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     “Are you sure they’re coming today?  The Red Dog asked.

      “Santa said they were, you know that.  When  Santa says something, believe it.  He is a friend of Jesus.  And I'm pretty sure Jesus put him in charge of Christmas, “ said the Raggedy Boy.

     “Yes, Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus birthday,  but I think He really was born sometime way back in September.”  The Black and White Tiger growled.

      “So we all get presents on Jesus’ birthday.  Isn’t that sort of weird.  Most people get presents on their birthday, not someone else’s birthday,”  The Red Guy that laughed a lot said in a whisper.

      “I heard you, Red and the reason for that is ….   Well, I actually don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Jesus gave us his Saving Grace and all we have to do to get that gift is to say ‘thank you, Jesus, I accept your gift,”’  said Mr. Octopus.

      “Yes, and that’s all well and good, and I do believe in Jesus.  What I’m not so sure of is, are the kids coming, and if they are, will they still remember us, and will they take us with them,” all the bears sang out in harmony.

       Orange Fish blubbered out, “Why do you think they’ll take us?  They didn’t even name us!”

      “Oh, stop crying Fish.  The kids were really young when they got us, and then they went away for a long, long time.   It will be okay this time around.  Santa said so,” declared the Raggedy Boy.

      The Stuffies and Friends had spent a long time in a large black bag out in the shed.  When it got cold, they all huddled together to keep warm, and the second time the cold came, in came a family of mice.”

      ”Eeek, Eeek, Eeek,”  yelled the biggest girl Mouse, Stuffie, as she pushed away from the brown creatures.

            “ What are you yelling about?  Are you scared of our relatives, “ asked the Boy Mouse?

       “ Those, those creatures are our relatives?  Are you sure?  They’re so brown and fuzzy, not like us at all,” huffed the big girl Stuffie Mouse.

      “Of course they are, just look at their faces.  Same pointy nose, waggly tail, whiskers.  Yes, they are our family.  But it really doesn’t matter if they are related though.  They need help. Look… The babies are shivering,”  the boy Mouse said.

      “Welcome!”  All the Stuffies yelled, together, ashamed of not being friendly when the small family arrived at their bag.  Their shout scared the family of mice and the small brown mice started to scatter.

      “Hush,” said the Raggedy Boy to the Stuffies.    “Please come back.  Do not be afraid of us.  We’ve been stuck in this corner of the shed and have not seen anyone except a Squirrel that needed some stuffing for her nest last time it was cold.  I let her take some of my sleeve.  You look as if you could use a bit of my sleeve too.”

      Boy got the name Raggedy, after the time with Mrs. Squirrel.  He was a bit of a hero to the rest of the crowd of Stuffies and Friends because he had been brave to let Mrs. Squirrel have a piece of his arm.  Even the Vampire thought the Boy was brave.

 Now, everyone considered themselves brave since they rode the rapids down a large white canyon that twisted round and round.  After that,  they were blown up, down and around through a dry, warm valley.  Everyone was dizzy but nice and clean when done, needing to rest.

 But, today they had a family in need, to tend.  If they all worked together, they would accomplish all that had to be done before the children arrived. 

 The Raggedy Boy’s sister helped Mrs. Mouse wrap her babies in the blue shirt’s cloth and some of the cream cloth from the Ragged Boy’s arm.  They had just finished getting the babies settled in when they heard a car stop and children laughing.

   “I hear the kids coming.  Now shush.  All will be okay.  Santa said so,” the Raggedy Boy declared.

 And so it was, as each child greeted their old friends, having some ride home in the car, so they might catch up on all the news from The Stuffies and Friends.  And to share with the Stuffies and Friends what they had been doing for the time they had been apart.

 



 
 

