Aberration (Eulogy Book II)

Hello Readers,

This is the start of the second book in my Eulogy series. I plan to do only three but it may end up being only two. We will see how far my characters are willing to go. I had always intended three but to be honest it is more up to Alex than me. If you read Eulogy then you know Alex has been on a journey of pain, love, loss, and is battling to keep his sanity in check. In Aberration (a working title) He releases the mad man inside. He nurtures his rage and anger and sets out on a path of wanton destruction with only one thing on his mind. Killing. All critiques, thoughts, heckles, and the like are welcome. Thanks for reading -JM

Aberration

1

He woke covered in blood, some old and some fresh from the previous night’s hunt. He had an acidic taste on his swollen tongue. His fingers were numb from the sub-freezing temperatures. Undaunted by the cold the fire still raged in his cracked psyche. He crawled from the wreckage of a half destroyed camper he had made his bed the previous night. He could smell the bodies of the innocent travelers who had been mercilessly killed only a few days before. He had grown accustomed to this smell. Even frozen, the dead still had a noticeable stench. This odor no longer sickened him.

He yawned and stretched surveying the destruction around him.  It was the third group he had discovered since he began hunting them just before winter set in. He had caught a few he believed to be scouts or messengers but they were useless to him. They couldn’t speak English so he had dispatched them with little courtesy and no regrets.

He was a killer. He could do it with no remorse and sleep like a baby the very same night. The days without kills were the ones he found it most difficult to sleep and most of his days were like this. He began carving his kills into the flesh of his left forearm and was pleased to see that it was filling in quite rapidly. There had been fifteen in the first group nine in the second and to his pleasure twenty-three in this last group.

These were trained soldiers he was killing. He sometimes hoped he would die when he went after them then anger would chase away his weakness and he would openly admonish himself. “They all must die, you swore it!” After this thought he would trek on confident in knowing his was a just mission and he would see it through.  He often found himself chuckling at the idea that he, a simple country boy was capable of taking out an entire platoon of trained and heavily armed fighters.

He was aware that he had several key advantages. His first and greatest advantage was the element of surprise. He could see the shock and awe on the faces of these sun hardened men. The look of disbelief that they the holy ones could be thwarted by a single infidel. He gloated and silently cheered himself as he crept across the countryside.

The second advantage he had was that these men had limited communications abilities and were forced to use shortwave radios. He could not understand their language but he learned to track the convoys based on the terrain and signal strength. He tracked one group of these terrorist for two weeks before he caught up.

The third and most important advantage Alex had was the cold. No amount of training could prepare you for a night of negative fifteen degree weather.  He had grown accustomed to it and thrived in it. He traveled lightly and could cover as much ground on foot as his quarry. Despite being well supplied and in large off road vehicles they had no chance of out pacing the ruthless predator that stalked them.

Alex traveled at night to keep his body temperature up. He could easily track the lumbering machines. The moon illuminated the snow so much it was as if the ground were glowing. He would sleep only when his body found it necessary. He was in the best physical condition of his life. He hadn’t eaten or drank anything unhealthy in months and the endless hike was turning what remaining fat stores he had from his lazy days on the couch. “Waiting to die,” into pure muscle.

He had never been characterized as small by any means. It had been his meek personality which made him seem smaller somehow. This was a new world and no one would ever think of this burgeoning titan as meek again. When he stopped to eat he obeyed all the rules he and his former traveling companions had put into effect. He sterilized everything before handling. The only difference now was his diet which consisted of mostly protein shakes, vitamins, and occasionally canned soups when he stumbled upon them.

When his mission began he was not in bad shape at 6’3 270 lbs. After months of hard traveling the former was a complete contrast to the chiseled 225 lbs. he now carried. He did not seem to realize the changes in his appearance. He rarely saw himself, lately the mirrors in the stalled cars he passed were caked with layer upon layer of ice and snow.

He did notice a change in his strength. His mind wandered as he trudged through the waist deep snow. “You almost got me didn’t you?” He asked aloud to the driving snow. He was unsure as to where he was, he sometimes just walked when he wasn’t stalking prey and he had new information to digest.

He remembered the night before. He crept up on the encampment during a complete white out. He almost felt sorry for the men he was about to kill. He had been watching them for days just staying out of sight. Being alone he could hide just about anywhere and not be noticed. Any tracks he left were quickly swallowed by the blowing winds and snow which he had been traversing for what seemed like an eternity.

He had been waiting for a night like tonight. The poor desert dwellers were trying in vain to stay warm. He chuckled as they tried to light a fire repeatedly but the frozen wood and wind had made it nearly impossible. He watched as they formed a circle with their vehicles trying to block the wind and snow. With this and a gallon or two of diesel fuel they were successful.  This was the last thing Alex had been waiting for.

Alex knew that seeing him dressed all in white in a blizzard with fire blind eyes would be near impossible. He was now virtually invisible. Alex treated these usurpers as vermin, nothing more than an infestation that needed eradicating. He treated them just as he and his kind had been treated. He had no mercy and went about his work as anyone would who enjoyed their business.

Alex carried few weapons these days, he found at the first Army reserve station he came to that it had been emptied of weapons. It was soon after he tracked down the first smaller platoon and discovered they were the weapons thieves. He got lucky and quite by accident discovered the offices of a blasting company. He used the munitions he found to dispose of the first group of interlopers. Periodically as he travelled he would find a phone book and seek companies such as these and help himself to their blasting supplies.

He smiled as he remembered crawling in a wide arc around the trucks creeping up every so often to carefully place more charges. The fools weren’t even posting a guard. Well why would they? He thought. They couldn’t know I would be out here. His grin widened as he remembered sending the charge through the wires.

The roar of the detonation was deafening. The blast created a reverse snow globe effect. There was a huge ball of fire and flying debris. He wished he would have had the foresight to have brought a camera. The devastation in that moment was a thing of beauty. The illusion was short-lived and quickly dispelled as the debris began raining down around him along with miscellaneous charred limbs. He ducked behind a large oak hoping he would not fall victim to his own handy work.

He stood cautiously with pistol in hand and surveyed the damages. Everything was destroyed. All eight of the charges intended for leveling old buildings had blown. He was getting better with this type of work. On the first two attacks not all had detonated.

It was then he saw movement just to the left of the biggest crater. He had missed one. He was on him in a flash before the stunned man could react. He appeared shaken but not seriously injured. When Alex pinned the much smaller man to the icy ground he began to yell in his native tongue. Alex pressed the muzzle of his 9mm into the soft exposed flesh of the man’s throat. There was already a round chambered as Alex had grown accustomed to doing. He was always prepared.

The man’s yells ceased and he closed his eyes seemingly preparing for death.

“English?” Asked Alex expecting to receive no reply or possibly more of the incoherent language his victims spoke.

Very clearly but terribly shaken, the man answered, “Yes, I speak it well.”

Alex was stunned. He had spoken to no other English speaking person since the day he buried his wife. This thought caused a lump in his throat and he quickly forced the memory away. Without warning he hit the man hard in the head with the grip of his gun rendering him unconscious.  He then tied the man to a tree and waited for him to wake.

Alex was deep in thought when he was drug from his reverie “please, I mean you no harm. I am a scholar. I was a doctor before all this. I had no choice. I had to work with these zealots to ensure the safety of my family.” The man’s plea angered Alex. Had this man traded Alex’s friends and family for his own? Yes, Alex thought. He had.

“Where were you going? What was your mission?” Alex was stern and the man knew this was his last day on earth. This man had struck without warning in the harshest weather he had ever known against twenty three heavily armed men alone. Yes he would soon be dead and he would tell this man whatever he wanted to know.

“I will tell you what you need to know. What was done by our leaders was unconscionable. I know I will die here today and you are right in doing so. If by chance you release me and I survive and rejoin my superiors I will, however unwillingly, be working against you again. I sir am, as I said a man of science. I hold a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. I will die with dignity. I will for my part do what is right. In an attempt to save myself and my family I have gone against all that I know is right and true.” He was silent.

Alex felt the man’s confession was honest but was still wary just the same. He spoke only one word. “Continue.”

“You know the plague had not been expected to spread so far or so fast. Our people were decimated just like everyone else. It came quickly but what was not known to anyone was that our leaders had known. Only the highest up knew what would happen. It was on a need to know basis. They called it the second flood. They were willing to sacrifice our own people in order to rid the world of the non-believers. In the story of the flood, God saved Noah and his family to start over. This is not a bible story sir; they saved only people with skills, allegiances, and money.

They began moving scientists like me, soldiers, various tradesmen, and others with useful skills to isolated encampments which were under quarantine. They used extreme caution and began the quarantines weeks before the virus was to be released. The story that was given about these quarantines was fictitious but who is going to question such a thing?

When the news reports began to trickle in, it was obvious as to what was going on. We had been spared when the rest of the world had been left to rot. There was a great deal of dissension amongst us and there were a few executions of the loudest of the naysayers. This quickly quelled any further argument. We were frightened. We all had family and friends who were left behind.  Darkness fell over our camp.

They waited until the reports stopped and they pooled our resources. They began trucking us slowly cross country carefully avoiding all populated areas and preparing us for our journey here. Our families are to be sent to us after we have settled and secured several strategic areas. These men you killed were escorting me to various power plants and strategic sites and my job is to disable them and to gain as much Intel as possible on other possible targets.

