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The Eclectic Garden

Making a little bit of everything look just right.


Category: Short Stories | Posted: Mon Dec 07, 2020 11:36 am

A few years ago I took a stab at writing historical fiction. I got the idea from a short autobiography that was written by my great, great grandfather Henry Shaw. In the autobiography he briefly mentions that he was in The Battle of Olustee. I researched the battle and found out that it was the largest Civil War battle fought on Florida soil and that it was also one of the first battles that colored troops from the Union fought in. It is a long story, but I hope you can make it to the end.

The Battle of Olustee

Henry Shaw scraped a small layer of frost from a fallen pine tree and sat down. His gray, woolen trousers quickly soaked up the left-over ice particles. He took a deep breath of morning air and surveyed his surroundings. The terrain was like that of his home along the banks of the Withlacoochee River. The forest was mostly filled with tall, gangly pine trees but occasionally a great oak could be seen spreading out its majestic branches. Palmetto bushes littered the forest floor and their large, green fronds added a splash of much needed color to the carpet of brown pine needles. The distinct smell of swamp water filled his nostrils, stirring pleasant memories of hunting trips with his father. For just a moment he was back home, listening to the dogs as they tracked down a white-tailed deer.
The woods around him were filled with thousands of Confederate soldiers and all along the tree line men were preparing for the battle that was soon to come. The Union troops were only a few miles away, slowly making their way along the Florida Atlantic Gulf Railroad. The Union’s objective was to capture Lake City and then continue to Columbus Bridge. They had no idea that the Southern troops were setting up a defensive position in the trees near Olustee Station, thirteen miles east of Lake City, Florida.

Henry was six-foot-tall and skinny, weighing all of one hundred fifty pounds. Despite his size, years of hard work had left his muscles hard and strong. With dark brown hair, deep set, piercing blue eyes and farm tanned skin he looked much older than his eighteen years. Born and raised in Florida, he joined the Confederate Army two years earlier, ready and willing to die in defense of his homeland, but the last year had been rough and the war was starting to take its toll. He worried about his mother at home by herself and wondered if his father and brother were still alive. He was deeply concerned about his family, but he was also troubled about the upcoming battle. He had been in a few skirmishes, but this was shaping up to be the largest one so far. Things looked somewhat better three days earlier when General Colquitt and his brigade of Georgia regulars arrived. This brought the Confederate numbers up from fifteen hundred to well over four thousand. At least the numbers were even now, but as the Yankees drew closer Henry was scared for is life.
Like most of the other men in his company James Lyons had never been in a battle. A former slave, he had joined the 8th United States Colored Troops in Philadelphia only four months earlier. He was proud to call himself free, but claiming freedom didn’t come without problems. There weren't a lot of jobs available and he learned rather quickly that any work that could be found was never given to a black man. The army proved to be the best place to go because it offered food, clothing and something he had never seen in his life - a paycheck.

Army life was rigorous, but James enjoyed it. He was a quick learner and fit well into the military, becoming one of the top new recruits. However, he wasn’t the only one who noticed that most of their time was spent learning how to march instead of learning how to fight. In fact, most of the men hardly even knew how to carry their rifles much less shoot them. James worried that they were missing out on some valuable training and it made him feel very uneasy.
The 8th was near the front of the line as they slowly marched beside the railroad tracks toward Olustee Station. It was a good indicator that they would be among the first to see action. Spirits were high and the others were confident they could win, but as joyful cries of certain victory were sounded James looked around wearily, sensing that something bad was about to happen.
Just then he looked ahead and saw two Confederate soldiers turn their horses and start running in the opposite direction. Caught off guard, the troop movement stopped and the soldiers stood silently, dumbly watching the horsemen as they disappeared down the railroad tracks. Without warning, a shot rang out and James ducked instinctively just as a bullet whizzed past his head. After the first shot was fired there were a few moments of chaos, but the Union officers finally got it together and called out defensive maneuvers. With bullets flying all around them the 8th was ordered to advance toward the heaviest gunfire. The men were stunned and bewildered. Having never been in battle before some of them fell to the ground in fear and curled up like babies. Unfortunately, the lack of training proved to be their downfall and man after man succumbed to death or injury.

Standing six foot four and weighing over two hundred forty pounds James made a big target, but he managed to scramble into position behind a large pine tree less than three hundred yards from where the enemy was set up. As musket balls crashed into the tree above his head he stayed close to the ground and frantically tried to remember how to use his rifle. Finally, praying that he had it loaded correctly, he pointed it toward the Rebel line and pulled the trigger.
A February chill rushed through the air as Henry watched two regiments of men mount their horses and ride off. If the plan worked they would make contact with the Union army and draw them back to the fortified battle line where the remaining Confederate soldiers waited. With Ocean Pond to the north, heavy swampland to the south and thousands of troops scattered throughout the tree line victory was almost certain. The plan made perfect sense, but after contact was made the enemy failed to advance toward the trap that had been so carefully set. When word came that heavy fighting was taking place less than two miles away more troops were sent as reinforcements. Henry stood firm at his post in the trees but grew more anxious as he watched the other men leave. Finally, the order was given to move forward and the Sixth Florida Battalion moved out to join the others. Henry’s heart pounded heavily as Company G marched double time toward the front lines.
Cannon fire rumbled in the distance as the Sixth Florida Battalion made their way to the battlefield. It wasn’t long before shouting and heavy gunfire could be heard all around. They came up on a place where the doctor was busy treating some of the wounded men. The moans of the suffering soldiers only added to Henry’s anxiety. He closed his eyes as they rushed by and the bloody image of a badly injured soldier etched itself in his memory.
By the time Henry got to the battlefield the fighting had been going on for over two hours. They were quickly moved up to the front lines and told to scatter along a large embankment. Henry crawled to the top of the large hill on his belly, passing two or three dead soldiers on the way. He pushed himself along numbly, trying hard not to look into their faces. The smell of gunpowder filled the air while gun fire, cannon blasts and the shouts of fighting and dying men rang out everywhere.  There was no escaping the horrific sights and sounds of war.