I've often wondered how the other half lives. I mean all the married people. How do they live? I've heard a lot of cynicism about how reality sets in, soon after the ceremony, and I've been around enough married couples who've been married for a lifetime already, who fight constantly to do the least little bit of communicating with each other at all. I've had enough experience to be familiar enough with the Halleluiah Hula that I don't believe risking everything to get a sex partner is worth the heartache.
I've comforted friends who have cried the blues because their spouse didn't want to have kids all of a sudden, when having kids together was my friend's point in getting married to the girl in the first place. I've heard how depressed it made him feel that they'd never have a family of their own. I've known such people whose wives became pregnant soon after the blues hits the husband. I've been to friend's homes, when they've got their own rug rats cluttering up their floors with “toys,” which seem to be the things which take away all the secure footing in the entire house.
I've made public statements that I feel uncomfortable around children, until some public places ask me to go away and not come back, under threat of a trespassing charge. What kind of trumped up crap is that? I'd rather not be around my friend's kids, because their kids make me nervous. I'm not on the verge of committing a crime. I just want to stay away from having any kind of interaction with kids, who are the epitome of vulnerability, and I don't want to be around with that sort of state of mind under foot to have to concern myself with.
Friends go through all the baby-proofing of their houses, just so the little ones theoretically can't get ahold of anything that could hurt them, only to have their two year old eating Cheerios off the bare floor in the kitchen, after they've gotten to the food by dumping it out onto the floor, because they're hungry at a time that doesn't make any sense. The whole ball game baffles me completely. How do guys like that ever get to the point where they justify their own behaviors and belief systems? How do they ever get past the cynicism to actually manage to have a successful marriage and a successful fatherhood?
It's all too dangerous for an old fall risk like me. I never know, when I'm in such situations, when I'll be tripping on the “toys” and falling headlong into wherever I end up, with the baby in my arms at the time. Gee. Just the kind of circumstances I'd like to avoid forever. What I am is a confirmed bachelor, since the get-go. I've only wanted to marry one girl, but the time came between us – before the ceremony – when getting married just didn't make any good sense to me. In those days, I had no substance and no job. I was a no count kind of guy, who had an illness that was going to keep me a no count kind of guy for a long time.
I've known guys who did everything they could possibly think of to get married, and failed, only to succeed when they least expected it. They've done everything they can think of to make themselves attractive, only to find that maybe they didn't want to be all that attractive after all. I knew a guy who told me all sorts of things about how his marriage that were not the least bit idyllic or desirable, and he told me flat-out that if I wanted her, I could have her.
I've known guys who tried to get pregnant with their wives from way back, but when the object seems the most illusive to them, is exactly when they actually succeed in achieving a pregnancy. I've known pregnant women who go through the most unspeakable discomfort, who drive their husbands nuts for nine months time, who just need another guy, a confirmed bachelor man to talk to, who knows how to be kind, in a platonic way, to a tormented female.
I've known guys who went through all sorts of changes, just to find themselves in the sites of some woman they've scarcely noticed in their mutual circles, someone who is unflaggingly obstinate about how she wants decency in their marriage, to a point of distraction from the consummation of the marriage in the first place. How does a guy marry a girl who has no passion whatsoever? How does a guy get past the time he wants what he wants when he wants it, only to find he gets what she's got when he gets it? How does a guy trust in a situation like that?
It's occurred to me that I've gotten relatively close to getting married any number of times, but my fear has always rescued me, and I've undermined the process every time. I realize I'm more than a little bit cavalier with the ladies, as a focus of my social behavior, but in recent times I've been living in the hen house, being the only rooster who can't be caught, while the senior citizens in this crazy house try their darnedest to make anything at all happen between us. It's going on, on the internet, too. The case of the lone gentleman, who doesn't want what he thinks he wants, most of the time.
 
 
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Part of this is based on fact. In the mid 1980s, I used to listen to the short-wave radio transmissions from around the world. One such broadcast from the old USSR talked about a double train crash, involving nuclear waste. The news never got out.

“ICQ Kiev3 to ICQBristol4, over.”

“ICQBristol4 to ICQKiev3, over.”

“Hello Al, how are things at your end?”

“Hi Carl, just the same as usual, nothing much happens here sadly. I can do with some excitement,” I said with resignation.

“Yes, sometimes it is like that. Here we are still hiding from the authorities, if they find this transmitter. It could be a camp for us,” Carl, my Russian radio friend replied. “Have you heard from Joe in Texas yet?”

“No, I was thinking this call would be from him. I’m a bit worried, he hasn’t been in contact for weeks and that isn’t like him, usually he is so full of himself.”

“Al, maybe this pandemic is hitting him worse than he is letting on. You know those Americans don’t like to tell you how they feel.”

“That’s so true Carl, of all traits they have, that is the one I could never get used to,” I paused, thinking how to frame the next question. “Have you made contact with people in your area?”

“No. All radios are confiscated and smashed, the authorities are trying to contain and control the information, but there are still free thinkers here. That is what worries them. How about you, have you made contact?”

