirt ripped in half from the force of the water and the flute fell from his pocket into the river. The troll saw it, a tail of copper darting downstream but due to the frigid water and the incredible pull of the river, what he could otherwise do so easily, so mindlessly with poison lizards and birds, he was unable to do this time, the only time his life depended on it.

And so the flute was swept miles away before it finally found a place to rest in the watery deep. There it would dwell for millenniums until a mountain-altering earthquake would change the course of the Red River forever. Then, the half brother of Prince James would stumble upon the flute partially encased in a boulder made from the river bottom clay hardened in the sun. And that discovery would alter the subsequent histories and kingdoms far more than the any earthquake ever would.

As for the troll, after he witnessed the flute escaping his grip, he had no time at all for remorse. Being no longer protected by the flute’s power, a snapping crocodile not a man’s length from the troll, opened wide his mouth and shut it tight over his middle. He was dragged under water, into a murky world where he saw only in shadows and perceived that his body was being shaken back and forth like a toy in a dog’s mouth, but was not certain. Maybe he was completely still and the earth was swirling around him. In his state of shock, he thought that might be the case. Soon, he felt a surge of warm, thick water enveloping him like a lovely blanket. This is my blood, he thought without passion. He was glad to have so much blood that it could keep him warm in this icy grave. And he was pleasantly surprised because being eaten by a crocodile doesn’t hurt at all.

But before he closed his eyes forever, the face of the witch came before him. And he knew, with a flash of pain, that the curse of the witch had been fulfilled that day. The witch cackled and flew away on her broom into the night, the dark, eternal night absent of stars or moon.

To be -I can not believe that a silly little troll story that kept me up one night and that I thought I could write in five pages, is going to need a fourth part - continued.

by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Troll, The Flute, and The Forbidden Music - Part 2

Continued from part one ...

As for the troll, without the treasure, he had no means to buy passage on a Viking ship. His long held dream of distant shores spoiled in the same manner that most dreams are, because of a single encounter and in an instant of time. Realistic about his options, but far from dejected, he returned to the clearing in the wood and his circular, mud hut amidst the tribe, slipping back with nary a troll noticing he had been absent from their presence.

At home, he was content to hide the flute in his cupboard, taking it out when he was safe to admire it alone for he was wracked by paranoia and obsessed with protecting his prize from wanton eyes.

But, the flute would not be ignored and placed a strong burden on the troll, tormenting him in mind and spirit and affording him no place of refuge, till she be filled with the breath that gave life to her notes once more, till she subdued another soul under her spell.

Seeking a private liaison with the flute, for he wanted to share her with no one, our troll snuck to the banks of the Red River under cover of night. There, with gusto and abandon, he made music under the stars, undetected.

Or, so he thought.

Now, the Red River was treacherously deceptive for it looked calm on the surface but below, deep currents ran swiftly. Lore had it that the river was named for the amount of blood spilled into the river from hapless victims who were dragged down into the miry, river bottom by hungry crocodiles to feast on. For the waters were infested with those terrible lizards and many villagers told the tale of a loved one who had gone to the banks of the river for a picnic or to collect the excellent spearmint that grew there, and were never to be seen or heard of again.

And, on the other side of the river, arose a cliff high into the sky. On top of the cliff, overlooking the river and wood below, was a snug, little home with a high tower, all made of stones.

In the tower lived a bride, fair to look upon.

She was the wife of a farmer who lived his life pragmatically and void of passion as he found tremendous comfort in the familiar and peace of mind in temperance. He was gentle and spoke softly, treating our fair lady kindly but failing to treat her well. For, he regarded her as somewhat of a mystery and lived in constant fear that she’d break somehow. And so, he kept her at a safe distance, a place she abhorred.

Now, it was pure folly for that troll to believe he could send forth music from the flute and contain the magic through isolation. That flute was endowed with all the wicked proclivities of her maker the witch, and the spell was her spirit. The music would certainly not return void, but accomplish it’s purpose. And, it’s purpose was simple and unrelenting. First, master someone, and then everyone, and then everything.

Alas, folly is common to both man and troll.

As soon as the notes left the flute they sought out our bride’s silent soul and began igniting a fire within.

“Do you hear that, husband?” She was drawn away from the bed where they’d already retired for the night, to the window overlooking the river and the wood beyond. The unmistakable sound of music, a gay and lively tune, was visiting their abode.

“Hear what? What is it?” The farmer strained to listen, but could hear nothing.

“That.” The lady insisted. “Why, it’s so lovely it makes my feet want to dance!”

The farmer cocked his ear towards the window and furrowed his brow, trying very desperately to hear what his bride did.

“It’s nothing but the wind moaning over the river, my dear.” He finally concluded.

In a flash of enlightenment, she realized that she owned a connection, a strange and wonderful fellowship with this music, her husband was incapable of sharing. It was as if this flute took care to serenade her alone. No, it was as if it were speaking to her alone. Her vanity immediately allowed her to indulge her feelings of privilege.

“Yes, it is as you say,” She said, practicing deceit for the first time in their marriage. “Silly me, I have overreacted, I’m sure.”

“Of course you have.” The farmer agreed. “Now, come back to bed, dear heart.”

“But if it is all the same to you, the crisp air calms my stomach. I will spend a few moments here at the window.” She continued in her deceit. “Do not fret over me, husband. Go to sleep.”

In the silver light cast by the full moon, she was like a pearl on a string, beautiful and refined. Her hair cascaded down her back like rose petals tinged gold at the tips and her shapely figure was outlined in iridescent, moon glow. The farmer gladly drank in the sight of her by the window and so did not object. He watched her till his eyelids closed with heaviness and slept, her body filling his dreams.

She listened to the wind delighted at the secret it held for her. The music rose and fell, rose and fell, the notes swirling and chasing each other in a language she understood.

Why? The music asked.

Because. Her soul answered.

Why? She toyed back.

Because. The music bantered.

What a queer, and most brilliant flutist, she thought, who can hear the music of my soul without me having to make a sound. Within the magical melody they shared, her strangled soul breathed again.

Suddenly, her tower seemed less a prison to her and her day seemed less interminable than it did before. Instead, daytime was but was a brief prelude to the opera she shared with her invisible tenor, the whisper like flute on the wind. Every night, after her farmer slept soundly, she stole to the window and waited for her music to come to her, and it never disappointed. She longed to be able to give voice to the song in her soul, to sing in harmony with her flute.

My flutist discerns my desire, she thought, and will come to me in due time.

Sure enough, when the fullness of the magic dwelt in her, her desire became manifest, taking the form of a bird with fancy, rose plumage tinged gold at the tips. Her soul emancipated, she left her stone tower and flew for the great beyond, unbidden. Swiftly she soared into the night sky, higher and higher, a crescendo in air.

By the window in the tower, her body still stood, a mere shadow of her former self, hollow and vacant.

“I am no longer sad.” She thought with a giddy twitter. “How light I feel!” And immediately her song, in trill and warble, escaped from her throat and met the flute’s melody in perfect harmony.

Across the river, on a boulder for a chair, the troll heard the quavering harmony and wondered. It was as if the melody of the flute, and this mysterious harmony had met up together in the air, together. Intertwining and cleaving, the two became one.

Suddenly a chill scampered down his spine. Deep calls unto deep, he knew. And this music had sought out it’s own.

Our lady circled high over the land that had just that afternoon seemed her confinement. Suddenly, she was staggered by the beauty of it all. Over the river, once so threatening but now a festive red ribbon tying the green earth as a Christmas present, she circled and swooped, flying ever closer to her flutist until, at last, she spied him through the leaves of a great oak. Seeking a handsome limb on which to land, she waited for our flutist to notice her.

“You’re a troll!” She threw her beak into the air and let out peals of laughter, once his eyes met hers.

“Aye.” Admitted the troll. “But you are no bird.”

“At night, when your music calls me out, I am.” She responded defiantly.

This all seemed mysterious to the troll but he accepted it as so and promptly began playing the flute again. To which our bird joined in happily making beautiful music with him.

And thus, they passed the summer.

To be continued..

by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Troll, The Flute, and The Forbidden Music - Part 1

Once there lived a troll, amidst a tribe of trolls, whose nation had settled in a clearing in Moss Wood. They lived in circular, mud walled homes with very steep roofs made out of fronds from the fannywillow tree and were renown for their distinct flatulence that, once expelled, hung in a green cloud about them for hours before dissipating. This was generally attributed to their diet, which consisted almost entirely of brains from the poisonous lizards that populated the bog behind the clearing. This culinary specialty was peculiar to their nation and was as difficult to procure, as it was easy to prepare. Many were who tried to capture these rare lizards but because they possessed limited qualities of invisibility, none but this tribe of trolls succeeded. Due to being genetically endowed with lightning-fast hand eye coordination these trolls found easy what eluded everyone else. They would simply grab a lizard by the tail, and after beating it dead over a rock, shove a straw through it’s nose and suck the delicacy out in that manner. Or sometimes, albeit rarely because it was generally considered more work than needed to be done in order to eat, they scooped the brains into a cauldron of bowling stock to make a delicious stew. Beyond that, little else is known of this troll tribe other than it was considered fact amongst the villagers that lived on the border of Moss Wood that they were gentle folk, living peaceably within the wood and from the wood.