There are at least 100 different groups here now ranging in size from five to fifty men strong. They are all on different missions of this sort. We came by ships and were ferried on land by helicopter. Our ultimate mission is to colonize and…” He paused for the first time since he’d began speaking, knowing his next words would probably enrage this silent blue eyed giant whose gaze had not yet faltered from his face as he spoke. He gained his composure and finished despite the weight of his words, “and to exterminate any and all remaining indigenous peoples.”

Alex’s expression did not change with this revelation. Alex had already guessed this from the bodies he had found and from the carnage he had discovered in his own home months earlier. Yes they were here and they intended to stay.

The man waited for Alex to reply wondering how painful his death would be. He deserved it after all. His people, the ones he swore allegiance to had killed nearly the entire population of the world. They all deserved a tortuous death. He silently prayed.

“Where are the others?” He was angry, but he was always angry. This man’s story had made him no more or less so. It was an even burn Alex felt, nothing seemed to fade it. He was consumed with his obsession. He just wanted to know in which direction his next victims awaited.

He had expected this question and answered with no hesitation. “I know there is another group twenty miles north of here. Their mission is not known to me. We passed briefly a few weeks ago and we camped together for a night. As far as the others, all I can say is that we are here to take control of the power and most important resources or to destroy what we can’t control. We are seeking power plants, gas companies, water treatment facilities, and things of that nature. It is going to be a long effort. We are the advance groups. There will be others, many others. The ships have returned and are readying the next shipments.

Nearly half a million useful and trained people are coming. You may be in the right my friend, but you are terribly outnumbered.” As he finished Alex searched his face for a hint of satisfaction in this last damning statement but there was none. All that the man’s face held was remorse and guilt. Alex almost felt sorry for him, almost.

Alex turned and dug into his duffle bag. The man knew his time was short so he prayed. Alex could hear him under his breath and gave him ample time to finish. Alex mused momentarily that he would probably enjoy talking to this man under any other circumstances. He was educated and spoke with a refined air. Even tied to a tree he managed to hold himself together with a dignified presence.

Alex turned slowly and the man held his breath expecting to be torn to shreds in a hail of gunfire but it was not what greeted him. Alex had a small crystal decanter the man could see he had wrapped with care. He held two crystal snifters into each he poured two stiff Brandies. It was aged and very expensive. Alex kept it stocked to knock the chill out on the worst nights. Alex drank his quickly and despite his faith’s intolerance for alcohol the man did not object when the second snifter was put to his lips. He drank as quickly as Alex poured it into his mouth. His last thought was how warm and delicious this drink was.

Alex had laced the man’s glass with cyanide. “Thank you.” Alex said to the slumped corpse which had been so informative only moments earlier. He rose, dropped the glasses to the ground, he then took a long pull from the decanter. He returned the 400 dollar piece of fine crystal to its wrappings and safely tucked it away. Alex hoisted his pack and headed north.

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Surviving Cleveland

(I began this several years ago, it is my story, well at least the part I’m willing to tell.)

Surviving Cleveland

 

Many times I have heard people say everything happens for a reason. I have heard others call in Karma as the great mediator of life’s events. These things I do not truly grasp or hold much confidence in any longer.

I am no one you have ever heard of nor am I some well-educated scholar with a new philosophy that will change your life. I’m just a guy who’s been beat up a bit by the occurrences in my life. I think I am writing this more or less for my sanity. Writing has always been a way for me to create physical renderings of my inner demons. I forget the bad to a point where it’s like all the “bad” that happened didn’t exist. I guess this can be a good survival tool but from what I know of psychology repressing bad experiences is not a healthy means of coping.

Then: I was one of those people who never stopped talking. I loved to learn and would become fascinated by the oddest things. I enjoyed it and happily referred to my behavior as “nerding out.” Susie used to pick on me for it but she seemed to enjoy my ravenous ranting on whatever new topic I was all wrapped up in. She always made me feel so right and so loved. I will talk far more about my Susie later I am getting ahead of myself. I wasn’t always but I had evolved into a hyper-motivated person. Just about everything I did was for the betterment of mine and Susie’s life.

Now: I am withdrawn and I find myself putting forth an effort to have even the simplest conversations with people. I feel rude for this because I sometimes find it hard to keep up with what’s being talked about. All the many things I used to get so wrapped up in annoy me now. I feel anger because I think of all the time wasted learning and doing my “nerding out” activities when I could have been spending more time with the people I love. I am now anti-motivated. I have gone a very long time when just getting out of bed is more than I can bare. Some days I feel that stubbornness is the only thing that allows me to do anything.

“I don’t understand how you haven’t killed yourself,” this was recently asked of me by someone who loves me. She was referring to the events of the past few years and I didn’t know how to answer. At the time I still had hope. I suppose that’s why. I still had love in my heart and somewhere deep inside a desire to do more or better depending on what day you asked me.

In conclusion, I am writing this because I never want to forget a single wonderful, horrid, beautiful, or heart breaking minute of it. I will leave this intro at this. I have only ever loved two women in my life and if you choose to continue I will tell you about them.

[This I began long ago but I would become so mired in despair as I began to delve into the recesses of my mind I’d ultimately ramble on for five pages then delete the results. This is something I repeated numerous times. I have sent no less than fifty pages of my lyrical meanderings to that great recycle bin in the sky. So now it’s years later and that last sentence above needs a slight rewrite. “I have only ever loved three women in my life and if you choose to continue I will tell you about them.]

Part I My Susie

 

I have a past just as you do. It’s nothing spectacular and I can’t say I accomplished anything grander than getting off parole early back in 1999 because I was a model parolee. If you must know I went to prison for crimes I committed in 1991 at the ripe old age of sixteen. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I actually became incarcerated for these crimes. [That in itself is a story which could fill its own book.] Not to downplay the severity of my actions but that was twenty two years ago and I’m not even ashamed of it any longer. It was a stupid drunken teenage rampage and nothing more. I didn’t hurt anyone I just hurt people’s things.

I have battled with depression in its many noted manifestations since I was fifteen years old. At first they said it was “depression.” By age twenty I was labeled with “chronic depression.” It was in my mid-twenties that I was upgraded to “manic depression, bi-polar II” with a laundry list of symptoms. It was around this time that I came to live alone in this little house in the middle of nowhere. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life. I worked only two days a week twelve hours each day on Saturday and Sunday.

I sometimes went weeks without seeing people save for the days I worked and I loved it. I would write when I wanted, I would fish, sleep, work in the yard, or just clean the house. I was so relaxed during this time. Things had been coming to a head for so long that I needed that long break. It was wonderful. I actually kept a normal schedule at this point in my life. I was up early I slept at a normal hour. I found the solitude to be very therapeutic. I got a great deal accomplished during the course of a day. I didn’t have any issues with depression or anything of the sort until many years later.

After a time I ended up moving and changing jobs. I decided it was time to get back into living life and I had a plan. I got a great job working for a friend of mine and actually moved out to his place for convenience. We were replacing carpet and vinyl floors in motels up and down the east coast and Midwest. It was well paying and I was planning to move to another state once I had enough money saved up which wasn’t going to take long and then it happened.

It was April 7th 2006 we had been working for weeks in and around Cleveland Ohio and we were exhausted. The weather had been horrible the entire trip and we needed to relax. So we went out one night after we had finished for the day and that’s when it happened. That’s when all my plans got smashed. That’s when I met her, my sweet, shy, quiet, beautiful, Susie.

I was nearly asleep on my feet sipping a jack and coke when my buddy tapped me on the shoulder as I turned I heard him say “this is Jeff.” I looked down into her eyes and at that moment I knew this was the woman I was going to spend forever with. I never believed in love at first sight or any of that but I’ve learned as I’ve grown older you don’t have to believe in something for it to be true.

We spent every moment we could together. I was moving from location to location as my job demanded and each day when I was finished I would call and she would be there to pick me up. Each morning she would drop me off at 7am before I had to work again. It finally happened our work took us to Toledo and it just so happened to be on a Friday and she drove all the way there so we could spend the night together. We were so very happy. I had never experienced anything like it. I was 100% in love with this woman and she was in love with me. I didn’t get to see here for a week or so after that. Not until the next trip. It just so happened we were driving through Cleveland and my buddies new I wanted to see her so they dropped me off and let me skip the Michigan leg of our trip. I was so happy. I loved those guys for that, and so did she.

It was her birthday and I got to be there with her. She drove me to North Carolina shortly after and I got my things and came back with her. It had only been weeks but I felt like I had known her my whole life. She made me feel so good about myself. She was what I had been missing my entire life but I didn’t realize it until I found her.

I won’t say our relationship was perfect it wasn’t at first. We had some rough times. I am a little hard to handle. She had been through a horrible relationship and had a hard time trusting. She later told my mother that she felt guilty because it took her two years before she fully trusted me.

[So I say to you dear reader, be wary of how you treat people

because if you hurt someone enough you can

 negatively impact every relationship they will ever have.]

 

In contrast I dole out trust like I’m trying to get rid of it and that has caused me nothing but pain and heartache. She was the exception. In all of our time together she never once hurt me. We had nearly five years together and I think we averaged about one argument a year. Once we had been together a few years then yes I can say we had the perfect relationship. I looked forward to coming home to her and I missed her when she wasn’t there. It was true happiness.

With her by my side I started college working on two separate Networking degrees and at this I excelled. With few exceptions, I had excellent grades. I’m not much for algebra I am afraid to say. I made the Dean’s List and I saw her watching me as the Dean handed me the award. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I would have never made it that far without her by my side. She was truly a magnificent woman. She was a giving soul without equal. My God I loved that girl so much.