When Henry reached the top of the hill and looked out on the battlefield he couldn’t believe what he saw. Bodies were scattered everywhere and the Union troops seemed to be in disarray. His mind was still trying to take it in when the desperate troops tried to rally around a cannon. It was clear they wanted to make a final stand, but man after man was shot down. At last, when it was clear they didn’t have a chance, someone grabbed the colors and they all made a hasty retreat. Shots rang out after them and more men fell to the ground as they tried to get away from the relentless Confederate gunfire.
A sound to charge was given and the Rebels took chase. Hundreds of men rushed after the retreating Union troops and Henry jumped to his feet. With adrenaline fueling every step he took off down the hill, but when he was almost to the bottom he stepped on a large pine branch and it rolled out from underneath his foot. In the split second that he was falling he saw a large pile of rocks and knew instinctively that he was going to hit them head on. He closed his eyes to brace for the impact and then felt something slam into his side. He missed the rocks by two feet, but his head crashed onto the hard ground causing him to pass out. 

Henry woke up to the smell of dirt and pine needles, his face partially buried in a mixture of both. Slowly, consciousness crept back and he became aware of a sharp, throbbing pain in his head. He suddenly remembered the battle and jumped to his feet. His brain revolted at the sudden movement by releasing a swarm of small, angry lights that attacked his eyeballs and left him both dizzy and nauseated. He tried to take a step but was unable to find his footing and fell backwards onto the carpet of pine needles. This time he stayed there.
"Are you alright?"
The deep, unfamiliar voice seemed to be traveling down a long tunnel. Henry stirred on the ground, still feeling the effects of the dizziness. Then it came again, "Hey! Are you alright?”

When Henry opened his eyes he was startled to find a large, black man leaning over him. He noticed a blue, Union Jacket and he could see the man’s left shoulder was covered in blood from a gunshot wound. Everything about him was big, even his face, which was beaded in sweat; large drops of it forming across his forehead and dripping down his cheeks onto his chin. Henry couldn’t move or speak so he sat there motionless, expecting the worst. The stranger spoke again, his voice softer this time, “I ain’t going to hurt you.”
Ignoring the statement, Henry looked around for his rifle and spotted it lying on the ground a few feet away. Following his eyes the man said, “You don’t need the gun.”

Though trembling with fear, Henry spoke bravely, “Why don’t you go ahead and kill me?”

The man pulled his big face closer to Henry’s and said, “If I wanted to kill you then I would have let you crash into those rocks.”

Then, the man waved his arm at the battlefield and said, “Besides, I seen enough killin’ today.”

After that, with much difficulty, he sat down on the ground across from Henry. Henry propped himself up on one arm and watched him sit down. His head was still spinning slightly, but he was slowly regaining his senses. Surprised by what he had just heard, he asked, “So… you pushed me away the rocks?”

The man answered quietly, “Yes.”


"Because you could have been killed!"

"But we're at war. That’s the whole point!"
“I told you, I seen enough killin’ today.”

The answer wasn’t what Henry expected, but in a peculiar way he understood. Why were they trying to kill one another anyway? He thought about the war and tried to remember why it even began. When it first started everything seemed so clear, but now the reasons seemed blurred and unimportant. A big part of him wanted it to be over, to be back home with his family.

From where he was sitting Henry looked out onto the battlefield. There were hundreds of dead soldiers, many so badly shot up that they were seriously disfigured. Cannon balls had ripped through the trees and large branches were scattered about, some still giving off small wisps of gray smoke. A heavy thump caught his attention and he looked toward the other man. He was lying on his back and there was another large, blood-soaked stain on his trousers just above his left knee. It was clear that he was badly injured and Henry thought about the gun. He could easily reach it and finish the man off, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he called out, "Hey! What's your name?"

The man sat up slowly and glanced over at Henry. After painfully readjusting he answered, "James."
A movement caught Henry's eye. Their position in the woods wasn't too far from the railroad tracks and through the trees he saw three men walking down the tracks toward them. From the jubilant sounds of their voices he knew it was the first of the Confederate troops on their way back from the chase. A decision had to be made quickly. James was badly wounded and it would be easy to jump and run to the other men, but he couldn't escape the fact that James had tried to save his life. James heard the voices and an uneasy look came over his face. Both men knew that if he was found on the battlefield alive that he would be killed. Henry could think of only one thing to do. He whispered, "You got to hide."
There was a large patch of palmetto bushes nearby and Henry motioned toward them. He went in first and helped James crawl across the rough trunks and through the noisy fronds to the center of the largest bush. It didn't offer a lot of cover, but at least it was on the outer edge of the battlefield. He looked at James; his huge body twisted to fit in the tight area and said, "Stay here. I'll be back soon."

Then, he turned and exited the makeshift hideout. By now, the men were drawing closer and one of them heard the commotion in the bushes. He pulled his rifle up to his shoulder and yelled, "Who goes there?"

Henry called out, "Don't shoot! I'm on your side."

Then, in order to keep them away from James he rubbed his stomach and said, “I wouldn’t go that way if I were you. Breakfast didn’t set well.”

The three soldiers laughed, the one lowering the gun, and they walked on.

It didn’t take long before more men filtered back in, filling the woods with Confederate soldiers. Henry tried not to draw attention to himself or run into anyone from his company. He listened closely to the conversations around him trying to find out where the Union troops were headed.
Dusk finally started to settle in and Henry breathed a sigh of relief as the troops lined up to head back to Olustee Station. He managed to gather some supplies and creep back into the woods without being noticed. The air was turning cold when he got to the palmetto bushes. He called out quietly as he drew near, "James, are you still here?"

A deep voice answered back, "Yes."