Our troll had a head as round as a cheese wheel and as big as his body by half. With his burnt orange hair, bulging eyes and hooked nose, he was entirely unremarkable. Unremarkable, in appearance, that is but not in wealth. For by trickery and deceit he had amassed a great fortune and by it intended to steal away to the ocean and sail for foreign lands on a Viking ship.

One night, under a full hunter’s moon during St. Luke’s Little Summer, he had his chance and seized it.

“So long, suckers.” He said when he was a safe enough distance from the settlement to escape detection, but not so far that he couldn’t still see the orange glow of the campfire in the distance, small now and flickering gaily. And without sentiment or reserve, he slung the sack of treasure over his shoulder and walked toward the setting sun gladly leaving the only world he’d ever known forever behind him.

But along the way he met a witch whose wiles surpassed his own. She had uncovered the truth about his sack through her amazing powers of divination, and determined to have his treasure. While he was yet afar off, she laid a snare. Making haste to a hallowed cave in ancient hills, she extracted ore from which to smelt copper and crafted from this a flute. Knowing that her spell would need to be uncommonly strong against the clever troll, she decided to deliver her magic not through long forgotten languages or potions, but through music. In this way her spell was layered and constantly evolving. The very frequencies of each note carried distinct and focused power, but when those individual notes were strung into a melody they held as many different powers over the hearer as there are melodies to be made. Furthermore, when those notes were combined in harmony – well, the brilliance of this system and the unsearchable limits of it’s power would be fully realized and dully feared when possession over it would, in the distant future, cause kingdoms to war and countless legions to perish, after all.

But, that is not our story.

Upon completion of the flute, the witch made herself into a comely peasant girl carrying a basket of eggs to sell at market and set herself upon a log, not a half days journey from where our troll tread. With her light brown hair pulled neatly back in a gray scarf and her cheeks rosy, she looked the picture of loveliness as she held the flute to her lips and let her fingers glide nimbly over the length of the tube. As soon as the music left her flute the notes traveled in waves, intelligently guided and searching, to find out our troll’s ears.

He was done for even before he recognized the first note. An irresistible attraction to the sound skipping upon the wind pulled the troll toward his destiny. So beguiling was the magic that the troll was convinced he was the one pursuing the music, never fathoming that the music had pursued him. And so, when he stumbled upon the witch on her log, he felt the conqueror and was quite satisfied with himself.

“Ho!” He said, because the witch, in her cunning, stopped playing moments before she let herself be found by the troll and the magic had already worked in him to such a degree as to be made desperate for it’s sound. “Play, girl.” He ordered, with all the refinement of a troll, “Don’t fear. I promise I won’t crack your skull.”

“I am poor.” The witch replied, “And my family goes hungry, even now. I’m afraid I have no time to play my flute as I must take my eggs to market and sell them for profit.” With that, she tucked the flute under her arm, gathered the basket of eggs and proceeded to leave.

The troll became panicked; ringing his hands and breaking out in a terrible, stinky sweat. Suddenly, loosing the music seemed a fate worse than death to him.

“No. Don’t go.” He pleaded. “What can I give you to stay and play?”

“I know not,” the witch intoned, “what you could possibly give me as I will sell my eggs at market for a gold piece each, and you have naught.”

Worsted by desire he slavishly met the witch’s price. Turning his back on her, in a ridiculous attempt to keep her from seeing what she already knew, he opened the sack a wee bit and carefully pulled out one gold piece, glimmering fantastically in his hand.

“Look ‘ere, girl. I have a gold piece. I’ll buy one of yer eggs from you, if you promise to play me a song.”

He thought to himself and was convinced in his heart: I will hear just one more song; Then, I will be satisfied; Then, I will go to the sea and sail for distant shores.

Thus the witch played him, laughing all the while at the dribbling fool her magic had made of the troll. On egg for one gold piece, all night long. And always the troll told himself: I will hear only one more song and then be on my way.

Until, at last, the witch saw her desire fulfilled, and with the last gold piece in her basket proceeded to pack up and simply, cruelly, walk away. But, one moment she was walking with her basket in one arm and the flute tucked under the other, and then in a twinkling of an eye, was not.

“Easier than catching a lizard by the tail.” Said the troll, rapturously. He held the flute up, firmly in his hand, for the witch to look upon.

She did so and was dashed to pieces.

A low hum, a bass noted vibration, permeated his entire body and the troll was imbued with it’s power. At that moment, it was clear to both who held the greater treasure.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” The peasant girl shrieked as she reverted into the vile witch she truly was. All the power and magic she possessed was vested in that flute and without it she would be quite ordinary and useless. Quickly, she assessed the situation and realized, quite accurately, that she would not be able to recover the flute. But, she had her wits about her enough to impart a curse on the troll before her magic dissipated entirely. And that she did readily.

“You,” She cackled, pointing a crooked finger at his eye, “will live forever in love with your music. Yet, your death shall come upon you suddenly.” And then she fled into the forest with her treasure of gold; cursing the day she first laid eyes on it.

As for the witch, she returned to the cave where she first mined the ore for the flute, and lived out her days in solitude and regret. When she died, her body was abandoned to decay in the very corner where she breathed her last, not a single mourner to be found for her in all the world. In a cauldron, where once her potions brewed, was the treasure. Every last gold piece she stole from that troll jealously hoarded and worthless to her. For, it seems, that because of the devastating impact loosing her flute had upon her, she was not able to part with anything she owned ever again.

To be continued...

by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Our troll had a head as round as cheese wheel... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Rainmaker's Wrestling

A sketch; A rough draft; Chapter one, in progress.

Rainmaker Ishmael walked with a limp.

He was born in a warehouse above the L during a fearsome storm. His mamma was a whore but she didn’t start out that way. First, she was a young girl in pig tail braids, golden yellow like corn turning ripe, that ran down her back stopping just below her shoulders. Her granny, for she was raised by her, always made sure to tie a blue ribbon to the ends, cornflower blue, to match her eyes. Her poppy liked to hold her face in his big, calloused hand, just under her chin, and stare hard into them. He made up a little song that he sang to her often. The tune always changed and that didn’t matter much. It was more the way he spoke the words, hopping them off his tongue to make just the right rhythm that made it a song more than the tune did.
“Penny-Lu your eyes are blue,
And my how they sparkle;
Like diamonds in the sun,
Like moon shine on a lake,
Like snow caps on mountains,
Penny-Lu your eyes are blue,
And when they sparkle,
They are a dagger,
What breaks my heart in two.

And then when she was a little older but still a young girl she was abused in a horrible way by her Great Uncle. Every Saturday Granny and Poppy dropped her off at his apartment near the tracks so they could go betting and he would serve his passions, hideous desires and near insatiable, on her. He savaged her soul and dragged it down to Hades with him, his place of transparency, where flames licked up all but the tiniest piece of Penny-Lu’s invisible self, that who she was. But Penny-Lu hung on tight to that tiny piece, protecting it for all it was worth. And in the end she kept it because she was a fighter and worth her salt, but the rest was burned to ashes. And every Sunday when Granny and Poppy picked her up less of her was there than when they left her but they never suspected. When that worthless crap died on account of a pitch fork being rammed through his left eye all the way to the back of his brain from someone who felt irremissibly insulted by him, weren’t no one too upset, least of all Penny-Lu.

After that she was a teenager on the cheerleading team and popular, too. She dated the captain of the football team. He was a nice boy and they made a real handsome couple. She was in love and thought it was forever, but he didn’t. He was from a nice family with money and left for college right after graduation and didn’t bother writing Penny-Lu any after that. She made up every excuse in her mind why he hadn’t written or called. But then, the following spring, she ran into him at the local hardware store and was so relieved at his sight that she went to kiss his lips with passion without mind to who saw them. But he pushed her aside with a curt, “Pardon me, miss,” and acted like he didn’t know her. When a real pretty brunette wearing expensive looking clothes stepped out of the aisle and took his hand he quickly led her away. Later she learned that she was his fiancĂ©e and they were to be married on the East Coast, where her family lived, that summer. Granny had always warned her to never let a boy put his hand above her knee ‘cause they wouldn’t marry you if you did. Which made no sense to Penny-Lu considering the voracious appetite he had for her privates and the way he reveled in diddling her all those times when they were supposed to be on an errand for his daddy’s business. Penny-Lu imagined granny fainting away if she ever knew where her football star went on her. But after he left for college and broke her heart by his silence, it seemed to Penny-Lu that granny was right after all. Then it was not just the crushing rejection and loss that she had to deal with because of his scorn, but the shame.

And then poppy passed on, peaceful, in his rocker on the front porch. They’d all said goodnight and gone off to bed but poppy wanted to stay up because, as he put it, the night was particularly entertaining. He grabbed Penny-Lu’s hand just as she’d turned for the door and she in turn rested it on his shoulder as she often did when he spoke. His hand remained on hers, taking comfort in her dainty bones and soft skin, as they both turned their eyes towards the heavens. The harvest moon was low and brilliant all burning copper like a shield just pulled from the fire for the mighty hunter Orion waiting just below the horizon in the northern hemisphere, to charge into the winter sky.