We always had the neatest looking house. Halloween decorations were up year round and our eclectic taste of décor. I always felt so at home. Whenever we moved the first thing I did was hang her wooden spider in its web in some visible corner of the new living room. This always made her smile. I would say we’re home now and plop down somewhere only to be run back out to the moving truck to unload the rest of our things.

It was October of 2009 when the headaches started. Susie had three appointments with her doctor and each time was prescribed an anti-biotic which did nothing to ease the pain. Finally she was referred to an ENT and was quickly diagnosed with a polyp with no real testing just a brief exam lasting maybe two minutes.

The polyp removal surgery was done the following week I took her home. She was in a tremendous amount of pain. She called the doctor’s office who assured her this was perfectly normal but I knew better. She was not one to complain of pain even when she was hurt. I was getting more and more worried.

The Sunday morning following the surgery she yelled for me when she woke up. She was in tears and said my eye is messed up. We spent three days in the hospital affiliated with the doctor who performed the polyp removal surgery but were finally told by a nurse that we should go to the Cleveland Clinic because they didn’t know what to do and no matter how much of the pain medication they gave her they couldn’t ease her suffering.

A few days later the head of the ENT department at the Cleveland Clinic Dr. Knott, performed surgery on my fiancée. He and the other doctors saved her life. The problem was she never had a polyp. She had cancer and the “polyp removal surgery” punctured a hole in the rear of her nasal cavity and caused the protective fluid around the brain to start leaking out. That’s why she was in so much pain.

Susie was far tougher than I’ll ever be I can assure you of that. She endured weeks upon weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. The type of cancer she had was Rhabdomyosarcoma. This is a rare childhood cancer and she was the first adult ever to set foot in the Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic with it. That’s saying something considering it is the number one rated cancer center in North America.

I have written about her struggle and honestly I don’t want to delve too far into that subject here. I don’t want to talk about how she died. I want to talk about how she lived. The disease changed our lives and her passing forever changed me. So yes I must mention the affliction which ultimately took her away.

We were very busy creatures her and I. She worked for a large bank’s processing center there in Cleveland. She for the most part liked her job. She had been there for several years before her and I met. She had two cats, Punkin and Gobby, of which I am highly allergic and a dog named Roxy whom thought she was a cat. The cats spent so much time trying to cuddle with Roxy that I was allergic to her as well.

We tried every remedy and every allergy pill on the market and finally I went and saw an allergist. The shots were the answer and I was all for it. She decided to take the cats to her mother’s instead. That’s how much she loved me.

In the beginning I was having trouble finding a decent job so I started working at a local convenience store third shift. The hours were horrible and we were apart a great deal. We decided we were going to move to Maryland where I got an awesome job and went ahead as the advanced party. She was driving down on the weekends interviewing on Mondays using up her vacation days. The separation was rough but by some twist of fate I injured myself pretty significantly about three days before I began my new job.

I was told to stay off my foot for months. I couldn’t because we were trying to get relocated and part of that required two incomes. I worked injured as I was for over three months and by the time I threw in the towel, [Susie told me to come home so she could take care of me] my right foot had changed to many colors and had swollen to an unnatural size. It was green and purple and yellow and some colors I can’t begin to identify. I walked with a limp for over two years. Even now all these years later when I am tired or have been on my feet too long the limp creeps back into being as if it never left.

About a year and a half after returning to Ohio I enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College. In the beginning I had two jobs. I worked as a custodian at the Berea Children’s Home and I was a bouncer at a local bar with a bad reputation. It was a busy existence but I did truly enjoy our life together. After three or four months I let the bouncing job go. It was taking up far too much of our weekend.  My weekdays began at 6:30am and didn’t end until 4:00am. I was going for two Networking degrees as well as a minor in Literature. We only had one good solid “us” day a week but we made it work.

[I shall break for now but I will return to add more in due time. I take the writing of this slow because it tears at my heart strings far beyond anything else I have ever written. Thank you for your patience dear reader. This is the literary equivalent of me moving my own personal mountain of doubt and remorse. That mountain is all my fears come to pass, my nightmares realized, and every imaginable “WTF!” one can imagine…]

           

“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

(I wrote this in my first English class at Tri-C. The prompt was to write about a defining moment in our lives and I could think of none better.  🙂 – JM)

“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

Being told I had to repeat the first grade was the catalyst for a great defining moment in my life. It all started at the end of first grade during a parent teacher conference. The faculty had decided to place me in second grade; this confused my mother a great deal. She has told me since, that she always thought I was a bright child but had resigned to the fact I was slated to repeat the first grade. I couldn’t read a word, and my mother would not accept that that was “perfectly normal” for some kids my age.

Learning to read probably doesn’t sound like much of a defining moment and generally events happen suddenly, but I can think of no single event that has made such an impact on my life. I was young when this happened and was worried that I was now a year behind my friends, and me, in my infinite six-year old wisdom decided I must have been a dummy. I heard someone say, “no one fails the first grade.” That hurt me a great deal because I didn’t want to be different.

I’m not sure if it was that week, or the week following, but it was soon after this conference in which my mother demanded I repeat the first grade that my great change occurred. An unlikely thing to be appreciative for some may think, but I couldn’t be happier. My mother had always spent time with me, but like most parents she was under harsh time constraints; trying to raise my brother, my step brother and myself. I am not sure how she did it all. She’d get home at 5pm or so, cook dinner, help my brothers with their homework and do all the other household chores. My step father usually worked late back then, so she was on her own in the evenings.

Despite all her duties as a mother, which she never complained about, she somehow squeezed in my favorite time of day, “Reading with Momma time.” I can’t remember everything we read, but I still clearly remember sitting there at the kitchen table captivated as my mother taught me how to sound out the words. She spent the entire year I was repeating the first grade working with me every evening before bath time patiently listening to me stumble through the bigger words.

My mother’s hard work had paid off by the beginning of second grade, I could read the newspaper front to back and over again with little difficulty. I smile every time I think of my mom balancing her check book as I run into the kitchen she looks up, smiling, knowing the inevitable is coming, “Mommy what’s this word mean?” I’d ask anxious. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud as I was the moment I was presented with my very own Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. My mother was equally grateful I am sure, now she could get some peace. The first word I looked up was unabridged:

Unabridged (un-a-bridged)  n. a dictionary that has not been reduced in size by omission of terms or definitions; the most comprehensive edition of a given dictionary. After I read that definition I got even more excited. It was just a blue dictionary, one I nearly wore the cover off of over the years, but it was so much more to me. To me that silly book was like the world’s biggest decoder ring, and I used it as such.

I developed a voracious appetite for books. Reading never lost the novelty for me, even after all these years. I am always reading something. I so long for those simpler days when the only worries I had were how much later I could talk my mom into letting me stay up because I was dying to know what adventure the next chapter held.

You Guys Are Awesome

Good morning,

I am enjoying my literary foray into cyberspace a great deal more than I had envisioned. I have been reading randomly for hours over the past few days and I am enjoying the brilliance of so many great writers and people who are so anxious to help others. I find it awe inspiring. I have been trying to get my writing posted so I have been working on that a great deal and I am finding myself with burning eyes and a sore back from too many hours in this computer chair. I just don’t want to stop because I am enjoying this probably more than makes sense. I am getting insights on my writing, which is very important to me and I have stumbled upon several inspirational pieces which  I am certain were written especially for me. I just wanted to post this and say I appreciate you all. I appreciate the likes and the comments and the general support I have received since I began this project five days ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I am happy to say that I am quite pleased with my experience but that is solely due to you guys, the bloggers. Thank you.

– JM

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Eulogy

newskull

(This is my first novel, I began it back in 2001 but did not finish it until 2011 so please forgive me if some of the material is dated. Also, and I beg, keep in mind I have come a long way with my crimes against punctuation since I began on this journey. This is the first 30 pages or so. I hope you enjoy. Any critiques would be greatly appreciated. I will post more as I have a chance to go through and make sure the chapters are legible. I have a horrible habit of thinking faster than I am able to type. Thank you. – JM)

 

 Eulogy

The Beginning 1

Riad woke early as he did every morning, brushed his teeth, showered, and dressed. He quietly made a simple breakfast of sliced pineapple and bananas. He was always respectful to his roommates despite his secret loathing of them both.

He had lived here in this cramped apartment for almost two years as he attended NYU working towards a degree he knew he’d never finish. Riad was a peace loving sort who prayed every night that his people would be free of the infidels’ oppression.

At times he found himself wondering if they were as bad as he had been taught. Then he would remember the flashes and explosions so powerful his hearing had been damaged. This he told his classmates was a hereditary problem.

Then with heart crushing clarity he remembered his mother. The memory of her so fragile, dying in his father’s arms took over. She had a wooden beam deeply lodged in her chest; the pictures flooded his mind. The silent eeriness of it made his heart race and spine tingle even after all these years.

The beam had been driven home by the force of the infidel’s mortar round. Whether human error or an act of nature, the round had missed the warehouse fifty yards away and had blown away the entire corner of his family’s modest home.

His mother had tried to speak but could not form the words. It would have mattered little; he and his father would not have been able to hear. They watched her struggle to breathe her last breaths with destroyed lungs.

He steadied himself, fighting the urge to scream. Hatred hardened his heart. “Yes they are that bad.” He muttered softly under his breath.

He noticed the time and hurried himself. He finished his breakfast and set out just as he had done every weekday for the past two years. It was only five in the morning when he hit the frigid New York streets and he felt revitalized by the brisk air, he kept a quick pace.