“I had some luck a few days ago. I picked up a signal from some out of the island ham. He had no idea what the heck it was all over.”

“He’s lucky then,” Carl replied. “I was I was the same. I’ve seen children with bleeding eyes and skin peeling, crying in the arms of their dead or dying parents. It’s so sad to see and know you daren’t go near them for risking contagion.”

“Our variation is just as bad, people with open wounds and sores oozing pus as they scream. The trouble here is that ours can travel in the air for up to fifty feet and lay dormant for days. We don’t know where to go or how to contain it.”

“I was listening to a broadcast the other night from a ham in France. She was desperately trying to contact somebody outside of Lyon to tell them what was happening in her area.”

There was a pause as my friend thought about his reply, you could have heard a feather fall when he said “This is far worse than anybody could have imagined, I heard a broadcast from Genoa. Some man there is trying to make contact with Dusseldorf but all he can hear is white noise.”

“You do realise that we are the only source of information, Carl. All telecoms went down within minutes and now all you get is just short wave transmissions.”

“Yes. The government here is running itself ragged trying to find us and kill these broadcasts.”

“I think all governments are doing the same, Carl. I‘ve heard nothing from Sweden, China or South Africa for days and it’s worrying that this can spread so far so quickly. It’s only a day or two since I caught that snatched conversation from your area and already most of the world has gone dead.”

All the time this chatter was going on, in the background I could hear screams and rifle fire. I remember thinking “If you need to go, just leave the radio Carl.”

Then I felt I had no choice but to say “Carl, I can hear rifles and screams for God’s sake, if you need to go, just go!”

“Thank you for you deep concern, Al. But, if I leave I have nowhere to go, if they don’t get me. The virus will and I want to stay on as long as possible tonight, you could be the last voice I hear.”

Behind his fearful tones, I could hear boots heading up the stairs.

“Al, before I go, there is something the world needs to know. Two days ago there was a train crash near here. One train was carrying Uranium 235 and the other a deadly germ virus. Separate, they are deadly, but combined...,”

Carl didn’t need to end what he was saying. U235 has a half-life of 703,800,000 years.

The next sound I heard was a boot splintering his door and then AK-47. There was no sound for minutes. The next voice I heard wasn’t Carl “We have your radio frequencies. We WILL come for you next!”


 
 
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            The cold crispness of the night should have been a lovely feeling, but for Pedro Guavana it only held the horrors in his mind in check only for a short while. The struggle to get breath as he fell down the snowy banks overtook the fears of what was chasing him.

            In his sleep he could tell himself, “It's a dream Pedro.” But, this was no dream and sleep was the last thing on his mind at this moment.

            It had started a few days ago, a family trip to the mountains just before Christmas. All week his wife and family had been looking forward to it.

            “When are we going?” cried Juan and Janina, his two little ones.

            “Soon,” replied Mary his lovely wife, “as soon as daddy returns from work and has had something to eat, it's a long trip and there are few places to rest.”

            Rest, when was the last time he had done that. His sleep haunted by the sights he saw on his return to camp that night. His waking hours were spent running from demons that chased him endlessly. There was never anytime to stop and think of rest, survival was his aim; there had to somebody around.

A quiet, secluded respite before the holiday rush had turned into a living nightmare. Not even in his writing could he have thought of what had happened, but he had seen it.

            What he had seen defied description, yet the truth was staring at him like a blinding light of terror, “These things don't happen in this age,” he kept telling himself over and over, “this is a civilised land.”

            Looking back over the weekend, there had been signs but they were ignored. Now it was too late. Too late for forgiveness; for peace; all there was now was retribution and horror.

            Before they had left that last gas station and the owner had told them “Watch out for night spirits! And don't forget to leave them so food.”

            “What does the man mean?” asked Juan.

           

            “It's nothing to worry about, my little ones. Just old folks stories of things that you feel but never see,” Pedro had told them as he tried to stop them worrying. The look he got from his wife was more serious.

            “In that case, why did the man warn us dad?” Janina asked.

            “These folks don't like to be disturbed, love. They make up all kinds of stories to scare people away. But, it doesn't work on me.”

            Again his wife looked at him as if saying “That is what you tell them. But do you believe it?”

            “What did he mean about the food, dad?” asked Janina.

            “The legend says that if we leave them food, they will leave us alone,” Mary replied before her husband could pour scorn on the fable.