“Look at it tonight. Just look at it. If I was a cowboy I’d lasso that moon and drag it across the plains on my mustang all the way to the Pacific and then I’d throw it into the middle of the danged ocean.” He laughed at his folly. And then with increasing enthusiasm added, “And then I’d build a dingy out of Palm leaves and sail away to Moon Island where I’d be crowned king by moon people and waited on by mermaids. Ha, ha, ha.”

He turned to look at Penny-Lu to see if she was getting as big a kick out of him as he was and then his breath caught in his throat.

“Why, Penny-Lu, you’re as pretty as a vision. I swear! This moonlight has made an angel out of you, an angel. All the constellations of the heavens are reflecting off your hair and it’s like you’ve caught the stars in your orbit and their light is dancing all around you. Why, if I was an aborigine I’d make you my God and fall down and worship you this minute. Ha, ha, ha.”

He took the stogie out of his mouth to take a swig of his Jim Bean. Poppy never took his stogie out of his mouth to talk, just to drink. Penny-Lu thought that Poppy was daft and wonderful at the same time.

“Night, Poppy.”

She reached for his glass of Jim Bean and took a sip, licking her lips as the burn slid down her throat. Poppy’d let her swipe sips since she was a kid. And then she kissed his cheek and turned into bed. When they woke up the next morning he was still in the rocker, only stiff like a starched shirt, with the stogie still hanging from his lips. His face and neck and arms were covered in a hundred red welts. It seemed the mosquitoes had a feast on his defenseless corps in the night.

He had a fine funeral, buried in a plot next to his brother who died in the Great War and his only son who passed of a savage flu when he was a wee boy. It was a nice plot on the other side of a gently sloping hill with a view of a stream that wasn’t much more then a puddle, except during a hard rain, but that somehow made it all the way to the Vermillion. Someday, granny would be buried right next to him, which struck Penny-Lu as profoundly right somehow. They had been together in life and would be together in rest with the same sun that smiled on their births warming the ground that concealed them. It was a nice thought.

At the wake Penny-Lu had stroked his hair and kissed his forehead and told him she loved him. That was her way of saying goodbye. She didn’t blame him for anything. He didn’t know and if he did he would have saved her. She liked to pretend in her mind that it was her poppy what drove the pointy spike of the pitchfork through her Great Uncle’s eye, even though the police caught the man who did it and he readily confessed because he was so indignant about the perceived attack on his manliness. That and he was stinking drunk. Sometimes at night, mostly in the summer time when a low pressure system hung above their little town creating an oppressive heat and clinging humidity that kept sleep far from her, she’d lie in bed listening to the owls hoot in the wood nearby and imagine what life would be like if her mamma hadn’t died. She imagined that her mamma was beautiful and always smiling. In her dreams her mother liked to do things for her like brush her hair and make hot chocolate after school so they could sit while Penny-Lu would tell her about everything that was on her mind. And in her dreams her mamma would always kiss her cheek and tell her what a special little girl she was. If her mamma had lived that monster never would’ve laid eyes on her that was certain. She imagined how much energy she’d have if she didn’t have to work so darned hard all the time fooling people into thinking she was normal and clean. Because she was just so danged damaged and dirty like smelly trash and she lived in sheer terror of anyone uncovering the truth about her. She imagined what it would feel like not having a secret to keep at all times. She imagined feeling happy, but it was fleeting.

It was after the first frost had left it’s feathery signature on the windows that Penny-Lu left home for good. She awoke to the clattering of granny making breakfast in the kitchen. Black coffee was set out in a mug at her place and two strips of bacon were resting on a plate.

“You left the clothes on the line.” Granny informed her without looking up from her plate. Granny always hung her head over a plate when she ate and only looked up with her eyes, if at all, to hold conversation which was almost never. Poppy was the talker, the grand storyteller. The man hardly shut up. When his eyes opened so did his mouth and since he talked in his sleep not even that could stop him, although, it did slow him down considerable. But granny hardly said two words all day and left you wondering what she was thinking or if she was thinking at all. She said it was a trait she inherited from her father. Apparently, she came from a long line of stingy talkers who hold on to their words like it was collecting interest in a bank. Penny-Lu figured that might be why she never met any of granny’s family. Weren’t much use in a visit if you couldn’t manage a half decent conversation to save your kitten.

Penny-Lu cinched the belt on her robe tighter and ran out back to take down the clothes. The chill air burned her cheeks and legs, freezing her fingers stiff and making it difficult to do her job. It was while removing the frozen under garments, unbending and glistening with powdered ice, that an uncommonly strong impulse to grab the nearest sharp object she could find and slit her wrists surged upon her. She became very still staring at the ground before her. There she saw herself as plain as day sprawled unconscious on the ill tended lawn in her robe and slippers bleeding out amongst the light dusting of snow. But no such sharp object was near at hand and then the urge passed so she continued to take down the laundry. By the time she’d made it back to the kitchen she’d made up her mind to move to the city.

That day at the diner, where she waited tables, the gentlemen with brown eyes and thick, curly black hair came in and requested her table again as he had on a weekly basis for months. This time when he offered to take her to Chicago to make a print model out of her, a big star, for the umpteenth time she gave him directions to her granny’s farm and told him to be parked out front after midnight.

Her granny was sleeping on the couch, curled up like a child in a crocheted throw, when Penny-Lu came home making it all the easier to avoid her. Her tiny body was a willow wisp and it seemed to Penny-Lu that her granny was as ancient as the hills even though granny was barely in her fifties at that time. This is what aging is, Penny-Lu thought as she gazed upon her.

She spent the night in her room. Packing what precious little she owned took minutes. Composing a letter of explanation took hours. She sat at her desk grappling with what to say but words failed her miserably. The fact was that Penny-Lu was incapable of explaining because she didn’t understand it herself. She was in flight mode and only one truth drove her and that at the most visceral level: I’ll die if I stay here. In the end the letter was simple and unsatisfying by every standard.
Dear Granny,
You are getting on in years and I don’t want to be a burden. I’m going to the city to be a big star. I can make lots of money letting people take my picture. I will write when I get settled. Please understand.
Penny-Lu

Penny-Lu was sitting on a step on the front porch with a shawl wrapped around her to ward off the chill autumn air when Russell LeFave, true to his word, pulled his Packard Clipper up in front of the farm. It was maroon and missing the bumpers. It seems they were sacrificed for the war effort and never replaced. Even still, Penny-Lu had never ridden in such a fine vehicle. He didn’t bother getting out of the car but was good enough to lean over and push the passenger side door open from the inside for her. After heaving her luggage into the back seat and getting comfortable in her new surroundings, the cream colored leather interior of a car she’d only seen in magazines owned by a man she barely knew, she managed to find her voice, although, she completely forgot her manners.

“You showed up. I guessed you would.”

She was wearing the only store bought dress she owned, a blue and white nylon print that Penny-Lu thought was as sophisticated as Hollywood. She imagined needing it for the swank parties and important people she’d be meeting in the film industry. It was very sleek with a cinched waist and one inch pleats that started just above the knee and ended mid calf. The sleeves stopped just above the elbow with cuffs that flared ever so slightly and the neckline was daring, “new for now” the saleslady said, with a v-shaped, deep plunge. She accessorized with a long, fake pearl necklace that dangled to her hips which she tied in a knot just below her bust, white silk gloves that buttoned at the wrist, black shoes and nylons. Her golden locks were pulled off her face, fastened with a blue bow that matched her dress, and curled in the fashion of the day. And on her lips was siren red lipstick the kind of which granny did not approve. She was a pretty little thing, far prettier than she ever realized.

He was wearing a zoot suit: black baggy pants that came up to his ribs and were secured with thin black suspenders, a cream colored dress jacket that reached down to his mid thigh, a white shirt, black bow tie, and most comically to Penny-Lu, a sliver chain that clipped in front at his waist and reached down to his black, leather shoes before making it’s way to his back where it was secured at the waist again. Penny-Lu couldn’t imagine doing anything but playing skip rope with it and yet it wasn’t quite long enough for even that. But it was positively too ridiculous looking to not have some important purpose, she was pretty certain.

“You’re a picture.” He said as he drove away from the farm that had been her entire world for almost nineteen years. “What’s your name, you said?”

“Penny-Lu”

“That’s ok. We’ll have to do something about that. Maybe Lola or something.” He had a jittery way about him as if his mind was racing faster than the car he was driving. Perhaps he read the shock that was washing across Penny-Lu’s face because he quickly changed the subject. “That’s alright. We can think about that later.” He kept looking over at her and grinning a sickening grin, Penny-Lu thought. But then, she tried not to think about it. And then he put his hand on her thigh and gently caressed it, like he’d known her forever. Penny-Lu stiffened, but deep inside she knew how it was going to be.

“You’re so pretty. You look just like Betty Grable. But, you’re even prettier. People say I look just like Billy Eckstine. One girl even asked for my autograph once.”

Well, if Billy Eckstine had bad skin and a gold tooth, I can see how that statement would be true, thought Penny-Lu.

“We can make a lot of money with your looks.” He said. He couldn’t stop ginning that stupid grin and shaking his head like Penny-Lu wasn’t really a girl but a treasure chest full of gold and he was the lucky pirate with the only key.