He followed his regimen to the minute. He met his train at the usual time, exited at his usual stop. He was known for being one of the first to arrive and last to leave at the school’s massive library. He enjoyed learning and it kept his mind from his most feared enemy: doubt.

He began to study as he had always done but today was of course different than any before. He wondered to himself, will I live through this? He quickly shook this thought off, knowing it wasn’t important. He had a mission and he would do what he was asked no matter what it was.

It was a quarter till seven when the messenger arrived. Riad didn’t know what to make of this man. He was dressed in a canary yellow windbreaker, bicycle shorts, helmet, and gloves, all of which were covered in reflective strips. Riad hadn’t known who would show up, but to trust such delicate information to just any bicycle messenger shocked him.

He signed for the envelope and nonchalantly opened it, feigning interest for the benefit of the nosy librarian who had pointed him out to the messenger. He acted happy as he pulled the card from the envelope.

He said, smiling, “It’s my birthday.”

“Happy birthday,” replied the librarian who went back to her work, disinterested.

Riad had no problem acting; he had been doing so for years. He was after all on the frontlines of the war. He had to do what was expected of him. He had sworn to his fallen mother and the ailing father he had left behind to complete this mission.

The card was one of the musical types and as he opened it he had been afraid it would blare music into the silence of the early morning library, but it had not. It read “Happy birthday son, Love your Mother and Father.”

This made his heart ache. His father had died a year after his arrival in the US. He had been unable to go back for the funeral, fearing it would jeopardize the mission. He scanned the library, making sure no prying eyes were on him. He flipped over the card and saw that where the manufacturer logo should have been, there was instead a fictitious brand name and an address. He gathered his belongings and casually left the library.

He made his way outside, hailed a cab, and went to the address. The cab ride took a long time, which was fine with Riad. He had casually opened a book containing the birthday card and using his thumbnail, tore open the part that normally contained the little device which played the music. He saw that in its place was a small silver key.

“Clever,” he said under his breath.

“Huh,” barked the groggy cabby who looked as if he hadn’t had a day off in weeks.

“Oh nothing, sorry, I was just thinking out loud,” he replied, without a trace of tension in his voice.

He arrived at the address at eight thirty. He paid the cabby, giving him a nice tip.

“Thanks Bub,” retorted the cabby with a grin, “need me to wait on ya?”

Riad replied, “No thanks. I have business to handle here.” I don’t know exactly what business that is, he thought, as the cabby sped off.

He approached the building, which was a plain brick structure with a faded sign that read Jones’s Short Term/Long Term Storage. He entered. There was a reception desk with a grumpy looking old man dozing in an old cushy lounge chair in front of a set of double steel doors.

At the sound of Riad entering the old man looked up and snapped, “Key, where’s your key?”

Riad produced the key. The old man looked it over and handed it back wordlessly, buzzing him through to the storage area. The old man leaned back and began snoring immediately. Riad found this amusing and was grinning as he walked down the narrow corridor towards the locker that matched the number on his key.

The locker was small and the lock made quite a bit of noise, as if it hadn’t been opened in a very long time. Riad imagined it had not been. He knew little of what he was involved in, but he knew that he was not alone. He was comforted to know that many other people just like him, warriors on the front line of this epic battle were following messages this very morning all on different paths driven by faith.

All he knew about what was to come was told to him by a mysterious figure in a dark room four years earlier. “There will be many, and not one of you will know the others involved. This plan was set into motion after the invasion of Kuwait by the Infidel Americans and their supporters. We have been placing people and equipment all over the world since 1993.” He knew that this plan had cost lives, hundreds of millions of dollars, and sixteen years of hard work. He would not fail.

He slowly entered the small storage unit and was convinced there was some sort of mistake. It appeared to be filled with nonsense junk. There were boxes of old clothes, toys, and books. His heart sank. Was this all for nothing? Did someone fail at their portion of the mission? Are we found out? He began sweating, expecting armed assassins to come bearing down on him in a hail of bullets.

He waited a few tense minutes and when nothing happened, he began digging. He inspected box after box and just as he was sure there was nothing of use he saw a box labeled Riad’s Junk tucked away in the back corner. All his fears faded and he knew that once he opened this box there was no turning back. He was filled with strength, knowing that his faith was about to be tested.

As he moved the cardboard box, he found it was bigger than the rest and very heavy, though still manageable. He was very careful with it, not sure what he would find inside. It could be anything, as he had no idea what had been planned for him.

He imagined explosives. That was the simplest way, he had long thought, strap on a bomb and blow myself up somewhere densely populated. He always hoped it wouldn’t be explosives but that was irrelevant. He would do what he must.

He held his breath and opened the box. “Balloons?” He choked. The box was half full of deflated balloons. They were the nice ones you buy for birthdays and anniversaries and such. Pulling the balloons out slowly, looking for some form of instruction, he found a small note taped to the inside of the box which read:

Riad you are a great man and your name will echo through the halls of history through all the ages to come. Keep your faith my brother and you shall be a hero. Fill as many of these as you can carry around with you, release the gas on buses, trains, anywhere the infidels congregate. Do this all this day until you are caught or killed. If you are blessed with one more day, be in Time’s Square at nine am tomorrow. God be with you my friend.

He didn’t know who had written the letter, but it did not matter. He understood secrecy was important so that the architects of this great mission could live on to formulate new scenarios for exterminating the enemy.

He removed all the balloons and saw four helium tanks beneath. He filled and sealed a large bunch of balloons, then tied them in a bunch and added a bow. The old man did not stir as he left and he was careful not to let the door slam.

He waited at the bus stop and whistled Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He was quite fond of classical music. As the lumbering bus approached, his whistling ceased and his lips expanded into a warm smile for the driver as the doors opened.

He sat in the first open seat he came to, he was all smiles to the other passengers but his insides were churning. He noticed a beautiful blond women sitting nearby. He caught her eye and she smiled sweetly at him. He let his mind wander for a moment, imagining her holding him, telling him how much she loved him. He saw their children being born and growing. He saw their future house and their blissful happiness.

The woman noticed he was still watching her as he was lost in his thoughts and her smile broadened. Just as quickly as he let his mind wander he snapped back into reality. Just for a moment, the woman saw the vicious intent in his eyes but he recovered with a quick smile. The young woman did not look at him again and exited at the next stop.

He admonished himself silently. How could you be so foolish, she is as bad as any of them, she may as well have launched the mortar that killed your mother!  They are the enemy and they are not to be trusted!

With that he punctured the first balloon. He went from bus to bus and train to train, careful he did not pop more than one in front of the same people, in order to avoid suspicion.

He traveled all over the city, visiting parts he had never been to before, often feigning disdain if anyone noticed one of his slackening balloons. He returned eight times that day each time carrying away a fresh bunch of balloons and a box of junk to make it appear he was just emptying the storage unit. The people running the place did not seem to care one way or the other.

Riad mused at how easy this all was more than once that long day. They don’t care enough to notice what is going on around them. These people deserve whatever they get.

In the afternoon he stood in a busy subway tunnel releasing balloon after balloon filled with what, he did not know, nor did he care. He had developed a cough that was mild at first and progressively worsened. At first he thought that it was being out so much that day that was making him sick, but then it occurred to him that it was most likely what he was unleashing upon the unsuspecting infidels. They are so prideful, they believe they can attack us in our homes but are safe to come and go as they please.

He spent twelve hours doing as his instructions had bade him until he was too sick to even think of continuing. He had noticed a great deal of sneezing and coughing much like his own during the last few hours.

He returned home at nearly eleven that night. His roommates were both home but did not greet him. They were already asleep. He thought this to be strange, considering neither of them ever went to bed this early. As he dozed off in between his own coughing and sneezing fits, he could have sworn he heard the same sounds of sickness coming from both of his roommates’ bedrooms.

When he woke the next morning he was surprised to see it was already bright outside. He had never overslept in the two years he had lived here. He had trouble getting up and getting to the bathroom. He was running a high fever and sweat poured from his body. There was no sound in the apartment except the wheezing coming from the other two bedrooms.

The gravity of what he had done slowly began to set in. It was obvious that both his roommates had the same symptoms as him and neither of them used the bus or subways. He began to wonder just what was in those helium tanks.

He took a much longer than usual shower, trying to let the steam clear his sinuses but to no avail. He got dressed, but did not eat. He left without waking his roommates. Despite years of acting as their friend, they were nothing to him, just two more enemies that needed to be dealt with.

He left the apartment at seven am and it took him an hour and a half to walk to Times Square. This walk would normally take him no more than an hour but he was very tired this morning. He didn’t want to ride the bus or to take the train so he just walked. He noticed even for this hour there were fewer people than normal. Another thing he noticed were the amount of sirens he heard. More than half the people he did see all seemed to be in the throes of a horrible flu just like him.

Riad found an unoccupied bench in Times Square and waited. He prayed silently to himself. He could not stop coughing but from what he had seen this morning he had done his job well. He smiled despite the fever and pain in his chest. At five minutes to nine a man sat down beside him.

“Riad?” The man asked.

This startled Riad and he slowly replied, “Yes.”

“I only received your name this morning in a note I found with this briefcase, it said that you would be here by nine and that if you had done your job well you would be very sick. My friend I know you did your job well because I am very sick also.”

“I thought this was all to be secret?” replied Riad, a bit shocked.