Henry made his way through palmetto bushes as quietly as possible. It was almost eight o’clock and the crescent moon barely gave off enough light to see by. He crouched in front of James and handed him a canteen and a few pieces of salt pork. James took the food and water greedily and ate as Henry laid out the plan. “After you finish eating we’re going to crawl out of these bushes. When I’m sure it’s clear, I’m going to help you down to the railroad tracks. From there, we’re going to walk along the tracks at the edge of the trees until we find your camp. From what I've heard it's quite a few miles away.”
James responded with a painful look on his face, “I don’t know if I can make it. I’m hurt bad.”

Henry assured him, “Yes, you can. I’ll help you.”

After a few seconds of silence, James asked solemnly, “Why are you doing this?”

Henry’s answer was hesitant, but sure, “I owe you for saving my life.
James reacted defensively, "You don't owe me anything."

Henry tried to explain, "Listen, I know soldiers on opposite sides ain't supposed to help one another, but also I know that this is the right thing to do. Now, will you just let me help you?"

The pain in James' leg and shoulder was starting to get worse and he knew he could never make it back to the camp alone. After a moment he answered with a humble, "Yes".

They sat quietly as James finished his meal and when he was done they crawled out of the palmetto bushes. Henry instructed James, “Now, put your weight on my shoulder as we walk.”

Then, with the battlefield to their backs, the two men slipped out into the darkness together.

Last edited: Mon Dec 07, 2020 11:36 am

This blog entry has been viewed 356 times

The Deposit

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Sun Jun 22, 2014 12:30 pm

Okay, moving away from gardening back into a short story. This particular story is "open ended", meaning the ending is left open for the reader to interpret. I would really be interested to know what some of you think might have happened next.

Vince glanced at his ATM receipt and did a double take. He stared at it positive that he must have read it wrong, but the balance still read the same: $75,137.17. With a shaky hand he quickly put his card back into the machine. From behind him an irritated voice called out, "Come on Dude."

Vince turned to see a teenage boy in a blue t-shirt and baggy, faded jeans with a black cap sitting on his head so the bill was turned sideways. He started to apologize, but changed his mind simply because of the hat. He always hated it when guys wore their hat sideways, thought it made them look stupid. Vince turned back toward the ATM without saying a word.

He punched in his PIN number and then made his way to CHECKING ACCOUNT BALANCE. He chose to view it on the screen and waited for the display. After a few seconds the screen confirmed his account balance: $75,137.17. His mind was racing. There was obviously a mistake. He had no doubt that the hundred dollars was his, but somehow an additional seventy five thousand had been deposited into his account. He stared at the screen, dumbfounded, until the teenager spoke up once again, "Hey old man, can you hurry it up?"

Vince came out of his stupor. Old man? Did he just call me an old man? Vince was forty five years old and in good physical shape; made that way from years of working road construction. His skin was deeply tanned from the sun and a full head of sandy blonde hair hung down to his shoulders. His muscles were hard and lean and, despite the comment from the teenager, there was nothing in his six foot frame that looked like an old man. He tapped the screen to finish his transaction and retrieved his card. He turned away from the ATM and walked toward the teenager who was already making his way up the ramp. When they drew close to one another the teenager muttered, "It's about time."

On the way by Vince bumped him, giving a solid push with his shoulder. The boy tumbled and caught the metal handrail in the square of his stomach, causing him to double over. The violent jerk caused his hat to fly off and Vince chuckled when it landed in a small mud puddle. The boy recovered quickly and yelled after Vince. Vince continued to walk away at a leisurely pace. Without even looking back he said, "Looks like you could use a new hat."

Then, with a satisfied grin on his face, he headed to his truck.

Before he even got into the driver's seat his mind was back on the seventy five thousand dollars. Where did it come from? The bank had made a mistake, he was certain of that. However, it was in his account. What would happen if he withdrew it? Wasn't there something about possession being nine tenths of the law? Could he even withdraw that much money at once? He didn't know. He had never withdrawn more than a couple of hundred dollars at the time. Come to think of it, he never even had more than a couple of hundred dollars at the time. Every paycheck seemed to be already spent before he even got it and spare cash was a commodity that he seldom had the luxury of. Seventy five thousand dollars. That's a lot of money.

A movement caught his eye and he spotted the teenager in front of his truck. He was walking with his head down, staring at the soaked cap in his hands. He looked up, saw Vince and gave him the finger. Vince jerked his door open and made like he was going to jump out. The boy took off running, pushing down on a remote unlock as he fled the scene. He ran past a tall van and disappeared on the other side of it.

A few seconds later there was a squeal of tires and Vince caught sight of a car in his rear view mirror. It was a red Ford Mustang. There was a large white racing stripe across the hood and the windows were tinted black. It stopped directly behind him with its passenger side facing his truck and sat there a moment, engine revving up and down. Then, the tires started spinning, but the driver held onto the brake and a large cloud of smoke rose up and drifted right over Vince's truck. The driver took his foot off the brake and left the parking lot, squealing his tires all the way onto the main highway. He turned left and drove back by the bank. As he went by the teenager rolled down his window and, through the smoke, Vince could see the smirk on his face… and the wet hat sitting sideways on his head.

Vince shook his head as the smell of burnt rubber lingered in his nostrils. How do kids get cars like that anyways? He glanced around at his own vehicle, a ten year old Chevy S-10 pickup. It was a good truck, but it was getting old and had well over 150,000 miles on it. The headliner was starting to sag and there were a few cracks in the dash. He thought about getting a newer truck plenty of times, but there just wasn't enough money. After the divorce, there never seemed to be enough money. He survived from paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by and, to be honest, he was pretty tired of it.

A small band of onlookers had rushed outside to see what was going on. They stopped gawking after the speeding Mustang and slowly made their way back inside the bank. Vince sat in his truck, staring at nothing in particular. Seventy five thousand dollars. That's a lot of money.

The sound of passing cars filled his ears. Somewhere, a bird chirped happily. Seventy five thousand dollars.

Suddenly, Vince knew what he was going to do. With a new found confidence he opened the door, stepped out and walked toward the bank.