“Where’re you taking me?” Penny-Lu asked when his Packard turned onto a secluded country road.

“Not so fast now.” He replied.

He parked off the road behind a bank of silver birch, just out of sight in case a car should happen by. But of course, being visited by President Truman himself was more likely than a car driving by on that country road at that time of night. Penny-Lu didn’t fuss. Weren’t no use. And besides she had suspected that her freedom would come with a cost. He took her to the back seat and had his way on her. Penny-Lu’s only regret was that in his eagerness he tore her strand of pearls and ripped her dress.

Afterwards, when they got started on their way again, he offered her a Chesterfield and they sat in silence, smoking for a long time. Penny-Lu realized that, as she glanced at him furtively, that rubbery grin of his was a permanent fixture. It stretched across his face from ear to ear like two red bananas pushing his round, apple cheeks into glossy eyes. My God, Penny-Lu thought with a queasy realization, his eyes are as red as the devil’s. She had a mind to wipe his face with that grin and then shove it down his throat through his teeth. It would be the last time she was in her right mind. But then, she did what she knew how to do. She adapted to his nauseousness until it felt like normal. Soon he started humming, “A fellow needs a girl”. Penny-Lu recognized it immediately. It was a real popular song and she had a pleasant voice, so she sang along.

“I guess you’re the girl I’ve been needing.” He said as he rubbed her thigh.

Penny-Lu accepted it as so and that’s when she became his woman.
She never did make it as a model. It weren’t her fault but Russell didn’t see it that way. He took to beating her about the face and on the back when he couldn’t sell her pictures. He would rough her up awful, swelling her eyes closed for days and causing her to go into a fever. Penny-Lu felt real bad about not being able to sell any pictures. She figured she deserved it. He had a habit of booze and pills and influenced her into acquiring the same habit. Sometimes he made a lot of money pushing drugs. But most of the time he stayed broke. When he couldn’t make rent he borrowed her out to the landlord for restitution. At first it was on a monthly basis, and then the landlord got greedy, even though he was married, and demanded it once a week. Finally, Russell worked out an agreement with the landlord. He got her twice a week and they got to stay in the apartment as long as they wanted with no hassles. Russell was thrilled with the agreement and it suited Penny-Lu just as well. What started out as a way to make rent soon blossomed into a booming business. If sex was good for rent, it was even better to purchase drugs to sell and use. And if it was good for that, it was good for a quick buck on the side, too. Soon, Russell had a steady stream of johnnies lining up for her.

As for Penny-Lu she became an exceeding reprobate in record time. Boozed up and half naked day and night, she made it easy for Russell to pimp her out. She was an addict. And worse, she was unrepentant in her lifestyle.

Fact was, she was a dead woman in every way but body temperature. Really, she died with poppy, the only man who ever truly cared for her heart. And before that, she died when her no-good football star used and then dumped her. And really, she died a little every week in her uncle’s apartment near the tracks when she was most innocent and unprepared. And further still, she died way back when, when she was still a baby in diapers and her mamma never came back to her no matter how hard she cried.

She died in pieces and all at once.

She couldn’t stand to live with herself and didn’t have an ounce of energy to try anymore. Life as a whore was who she was and at least she never had to go to the trouble of hiding it anymore. All she wanted was to swallow her handful of pills with a mouthful of whiskey and lie in bed to make her living. And that’s when she became a whore. And that’s what she was the night Rainmaker was born.

It was a day that didn’t move, certainly not the air, nor drapes in front of open windows, nor dogs in the streets, nor clouds in the sky. Even people, adults and children alike, were still, conserving energy. For over two weeks a stifling heat had strangled the life out the city. Humanity responded by hunkering down and doing all it could with ice blocks and fans to beat that double headed monster, soaring temperatures and high humidity. It was late August and Penny-Lu was great with child. The clouds teased for days with the promise of a thunderstorm to break the neck of the heat spell but hadn’t come through as yet. One of her regulars had just left and she swaggered out of her bedroom for a glass of water. She was parched something awful. The way her tongue felt, all swollen like a bag of cotton, would stick with her always. She was at the sink drinking a glass of water when her bag of water broke and gushed to the floor between her legs. At first she thought she dropped her glass, ‘cause she was doped and all swirley headed. But when she took a good look at her glass still in her hand, she realized that her time was upon her.

Russell, who was sitting at the table dividing up pills and counting his pimp money, cussed a long line.

“Now look what you’ve gone and done. No good hussy. Pick that up.” He threw a towel at her and she responded by dutifully dropping to her knees and wiping.
Just then, the sky went from day to midnight. A hurricane over the gulf was pushing tropical winds over the lower Great Lakes and a cold front was pushing back from Canada just as hard. The resulting collision turned the heavens into a battlefield. Thunderheads flexed their muscles and shut out the sun like an uninvited guest. A forceful wind, with autumn in it’s teeth, swept through the window, swooshing paper off the counters and ushering in a sense of foreboding. This here is a witch-y baby what’s brought the storm with him, thought Penny-Lu. Russell thought it too ‘cause he was riddled by paranoia and a slave to voodoo and superstition, but didn’t dare speak it.

“I ain’t taking care of that bastard.” He howled. “You get rid of it, here? You get rid of it or you ain’t comin’ back here with me!” Then he grabbed her by the hair and threw her out of the apartment. He couldn’t get rid of that black magic fast enough.

Out in the hallway, a lone bulb dangling from a wire cast her shadow, long and dark, down the hall and against pockmarked plaster walls.

“I’ll walk to the landlord’s apartment,” she thought, “his woman will know how to birth me.”

But then, a sharp contraction wracked her body and laid her low. In the next second she found herself gasping for air on the wood floor. What followed was an otherworldly pain. Strong hands clawed at her insides with fire, squeezing the life out of her, and she could only retreat to a small place inside her head and think to herself: breathe. She fought panic. This was the kind of pain that could make your whole world go black forever and she didn’t want to go to there. The contraction left and she mustered what strength wasn’t sapped from her and snaked to a spot under the stair well. There she labored. She pulled a dirty tablecloth, that she found inexplicably draped over the stair rail, down and clutched it near her face in a desperate attempt at finding comfort. Outside, hail furiously battered the building.

Across the street Detective O’Dowd sat in a new issue Squdrol sipping coffee from his thermos. His partner wasn’t with him. This assignment was a favor for his father, the police chief of Chicago. His stepbrother, “That Woman”, as he referred to him because he was the most comfort seeking, preening creature he’d ever met, was stepping in it and his father asked him to clean up. They could take no chances with the family’s reputation and his stepbrother’s anticipated run for state office. It was while tailing his unctuous stepbrother that he uncovered the scurrilous activity in the warehouse, and the whoring was the least of it. For months had been meticulously tracking the activity inside, covering every angle so that when the time came he could throw the book at them. Well, the time was now. The only problem was That Woman who hadn’t a molecule of reason floating around in his vacuous skull. He was inside, getting his jolly on with that whore whose unusual beauty was beaming a red light from the L to Milwaukee. His job was to see to it that the bust didn’t happen until That Woman had left. Having to baby-sit this dribbling idiot put Detective O’Dowd in a fowl mood. He was just hoping that the storm, imminent and threatening, would hold off till after the bust was over. No such luck. As soon as his brother left the building and drove away the sky turned black as beans and angry clouds growled, throwing their spears of lightning into the city.

“Aye, Crimmeney.” O’Dowd muttered under his breath. Having to wipe up after That Woman was bad enough and it didn’t help that the day was vomiting out every last vestige of summer it had been gorging on for weeks. He radioed the district unit for back up and made a run for the building. The sky, for malicious fun, waited until the exact moment that he stepped out from the cozy squadrol to unleash a furry of walnut sized hail upon his head. With his back to the wall and pistol drawn he silently ascended the stairs to the floor where Penny-Lu labored and Russell, in his rat whole, still counted his money.

Penny-Lu saw the cop from the stair well but she was cloaked by darkness and shadow and couldn’t have made a sound even if she wanted to. She was in the grip of a bully pain and could not muster the energy to utter, or move, or lick her lips, or cry even. She could only be still and count out the intense agony. And with all the cacophony of the storm and nearby train, Officer O’Dowd walked right past her without taking notice. But she watched that cop raid her apartment. And then she watched when the back up came. She watched and heard it all as she labored out that baby.

“This here baby brang the storm and trouble with it.” She thought and was so convinced.

It didn’t take long before Russell was lead away in cuffs, an officer ushering him right past her down the stairs. And still she labored, undetected. The cops went through the apartment for hours, looking for and labeling evidence before hauling it away in envelopes and boxes.

Finally, the time came for Penny-Lu to push and mercifully, that baby broke through in a hurry. Penny-Lu was squatting and barely caught the filmy bundle before wrapping him loosely in the tablecloth that was on the ground. She stared at him as her after birth fell out.

He was gray and all covered in white cheese and he looked at her with intimidating intelligence. His blue eyes locked on her without shame. He was silent and not afraid. He just looked and kicked his legs, and as he looked he turned pink all of a sudden. First he turned pink in his lips, and then everywhere. Penny-Lu was out of her gourd what with the trauma of childbirth and intense craving for her next fix. And she was sore afraid of him. She didn’t dare touch someone who had so much black magic that he could call in hail and lightening like he owned the dark clouds.