“I know, my friend. The note told me to explain that I was to meet you before the end because true warriors like us deserve better than to die alone with nothing but the company of infidels.”

Neither of the two sick men spoke again, they just sat and prayed silently for their remaining moments. Each man knew that at exactly nine am they would be at their god’s side. They both sat sickly smiling as the small nuclear device detonated. Times Square was vaporized.

Simultaneously in major cities all across the world similar situations unfolded. Any country allied with the US was attacked, but none to the extent of the US. There were attacks in thirty states. Within minutes the news spread around the globe. Fifteen minutes after the detonations there was a broadcast accepting responsibility.

The static cleared and the familiar face of Osama Bin Laden appeared. The message was short and disturbing. “American Infidels, you and your allies will all be destroyed. The first phase of our attack was more successful than we could have dreamt, the Infidels shall fall!”

The world was thrown into a state of panic. The highways and interstates around the world became jammed with panicked people fleeing for the safety of the countryside. They believed they were escaping certain nuclear death if they left the cities.

Their plan could not have worked better. The millions of people fleeing carried with them a death sentence far worse than they could have imagined. The virus spread like wild fire. There was a complete collapse of emergency services, crash victims died in their vehicles, house fires burned unchecked, and all semblance of order collapsed.

The National Guard was ordered to block all interstate traffic but it was futile. In many cases the guardsmen were over powered by armed civilians. When they tried to defend themselves with force, they were gunned down. There was no stemming the flood of sick from swarming the rural countryside. It was hope that drove them on, and it was hope that sentenced millions more to a horrific death.

By the time the government knew what was happening, it was far too late. The president issued a plea to cease all movement, warning that traveling was only going to spread the virus faster and increase the mortality rate. His plea went unheeded. It seemed none would be spared.

The virus acted fast. Anyone who contracted it only believed they had the flu at first. It progressed so rapidly that by the time the sick realized it was something worse than the flu they were already in the throes of a fever-induced delirium. This aided in the spread of panic. The infected, suffering from diminished mental capacity, resorted to the most basic instincts: fight or flight.

Riad died without knowing what he had released on the American people, but knowing there would be casualties. He believed these casualties would be localized. When the stranger with the briefcase arrived he understood there was a bomb inside but he had not realized that it was nuclear.

The thousands of people he imagined dying were only a miniscule drop in the ocean of deaths that he actually caused. Not even the architects of this intended genocide could have truly grasped its scope.

The bombs had killed hundreds of thousands, being detonated simultaneously at the beginning of the work day in dense areas as they were. The true genius of the plan was made evident during the following days after the explosions.

Within three days American losses had reached 50 million people. These numbers were impossible to substantiate because the infrastructure had all but collapsed.

There were vague stories before the networks went off the air that this was an accelerated form of the Ebola virus. These stories raised more questions than answers. Millions more died each day. In a healthy adult it took three to four days from infection to death. Within two weeks, ninety percent of all human life was snuffed out. This dramatic turn of events was something no one could have foreseen.

2

 

He stood proud, even as imminent death approached. Slowly with great effort, “As you can see no one is immune to these, most unholy of events. Millions of our friends, neighbors,” briefly he paused, choking back tears, “and loved ones have already fallen to the disease that is spanning the globe.”

The last words he had spoken seemed to add weight to his withering frame and he fell to his knees. The podium obscured the view, but it was more than obvious the President was vomiting. The dying man gasped for air, unable to catch his breath. Uniformed doctors, most of whom appeared to be in no better condition than their prestigious patient, rushed to his side. Suddenly without any warning the network feed was cut, ending the last Presidential speech ever to be given.

Alex sat silently hanging on every word. Teary eyed in disbelief he vaulted off the couch towards the TV, aloud he said, “This isn’t real, this is like that comedian, yeah that’s it, the crappy comedian who does the presidential impersonations. That’s not really the President there; this is some sick bastard’s idea of a joke. How could I have been so stupid, it’s obvious he’s a fake, he’s too small, doesn’t have the right skin tone and the voice is way off.” Self-assured this was nothing more than a hoax he changed the channel.

Alex checked all 8 of the stations his television would pick up and was horrified to see that every channel was either static or an emergency services message. His assurance fled him as quickly as they had come. His hope waned, only to be replaced with despair and confusion.

Shaking violently, as he was known to do when reason had begun to fail him, Alex screamed, “This is America, this shit doesn’t happen here!”

He jumped to his feet and half ran, half stumbled to the rear of the house. He stormed into the cramped bathroom grabbing the door to the medicine cabinet, knocking over a ceramic vase which shattered as it hit the tank of the toilet. Ceramic shards rained down around his bare feet, slicing the exposed skin. Oblivious, he continued his search. All that was going through his mind was that he needed his pills.

He had taken himself off these pills as he had done every other time they put him on something new, always giving him the spiel about how he needed to give them a few months to start working properly. He gave it a few months, went as long as four on these. They too, only seemed to aggravate his symptoms more than help. The only good side effect, he could see, was that they were capable of causing him to sleep for extended periods of time. He once slept thirty-six hours after taking only four. At this moment, all he wanted was to go to sleep and forget the world. He would work this all out when He woke up.

They were not where he remembered leaving them. He slammed the medicine cabinet so violently the mirrored door shattered raining even more razor sharp projectiles down on himself. This to, he seemed not to notice.

He tore back towards the front of the house. He over turned furniture, smashed holes in the walls, and launched any inanimate objects which dared be in his way.

Entering the kitchen he began slinging the entire contents of cabinets onto the floor with one sweep of his broad arm. To him the time spent searching seemed more an eternity than the 20 minutes it actually was. He jerked the microwave away from the wall with more force than was necessary. It flew nearly to the other side of the kitchen.

He found what he’d been searching for behind the microwave. “How in the fuck did you get there?” He yelled at the bottle, which he then opened and dry swallowed six 300 mg. tablets of  Seroquel.

Alex, still very much in the midst of a psychotic episode, calmed down considerably, “More than enough, I will sleep a full day, two if I’m lucky.” Talking to the wake of his most recent destructive outburst, he continued. “Just enough time for a smoke,” he told the ruined kitchen.

He righted the overturned couch and sat down. He then noticed that the emergency services loop had gone to static. The pills had begun very quickly to do their magic. He hadn’t eaten in days so there was nothing in his stomach to slow down his digestion. He got up, nearly falling over the battered coffee table and clicked off the TV. He made his way back to the couch, dropped onto it, and with cigarette and lighter in hand passed out.

He dreamed terrible dreams, but the one that He was having now seemed too good to be true. It was real to Him as His dreams always seemed to be. He was with his brother in Cleveland. His brother, a guitarist was on the road and would have been in Cleveland that very night.

There were no diseased people here, everyone seemed happy to see him. In his dream he was thrilled, the concert was packed and going great. Everything felt fine to him, which was quite unusual. At that moment he was happier than he had been in years. It had been a very long time since last he had dared going into a crowded place. It had been two full years since he’d last even been inside a grocery store, but this night, this concert, everything was perfect.

He began to notice that the crowd was all people he knew. These were all the people he cared most about in the world, all his friends, and loved ones were gathered here. Then for a second he thought he glimpsed His Grandmother, who had raised him since he was seven years old.

At first, it didn’t seem very odd to him that she’d be amongst all those he cared about. It struck him suddenly, his stomach dropped as if he were on a roller coaster. “She’s dead, been dead five years now. That was just my imagination.” He blurted. As if on cue, she appeared before him, an apparition breaking through the crowd. She was all smiles and warmth.

“GET OUT!” She screamed. He stumbled backwards towards the bar, blindly landing on a bar stool. She had changed; he was in shock to see the woman he had most admired was now a grotesque rotted version of herself.

The band stopped playing; this drew his attention in the direction of the stage where he saw what he feared more than death itself. His brother was there holding his guitar in a state best described as living death. “Rick, oh God, Rick, what has happened to you?”

“It is ok little brother, I’m ok now, but you need to go,” said the animated corpse of his brother.

They were all dead all around him, everyone he knew. It was not fear that welled inside him, it was sorrow and shame that they were all dead and he was not. Even in his own dreams he had no sense of self-worth.

He began to cry, and the rapidly decomposing crowd all gave sympathetic looks. They began to fall apart silently with no signs of discomfort or even sorrow, as if they were all resigned to their fates. Most were still smiling when their legs crumbled under the weight of their torsos.

The floor appeared to be no floor at all but some benevolent entity greedily swallowing up all he loved. They fell into the all-encompassing darkness. The darkness was spreading. There were no sounds other than a giggle which he was sure had come from his long dead sister. She died along with his parents in the crash, which altered his waking life forever.

Now there were only four remaining. Still on the stage were his brother and the only three other people he had spent any real time with since leaving High School. He began to cry harder looking at these four people he was now sure he’d never see again.

Rick spoke, “Alex you have to leave, you can’t stay in this place, all that made it home is gone. It’s a new world for you now. Live, you hear me? Live.”

“I don’t understand, what happened to you, why are you dead,” He begged.

“That’s how it has to be,” Rick had tears in his eyes but his voice never faltered. “It’s now the perfect world for you Bro, no people,” at this the three people who knew him best standing just behind his brother laughed.

In unison the three said, “Love ya man,” graciously they stepped off the stage and into the darkness before Alex had to witness their decomposing any further.

“I have to go, I love you Brother, take care of yourself, and no matter what, don’t forget to leave,” Said his dead brother. He added earnestly, “It will be hard, but I know you can do it.”