Last edited: Sun Apr 17, 2016 1:30 pm

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Forgotten Treasures - The Conclusion

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Sun Jun 08, 2014 10:23 am

Okay, in order to get to the end of this story in a timely manner I decided to speed things up a little. First, yesterday I actually posted two entries, so don't start on this one until you've read both posts from yesterday. Secondly, this last post is rather long. When I first started posting this story I didn't realize how long it actually was. I want to thank all of you who have stuck with it and for all the kind words along the way. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story. ~Tom

The living room was off to the left and Jenny could see that someone was sitting in a recliner watching The Price is Right. All of the curtains were drawn and the room was mostly dark, but the flickering, blue light of the television revealed that it was the same woman from the yard sale. The volume was extremely loud and Sarah, sensing that an explanation was needed, spoke over her shoulder, "She's a little hard of hearing."

Sarah led her through the small kitchen to a two person table that was set up in a breakfast nook. The three windows in the nook were also covered up by drawn curtains and Sarah reached up to pull them open. The sunlight streamed in quickly, revealing a quaint, little area that had white, tiled floors and walls that were pale, mustard
yellow. There were pictures of chickens all over the walls and chicken decorations everywhere. In fact, there were more chicken decorations in the kitchen than Jenny had ever seen in her life.

Sarah pointed to the table, "Have a seat and I'll pour us some coffee."

Jenny put the jewelry box on the floor by the table and then sat down. She glanced out the window and noticed the beautiful view of a flower garden. Even though it was obviously neglected everything was green and vibrant. There was a small birdbath where four or five small, colorful birds were enjoying their morning dip. She watched them for a second and then turned towards Jenny, "Why do you keep it so dark in here?"

Sarah came back with two cups of coffee and sat down across from her. She pointed to the cream and sugar then began to speak, "Mom doesn't like the windows open; she believes that someone is watching her."

Sarah started to say something else, but once again tears formed in her eyes. "I'm sorry", she sobbed.

Jenny reached out and touched her hand.

The two women sat across from one another and Jenny watched as the tears streamed down Sarah's face. Even though she didn't know this woman she somehow felt emotionally attached to her. She got out of her chair, placed an arm around Sarah's shoulder and held her as she cried.

When Sarah was finally able to speak she wiped the tears from her eyes with the palms of her hands and spoke in a soft voice, "I am so sorry that I broke down like that. I guess I've been holding it in for a long time. After this and what happened on the porch, you must really think that I'm a basket case."

Jenny handed her a paper towel to wipe the tears with, sat back down and answered caringly, "I don't think you're a basket case. I don't exactly know what's going on, but it's not hard to tell that you've been dealing with something that weighs heavy on you."

Sarah looked at Jenny and gave a half hearted, crooked smile as she cleaned her face off with the rough paper towel. "It's my mom", she said, "She has Dementia."

The mention of the word almost made her break into tears again, but she managed to keep them from coming this time. "I've been taking care of her for almost a year and I am just emotionally and physically drained. Lately, she's gotten extremely paranoid, that's why all of the curtains are closed. If I leave them open she won't come into the room."

Sarah went on, "I expected that something was going on a couple of years ago. I came over one afternoon to have lunch with her and when I opened up the pantry door the iron was sitting by the cans of green beans. I mentioned it to Mom and she just said, 'I was wondering where that was.' There were other things that should have clued me in, but to be perfectly honest I didn't want to think about it happening to her so I kept ignoring the signs, hoping that it would just go away. There were days that everything seemed OK. She would sit and talk to me like nothing was wrong, giving me advice like she used to do, and I would think, 'She's just fine.' But other days it was obvious that something just wasn't right. It all came to a head last year when I got a call from Mom's neighbor that he had found her in their back yard. She was wandering around, trying to find her way home. I made her a doctor's appointment and, before long, the doctor confirmed my biggest fear. I've been here almost every day since then and things have been getting progressively worse."

Jenny hardly knew what to say. Sarah had obviously needed someone to talk to. She struggled for the right words and then suddenly remembered the contents of the jewelry box, "What about you brother?"

Sarah looked up, surprised, "How do you know about my brother?"

"I saw his picture… in your mom's locket; the one that's in the jewelry box."

Jenny reached down, opened up the drawer and pulled out the chain and locket. She opened it up and showed it to Sarah.

Sarah's hand went over her mouth and she gave a silent gasp, "I haven't seen that locket in years. I didn't even know that she still had it."

She gently took the locket from Jenny's hand to examine it more closely. "That's my brother, Mitchell. He lives about thirty miles away. He helps me with the financial part of taking car of Mom, but he has a hard time visiting her. He just can't bear to be with her when she doesn't act the way that she used to."

Sarah continued to look at the locket as Jenny moved the jewelry box from the floor to the table. Jenny explained to Sarah how she came into possession of the box and then told her about the other items that she had as well. Sarah sat there in disbelief, trying to put it all together, "When did you say this happened?"

Jenny answered, "This past Saturday, shortly after noon. I know it was after 12:00 because I had just gotten off of work."

Sarah's eyes lit up, "That all makes sense because I didn't get here until almost 12:30 on Saturday. I noticed the card table and chair out in the yard, but when I asked Mom about it she simply shrugged her shoulders. She must have dragged it out into the yard by herself. It's a wonder that she didn't get hurt. I'm really surprised that she went outside though. Ever since the paranoia hit she hasn't stepped past the front door. I didn't know she had gotten rid of the jewelry box or the crochet blanket, but I did notice that the two birds were missing. There are actually eight of them. The other six are on a shelf in the living room. If you look at the bottom of the birds you can see letters on each one."

Jenny remembered seeing the letters when she was trying to find a manufacturing mark.

"My dad wrote one letter on each bird, I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U, and gave them to her for Valentine's Day one year when I was just a kid. He called them 'Love Birds'. He was always doing silly, romantic things like that. They have been a permanent fixture in our house ever since that day and after Dad died, she grew really attached to them."