“You rainmaker, boy.” She hissed. “You brought the storm and keep it. Where you keep it, huh? Where you keep the storm, boy?” An overwhelming desire to strangle him dead came over her. She went for his squat neck to strangle the life out of him but collapsed instead.

There was a storm, a mighty and fierce uprising in the winds and they brought with them a boy. He was unwanted by his mother and unknown by his father. He was born from adversity and to adversity. His was a lowly beginning, humble and forsaken. And in that he shared in the suffering of Jesus. Angels did not herald this event, but God watched over it none-the-less. And that’s the story of how Rainmaker got born.

But, that’s not telling you why he walked with a limp.

by C. C. Kurzeja
2005, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Just Another Word

More on my continuing education from "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder: (Were that every American should be thusly educated as I believe it would prove far more useful and go further in preserving our liberties than would a piece of paper from some university in the hands of it's graduate.)

"Farmer Boy" records a slice, a little more than a year, in the life of the boy who grew up to be Laura Ingall's husband, Almanzo Wilder. Almanzo's childhood, and therefore his experience and contribution to the settling of America, was as different from Laura's as the rolling hills of upstate New York are different from the grassy prairies and low skies of the Midwest. While Laura came from a pioneer family of humble origins, Almanzo came from a prominent and wealthy farming family in upstate New York.
Laura's family left a log cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin for the unchallenged Kansas plains hauling all they owned in the world across rivers and the great unknown in a covered wagon. There, they dug their own wells, made their own nails, timbered their own logs for house and furniture, and sustained themselves from the wild earth all for the sake of being the first in a land they knew would someday be civilized. They cheated death by wolves, death by rivers, and Indians, and malaria to forge a path for others to follow.
Almanzo, on the other hand, lived on one of the largest and most respected farms in the state of New York. His home had a parlor with upholstered furniture and a dining room decorated with wallpaper. He had donuts every day for breakfast and pie every night with dinner. His mother's butter was considered to be of the finest quality in the state and garnered a high price. They raised cattle and trained horses, selling their colts for the highest going rate. They farmed corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and sold from their abundance, taking money to the bank often. They timbered their own wood, and cut blocks of ice from a nearby lake, storing them all year round in their own ice house. Because of this Almanzo frequently enjoyed ice-cream for dessert in the summer, an exceptional indulgence for the time.
But while their childhoods were very different, they shared a common heritage. They came from families that understood what it meant to be American and how to go about living in freedom. It used to be that all of America was defined by our common heritage. It was our salt. But somehow over time our vision has become splintered and so we are loosing our heritage by decades and years, and by cities and families.
Almanzo was only nine at the completion of the book. If he lived today, no doubt his parents would still be tying his shoes, wiping his nose and suffering his tantrums. But he was fortunate to be born in a time when people were dedicated and submitted to a life of hard work. They were convinced that it was good to burden a man with a heavy yoke in his youth, allowing the stress and strain of responsibility to mold his character. Back then, people understood hard work in an almost sacred way, achieving a kind of salvation on earth through it. By hard work they secured their dignity. By hard work they obtained the imperishable riches of self worth and reaped an abundance in spirit. By hard work they enlarged the borders of their kingdoms, that is, they expanded into their experience of freedom. They understood that freedom wasn't something you stood around and waited for someone to plop in your lap, like a warm biscuit. Freedom was a claim that you staked out and since it was inherent in your soul, it was up to a man to draw it out and make manifest. And that wasn't easy, it took hard work.
Now, Almanzo was an amazing young man. At nine, he was skilled at his chores and responsible for tasks of which the function and performance of the farm were dependent. He was not sheltered from the elements. He was not coddled when hurt. He was not spared when the task before him was overwhelming. He was responsible for the preservation and protection of his own life in dangerous situations and could expect a terrible thrashing if he behaved foolishly. All this wrought a sobriety in his spirit and maturity beyond his years. And I am convinced that if his life had taken a tragic turn and he had been orphaned and left to survive on his own, he would have had no trouble living autonomously with the skills he possessed at nine.
Mr. Paddock, a merchant in town took notice of Almanzo. He was a wheelwright, which is someone who made carriages, and was very wealthy. But, not having a son of his own, he had no one to pass his business on to. He wanted to apprentice Almanzo to his trade, thereby securing a life of wealth and relative ease for him. One night at dinner, Almanzo's father discussed Mr. Paddock's offer with Almanzo and his mother. "He'd be a rich man, with maybe half a hundred workman under him. It's worth thinking about." He said. Her response is revealing.
"Oh, it's bad enough to see Royal [Almanzo's older brother] come down to being nothing but a storekeeper! Maybe he'll make money, but he'll never be the man you are. Truckling to other people for his living, all his days- He'll never be able to call his soul his own."
To her, it wasn't important how wealthy you were, or how much a person could afford. Her definition of success revolved around the degree of freedom a person experienced or how much of your soul you could call your own. Almanzo's father was, likewise, dismayed by the thought of Almanzo being dependent upon selling to people to make a living, but he had enough respect and faith in Almanzo's character to allow him to make that decision for himself even at that young age. And so he gave Almanzo an honest assessment of what life would be like as a wheelwright as opposed to a farmer.
"With Paddock, you'd have an easy life in some ways....A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to come or go. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm."
To those early Americans freedom was obtained through independence and the two ideas could not be divorced one from another. To be dependent upon anyone for anything was to infringe upon personal freedom. And since freedom was valued above all else, earthly possessions were not the measure of a man. Because, if you were the master of your own soul then you were rich in the blessings of God to which He added no sorrow. That is, there is no sorrow inherent in owning all you have by the work of your own hands. But, there is sorrow crouching at the door of debt and dependence and it's desire is to master you. Contrast that with what we see today in entitlement societies. Contrast that with the shackled souls who languished and suffered in New Orleans. They are poor in spirit and institutionally dependent and so they experience bondage, not freedom. They live in America, yet they do not live in freedom. They do not stake out the claim, that cry of freedom in their soul, on a daily basis. They choose not to work for their sustenance and so choose not to partake in the liberties endowed by their creator because they are waiting for someone else to create their liberties for them. But freedom can not be described in terms of what a person has and certainly not in terms of what a person has been given. Freedom is rather the manifestation of how a soul exists. That is, created in the image of God and endowed with inalienable rights. That is the claim. When a person stakes it out by the sweat of his own brow then that is the pursuit of happiness.
What we learn from the "Farmer Boy", what used to be as obvious to the average American as putting apples in pie, is that freedom is closely related to how well a person provides for themselves and their families. Janis Joplin sang these famous lyrics: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." But, in fact, the abundance or paucity of possessions has nothing to do with freedom. If it were the millions of people starving each year on the continent of Africa should be the freest people on the planet. It's not what you have but how effectively you take care of and provide for your own needs that matters. In practice it could be said that it's not what you have but how hard you work. Freedom is contingent upon self reliance and that doesn't come easy. Janis was wrong. Freedom's just another word for independence.