“I…I… don’t understand,” he was cut off as his brother cranked the volume on his guitar stack and started playing a song Alex knew well, Seasons In The Abyss, by Slayer. Still playing with a last look at his brother and a nod he jumped into the darkness.

He was falling. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been falling, but usually he had panicked at this feeling while dreaming. This time it was different, as if he were comforted by his own weightlessness. After the dream and the sensation of falling ebbed away he slept peacefully for 8 more hours.

It was a day like any other day, the sky was visible through the smudged windows of his little room. The somber grey clouds were motionless. With effort, he rolled on his side to see the time and to find a cigarette. He wasn’t sure how he’d made it to his room, but that was normal. He often found himself in different places than he’d fallen asleep.

Seroquel sleep was his favorite sleep; he often woke with his mind a blank slate. He rubbed his temples, trying to remember. “What happened last night?” Then as in answer a sharp pain tore through his head starting at the nape of his neck continuing around to his eyes. As his eyes blurred and tears began to form it all came back to him. “How did this happen?” He yelled at the ceiling.

He remembered the dream with perfect clarity, his brother, grandmother and all his dead friends trying to warn him away, he whispered, “But from what?”

He got up stumbled through the house towards the living room, all the while surveying the damage from the previous night’s rampage. He turned on the T.V. and searched the channels, all were gone. Static is the only reward his search provided.

“How could this be?” he asked aloud.

“No one to run the stations you goof ball,” he heard his brother say in the back of his head.

Checking the stereo He only found an emergency services loop, “By order of the President of the United States of America, all citizens are to cease all movement. The United States has been attacked by terrorists using small nuclear devices, as well as biological weaponry. The only way to stop the spread of this virus is to cease all movement. If you believe yourself to have been infected, do not seek medical help. Find a secure location and quarantine yourself. Seeking help will only spread the disease further. There is no cure; I repeat there is no cure.”

“FUCK YOU!” He yelled, which freshened the unbearable pain in his head. He paced from room to room trying to grasp what had happened. All his thoughts were confused glimpses of horror fantasy coated in a thin layer of reality.

“I’m going crazy”, he chanted to himself under his breath. He walked through the house, looking in every closet, every cabinet, and drawer, as if searching for some lost artifact of sanity, he collapsed on the couch.  The pills he had taken the night before had not yet run their course. He dozed fitfully.

Half asleep he heard a loud bang from the rear of the house. Alex jumped off the couch in a run, tripped over the over turned coffee table and slammed into the TV stand knocking the television to the floor. Stunned he regained his footing and picked his way to the front door.

Silently he begged God that the noise had been His brother. “Rick, Bro is that you?” No answer came as he stood on the porch looking around. Then he heard it again, this time he heard breaking glass.

He couldn’t contain his excitement, “Bro where are you?” he ran, nearly falling as he rounded the corner at full speed. To his disappointment, the yard was empty.

It was cold out; the calm was eerie this early March morning. Alex was grief stricken; in that moment it occurred to him he would never see his brother again. Then he remembered the noise. He slowly continued around his house, near the rear there were three hard cover novels on the ground.

“Alex, over here,” Issued a raspy voice he nearly recognized.

“Who is it?” He asked startled as he turned slowly around.

There in the window of his neighbor’s house, was what looked like a zombie. The once robust family man looked like something from a late night sci-fi marathon. The discharge appeared green in the early morning light and steamed as his neighbor leaned out the window to vomit. It oozed from his nose, ears, and mouth. The eye sockets seemed empty from where Alex stood. He needed to get closer to see if this man were really alive. Being prone to hallucinations, as he was, he wasn’t sure if what he was seeing was real.

Alex had known John for five years and was sure this wasn’t his neighbor. This was not the man he had sat with and watched his two little girls play in the yard. Alex remember watching, longing for a family of his very own. He thought this is someone else for sure. I just saw John last week; this poor guy is at least 50 lbs. lighter. He began to walk closer.

“Stop,” yelled His neighbor. The exertion obviously pained him; he groaned and began dry heaving.

“I, I,” stuttered Alex, realizing his folly, but could not think of what to say.

After gaining his composure, as well as he was able,”Alex is your phone still working?”

“I don’t know, I have a dial tone but I haven’t talked to anyone in several days. My brother is out of town,” answered Alex. “He should be calling soon.” He added.

“I’m going to call you in a minute, I need to talk to you, it’s important.” He wheezed. There was pity in John’s voice; he knew what Alex was denying. The chances that his brother was still alive in all this were very unlikely.

Alex was back on the couch where he spent most of His time, “waiting to die,” he had mused to a friend of his and his brother. He had laughed at the time, but all the while, in the back of his mind, he believed it to be true.

After about five minutes the phone rang, “Hello John?”

“Yeah, how you holding up Alex, I would have called sooner but I thought you left with your brother.” John was having trouble catching His breath.

“I’m sorry, are you guys ok?” He felt like such an ass for not checking on John and his family.

“We were all infected, my girls and my wife died earlier this morning.” John’s voice had diminished to the point where Alex had to turn the volume up on the phone to full just to hear him.

Alex was stunned, again he thought of how he had envied this man for all he had. Now this same man, his only friend beyond the members of his brother’s band, had lost everything. He was now losing his life. Tears began to fill His eyes, as he thought of John’s daughters and how young they were.

“John, I am so sorry,” Alex felt that to be inadequate to tell a man who just lost two children and His wife, but was at a loss of what else to say.

“Thank you,” John was weeping, and just holding the phone up was more than a task for him, but he needed help so he continued. “Alex, how are you feeling, are you showing any symptoms?”

Alex thought a minute, his head was pounding. This was more than he could deal with, he thought, yet he was here. “I have a bad headache, but that’s normal. Other than that I feel fine.” He felt foolish complaining of a headache to a dying man.

“When was the last time you were around anyone? Try and remember, even if it was just a quick trip to the store.”

“It’s been at least 4 days, the day my brother left. I went to the store for smokes.” He answered.

“That’s great Alex, you have been spared.” John choked. Although his entire family was dead, and he too would be following shortly, he meant it.

Alex had always been kind in their brief talks over the years. John knew he was troubled, he drank too much, and listened to heavy metal music to loud. John also knew that if ever there was a problem; Alex was the first one at his door to help. He thought of the time his wife was hospitalized for two weeks due to complications with her pregnancy. Alex had done all his yard work, made sure his trash was taken out, and came by at least once a day to see if he needed anything. He thought to himself, not everyone would agree, but I couldn’t have picked a better person to survive.

“But everyone else is dying, what am I supposed to do?” Alex was trying to stifle his audible sobbing.

“Listen to me Alex, God doesn’t make mistakes. You have been spared for a reason. There will be other survivors, not everyone will die. The people who survive this must ban together and help each other. You must go and seek them out.” John spoke, as reassuringly as his failing health would allow.

“What about my brother, I can’t leave, what if he comes back and I am gone?” Alex began to feel dizzy, thinking he would surely pass out. He closed his eyes waiting for it to pass.

“Alex, you should write him a letter and tape it to the door, tell him you have gone to find other survivors and that he should do the same.” Replied John, he then added, “He will find you, if he makes it, he will find you.” John thought this is not the time for sugar coating.

John began to throw up uncontrollably, he fell to the floor with a bang, leaving Alex feeling hopeless, not being able to help. Alex waited for quite a long while, but could still hear John gasping so he remained on the line.

“Alex, you still there,” gasped John, winded but still alive.

“Yeah, I’m still here,” relieved to hear John’s voice, even as desperate as it sounded.

“Alex I want you to take my truck. Grab my camping gear from the shop and get out of here,” he then hesitated, before saying, “but I need a favor first.”

“Anything John, just ask,” quickly replied Alex.

“I want to be with my family in heaven. Suicide is a sin, being merciful is not.” John had more despair in his voice than Alex had thought possible before now.

“OK John,” he answered before what was asked, had had time to sink in.

“Out in my shop is a gun safe, take everything in it, if not for protection, you will have to hunt.

“Are you sure this is what you want,” praying he would say no.

“There is no one else to ask, all our neighbors are either dead, or they left.” Then as an afterthought added, “those that left are most likely dead as well.”

“I will do it,” God only, knows how, he thought.

“Alex after you are finished and ready to leave, set fire to the house. I can’t stand the thought of my family rotting away like this. The fire will kill the virus.

“John, I wish this hadn’t happened, I am scared, and I am so sorry for what has happened to you guys.” Alex cried.

“Listen Alex, you will be fine, and what happened was not you’re doing. The signs were there all along, but no one thought it was possible. You are a good man; I want you to get away. Go west; get somewhere where there are no buildings and no people. Take all you find with you and start over, but don’t forget us. Tell your children what happened, so they will know better than to do what we have done. Alex, remember this was an attack. Sooner or later the ones who did this will show up, if they survived.” John was becoming delirious from the pain, and was barely audible now.

“John I will never forget you and your family, you had what I’ve always dreamt of having.” Alex was crying again as he said this.

“You will go on to have beautiful children, and you will be a great father,” whispered John through his own tears.

John gave Alex the combination to his gun safe, and told him where he had his spare key to the shop hidden. After telling him where he’d be in the house, he hung up the phone. He could no longer breathe without serious pain and talking was something he’d never do again.

Alex went into the shop. He felt as if he were dreaming all this, for surely this couldn’t be real. He opened the safe, took out a rifle. He loaded it with bullets from a fresh box stored neatly at the bottom.