            “And that's all it is, some silly story to scare the people off. The most likely reason for the story is that they have something to hide,” Pedro commented as the family looked to him.

           

            Pedro drove his car up the winding mountain road; the pine trees were looking splendid with the wintery frost on the needles. The road was barely driveable now, the rains and snow turning what had been hard core into a slushy mess. Twice he lost traction and slid back a few yards, before regaining grip.

            “Pedro, why not turn back. The road is too dangerous now,” Mary pleaded as the children held each other in terror, “can't you see what you're doing to the children!”

            “If I do that, they will think I believed that old man at the station.”

            “No, we won't daddy!” cried the children.

            Looking out of her window, Mary said “Better that, than end up down there dead!”

            Pedro tried to keep the car going, but with the mud gripping the wheels it was hopeless, for every yard they gained, they lost three. The end came when the car hit a rock and the front left tyre was ripped off.

            “That's it!” he said, “We walk from here. It isn't far to the campsite.”

            “You ARE joking, of course!” Mary screamed at him, “I'm tired, the kids are scared and it's too dark to see the path.”

            “What about me? I am tired too after driving up here.”

            “Don't tempt me, Pedro,” she cried as she turned to look at her husband, “you get us out here in the winter, miles from God knows where. We have no idea where we are.”

            “That is the pleasure, love. Being alone in the wilderness, and besides I know where we are.”

            “Well, you try telling that to them!” Mary said as she went to cuddle the children, now even more scared, hearing their parents arguing. “It looks as if we have no choice in the matter now doesn't it!”

            Taking the lead with the flashlight, Pedro set off. In daylight, he could have found the site easily but now with the moon casting eerie shadows across the paths and strange sounds coming from the nearby trees, he was beginning to doubt the idea of this weekend.  It had been meant as a way for him to reconnect with what had been so good about his writing. Pedro’s writing had always been able to capture the feel of nature. But, recently he had last that element in his writing and this trip was to try and find that feeling again. Now, it looked like the dream was going to turn into his nightmare.

Tired and with clothes soaked by the constant winter drizzle, Mary and the children were getting niggled.

            “Okay, explorer genius. WHERE is this site?” Mary chided Pedro.

            “Remember, last time I was here it was daylight and the road to the site was clearly visible,” Pedro replied.

            “So, you are lost! Great, that’s all we need; lost; cold and hungry. Thank you for a wonderful start, love.”

            “Give it a rest, Mary,” Pedro called into the encroaching darkness. “I thought it would do us good to get out of the city.”

            “A great idea, if it was May to September, but here we are two weeks into November!”

            Pedro started shaking his head violently and screaming “NO!”

            Mary asked him “What’s wrong now?”

            “I’ve been hearing voices for the last ten minutes and they’re getting too loud now.”

            Mary said with total resignation, “Well, as we have to find that camp, we may as well keep walking.”

            Twenty minutes of back breaking up hill climb later, they finally made camp. Being out of season, there was nothing provided. Carrying his machete, Pedro went to try and find some game to kill.

            All the family could see was the light moving in the trees, hidden by the thick trunks of the pines. When he returned, Pedro was met by the horrid sight of his family tied up and skinned, their bodies still running with blood. From this moment, Pedro could only remember running.

            He was out of breath when he finally sat on the fallen tree trunk, “I can’t go on. If you want me, come and take me,” he muttered.

            For the first time in hours, he had time to think. Then wished he hadn’t.

            He had questions and the answers were plain to see, but terrible to think about.

            “What is the chicken taste in my mouth? Why am I covered in blood?”

            Looking as the machete in his lap, there was no denying the evidence. The broken blade; the bone fragments and tissue stuck to it. All this left Pedro with only one conclusion to make as he set off back to the car, with the hope of finding the gas station again.

            After taking another wrong turn and being totally disorientated he came across a group of wrecked cars. Their roofs covered in what appeared at first glance to be animal skins, but was it?