By C. C. Kurzeja
all rights reserved, 2005

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Olympian

Travis is a handsome guy. He has a thick head of dishwater blond hair, deep set eyes, a chiseled chin and a great physique. His arms are huge and rock solid, his shoulders broad, his waist whittled. He's also very accomplished. At 24 he's just bought his first home, has a nice career as an actuary for a big company, and has two gold medals, won playing basketball for Team Canada at the Sydney and Athens Para-Olympics, to his name which explains the big muscles.
"My goal was to make the national team by '98, and I did. And that lead me to Sydney. Sydney was just the most jaw dropping, tear jerking, amazing experience of my life. I can argue that Athens may have topped it or may have gotten close, but Sydney was just incredible.
"In the world of disabled sports, obviously you don't get the publicity you get or the marketability you get for able bodied sports. So, our crowds when we play here or in Canada are friends and family, as well as sometimes you get a few other people. But, our opening ceremonies for the Para-Olympics, which is just right after the Olympics, had 120,000 people. That would be the first part of the experience, to walk out there. You're [waiting] for eight hours just to do the opening ceremonies. And you get out there, and [I'm] feeling kind o' cocky. I'm feeling kind o' excited, smiling. 'I'm here. This is awesome!' But then, when you get out there, you see 120,00 people cheering for you as they announce Team Canada and the first thing you do is cry. And then, for the next five minutes, you're just on cloud two million. That walk around that track was unreal.
"Our gold medal game had about 13 or 14,000 people [watching it]. To play in front of that many people and have that support was an experience I hadn't had before. I didn't think it was possible."
Travis sees life and all it's myriad aspects as a journey, or a working through. His means is to work hard because his purpose is to glorify God in all he puts his hands to. If his potential was to go to University of Illinois, then that's where he needed to go, never mind the obstacles in his way. When he played the classical alto-saxophone, he practiced four hours a day. He is dedicated to excellence and motivated by love and gratitude towards the God who created him. If Travis had been born physically perfect and had lived a charmed life, his attitude would not be exceptional, but that is not the case.
He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on January 16, 1980 to a father who was a second generation, Lutheran pastor and a mother who taught piano. He was, inexplicably, born completely missing his left leg and with only half his right leg.
"The doctors could not give any explanation or reason why. It was just God's will. That's the best way to say it because there was no actual physical ailment or anything like that that went on."
When I ask him to describe his family he swells with pride and it is apparent that he is anchored therein and finds those relationships to be a deep reservoir of strength and comfort to draw from.
"It was very fortunate to be born into a loving, supportive, Christian home where we had those morals very much installed in our every day lives right from the get go. My mom [was] the most loving, supportive, amazing mother ever. My sister and I have just been best friends. And right now she is my life partner, outside of a marriage. [She is] my best friend I could ever imagine for. We're so similar in terms of our goofiness, our ability to have fun, scream, yell and cry in the car as we listen to music. Our Christian walks are in a very similar stage. Emotionally, we lean on each other. We need each other."
His early childhood was idyllic and filled with wonder. If he was sad at all it was because he couldn't move around as quickly as other children. He spent his days running around on whatever bikes or chairs he had at the time, and loved to be outdoors. In fact, he spent most of his free time outside. He would go out to the woods every night after school and build forts in the trees. He remembers spending up to four hours a night dragging wood to his fort and feeling completely satisfied and hungry to do more. In the winter, he'd make snow quinzies. With all the snow they got in Winnipeg, he could pile up a huge mound of snow. And then he'd pour water on it and ice it out. After that he'd dig out the inside and light a fire. All in all it was about a week long process, but the reward for his effort was another fort, this time made of ice. Travis seemed to relish space all his own as a child and the great expanse underneath the boundless sky.
When he was in about the fourth grade, he sat in a chair for the first time and took to it like a fish to water. Up until then, he'd been walking on his one shortened right leg and a prosthetic left leg. He could walk without crutches but the process was laborious and slow.
"But for me it wasn't worth it to walk like everyone else. It wasn't worth the loss of momentum. I was always somebody who wanted to get up and go, get up and go, and I still suffer from that. Walking was just too slow for me.
"When I first sat in a sports chair [and experienced] how quick it was, and how much more freedom it gave me, I gave the legs up right away. It actually ended up being quite a kerfuffle because the school system and social workers were very much against me going in the chair a hundred percent because they thought that one day down the line I'd want to be able to walk again".
It was his stubborn insistence to remain in a chair that lead to his involvement and passion for wheelchair basketball and ultimately his two gold medals. But about the same time he decided to forsake walking in favor of a chair another significant development occurred in his childhood, this time heartbreaking. At the age of twelve, Travis lost his father to heart cancer.
"My father was probably one of the healthiest people you'd meet. Ninety percent of his food came from his garden and he had a very extensive garden. We were not the family to go to Wendy's or McDonald's. My mother made juices twice a day. He was very healthy, very fit. The doctors could find no medical reason for it."
I asked him how he was able to still trust God, how he could get past the pain.
"It hurts and it continues to hurt. It hurts a lot. But he taught me very quickly and I learned very quickly that the Lord just had another purpose for him in His kingdom. And as part of my testimony, through my father's death and through my disability, is that I fully believe a hundred percent and always have from a very young age, in Romans 8:28 that in all things God works to the good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. So, there have been times where I have been upset or sad, or slightly angry with God. But it is very few and far between when that happens, just enough to be healthy about it. Other than that I've never really challenged it, and I've always thought it's been for the good, and I've always trusted the Lord in that. Which is a blessing, I think, that the Lord has given me that ability, that spirit to be willing and trusting and excepting of His will."
When he came of age, he chose to go to the University of Illinois because it had the top wheelchair basketball program in North America as well as the top three actuarial science programs in North America. But because he could in no way afford it, he sent out letters and videos to about 250 companies and corporations asking for help and money. In this way, his first year of university was paid in full and the last three years were partially paid. But God sent him to U of I to forge an important relationship and bond with his coach, Mike Frogley, who is also disabled. Mike is paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident.
"The Lord took me to the University of Illinois for the reason that my father wasn't around and I needed a male leader and something to substitute for my father's leadership. Mike Frogley was the coach of the University of Illinois and also the coach for the Canadian National team. And when I got there, he took me under his wing not only in terms of his expectations of me as an athlete, but his expectations of my personal life, my personal growth and the accountability he gave me on and off the court.
"It's just amazing how the Lord continues to seek you out and provide for you. Mike was what He provided me with at that time in my life and that's exactly what I needed. He held me accountable to a different level than a lot of coaches would to their athletes, personally, academically, spiritually. I grew so much in those four years and I attribute a very large portion of that to Mike's leadership."
He revved up his training in college, but he had been dedicated to the sport since junior high when he would regularly train four hours a day. Even in highschool, he was going to extreme measures to mold his body into that of a world class athlete.
"Winnipeg was really snowy. I remember there were a couple of winters where me and one of my buddies would actually get in chairs and go for a four mile push through non plowed sidewalks. I mean, some of them were plowed but you'd have to hop-skip around all the ice, get out, pull your chair up. I mean it was just an incredible workout. And that was when I got a lot of my physical strength and speed and power and endurance in the chair was around those years when we were doing stuff like that.
"Getting to U of I, [there was] three and a half hours of team practice a day, plus lifting and personal shooting and cardiovascular as well as traveling every second weekend. Behind the stadium seating would be all these ramps that the cars would use and you go to the top [of those] and use different kinds of pushing styles and patterns and timed circuits with that. We really work on your muscle fibers and how quickly you can get them to twitch and quickly you can get them going. [We worked on] chair skills in the gym where there was 8-12 different exorcises between learning to balance on one wheel and sit like this for five minutes." (Travis takes his sports chair and pushes it on it's side so that it is resting on one wheel at an angle of about 45 degrees from the floor by way of example. It looks like he's defying gravity or like a stunt you'd see in a car chase where you hold your breath because you don't know whether the car is going to make it back down to four wheels or flip over and crash. You can't imagine someone holding the position he demonstrates on his chair for five seconds let alone five minutes.) "You do stuff where you strap yourself into your chair and you fall down, completely on the ground, and then I have to be up, in like, a half second. So you do that for five minutes: up, down, up, down, for five minutes.
Every child dreams of that moment when the gold is put around your neck, so I wondered what it felt like to someone who has twice had that pleasure.
"It was like the moment where everything just came together as worth it. Because, there was a lot of heart ache, there was a lot of pain, there were a lot of sacrifices that went into the training. Our coach was in the army, and early on his coaching career he was very militaristic. Going into Sydney we'd be training twice a day for three hours a day, plus video sessions, plus meetings with our sports psychologist. They were very long days."
I learned a lot from my conversation with Travis. I learned that stubbornness can sometimes direct destiny, that trusting God for His will is a blessing and I should pray fervently for it, and that there is a reward at the end of hard work. Therefore, dear readers, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary."
I asked Travis what was next on his agenda. What does a person do after he's climbed the biggest mountain?
"Because I've come from such a loving family, if there is one thing the Lord can give me as an earthly gift, the one thing I want more than anything is to marry and have children. There is nothing I want more than that on this earth."
Calling all single ladies: On your marks, get set, go!
by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What Baby Knows

Basking in the fuzzy, lemon rays of sunshine pouring through the window sits the Mama. And sleeping in her rounded arms, nestled like a dove in satiny tufts of pink on pink lays the baby,
the beloved baby,
the baby of her delight.

Bounding around the corner with dirty face and sticky fingers comes the big sister,
her pride and joy;
the first born.

She crawls onto the couch and, snuggling close, flops her dolly across Mama’s lap. She licks her lips and then asks, “Can she play dolls with me?”

“No,” Mama answered, “baby doesn’t know about dolls yet.”

“Can she talk?”

“No,” said Mama, “baby doesn’t know words yet.”

Big sister wiggled, then kicked and squirmed. After a great deal of thought she asked, “How does the baby know we love her?” A little bird that was perched on the windowsill spread her wings and flew away, carrying that question straight to heaven.

Mama thought, and thought some more. And while she thought her free hand brushed silky ribbons of hair off her eldest daughter’s sweaty forehead. Finally, she caught the answer.

“Baby knows,” she said, baby knows.”

“In the morning, in the rose hued, dew glistened morning, when baby is quiet and alert, I look deep into the blue pools of her eyes. And looking back into my eyes, she coos. And then I coo, mimicking her baby song. We stare and coo, and stare and coo, as I softly caress her sweet cheek with the crook of my finger.

“And so baby knows I am hers and she is mine.

“Baby knows she is valued. Baby knows.”

“And in the afternoon, in the work-play-work-play-go-here-go-there afternoon, when baby is lonely and afraid, I clutch her close to my chest. The familiar bass noted thumping of my beating heart comforts her and I feel her tense body relax into a bundle of warm, snuggly calm.

“And so baby knows she is not alone.

“Baby knows her world is safe. Baby knows.”

"And in the evening, in the family-gathered-around-the kitchen-table evening, when Mama is distracted by the task at hand, baby turns her interest elsewhere. Reaching out with her whole fist, She grabs Papa’s finger, and gazing intensely at his brown eyes and broad face, she smiles. Excited by her big sister’s animated chatter, she kicks her legs and gurgles.