He found the spare keys to John’s truck. On the key ring was a picture of John’s little girls, forever frozen in time. Their smiles encased in the plastic picture holder his wife had given him. The sight of those little girls, so happy, so far away from where they were now made fresh tears well in Alex’s eyes. Maybe it was John’s words, but at that moment Alex felt a strong desire to be gone from this place.

He only took one gun, he’d come back for the rest of the things shortly. He had something to do. He went into his house and got a cigarette and walked back outside. Slowly he skirted the lifeless bushes, it was still very cold and they had not yet awoken from their winter slumber. He slowly approached his neighbor’s home and made his way around to the master bedroom’s window.

Clearly he could see John through the window kneeling on the foot of the bed praying over the bodies of his wife and children.

Alex slowly raised the rifle to his shoulder; looking through the scope he targeted John’s head. He knew that if he hit him anywhere else or merely wounded him that John would lay there suffering even more than he was now. There would be no way to enter to complete the task without getting infected. The rifle shook in his inexperienced hands. He was sweating despite the cold, he attempted to steady himself, then prepared to fire.

“God help me please,” he squeezed the trigger expecting this to finally be over. Nothing happened; he went weak in the knees nearly falling to the ground. “You gave your word to your friend, now do this!” He demanded of himself.

Surprised at the authority in his own voice he checked the rifle and realized the safety was on. He raised the rifle once more sighting his friends head and slowly squeezed the trigger. As if he knew it were time, John raised his hands towards heaven. The report was deafening, it appeared to Alex that in death John had embraced his family as he fell forward. His friend would no longer suffer.

The sound had scared Alex; he stood for a moment with silent ears ringing. Suddenly he became stricken with the fear that he must be having a psychotic episode. If he had hallucinated all these events, that meant he had just murdered his neighbor. He waited barely breathing like a deer in headlights. He was expecting at any moment for his neighbors to come running down the road screaming, “Murderer! Murderer!” This he even pictured in his mind.

After five minutes or five hours he did not know, there were still no sirens, no police, nothing at all. He was all alone.

Aloud he said, “This is such a small town, if everyone here is dead, then everyone must really be dead.” His own words chilled him.

He stood frozen a few minutes more then slowly walked back to the shop. He began packing what he needed into John’s truck.

He checked every house on his block, yelling from a distance but there were no replies. In a few windows he saw that the corpses of the old and young were indistinguishable from one another. We are all the same in death he thought, just bodies. He could see from the distorted faces that several had died in pain, he felt a twinge of guilt. Then he whispered, “What was I to do shoot everyone on my street? A sane person wouldn’t be able to handle that.”

He wrote his brother a lengthy letter explaining what had happened, and detailing where he planned to go. Then he burned every house on his street except his own. He climbed into John’s truck and drove to the end of the street and just sat and watched the fires. He hoped and prayed someone would see the flames and come, no one did. After an hour of waiting, he left the place he had called home for over twenty years. He never saw it again.

October (a short story)

October

The old man sat stolidly surveying the wind-blown yard. He silently remembered every October which had come and gone in these past thirty years since he had turned his back on his one true love. He had spent so many years trying to twist the memories in his own mind so he could believe that he was not to blame.

No one could believe the story he screamed when the police had first arrived. He had been called a murderer, a lunatic, and many other terrible names. No matter who questioned him or how long they kept him in the sanitarium and despite the laundry list of experimental medications he never changed his story.

The detectives were vexed for an explanation which was made quite evident by their stuttering testimonies. These testimonies and a brief statement from a psychiatrist are what kept the old man from the electric chair but he was still remanded to the state psychiatric hospital for more than three years.

The old man recounted every detail fighting the chill this new October’s wind brought. He was ready. He wouldn’t run anymore. “This is where it started and this is where it shall end.” He spoke aloud with a hushed tone to the brown grass and the dead swirling leaves.

The veteran detective was hung up on a detail that neither he nor anyone else present that night could explain. What had happened to the woman’s body? The couple had just arrived home from a late movie where their neighbors had also been present and they had each pulled into their adjoining drives only minutes apart. The events that had taken place that night happened in mere moments.  The detective had conveyed this all to the jury with a cold horror filled face. Then as if speaking out loud in a dream he questioned, “Where had all the blood come from?”

The grizzled old detective concluded, “There was enough blood present at the scene of this atrocity to fill the veins of two full grown men. I do not understand this at all. In all my thirty-four years as a police officer I have never seen anything half as horrible as what I found that night.” He paused briefly and cleared his throat; he was trembling at the thoughts eating away at his subconscious. He wanted to scream demons or monsters did it but he knew he’d find himself in the sanitarium right alongside this poor man who had witnessed God knows what.

He shakily continued his testimony, “After further investigation it became clear that the blood we found came from at least six other victims. The blood that was present could not have been from the defendant’s wife because her blood type is type-O-negative and not one drop of her blood was found anywhere on the property. It is my professional opinion that this man is innocent and that we should be searching for a group of severely demented individuals.” He closed his eyes as he concluded and images of demons filled his mind.

The old man pulled his collar close around his wrinkled neck fighting the chill this memory had given him. That had been a full year after the “incident”. He mused at how polite the word “incident” was. That’s how they always referred to it in the sanitarium. He remembered how frightened he had been even a year after. The medications never eased his anguish or made him feel safe. No sane explanations could take away the terror which greeted him each and every night when the lights went low. No, nothing but death would ease his fear. Death he did not fear. Becoming is what he had feared most. Now, thirty years later even that paled in comparison to what he now knew was his greatest fear.

Three years after the incident and two after the trial he was released. He had begun lying in his therapy sessions. Telling the doctors he truly couldn’t remember what had happened to his wife. When asked he assured them that it was not demons or monsters which he had screamed at the top of his lungs for well over a year. He admitted something horrible had happened and in his confusion and grief of seeing his wife’s abduction by masked men he had lost his sense of reality. It had worked and he had been set free.

The first October after his release had nearly been his last. She had come so quickly from the darkness he had nearly been overcome. Despite the liquor coursing through his veins pure fear pushed him onwards through the locked door he had crashed in a full run. The door jamb splintered and gave way under his massive build.

As he remembered this night it seemed his chill doubled as if his bones were encased in ice. He had landed hard in the small foyer. The house was virtually unchanged from the night of the incident except for three years’ worth of dust layered upon every surface. He was certain he was having some sort of break down like so many of the other patients he had encountered in his stay at the sanitarium.

Then he heard her giggle. It resurrected feelings he had long since forgotten. How odd to hear such a welcoming warm sound from the cold unforgiving night. How could this be he thought. Then he slowly turned and his eyes fell on her. She was beautiful and young standing there in his doorway, their doorway. She did not enter but only gazed at him with longing, hungry eyes.

The old man jerked like he had suddenly awoken from a dream of falling. Two boys were noisily making their way down the sidewalk. They each gave the old man a wary glance and grew quiet as they passed in front of his house. They whispered as they moved on. He knew what they were saying. The story had become an urban legend in the neighborhood. A story told to the young to frighten them at sleepovers. Some versions say he ate her before the cops arrived. Others tell that he walled her up and that she is still in the house all these years later alive and well behind the living room wall. There is no end to the imaginations of children he supposed. He held no malice for these kids, he only envied their innocence because if they knew what really happened they would piss themselves and run home crying.

Things had changed over the years. He was no longer the lumbering hulk of his youth. He had become merely a shadow of his former self.  Each year she would come in October. The same Friday they had had dinner at the drive in. The same night they had laughed and talked of having a boy and a girl over hotdogs. The same night they had watched some cheap thriller and he held her close in his arms. She feeling safe from his embrace and him feeling safe from the love she had given him. In his bachelor years he had never believed someone could love him. When he met her his life was flipped upside down and turned inside out. He couldn’t speak around her without putting his foot in his mouth. The attraction had been mutual.

As he remembered how they met a smile crept onto his withered lips making him look so much younger than his years. He was all grease from head to toe driving a 48’ Dodge he had parted together from local junkyards. She was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in her bubble-gum pink poodle skirt with matching ribbons in her long dark hair. They had run into each other at the malt shop as he was entering and she was exiting. He had been horrified when he saw he had gotten a grease smudge on her blouse but she sheepishly assured him that it was ok.

She looked so perfect to him and the thought of that smudge haunted him ceaselessly so each and every afternoon he waited until he finally saw her again. He convinced her that he should buy her another outfit despite the fact she had made her own she had argued but he would not hear it. Any chance he had to see her he took. She was shy but she longed to see him just as much.

As he sat in the cold watching his last sunset he had tears on his tired cheeks as he remembered the love they had shared. They had been so very happy. Then the shame flooded into him as he remembered. He wept and thudded his big hand on the arm of his rocking chair. “I’m sorry.” He sobbed to the empty yard. “Please forgive me.”

On her yearly visits she would stand outside the door and he knew she wasn’t alone. He could hear the others and on the following mornings he would find small puddles of blood around the yard. Sometimes even dripping from the awning as if they had hovered above his roof but they never came into view. She had never tried to come inside and he always wondered why. The first visit she just watched cheerfully as he gaped from the floor disbelieving what he was seeing. She had stayed until nearly dawn and like the mist on a cold morning vanished with the warmth of the sun.

He quivered as he recalled the night she was taken from him. They were walking the short distance from the drive to the porch and instantly she was gone and he found himself flying across the yard. He looked back to find her but she was being dragged away and to his disbelief upward. The creature had the silhouette of a man but no man can fly. He remembered the smell, noxious like rotting meat. Had his terror not been so great he was sure he would have choked on the smell. He rose and started in her direction but then he saw them. They were all around, he froze in fear and even as she screamed for help he scrambled backwards and darted into the house. Her screams continued only a moment more and were then silenced. He knew she was gone.

The sun was now gone and he sat silently in the ever growing darkness. It was quite cold now. The sky darkened further as the first October storm rolled in. He could see his breath and he wondered how long she would make him wait. He had never stayed outside always sure to be in doors with some sort of protection. He wasn’t frightened of her. He was frightened of going on alone. He had spent nearly thirty years alone longing for her.  The thought of one more day was more than he could bear. That prospect was far worse than death. It even outweighed death at the hands of her companions and becoming what they had made her.

The two boys were walking back down the street early the next morning. It was very cold and rainy outside. They were bundled up so tightly trying to hide their faces from the brutal wind that they almost didn’t see the old man motionless on his front porch. They stopped to take a closer look. Despite the bite in the air and the rain the boys found courage in the early light. They slowly approached the old man.

One boy stopped halfway up the walk. There was a nasty looking puddle on the ground he couldn’t quite make out what it was but before he could inspect it any further his friend said “oh man, I don’t think he’s moving.”

The boy who had been inspecting the puddle joined his friend on the steps of the old man’s porch. They slowly approached together. Just as they reached the old man’s lifeless body a huge gust of wind moved the rocker causing the boys to scream and run.

The old man’s eyes were wide. There was a gleeful smile on his old withered face and in his clinched fist was a bubble gum pink ribbon.

Love and Cancer

Love and Cancer

            Ours was a love ripped straight from the pages of a romance novel. If you don’t believe in love at first sight then I am here to tell you it exists, albeit rare. I imagine most that venture down such an uncertain path may end in less than desirable circumstances. If it were like that for everyone every time I suppose it wouldn’t be so special and indeed this was something I had never encountered. Yes, this was something special and as terrifying and alien as it was I found myself committed from the first moment on.

I was on the road working when my life changed forever. My buddies and I had experienced a more awful than usual workday and went out to relax and maybe blow off a little steam. I had been nursing a jack and coke for nearly an hour lost in my own exhausted thoughts when I heard my friend say “and this is Jeff.” I turned around and looked down into her eyes. At that moment the world ceased to exist. There was only her. I knew that I was going to spend the rest of my life with this woman. I was powerless to do otherwise.

We spent every moment we could together while I was working in and around Cleveland where she lived. It was April and it was still very much winter there. I remember it like it was yesterday. When the time came to move on our parting was unbearable. I was home only a few days before we were headed back out to Michigan. It was her birthday and as a surprise to me, or maybe because I wouldn’t shut up about her, my buddies dropped me off and I skipped the Michigan trip and spent her birthday with her.

That weekend we drove all the way to North Carolina picked up my things and I moved to sunny Cleveland. Jumping in to a relationship as we did can be ill advised but her and I both knew this was something that would last. We were each other’s always and forever. We had a few hiccups here and there but there never arose an issue we weren’t able to compromise on.

For all intents and purposes we had the perfect relationship. We did for each other as any healthy couple should. She made more money than I did because I no longer worked for my friend’s company. I took whatever jobs I could find. We never fought over money, that’s something her and I adamantly refused to do.

After we had been together for two years I injured my leg bad enough that I walked with a limp for nearly three years. I was advised to stay off my leg for an extended period so we made a plan. I would attend college and work part time and she would work full time and go back to school part time when we had enough money saved. This made for long weeks and it cut into our alone time but it made the time we did have even more special.

In January of 2010 she was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer. I do not mean to say that some other type of cancer would have somehow been better but at least they would have been able to provide a prognosis. We were both very grateful that the Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic was so close but to hear the head of oncology at the number one ranked cancer institute in America tell us that he had never seen this before was a bit disheartening. Rhabdomyosarcoma is an extremely rare childhood cancer. My Susie was the first adult to ever be diagnosed and treated at the Taussig Institute for this disease. Yes the doctor had seen Rhabdomyosarcoma in children, but they had treatment options and could give an educated prognosis.

When it came to Susie everything was new. We were warned that the treatment for such an aggressive cancer would be devastating to her body. We were told that children can handle far harsher treatments but she was 33 at the time and the effects were far worse than we had imagined even with the doctor’s warnings. They were in no way overstating the truth.

Just after her diagnosis Susie instructed one of her brothers to tell me to leave. She told him “I don’t want to ruin his life with this.” The fact that I am writing this account should let you know I did not in fact leave. Her main concern through everything was always me.

I was saddened to find out from the chemo nurses that in many cases when a woman is diagnosed with cancer that the boyfriend will leave. I was only her boyfriend and not her husband simply because I was in college and I would have lost my grants if we had been married. I think that is what encouraged me to write this retelling.

When the cancer first surfaced it caused significant damage to the nerve cluster behind her right eye so she was forced to wear a patch. Susie was very independent, with the damage to her eye she was no longer able to drive and even if she had been able the treatments rendered her nearly immobile. Losing her independence was a terrible blow for her. I did all I could to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.

She was terribly intelligent and understood each and everything that the doctors said. In retrospect it may have been easier had she not been able to grasp the circumstances. It took a great deal of effort to get her to relinquish many of her day to day activities because my girl was stubborn and even in that state she tried to take care of me.

It was heartbreaking watching someone so active being confined to a bed nearly all day every day. I learned a few things over the next seventeen months some may find helpful so I type on.

The first and most important thing you need to remember when taking care of someone with a disease as severe as this is that no matter how hard it is for you it is far worse for them. The second thing is equally as important as the first. Love them. Let them know they are loved. Smile when it hurts. Be the same person you were before the illness took over. Their world as well as yours will be forever changed and flipped upside down but you as the caregiver must give a sense of stability. This peace of mind is as important as the surgeries, chemotherapies, and the radiation treatments. A positive attitude is paramount to recovery. If they see that you’ve given up then why should they keep fighting? You MUST be a trooper. If you need to fall apart do it out of sight.

When it hurts too bad to speak, laugh. When you’ve been awake for five days and can’t bear to think, be funny. There will be times they may get angry or excessively sensitive. Do not react, because you, their spouse, the love of their life, their partner, have now become their attendant, their nurse, their guardian, and their caregiver. This would be hard for anyone to accept so allow them to adjust in any way they see fit.

Be prepared. “Be prepared,” a very simple statement but prepared for what? The simple answer is anything and everything. Wal-Mart or CVS should definitely be one of your first stops. The aftermath of radiation and chemotherapy treatments can be very unpleasant and it is imperative that your home be disinfected on a daily basis due to the fact that chemotherapy decimates the immune system.

Here are a few things I recommend you have in your home: Non-scented disinfectant, (scented products can cause nausea) non-scented laundry detergent, hypoallergenic baby oil, Vaseline, examination gloves, surgical masks, a thermometer, a personal blood pressure cuff, lots of comfy pajamas, Ensure, (for when the nausea is bad) plenty of wash cloths and towels, extra pillows, extra blankets, ice packs, a heating pad or electric blanket, a box fan, an Edenpure heater, (these heaters cost a bit but they do not dry the air in the house and are safe enough to be placed close to your loved one without the risk of burns, they blow a steady stream of warm air) hand sanitizer. If you think you might need something, buy it. If you buy too much of something and end up not using it, donate it. It will not be a wasted purchase.

If you and your loved one have animals in the home it is perfectly safe to allow them to remain as long as there is no adverse reaction. Having her babies around did Susie a world of good. This however means that if you have dogs that potty outside they must be kept clean. I’m not assuming your pets are nasty but the hygiene regimen for your pups needs to be monitored on a daily basis. I washed our dogs twice a week during the warmer months; I was able to be a little more lax during the winter because there were no pesky allergens to piggy back in on their fur. Roxy couldn’t stand it but Frank always had a blast in the tub. I’d give him a bath and he’d give me a shower.

As Susie’s condition progressed we went through situations and circumstances no one should have to endure but the simple cruel, unjust, and heartless fact is, it happened. If you find yourself in this place as the caregiver to the person you hold most dear don’t succumb to the despair it offers. Grasp on to the hope and the love you feel and do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. In the end whether your husband or your wife survives or not you’ll always know that at the hardest point in their lives you were there and you did all that you could to get them through it with their dignity and their self-respect.

The night I met Susie was a karaoke night in that bar and I, a man with crippling stage fright, exhausted from working three weeks straight in the frozen tundra of Ohio, got up on that stage and sang my heart out to her. The last night I spent with her I sang her that song again, Feel Like Making Love, by Bad Company. I told her everything I wanted her to know and I like to believe she heard me. I played her all her favorite songs then I kissed her goodnight and I told her she didn’t have to fight anymore.

She left this world the next morning and I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. It was the brightest day I had ever seen in Ohio. The sun seemed bigger and brighter than on the hottest summer’s day but there was three feet of snow on the ground. Don’t feel sorry for me, it’s not why I wrote this. If anything be envious. I was blessed with five years with the most amazing woman I have ever met and she treated me like a king. I didn’t get to spend the rest of my life with her, as I had hoped, but I did spend the rest of her life with her and despite the pain and inevitable conclusion we were happy and we were still very much in love.

-JM Vogel

susie_jeff
My Susie and me. Spring of 2006 We were both asleep on our feet in this picture, but her lifelong best friend invited us over and we didn’t want to disappoint… 🙂