           

           


 
 
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Excerpt From Jake's Elvis J Has Left the Barn

Chapter Three – Kids and Elvis

Elvis loved kids. He could always depend on a handful of grass offered by grubby little hands. Sometimes he’d get a horse treat if the kid knew where they were kept. When Elvis came to my home, grandkids were already making their appearance in the world, and they loved Grandma’s house and her horses even more. Having sixteen grandkids and their various friends always visiting, my horses learned right away that kids were a good thing.
Even though I lectured, warned and growled, not all of them would listen to my dire warnings of not going into the corral to pet the horses. From the fence was okay, but I knew that even the best of horses, if startled, could trample a small child underfoot.
Elvis was always the first to greet the happy kids and reap the benefits of their need to feed the horses. How he sensed their innocence, I don’t know.
I remember the first time I encountered a child in the corral it was a Kodak moment visually, a heart attack physically. My oldest granddaughter, Jaquelynn, all of four years old, had climbed in with Elvis. She had happily wrapped her arms around his front legs, her head between his knees, and was now smiling endearingly up at me. Elvis arched his neck, looking down curiously, while standing statue still. I quietly went into the enclosure, my hand sliding down his silken shoulder while reaching to disengage the giggling girl. When she was extricated and I had her safely in my arms, I leaned into him, resting my head on his neck in gratefulness for his calmness. He nuzzled the little girl, looking for his reward.
He gave horsey-back rides freely. I could always depend on him to be available for a quick walk around the corral for an eager toddler. I always did this bareback and they would hold on to his mane. He would step carefully, balancing them on his broad back. My second oldest granddaughter, Katelynn, was still in diapers when her mom and I set her up on his back. With chubby little hands she clutched his mane; her blue eyes alight with joy and fearlessness.
“Go faster, please, go faster,” she pleaded. So I tugged on his lead rope, the signal to step up his speed. He hesitated, sensing her inability to stay on, but being obedient, he went into a rough trot. The bounce was too much for the laughing toddler and she slipped from his back before we could catch her. She landed on her diapered bottom, sitting up, surprised. Then she threw herself back on the ground and started to wail.
Elvis turned his head, ears pricked forward, listening to her cries. Her mother scooped her up, dusted off the little bottom, and reassured her. She reached for the inquisitive nose Elvis offered, wiping her crocodile tears on the soft end of it. Then like a cloud revealing the sun, her smile broke free and she begged to ride once again.
We slid her up on his back and I asked him to walk out again. This time he acted as if he was walking on eggs. Each step was balanced, as he adjusted to her squirming, keeping her on his back.
“Faster, please Grandma,” she pleaded. I tried, a tug to speed him up a hair, but he refused. Methodically plodding along, he knew what was best for his bouncing charge. I couldn’t have dragged that horse into a trot.
I came to respect and appreciate his innate ability to assess his rider. Later on, as the grandkids grew old enough to ride on their own, I would use his sense of a rider’s skill to determine what other horse in my herd the child could handle. He became my best tool in teaching the children. If they didn’t have the skill level to make him do what he needed to do, he would quietly head to the gate and stand there, refusing to go anywhere as they squirmed, kicked and yelled. All my grandkids learned they couldn’t ride any other horse until they could work with Elvis and get him to listen to their cues.
The time Elvis definitely deserved the title of saint was when my grandson, Milton, visited. Again in the toddler years, he was quite active. My house was always full of grandkids coming and going and it was common to see a little one at the corral giving the usual offering of hay.
So it was easy for Milton to slip into the forbidden corral with the stick he had picked up in his play. What is it with boys who have to wander around with a stick in their hand, I will never know. I was in the house and happened to look out the dining room window. I had thought, as a city girl, how wonderful it would be to have the main corral as my view from the front of my house. I didn’t realize that view came with a smell!
I saw Milton toddling towards a dozing Elvis who was relaxing in the warm sunshine, letting everything hang out. I headed for the front door at lightning speed when I realized where he was headed with that stick. I had only reached the front porch, feeling like I was in one of those dreams where you watched in horror as a scene play out, yet cannot move fast enough to intervene. Milton was short enough to fit under Elvis’s belly and with a batter’s practiced eye, aimed for the dangling appendage. Even as I hollered he swung.
Never in my life have I seen a horse suck up so fast. His belly went to his back bone, his eyes popped open wide, the dangling remnant of his male-hood disappeared. He locked his legs, somehow even in his half-awake stage, sensing he had a child underneath him. Milton’s giggle floated on the air, I was faint from holding my breath, and Elvis slowly turned his regal head, to stare at the little juvenile delinquent under his belly.
I wish I could take these Kodak moments frozen in my memory and down load them to my computer. The expression on that horse’s face would have won many a photo contest! Milton toddled out and headed to my next horse, but by that time I had finally reached the corral and scooped up the little offender. Elvis politely sniffed him, and I would have given anything to be able to read his mind.