“And so Baby knows she is one part of a bigger whole.

“Baby knows what family is. Baby knows.”

“And at night, in the dark gray, softly humming night when Baby’s frantic cry pierces the silence, I bring her to my bed. And, curling her legs into my warm stomach, she nurses until she is filled. Satisfied, she sleeps once more.

“And so baby knows when she is hungry she will be fed.
“Baby knows her needs will be met. Baby knows."

You see, words don’t teach baby what love is, our actions do. Love is what builds her universe. Love is what she understands through experience. Love is what she feels as her life unfolds.

“And so Baby knows love is something much bigger than herself.

“Baby knows she is the object of great affection.

Baby knows.”

By C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Silver Star

Staff sergeant Adam R. Sikes earned a Silver Star for his heroics during the Battle of At Tarmiyah on April 12, 2003 in the Iraqi War of Liberation. In his recommendation for the Silver Star, the 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Platoon Commander wrote of Adam, "SSgt Sikes inspirational and courageous acts under intense enemy fire raised each Marine in his presence to a higher level of proficiency. His tireless devotion to duty motivated Marines of the 1st Platoon to achieve a level of fearlessness and discipline that allowed them to take the fight to the enemy without reservation. His courageous acts demonstrated that one Marine can and will change the tide of battle." This is his story.