Jenny smiled at the story of the birds, "But how did she get the YARD SALE sign out by the road?"

Sarah rolled her eyes, "That sign was put up when my neighbors had their yard sale two weeks ago. They just never took it down."

Jenny still had more questions, "Why do you think she made up the story about her sister?"

Sarah thought for a moment, "There are a lot of things about this disease that I don't understand, but one of the doctors told me that sometimes people with Dementia make up things that really didn't happen. That must be what it is, but I really don't know for sure. She has never done it before, but I have a feeling that she may do it again."

Jenny looked at Sarah. She thought about the jewelry box and the forgotten treasures that were hidden safely inside of it. She spoke to Sarah in a reassuring voice, "Ever since I saw what was in this jewelry box I knew that something was wrong, that no one would just give it away. There are things in here that are special to you and I have no desire to keep it. I'll gladly bring the other things back too.

Sarah felt something stir inside that she thought was dead and gone. For the first time in a long time she felt as if life had come back into her soul. The two women exchanged a heartfelt glance and even though words weren't spoken they both knew that a special bond had formed between them. Sarah smiled at Jenny and realized that it was the first genuine smile that had crossed her face in at least a year. She thought about her mom and for once things didn't look so bad. Of course she would still have to be here for her and take care of her, but now she had someone to help her through it.

Sarah stood up from the little table and took a step towards Jenny, "So, would you like to meet Mom? I think The Price Is Right is almost over."

Jenny stood up beside her. "I would like that very much."

Then, the two women headed toward the noisy living room, arm in arm.

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Forgotten Treasures - Unexpected Encounter

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Sun Jun 08, 2014 1:23 am

Jenny put everything back in the jewelry box, closed the lid and headed to the bathroom to get cleaned up. She fixed a bagel to eat on the way and then picked up the jewelry box as she left the house.

When she got to the driveway leading up to the old woman's home she noticed that the YARD SALE sign was still by the side of the road. She went past the sign and drive down the short dirt road and up the circular drive, parking behind a small, green car that wasn't there before. The house itself wasn't very big. It was made out of cinder blocks and the tan colored walls were covered with pollen from the surrounding canopy of oak trees, making it look older than it really was. The fallen leaves rustled under her feet as she walked up the seldom used pathway to the front door. When she got there she pulled open the old screen door and knocked on the wooden door behind it.

It took a minute or two, but the door finally opened up and a woman in her forties with short black hair hesitantly poked her head around the corner of it, "Yes? May I help you?"

It was obvious that the woman was leery of her so Jenny tried to speak in a reassuring voice, "Hello, my name is Jenny and I would like to speak to the older woman who lives here. She gave me this jewelry box the other day and I have some questions about it."

Jenny was holding the box in her hands and when the woman saw it she rushed out from behind the door, grabbed hold of it and shouted, "How did you get my mother's jewelry box?"

Jenny was caught by surprise, but she held tight to the jewelry box, refusing to let go. There was a struggle between the two of them, but Jenny wasn't about to give it up without a fight. The other woman shouted at her again, her voice crackling with emotion, "How did you get this?"

Jenny answered back, holding tightly to the jewelry box, "Her sister gave it to me!"

The other woman stopped pulling on the box and looked at Jenny with a bewildered look on her face, "What did you say?"

"I said that her sister gave it to me!"

With that remark the other woman let go of the box. Her shoulders slumped slightly forward and tears began to form in her eyes. With a look on her face that Jenny could only describe as defeated the woman spoke again, this time in a hoarse whisper, "My mother doesn't have a sister."

Somewhat confused, Jenny asked, "Was your mother's name Sylvia Daniels?"

The other woman stood there for a few seconds, then wiped the tears from her eyes and stared off into the distance. Then, she turned to face Jenny and spoke in a more reserved and calm voice, "My name is Sarah Jennings. I'm sure you think that I am some kind of crazy woman after what just happened, but if you would just give me a chance, I think that I can explain.

"So, are you saying that Sylvia Daniels was your mother?"

"No, I'm saying that Sylvia Daniels is my mother."

"What do you mean? Is she still alive?"

"She is very much alive. She's inside right now, watching TV. Listen, I can tell that you're a little confused. Trust me, I know how you feel. How about we go inside and talk about this over a cup of coffee? I promise I won't try to take the jewelry box again."

There was something in Sarah's voice that had a calming effect on Jenny. Despite the unexpected attack, Jenny had the overwhelming feeling that it was alright to go with her inside the house. Besides, there were too many unanswered questions to give up now and the fact that Sylvia was still alive added a few more. Jenny smiled and answered with, "I think I would like that."

Last edited: Sun Jun 08, 2014 10:28 am

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Forgotten Treasures - Inside The Box

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:41 am

The inside of the box was lined with gold colored, satin material and it seemed to give off a faint, iridescent glow as Jenny lifted the lid. Instead of a pirate's treasure, however, she found that the box was filled with cheap, costume jewelry. It was sectioned out very neatly, with two rows of rings, a long skinny area for necklaces and three compartments that were filled with all kinds of ear rings and broaches.

She started with the ear rings, pulling each one out individually. They were all large and colorful with gaudy, fake stones. While going through them Jenny noticed that the lid of the jewelry box had a two inch wide piece of material stretched all the way across the bottom of it. There was elastic sewed into the top of the material that allowed it to stretch out so that items could be dropped inside the pocket for safe keeping. She pulled the pocket open and peeked inside. At first she didn't see anything, but then she saw something that looked like a small piece of trash. She reached her hand inside the pocket and pulled it out.

What she pulled out ended up being a small hospital armband that was only about three inches long. There was a small, metal clasp attached to one end of it and the other end had been cut, obviously done when it was removed. Sitting inside the plastic, see through band was a yellowed piece of paper. Jenny looked at the paper and read the words that were typed on it out loud, "Baby Daniels, 3-29-69, Dr. Malone, NURSERY".

On the back side of the band were the words Clay Memorial Hospital. Jenny held the small baby armband in her fingers, slowly turning it over and over while reading the words out loud each time she turned it. She calculated the years in her head and voiced what she had been able to put together, "So, Mrs. Daniels gave birth to a baby forty four years ago at Clay Memorial Hospital that was delivered by Dr. Malone."

It seemed like a logical conclusion based on the facts that had been presented, but there were so many unanswered questions. Was the baby a boy or a girl? What was the mother's first name? Who was the dad? The old woman at the yard sale had said that her sister's kids went through everything and kept the things they wanted. Why wouldn't they want to keep the armband? Maybe they didn't see it? Maybe the baby died? With questions still forming in her mind, Jenny finished looking through the costume jewelry that was in the top of the box.

There were only a couple of necklaces and broaches, but they all had the same gaudy look. After quickly looking through them she started with the rings. There were about twelve of them and she examined each ring closely, silently chuckling at some of the large, colorful, plastic stones.

She finally came to one petite, gold ring that looked different than all the others. There was writing on each side of it and she picked it up to see if she could make out what it said. The ring was so small that she had to strain to read the writing on the sides, but eventually managed to make out the letters MHS on one side and then the numbers 67 on the other. It was a high school class ring. The dates fit together, Mrs. Daniels must have graduated high school in 1967, got married shortly afterwards and then had a baby in 1969. But this raised even more questions. How could someone be unfeeling enough to get rid of their mother's high school class ring? It just didn't make sense to Jenny. She put the ring back in its place and then reached to open up the first sliding drawer on the jewelry box.

The drawer slid out easily exposing the same beautiful, gold, satin material that was under the lid. Jenny saw a small clump of balled up silver chains right in the middle of the drawer and underneath the chains she could make out the back side of a light green envelope. The envelope excited her because she thought it might give her some more clues about the owner of the jewelry box. She quickly moved the ball of chains, picked up the envelope and then turned it over. Written in black ink across the front of the envelope was the name Sylvia. She smiled to herself as she put the first name on the card together with the last name on the baby bracelet, Sylvia Daniels.

Jenny opened up the envelope and pulled out the card. The edges were trimmed in gold and there was a large, red rose in the middle of it. Across the front were the words, "To the woman I love" in gold embossed lettering. She opened it up and saw, "Happy Birthday" in big letters and then hand written across the bottom were the two words, "Love, John". She was a little disappointed that there wasn't more in the card, but at least she could make a guess at the husband's name too.

She set the card aside, picked up the silver chains that were intertwined together and slowly began to pull them apart. When she was done there were really only two chains. One of them was about eighteen inches long and very thin. The other chain was a little thicker, but it was the locket on the end that really caught Jenny's attention. It was silver, round, about two inches high and had the inscription "Mom" on the front. Jenny found the little button to open it up and pulled the halves apart.

She was surprised to find that each side of the locket had a picture of a child. On the left was a girl of about five, holding a small, white, stuffed bunny rabbit. She was wearing a pretty, pink dress and she had black curly hair that was held together with a pink bow. On the right was the picture of a boy about the same age. He was holding a red ball and was wearing a little black suit. His hair had been cut close to his head and he had a big toothy grin on his face. Jenny smiled at the pictures and then found herself wondering why anyone would want to get rid of something as precious as a mother's locket.

She slowly put the chains aside and pulled open the last drawer in the jewelry box. To her dismay, it was completely empty. She reached her hand up inside of it just to make sure, but there was nothing to be found.

Jenny sat down in one of the kitchen chairs and thought about what she had found out by looking through the jewelry box. What she knew was that Sylvia graduated from high school in 1967 and married a man named John Daniels. They had two children and at least one of them was born at Clay Memorial hospital in 1969.

Try as she might, Jenny just couldn't make herself believe that Sylvia's children would want to get rid of the things that were inside the jewelry box. How could they be so heartless or uncaring? She wanted to know more about Sylvia and John Daniels. She wanted to know why the kids didn't want the silver locket. Jenny knew that she wasn't going to rest until she got to the bottom of it and there was only one way to find the answers that she was looking for; she would have to go back and visit the old woman who had given her the jewelry box.

Last edited: Sun Jun 08, 2014 2:58 am

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Forgotten Treasures - Finding The Box

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 9:52 am

Wednesday was Jenny's day off. She worked as a receptionist at a local gym from 8 am to 2 pm and then every other Saturday from 8 am to 12 pm. The money wasn't great, but it helped pay for the boys to attend Christian school. The hours worked well for her because she had time to take them to school in the morning and then pick them up in the afternoon.

As she dropped the kids off and turned toward home her mind had a chance to shift out of high gear for the first time in days. She thought about her husband and how much she missed him. She thought about her boys and how quickly they were growing up. Then, for some reason, the image of the old woman at the yard sale came to mind. It was then that she remembered the box that had been riding around in her trunk since Saturday. She found herself suddenly interested in what was inside of it. She knew about the things that had been on the table, but what about the other items that she didn't get a chance to look at? She decided to check out the box as soon as she got home.

She carried it inside and placed it on the kitchen table. There on top was the old popcorn maker. She picked it up, examining the discolored, yellow, plastic lid and noticed that the electric cord did not have a plug on it. "That goes in the trash", she said out loud.

Next, she pulled out the pack of stationary paper and found an old, faded, sale tag on the front that read $1.00. She removed a piece of the paper out of the fragile plastic wrapping and found that she actually liked it. It was light blue with a pleasant looking picture of a country road winding through the hills. There were trees along the road with birds flying all through the air. Across the bottom was the saying THE ROAD TO A FRIEND'S HOUSE IS NEVER LONG. She placed the piece of paper back in the package and set it aside to save.

Next were the two small, porcelain looking birds. She picked them up looking for some kind of mark to indicate where they were made. One had the letter I and the other had the letter U on the bottom, but the letters looked to be hand written in black marker. There were no other visible marks, but she liked the way they looked so she decided to keep them too.

Then she found the silverware and kitchen utensils. She immediately set the silverware aside to save, thinking about how hers somehow seemed to magically disappear (where did all the forks and spoons go anyway?). The utensils reminded her of things she used to see in her grandmother's kitchen. There was a potato masher, a hand mixer and a couple of other things that she wasn't quite sure of. They were put in the pile of things to keep as well.

At the bottom of the cardboard box she was delighted to find a blue and white crocheted blanket. She pulled it out and opened up. It was beautifully made and was just the right size for covering up. It would make a perfect blanket for lounging in front of the television on a cool evening.

Jenny looked back in the cardboard moving box and saw one more thing. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized that it was a jewelry box. She removed it from the moving box and sat it on the table to have a closer look. It was made out of a beautiful, light colored wood and there were two small gold handles on the sides. It had two drawers in the front which also had gold handles that matched the ones on the sides. On top of the box was a gold, heart-shaped piece of metal that bore the initials SJD in fancy script lettering.

She couldn't help but get excited about what could be inside. She placed her hands on the lid and ran her fingers around the ornate golden pieces that had been meticulously attached to the upper corners of the wooden box. She felt like a pirate about to open up a buried treasure and stared at the jewelry box for a second or two, trying to imagine what might be inside. Then, she slowly raised the lid.

Last edited: Sun Jun 08, 2014 2:58 am

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Forgotten Treasures - Life Goes On

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 10:02 am

Jenny drove home in silence, thinking about the events that had just taken place. Her mind kept going back to the image of the old woman, head hung low, slowly moving toward the house. There was a feeling of deep sadness there, a feeling that Jenny did not quite understand. She thought about the woman all the way home; the cloudy blue eyes, the deep wrinkles surrounding them, the sudden change in mood. She arrived at the house feeling melancholy and out of sorts, but there wouldn't be much time to dwell on it.

The first thing she saw as she drove up in the yard was Troy, her 14 year old son, standing in his soccer uniform, arms folded, waiting for her impatiently. Upon seeing her he immediately ran to the car. Before she could hardly get the door open he was right there beside her, "Mom, we have to be at the field in fifteen minutes. I'm going to be late for my game!"

"I thought the game was at 3:00."

"It was, but the coach called and said there was a mistake on the schedule. It's at 1:00 instead."

She looked at her watch, it was 12:45. She really didn't want to start rushing around today. "Where's your brother?" she asked Troy.

"On the computer, where else?"

"Well, get in the car and I'll go get him."

Troy jumped in and she got out. She quickly made her way up the steps and into the house. Ben was in the office on the computer. He looked up as she came in, "Hi Mom."

"Hey honey, get your shoes on, we need to leave for Troy's soccer game."

"Aw Mom, do I have to go?"

"Of course you do, you know you can't stay here by yourself."

Ben got defensive, "Why not? I'm ten years old!"

Even though she was trying to hurry, Jenny looked at her son and smiled, "I know you are, but that's not old enough to stay here by yourself. Besides, I hear they have some really good nachos and cheese at the concession stand."

The thought of something to eat helped Ben overcome his prideful moment. He thought about it for a second and then reluctantly answered, "Alright, I'll get my shoes."

They arrived at the park with only a couple of minutes to spare. Troy jumped out before the car even stopped rolling and ran to where the rest of the team had gathered on the field. Jenny watched him as he ran and then heard Ben say, "The concession stand is over there."

The rest of her day proceeded in much the same fashion. Everything was rush, rush, hurry, hurry. After the game there was laundry to do, a house to clean and Ben's overdue science project that demanded attention. It wouldn't have been so bad if her husband was around, but he was gone for a month of training with his new job as a heavy machinery diesel mechanic. She was, at this point, living the life of a single mom and as all of the responsibilities that come along with it quickly closed in around her, the thoughts of the old woman at the yard sale were pushed to the back of her busy mind.

Last edited: Sun Jun 08, 2014 2:58 am

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Forgotten Treasures - The Beginning

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 10:22 am

Jenny saw the YARD SALE sign and took a quick glimpse at her watch to make sure she had time to stop. She pulled into the yard and saw one table with a few items on it. "Is that it?" she thought to herself. She had the urge to back out and head on home, but decided to go ahead and get out.

As she walked up to the table the old woman sitting behind it looked up, nodded and then went back to her magazine.

There wasn't much on the table worth looking at. The sad display of items included an old popcorn maker, a boxed set of silverware, two small, porcelain birds, a pack of stationary paper that had been opened up and some odd and end kitchen utensils. Jenny browsed quickly and then turned to walk away.

Just then the woman spoke up, "I'll take thirty dollars."

Jenny turned back around, "Excuse me?"

"Thirty dollars. I said you can have everything for thirty dollars."

Jenny looked back at table, "No… I don't think I'm interested. "

The woman persisted, "I've got another box of old things that I'll throw in with it."

Jenny answered again, "I'm really not interested."

Still pleading her case, the woman went on, "All this stuff belonged to my sister. She died a couple of months ago."

There was a sincerity in the woman's voice that caused Jenny to soften a little, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

"No need to be. Nobody really liked her anyway."

The woman paused for a few seconds as if she were going to say something else. There was an awkward period of silence until she finally spoke again, this time with harshness in her voice, "Listen young lady, I'm tired of sitting here and I'm ready to go inside. I'll give you everything on the table plus the other box for thirty dollars."

Jenny was taken back by the sudden mood change. She looked at the old woman who was staring at her intently, waiting for an answer. "I'm very sorry about your sister, but I really don't need any of these things."

She turned once again to walk away, but before she could take a step, the woman spoke again, this time much softer, "Wait! Wait! I'm sorry; it's been a stressful time for me lately. I didn't mean to raise my voice at you. I'll tell you what, I was just getting ready to pack it up and I was gonna throw all this stuff away. If you want it you can have it."

Without waiting for an answer, the woman picked up a well used moving box from behind the table, "Here's the other things, I'll just put it all in the same box for you. Do you think you can carry it?"

Jenny was surprised to somehow find herself saying, "Yes."

She said good-bye to the woman, picked up the box and carried it to the trunk of her car. As she pulled out of the driveway she looked back and saw the old woman walking slowly toward the house, head hung low. She drove away thinking about how strange it all seemed.

Last edited: Wed Jun 04, 2014 2:53 pm

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A Lesson From The Garden - part 2 of 2

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 9:55 am

He found it about a month before, one little leaf poking out of the ground at the end of the bean row. He started to pull it up, but it looked like a squash plant, so he left it where it was. He checked it almost daily and the little plant seemed to take on a life of its own. Before long it had put out large green leaves and Preston decided that it was a pumpkin. Then, it started branching out with long, wispy tendrils that reached out and took hold of the fence. One day he looked in on it and a beautiful white flower had opened up. There, attached to the flower, was a small green fruit shaped like an hourglass. He knew then what it was; it was a gourd.

Disappointed, he thought about pulling it up. It was, after all, in the bean row, but he couldn't bring himself to do it because he enjoyed watching it too much. So, he left it where it was and every day since then he had rushed out to the garden to check on it. He spent a lot of time manipulating the vines so they would grow up the fence and it had practically covered every square inch of it. He was amazed how something that started out so small could grow so quickly.

Preston was still admiring the gourd plant when he felt something brush against his leg. He looked down and saw Misty. Her small hands were holding onto the chain link gate and her face was pressed up against it so that one eye was staring through a rusty link. She only said five words, "I like your garden Daddy," and then she looked up at him and smiled. Then, as quickly as she was there, she was gone.

Preston watched her skip away and a disturbing thought crossed his mind. Misty was, in fact, just like his precious gourd plant. The plant came up unexpectedly; so did Misty. The plant showed up in the wrong row; Misty showed up in the wrong part of his life. He was disappointed when he found out what the plant really was; he was disappointed when he found out his wife was pregnant with Misty. His heart melted as he thought about Misty. Was he treating this gourd plant better than he was treating his own daughter? How much time had he actually spent with her? How often had he really listened to what she had to say? Was it possible that he was holding a grudge against her for coming along so late in his life? Was he actually blaming her for some of his marital and financial problems? The more he meditated on it the more he shamefully realized that it was all true.

He thought a moment and then looked back toward the flowing plant at the end of the garden. He had been so wrong about that plant. In a matter of weeks, with a little care and nurturing it had become the centerpiece of his garden. What if he would have pulled it up when it was just coming out of the ground? He would have never gotten to watch it grow or see it bloom. He would have missed out on so much.

What was he missing out on with Misty by acting the way he was? What would happen if he spent some quality time nurturing and caring for her? A sound shook him out of his thoughts and he turned to see Misty running across the yard with her arms held straight out to the side of her body. She turned and waved, "Come play with me Daddy."

Preston looked at his garden, then back at Misty. He could almost hear the gourd plant silently pleading with him to step inside the gate. There was a moment of indecision. Then, somewhere in the back of his mind a distant voice spoke to him, "Go play with her."

He spoke out loud, in answer to the voice, "But what about the garden?"

He was still thinking about it when Misty called out to him again, "Come on Daddy, play with me. Please?"

She stopped right in front of him, arms still extended, making bubbly airplane noises. Then, she stepped forward, wrapped her arms around his legs and said, "I love it when we play together Daddy."

Suddenly, the garden didn't look so enticing. With a slight tremor in his voice he said, "So do I Honey. So do I."

And this time... he really meant it.

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A Lesson From The Garden - part 1 of 2

Category: Short Stories | Posted: Thu May 08, 2014 9:34 am

Preston Walters rolled his eyes and sighed heavily as warm air started coming from the air conditioning vents. This always happened when he was in the car line and it was one of the reasons that he hated picking Misty up from school. He shut the air off and pushed down on the electric window buttons. The front, passenger window glided down with ease, but the other three stayed put. He slammed down on the buttons with his fingertips repeatedly, hoping to get some kind of reaction, but the windows didn't budge. By the time he got to the pick-up point he was soaked with sweat and totally frustrated.

Misty saw his car and started jumping up and down, waving excitedly. When the all clear signal was given she ran to the window and shrieked, "Hi Daddy!"

In a sour voice he uttered, "I'm hot. Just get in the car so we can get out of here."

She opened the door and jumped in, throwing a pink book bag in the floorboard. Totally oblivious of his bad mood she said, "I like it when you pick me up Daddy."

Preston looked her way, forced a smile and lied. "So do I Honey. So do I."

Misty talked non-stop all the way home, going into great detail about every minute of her day. Preston simply drove and half listened, offering an obligatory, "Really?" or, "You don't say?" during the rare quiet moments. When they reached the house Misty jumped out as soon as the car stopped. Before he could even get out of the car she was bursting through the front door. As he watched her run inside he could hear her small, excited voice, "Mommy, Mommy! Guess what I did today?"

Preston sighed and leaned over to pick up the book bag.

Later on that day, while walking to the garden, he relived his drive home with Misty. He didn't like the way he felt toward his six year old daughter, but he just couldn't seem to get over it. Misty was their third child and the only one that wasn't planned. In fact, she was a total surprise, coming nine years after Tiffany and eleven years after Jack, now a senior in high school. He thought about having one child ready to graduate while another was just starting school. He suddenly felt tired… and very old.

He stopped at the gate and looked out onto the garden. This was his favorite place to be, his silent escape from life. He spent at least thirty minutes a day here pulling weeds, picking off bugs, looking for new growth and just enjoying the time outside. It always helped him get his mind straight. His eyes moved to the end of the garden. There, completely covering the fence was the plant that had become the central point of his backyard getaway.

Last edited: Sun Apr 17, 2016 1:25 pm

This blog entry has been viewed 466 times

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