***************The Grunt***************
Adam grew up in a very patriotic family where he attended Boy Scout meetings and Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July were honored as important holidays. Both his grandfathers served in WWII, but he credits the grandfather on his mother's side, who was a Navy C. B. in the South Pacific, for influencing him the most.
"I knew I wanted to go into the Marine Corps because they had the whole mystique about them being the finest, the best. They were always the first ones in, they were the toughest and I wanted to be the basic infantry man. I went in specifically to be a front line troop. When people think of the Marines, that's what they think of. They think of the guy walking down the street with the rifle, with the helmet. You don't think of the guy turning wrenches on a plane. Whether it's a good idea or bad idea, I wanted to be in a fight. Maybe it was a test to prove myself. Maybe it was that young adult idea of doing something exciting. I don't know but that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a basic grunt, as we call it."
In July of 1995, Adam went to Boot Camp in San Diego for three months. Marine boot camp is the longest of all the services.
"The second day I was there, I remember sitting there and wondering what the heck I'd gotten myself into. The whole idea about brainwashing and stuff like that, it's not brainwashing in a bad sense, but what it does is it shapes you for how you have to be in the military. And it's a very emotional, psychological and physical, stressful environment. Everything you know, that you're familiar with, that you're accustomed to, is wiped clean. I mean, your head is shaved, they take all your clothes, you have nothing that you could possibly associate with your life back home and they keep you so busy so much that you have no time to think about it. I mean, you're just a zombie walking through the day half the time just reacting to what they're telling you to do. People are constantly breaking down crying, you forget your name, you don't know what's going on half the time. Yeah, they'll ask you your name and you'll just look at 'em dumbfounded."
Adam graduated Company Honor Man which means he graduated at the top of his class in a class of 540 Marines. After a 10 day break he was off to Camp Pendleton for four months of infantry training where he did a repeat performance graduating as Company Honor Man. He guaranteed his specialty as infantry man going in and there he was trained in Light Armor Reconnaissance which is a vehicle similar to a tank except it has wheels and can carry infantry troops in the back. He became skilled with a M16A4, semi automatic assault rifle, with a 30 round magazine. It can accurately hit a target up to 550 yards with a maximum distance of about 3000 yards, not to mention stop a car with a round placed in the right place.
"It's a very good bullet for the type of missions we do. It's not overly large so it's not extremely heavy. It's light. It's accurate. It tumbles which means the bullet spins when it comes out to make sure it's accurate and it basically chews things up like a buzz saw. We can put a lot more gizmos on top of it. We can put all kinds of scopes, lights, blazers, all kinds of super sonic speed stuff. I carry a 9mil pistol as well, which is a barrette, like Mel Gibson shoots."
After that he went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and joined the 2nd Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion.
"What we did is we drove out these vehicles in front of everybody and we deployed, [and we would] find things. We were the advance guard. We were the early warning. Or we could be a screening force. These vehicles could go upwards of 70 miles per hour and they had cannons on 'em. We packed a pretty good punch. We were also a raid force. Let's say we wanted to attack Walker Brother's or something. [Walker Brother's pancake house is across the street from where we are sitting in a Starbucks cafe.] From the time they would hear the engines of the vehicles to the time we had gone in, blown everything up, cleared through, swept out, we could be off the site in 17 minutes."
From there he went on a MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean Sea, also called going on a float. A MEU goes with an Amphibious Ready Group, which is three ships they call an ARG. They go over seas for six months and they are kind of like the 911 force.
"If something goes down and they need troops there, like yesterday, that's what the MEU does. It's not the 82nd Airborne, it's not the 101st. It's the Marines that are on these ships and they are deployed in seas all over the world."
In March of 1997 when Albania erupted in Civil War, Adam was on a MEU off the coast of Greece. He was out in town having a good time when they started shooting red flares up from the ship in the harbor and circling helicopters overhead, signaling him back to the ship. In 18 hours they were on the shores of Albania and in 2 days they evacuated about 2000 American civilians. After that he spent some time running patrols in the Sylvania Alps where he acquired frost bite on one of the small toes of his right foot. And then he did Marine Security Guard Duty or Embassy Duty which falls under the Department of State, Diplomatic Security. He went over seas and lived at embassies in foreign countries. He was the protection of classified material, personnel, and equipment in an embassy. He spent one year in Moscow and two in Portugal. During that time he was on the security details of Bill Clinton, Vice President Cheney, Madeline Albright and others.
"And this brings us to the war..."
******Call to Duty******
On September 11, 2001 Adam was living in a 15th century manor house next to the embassy in Portugal where he had his own room. But before that day ended he would be living in windows in the embassy for the next several weeks.
"Before September 11, I was actually getting out of the Marine Corps. I was going home. I wanted to get out. I was done with everything in my life. I was on my way to George Town University, I was going to get my degree, Undergrad in International Relations. Then I wanted to go back to work in one of the government agencies. And I had everything set up. I had been accepted. I had an apartment. I had a car. I had a roommate. Everything was on my way out. You couldn't have found someone more ready to get out than I was."
He watched his buddies go into Afghanistan on TV. And by September of 2002 he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were going to invade Iraq. He was due to be out of the Marines a mere four months later in February of 2003. In a 24 hour period he changed his mind and dropped everything. He called his monitor and told him that he wanted to get to Iraq immediately. He wanted to be the first one in.
"When September 11 happened, the whole world changed. And I had done some real world operations and stuff like that. So I'd done the real deal, but not a war. That was the whole reason I had joined. You train and do this stuff all the time, you're getting ready for the inevitable. You don't know when it's coming, but you're just trying to get ready for it. So, ok, now it's coming. So I realized that this is what my grandfather had felt when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he joined the Navy. Our country was under attack. [I felt] I need to go to Iraq because I'm a Marine and this is what we do."
His monitor came through and Adam was dropped onto a dessert in Kuwait on February 2, 2003 with the 1st Platoon, Gulf Company, 2nd battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
"Where we were, we were the last line between the Iraqi border. We were ten miles off the border just waiting to go, to invade. It takes a preparation stage. When we first got to Kuwait, we got issued some ammunition and our chemical defensive kits. We head out to the Kuwaiti desert and we get dropped in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing. All we have is our packs on our backs and that's it. There was no facilities. We were eating meals in a bag, our rations, that can last through a nuclear war, pretty much. We still lived out in our holes in the desert, but every once in a while we'd go back to a major camp and it looked like a city had been built from nothing in the middle of the desert.
We dug holes and sat there looking at the desert for a month and a half. We had no phones, no mail, no connection with the outside world. We had no idea what was going on. Rumors would fly. The biggest rumor that flew was that J.Lo had died. A lot of people were depressed. Think about it. You're out in the middle of the desert and there's nothing there, no buildings, just sand. Sand is everywhere and in everything. Sandstorms hit ya' every few days. They just suck the life out of ya'. You could see the wall of sand coming at you. You're just getting pelted and stung with sand. You're breathing in sand, it's getting in your clothes, every crevice of your body, in your nose, in your eyes, you're just covered and coated. It just hits you. You become so numb to things.
We were the first unit into Iraq. I made it. Our first mission was to capture the Ramallah oil fields to make sure they weren't going to be burned or blown up. Well, we started getting intelligence reports that they were burning up and the Iraqi's started launching scud missiles at Kuwait. They said they needed [our battalion] to go now. So we went and we were alone in Iraq for nine hours 'cause nobody else was ready to go. We just shot up to the Ramallah oil fields. I was in what's called an AAV which is an Amphibious Assault Vehicle, and it's a big bullseye. It can hold twenty Marines and it's a track, like a tank. As soon as we crossed the border it was a light show. Everyone thinks the war started on March 20th, but we left for Iraq the evening of March 19th."
Eventually, he crossed the Euphrates and was one of the first into Baghdad. He was surprised at how clean and beautiful the city was. Baghdad is decently modern, as he described it. They have power, they have lights, they have houses as opposed to mud huts, they have bridges, cars, busses, and even coffee shops.
"When we got downtown Baghdad, they were receiving us like a New York Thanksgiving Day parade. I came home and I was so disgusted when I saw the news. Thousands of people were lining the streets, cheering us on. We are rolling through in our vehicles, popped up and waving, like it's a parade."
And that about brings us up to that fateful day...
*******Battle of At Tarmiyah*******
After Baghdad became semi secure, the Marines kept moving. On April 12, Adam's battalion was making it's way north to Samara. Echo Company and Fox Company had been sent out East to search for POW's. Adam's company, Golf Company, was the reserve. They were to stay on the main road and be the reactionary force to maneuver in case there was trouble. But Echo and Fox weren't turning up anything so they decided to send Golf Company West to see if a bridge over the Tigris River could support tanks. Adam's platoon consisted of about 60 ground troops and they took 3 AAV's out to the Tigris.
"In the back here, inside the vehicle, this is where you have all your ground troops. [He pointed to a sketch he had drawn of the AAV] We could fit 20 in each. The book says you can fit 18, but you can always fit one more. The back will drop down with a little ramp thing. You can run out the back. The top can also open up so you can look out the side. The crew operates the vehicle. 'Cause we don't operate the vehicle. We're just passengers. They control the driving and they have a 50 caliber machine gun [up front]. I sat in this little hatch right here, where I could get a panoramic view. Everybody else, your back there, it's black. You can't see anything. You don't know what's going on. You're choking on diesel."
At approximately 800 Zulu, 1st platoon reached the pontoon bridge and after deciding that it would sustain tanks, two of the AAV's crossed over. They were greeted on the other side by a traffic jam. People and cars are everywhere and Adam thought he was going to be playing traffic cops again. Welcome to At Tarmiyah. Directly to the left is a little bridge house, made of stone, that Adam thought looked like something you'd sell ice-cream out of. To the South-West the city spread out comprising of three and four story buildings and houses.
"It was a very docile environment. People are trying to sell us goats. That's what it was like. [Those who weren't stationed as defense] were kind of hanging out in this building in the shade and I'm actually walking along cutting pieces of salami off with my knife and giving it to Marines for something to eat. And we're just hanging out. We got all our stuff on but it's relatively docile."
His recommendation and summary of action records what happened next. "At approximately 0900 Zulu, 1st Platoon minus was caught in an enemy Iraqi ambush of unknown size orienting from the north and south of the town, creating cross fire."
"I think it was 8:56, actually. I remember looking up. I kind of looked over this way and, like, the cars are gone, people are gone. And it's just one of those things where you kind of look up and it's like everything is in slow motion. You just looked up and, like, everybody was gone when a minute ago you had heard and seen everybody. And I remember looking around at one of my friends and stuff and they just kind of looked back at me. I have no idea how many came at us. But, they were coming at us from all different directions. Two of 'em hit my track. [They] went through the nose of my track, basically through the headlights. Blew the heck out of my track. Covered me in dust and smoke. I got peppered with stuff. Nearly knocked me over."
I asked him if he was afraid. I was hoping to come to a greater understanding of the psyche of fear vs. courage. I have to keep hoping, because after my interview with Adam I have to admit that I understand acts of heroics and undaunted bravery even less than before my interview with him.
"Didn't feel anything at that point, still in shock. I went deaf. I got covered in smoke and debris. And you're trying to think, 'What is going on.' It's like everything is in slow motion. You kinda hear things but you don't hear things. You only know what's going on, like, from me to you. That's as much as you have, are aware, at one moment. After the initial beef of everything you start to get more aware but it's still very tunnel vision. There is so much going on, so much you're thinking about, so much you're worrying about, so much you're trying to do that, literally, you could have somebody walk on your back and you'd have no idea sometimes."
In the first few seconds of the assault, Adam was nearly blown off his feet into a wall. He starts swinging his way into the bridge house when he realizes that he still has his knife and salami in his hand. Once inside, he returns fire. He thinks he blew off 60 rounds within the first two minutes.
"We were surrounded. They're shooting at us from both directions and straight. So, at no point when I was outside was a bullet not coming near me. They were zinging by your ears. You can tell a distinct difference when you hear bullets come at you how close it is. The guys that were in the vehicle, they kind of pile out of the vehicle. I just saw them skid by me, nubs for legs, blood streaking all over the place. We've got a corps man there and he kind of pulls 'em into the house, throwing tourniquets on them and stuff like that."
They couldn't retreat back over the bridge because they would have been sitting ducks and, like wise, no one could cross over to their aid. They were completely cut off. It took them a few minutes, but they started returning organized fire on the enemy.
"We've got these little ear piece things. They're only good for about five hundred yards. So, this is how we're talking to each other. This is how we're talking across the river. Well, this is bad because kilometers away is where your help is. We had no air support. We had no artillery. Nobody even knows we're in a fight. They didn't know we were in a fight until about thirty minutes into it. We're slugging it out over here. I'm looking at our situation and we're stuck. The only way to finish a fight is to get into a fight. We had to go straight into 'em.
I ran across the street. Find these guys, they had hunkered down in some holes just kind of grabbing their butt and praying to God. This whole time I was never not getting shot at. There was always bullets hitting over my head, hitting at my feet, whizzing by my ear the whole time."
From that vantage point Adam identifies his biggest threat, where a lot of the rockets were coming from. It was a three story building in town. They need to cut them down before they get cut to shreds.
"I call over and I say, 'Hey, I'm going into town. I'm going to the three story building. I'm gonna mark it. Get the guns up. Which basically means, get the machine guns rockin' and rollin' just to cover me as I run across. I tapped [a Marine] on the head, he has a machine gun. He looked up. I said, 'Cover me.' He said that was his scarriest moment. He thought, 'Oh my God, what's he about to do?"
Adam ran about 70 meters of open terrain, by himself, to make his way to the side of the building.
"At one point, when I'm about to run across, I'm thinking to myself, 'Am I really going to do this?' And that's when I took off. [Once there, he] Threw colored smoke over the side to identify the building 'cause now we have air support. This is about thirty minutes into it. They basically called out the distress signal: We got a unit in some serious trouble. Everything in the world come here. It was up close and personal. Close enough where you could see their eyes."
Later his lieutenant would recall seeing Adam running up to the town, shooting.
"He said it was one of the most spectacular things he'd ever seen but he also said, 'Well, I guess he's gone."
Adam was shooting his way into the building when things began to quite down. That's because there was a bunch of them hiding around the corner waiting to spring on him. By the grace of God, Adam was forewarned and was able to throw a grenade around the corner to take care of them that way. By this time air strikes were coming in. They were dropping rockets. They always run parallel to their unit so that they don't drop on you if they drop short.
"They're dropping missiles right over my head. They called me and said, 'Get down. Air's coming in.' So I just grabbed some dirt. And as the missiles are dropping and the explosions are going off into buildings over here, like, my body's lifting off the ground. You feel it in your lungs. They compress real quick. And you actually jump. You whole body feels the compression."
Adam was up in that building about thirty minutes by himself when he called to his buddies for some help because he was running out of ammo. He carried 360 bullets and he'd blown through most of those. But, the good news is that planes are finally coming in and artillery is starting to drop.
"I can see into the town so I'm calling this stuff in, I'm like, 'Yep, bring it closer. Bring it closer.' Danger close for artillery is like 650 meters. 700 is fine. 600, no good. Just because of short rounds or shrapnel or whatever. Well, we were dropping this stuff within 200, 250 meters in front of me. We broke all the safety rules that day."
Finally, three guys make it up to Adam in the building.
"At the two hour mark I was thinking, 'Oh my God, when is this gonna end.' I've been in combat environments that have lasted 48 hours, but that's intermittent. We were in a shoot out. Four straight hours of shooting. This was four hours of no rest, can't hear anything because bullets and things were exploding. I don't know how we made it out. I don't know how we walked away."
The battle is hot and heavy now. They are shooting their way deeper and deeper into town.
"We're shooting rockets. You name it. Everything we can, we're firing. Artillery is goin', planes are coming in, reinforcements have finally made it across about 2 hours into it."
Due to garbled communications, Adam thought there were Marines down across town.
"I just stood up on the building and said, 'Who wants to go dodge some bullets?"
Amazingly, two Marines volunteered. They grab a track and head towards the sound of the gunfire. They ran ahead of the track, jumping in ditches and dodging bullets the whole time. When they make it there, they throw the seriously wounded in the track.
"I get a call saying, 'Hey, move back we're about to level the town. Which basically means, we're going to pull back and artillery and airplanes are going to come in and turn the whole town into dust. It's like a fighting withdrawal. We got people dropping as we're running back and we're picking 'em up, dragging 'em through."
After they count everybody they head back over the river from whence they came and the town is smoked like Gomorrah. Later, they would learn that Saddam Hussein had been in the town the day before and the people they were fighting were his hard core fanatics.
O beautiful for heroes proved/In liberating strife/Who more than self their country loved/And mercy more than life!
A million thanks to you, Adam, and to your brethren soldiers, for your faithful service to our country.
Happy Birthday, America. God mend thine every flaw/ Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law!
By C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved