Category Archives: Writing

Unpublished Work

Well, I’m in a tricky situation. I want to keep writing my blog every week. I would like that work to relate to other work I’m doing so I can spend the time to do a good job and have it mean something. However, if I pitch my work somewhere the expectation is that it is unpublished. For this reason, I believe I will have to stop publishing my revisions of “Spirit Lifter” to my blog. If for whatever reason I learn that my final draft will not end up under someone else’s copyright, then I’ll post it here. I’ll leave up the earlier drafts and be honest with them that I’m doing so.

Since I’m spending time writing my novel and writing short stories for publication on top of my regular life, it’s getting more demanding for me to pen down further unrelated content on my blog. So, I think that for a while my weekly entries will go back to be low-key descriptions of things happening in my life. Thanks for joining me while this was briefly a writing blog. Perhaps someday it will become so again.

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The Truth about Spirit Lifter (Revision 2)

The Ability of Gary Cudgel Revision 5:

  • Added hints of Evamae’s fishing line trick (ten minutes)
  • Trimmed down to 2484 words (2 hours)

The Truth about Spirit Lifter


From the desk of Lance Corporal Philip Silver, USMC, Retired

You have no reason to trust me, but finally the relevant parties have passed, and I am ready to reveal the true identity of Spirit Lifter. My greatest crime in this story was to think it was all about me, so I will introduce myself only as an Afghanistan war veteran with a medical discharge and tremors. At the time, I worked with the government, and I lived in a section-8 housing complex terrorized by a gang from another neighborhood.

The Cudgel family lived in a one story house with brick siding, white shutters and a shallow-pitched roof. An old, rusted pickup truck sat in the overgrown yard, claimed by nature. I pressed the door bell and nothing happened, so I knocked. The door swung in, and a huge black-and-white pit bull lunged at me.

Inches from my chest, the dog made an impossible maneuver. It stopped in mid-air with a yelp and did a half-flip, landing on its back. It regained its feet and hopped on its front legs, whining and struggling against nothing. “Barkley, bad dog!” chided an old woman from the top landing. She made her way down the stairs.

“Come in, come in, Lance Corporal!” The woman beckoned as she descended the steps. Her hair was white tinged with flamboyant purple. The wrinkles on her face were all from smiling.

“You know me?” I asked, surprised.

“Of course we know you, Lance Corporal Silver,” she chided, “We do read the emails they send us. My name is Evamae Cudgel. Come in! Come in! You’re letting the heat in.”

I reddened. I followed Evamae into the living room, where a television was playing “Spiderman.” I heard a rattling noise of glassware. It was a tink tink tink coming from another room. “Gary,” Evamae uttered a sharp rebuke to the man sitting in an easy chair so motionless I had not even noticed him at first, “stop fidgeting.” Gary Cudgel, balding and obese in an enormous handmade sweater, turned his broad face from the TV and gave his mother an absent look. In another few moments, the sound stopped.

“Gary,” Evamae ordered, jabbing a finger in my direction, “greet Lance Corporal Silver.”

“Hullo, Lance Corp’ral Silver,” Gary said in a slow, guileless voice, turning to look at me. Then he gave his head three slow nods and turned back to his set position in the easy chair.

“Give him some time, Lance Corporal Silver. He’s a very talented boy. Please take a seat behind the coffee table.”

I had nothing to say, so I just nodded and sat in a cheap plastic folding chair behind a squat table with a plastic white tablecloth. I pried open my heavy government-issued laptop. “Mrs. Cudgel, you are widowed?”

“Yes, Lance Corporal Silver,” said Evamae, “do call me Evamae.”

“Certainly. Please call me Philip, then.”

Evamae smiled, “Philip, I reckon you’re gonna ask me if this one still can’t take care of himself?”

Gary seemed lost in his show.

“He’s very special,” Evamae assured me, “but he stresses easy. He’s wonderful as long as I protect him from too much excitement. Why don’t I put some tea on?”

I nodded and Evamae stood to go to the kitchen. “Ma,” said Gary, “can I go out for a smoke?”

“Go on, dear. Only one cigarette. Our friend Philip here is going to have some questions for you soon. Take the dog with you.”

“Yeah, Ma,” Gary agreed. With concerted effort, he rose from his seat deep in the easy chair. As Gary lumbered past, Barkley’s smile vanished. His collar slid to just behind his head and pulled, and he moved his weight back onto his haunches so all of his legs were pointing toward the man. He had moved his weight so far back it looked as if he should fall backward, but his collar kept him stable. I watched him whine and hobble behind Gary until they were both outside.

“Use your hands, Gary, if yer going out front where folks’ll see you.” Evamae shouted, “Come ask me questions in the kitchen, Philip. I suppose you’re wondering if I have a job? Taking care of this one is full time.” She nodded towards the porch.

I checked off the box on my form. The conversation continued in this way. Evamae rattled off a memorized list of questions and offered her colorful answer to each. She handed me a mug of sweet tea, grabbed her cane and left the room to get some official documents. I lifted the tea to my lips, but it was much too hot. My hand trembled as I tried to put it down again, and I grit my teeth as the tea sloshed out onto my wrist.

Stinging with defeat, I took the tea in my steadier left hand and brought it up to blow on it. When I saw out of the corner of my eye a massive figure standing in the doorway, I startled. The mug left me entirely, but it’s path downward was not a sensible one. Instead of tipping and spilling its contents, it fell straight down and settled on my leg. I stared at it for a moment before snatching it out of its preternatural balancing act and placing it back on the table. Barkley stood at my side, licking my hand. I looked back at Gary, who stank of tobacco and had a smile on his broad face for the first time.

Then we heard the shriek. “Gary!” Evamae’s shout was not of chastisement but of terror. Barkley’s claws scrabbled on the kitchen tile and he dashed to his master. I leapt from my seat to rush to the stairs, but Gary just stood where he was, his look transformed into one of intense concentration.

By the time I made it to the stairs, Evamae was at the bottom face down, her bony arms and legs splayed to all sides. Her purple-white hair covered anything I could see of her face. Her cane lay a few steps down from the landing. This was my doing. I sent her up those stairs. Why didn’t I think to help her, or even go up and get the information myself? I just sat like an idiot in the kitchen in a pathetic fight with a mug of hot tea. Good lord, I was no help to anyone at all.

“Evamae?” I ventured.

Evamae spoke at full volume. “Could you help me up, Philip? I’m sure I’m a very amusing sight right now, but it really is rude to stare.”

“Oh,” I took a knee and grabbed her hand, helping her get her legs under her and stand up again. Barkley hopped onto all fours again and yapped, dancing all around. “Are you hurt?”

“Do I look hurt?” Evamae stood straight and put one arm up behind her head, modeling for me. It boggled my mind – there was not a scratch on her. I realized I had not heard any thumping, either, like she had soared gracefully from the top of the steps to the ground floor.

She pressed past me to the kitchen. I hurried after and found her with her arms around her gigantic son, two heads taller than she. “You smell terrible, boy,” she muttered, “I want you to go take a bath as soon as you get a moment.”

“Yes, Ma.” Gary Cudgel mumbled, “Right away.”

When Gary was out of earshot, I asked Evamae, “If I may ask, what’s happening here?”

“Why, you’re welcome to ask, but I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I stammered and tried to describe what I had seen. Evamae put her hand on mine. She wore a bracelet made of fishing wire. A dulled hook held the ugly ornamentation together. She locked eyes with mine. “I told you he’s a talented boy. Can we leave it at that, dear?”

“You don’t need to be making do on meager social security.”

Evamae maintained her smile, “Did we have more questions to get through?”

I sighed and moved on, but when Gary came back into the room, I spoke directly to him. His face lit up, and the smile evaporated from Evamae’s.


Evamae and Gary pulled into my apartment complex. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw one of the miscreant gang members leaning against a brick wall, his hands in the pockets of his baggy jeans. Evamae stared daggers at me through the window of her hatchback. The man filling the entire passenger seat looked like a boy on Christmas. “Gary,” I said, “that’s a bad guy. Can you find his gun?”

Gary nodded and concentrated. I watched the gangster jump. He turned and looked all around him. I saw the gun in the back of his pants as he put his hand to it, and I grinned. “Put it on the roof.”

I watched the gun rise from the back of his pants. He looked up and grasped for it, but it was already out of his reach. He cursed as he watched it make a hard angle towards the flat roof and fall down.

The man put his hands to his head and uttered another string of invectives, darting his gaze around not knowing who to address. He fought with someone on his cell phone,  then stalked off and drove away.

Soon, an older, taller man with a gold chain arrived and went to the spot. This one saw me, “Hey, you, what’re you lookin’ at?” I shook my head and raised my hands. I slipped into the hatchback to watch through the window.

With a signal from me, he, too, was grasping for his gun as it rose to the roof. With more foul language, he also fled.

Gary looked back at me, and I gave him a thumbs-up. He grinned from ear to ear, “I’m a spiderman, Ma.”

“That’s right, dear” Evamae patted him on the shoulder, “I think it’s time to be going now. Say goodbye to Mr. Silver. You won’t be seeing him again.”


The criminals seemed thoroughly spooked and did not return. I smiled when folks mentioned how nice it was to have the neighborhood safe again. A rumor floated around the complex of a crime-fighting ghost. When the topic came up, glances went in my direction.

I didn’t understand it until I saw the story on my local news, “Spirit-Lifter: Mysterious poltergeist cleans up neighborhood.” In a video of the event, there I was to the side, grinning and pumping my fist like a giddy sidekick. My cell phone started ringing.

I tried to ignore it, but my phone just kept ringing. One message was from The Late Night Show with Cynthia West. Their offer was outrageous.


Evamae dropped all pretense of southern charm. “Why are you here again? I’m so close to getting Gary calmed down from all that nonsense with the guns.”

I mentioned the show’s offer and her eyes widened. “Can we get it ahead?”

I was taken aback, “I don’t think they’ll like that. Why would you need it ahead?”

Evamae grit her teeth and scratched her head with her left hand and that ugly fishook bracelet. “See if we can get it ahead. I’m not going to let anything happen to Gary.”

I didn’t like being shut out of whatever plan Evamae was cooking up, but I knew better than to argue. Somehow I managed to get us a quarter ahead, to Evamae’s great pleasure. Used prudently, even just a quarter of that money could support three people for the rest of their lives.


In New York City, it was 5:45. The show filmed at 6:00. An aide rushed into the prep room. She had a translucent pink clipboard that matched her phosphorescent hair. “Where’s Spirit Lifter?” she demanded. I had no idea. I could not control my shaking. At 5:55, Evamae arrived, “Thank God!” I exclaimed, but then I looked at her. She was wearing all black, including an old baseball hat. Underneath, she had bleached the purple out of her hair, leaving it a ghostly white. I leaned close to hiss in her ear, “Where is Gary?”

Our bubblegum aide burst in, “Finally, you’re here. You’re Spirit Lifter, right? Please tell me you’re Spirit Lifter.”

“Yes,” Evamae smiled broadly, “That’s me. The Spirit Lifter herself.”

Cynthia was as stunning in person as on the screen. With short-cropped hair and thick-rimmed glasses over her elegantly aging face, she embodied beauty and wisdom. When she clasped my hand and looked in my eyes, I knew she was the only person on that stage who was genuine. On the guest couch, I shoved my hands into my lap to force them not to shake. Evamae smiled and joked with the audience, drawing laughter and cheers and deftly turning aside all questions of her identity.

When Cynthia finally asked “Spirit Lifter” to show what she could do, Evamae beamed and reached for her fish hook bracelet. She undid it rolling the fishing line out to its full length. She tossed the hook over the scaffolding, and with deft movements of her fingers, she maneuvered it to catch the hat and lift it high up into the air. She even jiggled the hook and let the hat fall back onto her head. She grinned and put her hand behind her head, posing for the silent audience. Cynthia’s face smiled, but it had gone rigid. Everyone waited for Evamae to say “Just kidding!” and wheel out her real superpowers.


In a terse email, the show informed me that I would not be receiving the rest of the money promised. Evamae had not said so much as her first name, so all the angry fan-mail and personal harassment went straight to me. She was clear – she didn’t care whether the furor died down, as long as I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut about her and Gary. She said he had been thrilled to see his mother on TV and didn’t understand or particularly care that he was not going to be a celebrity. They would live the rest of their days in obscure comfort, with more than enough funds to take care of him after she passed. She thanked me for everything I’d done for her family and encouraged me never to speak of or go anywhere near them again.

The rest is history. Writing from my little cottage in the woods, I am relieved to finally tell the truth. I am still inclined to agree with Spirit Lifters fans. I, too, regret that Spirit Lifter passed away without sharing his talents with the world, but ultimately, that decision was not ours to make. I hope that his mother’s decision to keep his life small had been the best to make it happy.

The Truth about Spirit Lifter

This is the fourth revision of “The Ability of Gary Cudgel”, and the big deal here is that I had my official reviewers group look at it. They identified directly what my friend may have been intuiting when he suggested I add more political commentary. There was really hardly anything at all in the previous versions of this story. It painted a cute little picture, but there was no tension or conflict worth mentioning. This revision takes the word count 500 over the maximum in order to rectify that. It probably took me another three hours combined, not including copious interruptions.

The Truth about Spirit Lifter


From the desk of Lance Corporal Philip Silver, USMC, Retired

You have no reason to trust me, but finally, the relevant parties having passed into the next life, I am ready to reveal the true identity of Spirit Lifter. My greatest crime in this story was to think it was all about me, so I will introduce myself only as an Afghanistan war veteran with a medical discharge and tremors. At the time, I was working with the state elder plan to help beneficiaries stay on through the bureaucratic changes, and I was living in a section-8 housing complex terrorized by a gang from another neighborhood.

The Cudgel family lived in a one story house with brick siding, white shutters and a shallow-pitched roof. The overgrown yard in front had claimed an old rusted pickup truck for its own. The doorbell to the Cudgel residence did nothing when I pressed it, so I knocked. Moments later, the door swung open, and a huge black-and-white pit bull lunged at me.

Inches from my chest, the dog made an impossible maneuver. It stopped in mid-air with a yelp and did a half-flip, landing on its back. It leapt up again and hopped on its front legs, whining and struggling against nothing. “Barkley, bad dog!” chided an old woman from the top landing. She made her way down the stairs.

“Come in, come in, Lance Corporal!” The woman beckoned to me as she descended the steps. Her hair was white tinged with flamboyant purple. The wrinkles on her face were all from smiling.

“You know me?” I asked, surprised.

“Of course we know you, Lance Corporal Silver,” she chided, “We do read the emails they send us. My name is Evamae Cudgel. Come in! Come in! You’re letting the heat in.”

I reddened. I closed the door behind me and waited for Evamae to indicate where I should go next. Barkley lay down, then leapt up again and rushed forward to lick my hands. I went to my knees and ran an unsteady hand across the short fur on his back as he continued to hop and try to lick my face. I followed Evamae into the living room, where a television was playing “Spiderman.”

As I came in, I heard a rattling noise of glassware. It was a tink tink tink coming from another room. “Gary,” Evamae uttered a sharp rebuke to the man sitting in an easy chair so motionless I had not even noticed him at first, “stop fidgeting.” Gary Cudgel, balding and obese in an enormous handmade sweater, turned his head from the TV and gave his mother an absent look with his broad, blank face. In another few moments, the sound stopped.

“Gary,” Evamae ordered, jabbing a finger in my direction, “greet Lance Corporal Silver.”

“Hullo, Lance Corporal Silver,” Gary said in a slow, guileless voice, turning to look at me. Then he gave his head three slow nods and turned back to his set position in the easy chair.

“Give him some time, Lance Corporal Silver. He’ll open right up. Please take a seat behind the coffee table.”

I had nothing to say, so I just nodded and sat in a cheap plastic folding chair behind a squat table with a red-and-white plaid tablecloth. Barkley laid down next to Gary’s easy chair. “I wanted to go over with you the benefits you’ll be receiving under the new rules. Mostly everything has stayed the same, but I’m going to make sure you make the necessary updates to your status so you and your son don’t lose any coverage.”

Barkley whined, then he rolled over on his back, panting and kicking his leg, his tongue lolling out from his huge smile. I glanced at him corner of my eye as I pried open my heavy government-issued laptop. “Mrs. Cudgel, you are widowed?”

“Yes, Lance Corporal Silver,” said Evamae, “do call me Evamae.”

“Certainly. Please call me Philip, then.”

Evamae smiled, “Philip, I reckon you’re gonna ask me if this one still can’t take care of himself?”

I glanced at Gary, wondering if he minded his mother speaking so casually about him within his hearing. He didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening.

“He can’t,” Evamae answered the question. I marked it on my form.

“He stresses easily, but he’s happy as long as I protect him from too much excitement.” Evamae assured me, “Why don’t I put some tea on?”

I nodded and Evamae stood to go to the kitchen. Barkley rolled back onto his belly and whined again. “Ma,” said Gary, “can I go out for a smoke?”

“Go on, dear. Only one cigarette. Our friend Philip here is going to have some questions for you soon. Take the dog with you.”

“Yeah, Ma,” Gary agreed. He sat for another long moment, then, with concerted effort, rose from his seat deep in the easy chair. As Gary lumbered past, Barkley’s smile vanished and he moved his weight back onto his haunches so all of his legs were pointing toward the man. He had moved his weight so far back it looked as if he should fall backward, but he didn’t. I watched him whine and walk behind Gary in this awkward, reluctant position until they were both outside.

“Use your hands, Gary.” Evamae shouted, “Come ask me questions in the kitchen, Philip. I suppose you’re wondering if I have a job? Taking care of this one is full time.” She nodded towards the porch.

I checked off the box on my form. The conversation continued in this way. Evamae rattled off a memorized list of the questions on my form and offered her colorful answer to each. My hand was shaking more than I liked, but I tried not to let it worry me. She handed me a mug of sweet tea and grabbed her cane and left the room to get some official documents. I lifted the tea to my lips, but it was much too hot. My hand trembled as I tried to put it down again, and I grit my teeth as the hot tea sloshed out onto my wrist.

Stinging from my defeat, I took the tea in my steadier left hand and brought it to my lips to blow on it, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a massive figure standing in the doorway. I startled and let out a gasp. The mug left me entirely, but it’s path downward was not a sensible one. Instead of tipping and spilling its contents, it fell straight down and settled on my leg. I stared at it for a moment before snatching it out of its preternatural balancing act and placing it with utmost care back on the table.

Barkley stood at my side, licking my hand. I looked back at Gary, who stank of tobacco and had a smile on his wide, unassuming face for the first time. “Be careful, Mister Silver.” he intoned.

Then we heard the shriek. “Gary!” Evamae’s shout was not of chastisement but of terror. Barkley’s claws scrabbled on the kitchen tile and he dashed to his master. I leapt from my seat to rush to the stairs, but Gary just stood where he was, his look transformed into one of intense concentration.

By the time I made it to the stairs, Evamae was at the bottom face down, her decrepit arms and legs splayed to all sides. Her white hair covered anything I could see of her face. Her cane was a few steps down from the landing. Incongruously, Barkley sat at her side and grinned, as if perversely pleased by the tragedy. Its expression sickened me.

This was my doing. I sent her up those stairs. Why didn’t I think to help her, or even go up and get the information myself? I just sat like an idiot in the kitchen in a pathetic fight with a mug of hot tea. Good lord, I was no help to anyone at all.

“Evamae?” I ventured.

Evamae spoke at full volume. “Could you help me up, Philip? I’m sure I’m a very amusing sight right now, but it really is rude to stare.”

“Oh,” I took a knee and grabbed her hand, helping her get her legs under her and stand up again. Barkley hopped onto all fours again and yapped, dancing all around. “Are you hurt?”

“Do I look hurt?” Evamae stood straight and put one arm up behind her head as if she were modeling for me. It boggled my mind – there was not a scratch on her. I realized I had not heard any thumping, either, like she had glided gracefully from the top of the steps to the lower floor.

She pressed past me to the kitchen before I could respond. I hurried after her and found her with her arms around her gigantic son, two heads taller than she. “You smell terrible, boy,” she muttered, “I want you to go take a bath as soon as you get a moment.”

“Yes, Ma.” Gary Cudgel mumbled, “Right away.”

When Gary was out of earshot, I asked Evamae, “If I may ask, what’s happening here?”

“Why, you’re welcome to ask, but I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I don’t understand how you fell down those steps without making a sound…” I trailed off.

Evamae smiled at me, waiting for more.

“Your dog seems to be getting yanked around by…” I couldn’t bring myself to say this. It was so absurd.

Evamae put her hand on mine. “My son is very special. Can we leave it at that, dear?”

“With the things he does, you don’t need to be making do on meager social security.”

Evamae maintained her smile, “Did we have more questions to get through?”

I sighed, and moved on. By the end of the interview, though, I had formulated a plan. When Gary came back into the room, I spoke directly to him, and his face lit up just as the smile evaporated from Evamae’s.


Evamae and Gary pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex, taking the parking spot next to mine. The drive was an hour, and I knew I wouldn’t get another chance if this went south. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw one of the miscreant gang members leaning against a brick wall, his hands in the pockets of his baggy jeans. I tapped on the driver window of Evamae’s hatchback, and she rolled it down. She stared daggers at me, but kept her mouth shut. “Gary,” I said to the man filling up the entire passenger seat, who looked like a boy on Christmas, “that’s a bad guy. Can you find his gun?”

Gary nodded eagerly and concentrated. I watched the gangster stand up, “what the fuck?” He looked all around him. “Get the hell off me!” I grinned.

I looked back at Gary, “put it on the roof.” I watched the gun rise from the back of his pants. He looked up and grasped for it, but it was already out of his reach. He cursed as he watched it make a hard angle towards the flat roof and fall down.

“Fucking ghosts, man! The fuck just happened!?” He whipped out his phone, “Yeah, man, a fuckin’ demon or some shit. it just came and put my gun on the roof. Fuck you, man. You take the rest of the shift.”

The young man stalked off and drove away. I motioned for Evamae and Gary to wait. Soon another car came out and an older, taller man with a gold chain around his neck went to the spot. He looked and saw me, “Hey, you, what’re you lookin’ at?” I shook my head and raised my hands. I slipped into the hatchback to watch through the window.

“Some crazy mothafuckas out here,” the man mumbled, but with a signal from me, he, too, was grasping for his gun as it rose to the roof. “Fuck, man!” He hurried to his car and drove away.

Gary looked back at me, and I gave him a thumbs-up. He grinned from ear to ear, “I’m a spiderman, Ma.”

“That’s right, dear” Evamae patted him on the shoulder, “I think it’s time to be going now. Say goodbye to Mr. Silver. You won’t be seeing him again.”


Luckily, the criminals seemed spooked enough to avoid my neighborhood entirely right away. I smiled quietly when folks mentioned how nice it was to have the neighborhood safe again. As you know, that wasn’t the end of it, though. A rumor started floating around the complex of a crime-fighting ghost. I didn’t think it would go anywhere, but people knew somehow that this ghost-man was linked to me.

I didn’t understand it until I saw the story on my local news, “Spirit-Lifter: Mysterious poltergeist cleans up neighborhood.” There was a video of the gun floating up out of the man’s pants and onto the roof, twice. Anyone who knew me would recognize the man in the middle of the video raising his hands and hiding in a hatchback. My cell phone started ringing.

Despite my better judgement, I accepted a spot on WUNC. “I can’t reveal who Spirit Lifter is, but he protects people. He does not use his powers for frivolous things like media appearances.”

I hoped that would make it stop, but my phone just kept ringing. One message was from The Late Night Show with Cynthia West. The offer was outrageous.


Evamae dropped all pretense of southern charm. “Why are you here again? I’m so close to getting Gary calmed down from all that nonsense with the guns.”

I mentioned the sum and her eyes widened. “Can we get it ahead?”

I was taken aback, “I don’t think they’ll like that. Why would you need it ahead?”

Evamae grit her teeth and scratched her head. “See if we can get it ahead. I’m not going to let anything happen to Gary.”

I didn’t like being shut out of whatever plan Evamae was cooking up, but I knew better than to argue. Somehow I managed to get us a quarter ahead, to Evamae’s great pleasure. Even just a third of a quarter of that money was more than I ever expected to see in my bank account, and if I invested wisely and wasn’t extravagant, I could certainly live off of it.


In New York City, it was 5:45. The show filmed at 6:00. An aide rushed into the prep room. She had a translucent pink clipboard that matched her phosphorescent hair. “Where’s Spirit Lifter?” she demanded. I had no idea. I could not control my shaking. At 5:55, Evamae arrived, “Thank God!” I exclaimed, but then I looked at her. She was wearing all black, including an old black baseball hat. Underneath, she had bleached the purple out of her hair, leaving it a ghostly white. I leaned close to hiss in her ear, “Where is Gary?”

Our bubblegum aide burst in, “Finally, you’re here. You’re Spirit Lifter, right? Please tell me you’re Spirit Lifter.”

“Yes,” Evamae smiled broadly, “That’s me. The Spirit Lifter herself.”

Cynthia was as stunning in person as on the screen. With short-cropped hair and thick-rimmed glasses over her elegantly aging face, she embodied beauty and wisdom. When she clasped my hand and looked in my eyes, I knew she was the only person on that stage who was genuine. On the guest couch, I shoved my hands into my lap to force them not to shake. I tried desperately to remember the clever lines I was going to deliver, how I would carefully work in my own honorable service in Afghanistan, but it all escaped me, and I barely had a moment to speak at all anyway. Evamae smiled and joked with the audience, deftly turning aside all questions of her identity, and they responded with laughter and cheers.

When Cynthia finally asked “Spirit Lifter” to show what she could do, Evamae beamed and threw her hat onto the stage. She withdrew from her pocket a length of fishing wire and a hook, and tossed it over the scaffolding so it hung down. With deft movements of her fingers, she maneuvered the hook underneath the hat and lifted it high up into the air. She even jiggled the hook and let the hat fall back onto her head. She grinned and put her hand behind her head, posing for the silent audience. Cynthia’s face smiled, but it had acquired a rigid quality. Everyone waited for Evamae to say “Just kidding!” and wheel out her real superpowers.


In a terse email that left little room for misinterpretation, the Late Night Show with Cynthia West informed me that I would not be receiving the rest of the money promised. I saw no reason to contest. Evamae had not said so much as her real name, so all the angry fan-mail and personal harassment went straight to me. She was clear with me – she didn’t care whether the furor died down, as long as I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut about her and Gary, who she said had been thrilled to see his mother on TV and didn’t understand or particularly care that he was not going to be a celebrity. They would live the rest of their days in obscure comfort, with more than enough funds to take care of him after she passed. She thanked me for everything I’d done for her family and encouraged me never to speak of or go anywhere near them again.

The rest is history. Writing from my little cottage in the woods, I am relieved to finally tell the truth. I am still inclined to regret with you all that Spirit Lifter passed away without sharing his talents with the world, but ultimately, that decision was not ours to make. I hope that his mother’s decision to keep his life small had been the best to keep it happy.

The Ability of Gary Cudgel Draft 3

This time I received some advice to add more of my usual satire and political commentary, but this story is actually a deliberate departure from that style. I believe my target audience will appreciate a story that takes the chicken soup for the soul recipe and adds a little flavor of the supernatural. In this version I replaced the protagonist introduction at the beginning with a more action-oriented revision. I also added a dog, “Barkley Cudgel.” It took me about 30 minutes.

I think it would be a lie to tell you that I fully understand just what happened at the Cudgel residence on 24 Pine Way at the end of September. The house on 24 Pine Way was a small one – one story, brick siding, white shutters and a shallow-pitched roof. A pickup truck stood in the yard, rusted through and overgrown with weeds.

My phone chimed 11:00 AM, and I opened my glove compartment. The army discharge papers I had crammed carelessly in came tumbling out. Doctors notes spilled into the passenger seat, “the patient shows damage to his motor control centers, but with regular treatment can expect partial recovery within five years.” Ugh, don’t remind me. I cursed under my breath and fumbled for my pills, which fell under the seat. I had to get on my hands and knees to get the foul-smelling pills that stuck in my throat and made me feel sluggish all day. The indoor handle on the driver side of my twenty-year-old Corolla broke off a couple months ago, so I had become adept at sliding across and exiting the passenger side.

The doorbell to the Cudgel residence did nothing when I pressed it, so I knocked. Evamae Cudgel shouted to her son Gary to get the door. Their dog, listed as “Barkley Cudgel” on my form, sprinted forward and howled until the door opened. Barkley, a black and white pit, easily seventy pounds, panted in a way that made him look like he had a big smile on his face. He whined and hopped up and down, as if he wanted desperately to come closer to me but for some reason could not.  Evamae herself was rushing down the steps on her cane when I stepped inside.

“Come in, come in, Doctor!” Evamae gestured a forceful command to entry with her left arm, the right still on her cane as she finally descended to the bottom step. Her hair was white tinged with flamboyant purple. The wrinkles on her face were all from smiling.

“You know me?” I asked, surprised.

“Of course we know you, Doctor Silver,” she chided in an energetic Western North Carolina accent. “We do read the emails they send us. Come in! Come in! You’re letting the heat in.”

I reddened. I closed the door behind me and waited for Evamae to indicate where I should go next. Barkley lay down, then leapt up again and rushed forward to lick my hands, free of his mysterious restraints. I went to my knees and ran an unsteady hand across the short fur on his back as he continued to hop and try to lick my face. Evamae made her way to the right and I followed her into the living room.

As I came in, I heard a rattling noise of glassware. It was a tink tink tink coming from another room. “Gary,” Evamae uttered a sharp rebuke to the man sitting in an easy chair so motionless I had not even noticed him at first, “stop fidgeting.” Gary Cudgel, balding and obese in an enormous sweater, turned his head and showed his broad, blank face. He gave his mother an absent look. In another few moments, the sound stopped.

“Gary,” Evamae ordered, jabbing a finger in my direction, “greet Dr. Silver.”

I stepped back and raised my hands, “Really, it’s fine.”

“Dr. Silver, you’re a gentleman, but Gary has to be polite.” Evamae glared at her son, “Gary?”

“Hullo, Dr. Silver,” Gary said in a slow, guileless voice, turning to look at me. Then he gave his head three slow nods, perhaps to confirm to himself that he had completed his task of delivering greeting, and turned back to his set position in the easy chair.

“Give him some time, Doctor. He’ll open right up. Please take a seat behind the coffee table.”

I had nothing to say, so I just nodded and sat in a cheap plastic folding chair behind a squat table with a red-and-white plaid tablecloth. Barkley laid down next to Gary’s easy chair. “I wanted to go over with you the benefits you’ll be receiving under the new rules. Mostly everything has stayed the same, but I’m going to make sure you make the necessary updates to your status so you and your son don’t lose any coverage.”

Evamae smiled.”Thank you dear.” The house creaked, settling into its foundations, and she turned and snapped, “Gary!”

Gary’s face gave no indication Evamae had been heard, but the old woman seemed satisfied. Barkley whined, then he rolled over on his back, panting and kicking his leg, his tongue lolling out from his huge smile. I stared at him from the corner of my eye as pulled out my heavy government-issued laptop and pried it open. “Mrs. Cudgel, you are widowed?”

“Yes, Doctor,” said Evamae, “do call me Evamae.”

“Certainly. Please call me Philip, then. ‘Doctor’ is my mother’s name.”

Evamae chuckled obligingly at my joke, “Philip, I reckon you’re gonna ask me if this one still can’t take care of himself?”

I glanced at Gary, wondering if he minded his mother speaking so casually about him within his hearing. He didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening.

“He can’t,” Evamae answered the question, “the side effects of the medication.” She was right that I needed to ask, of course. I marked it on my form.

“It’s much better than the alternative, of course. Schizophrenia is a terrible business, I assure you he’s much happier this way.” Evamae assured me, “Why don’t I put some tea on?”

I nodded and Evamae stood to go to the kitchen. Barkley rolled back onto his belly and whined. “Ma,” said Gary, “can I go out for a smoke?”

“Go on, dear. Only one cigarette. Our friend Philip here is going to have some questions for you soon. Take the dog with you.”

“Yeah, Ma,” Gary agreed, leaving the room. Barkley’s smile vanished and he moved his weight back onto his haunches so all of his legs were pointing toward Gary. He had moved his weight so far back it looked as if he should fall backward, but he didn’t. I watched him whine and walk behind Gary in this awkward position until they were both outside.

“Use your hands, Gary. Come ask me questions in the kitchen, Philip. I suppose you’re wondering if I have a job? Taking care of this one is full time.” She nodded towards the porch.

I checked off the box on my form. The conversation continued in this way, Evamae rattling off a memorized list of the questions on my form and offering her colorful answer to each. My hand was shaking more than I liked, and I tried not to let it worry me. The stress would lead to more shaking and a vicious cycle.

“Many of your benefits are moving to the state plan, Evamae. Are you registered with the state elder care and disability service?” I watched Evamae dump a cup full of sugar into her tea and thought about the diabetes she had listed on her form. I wasn’t here to change this family’s habits, though.

I accepted a mug that said “You Got This” adorned in flowers and birds. Evamae pressed her lips together, “How do I do that?”

I smiled, “I’ll pull up the website. It will only take a few minutes if you have all your information – driver’s license number and all that.”

“Do I need to get my driver’s license? It’s upstairs. Wait here a moment.”

Evamae grabbed her cane and left the room. I basked in the glow of knowing their lives would be better for my visit. It made me feel I could still be useful. I lifted the tea to my lips, but it was much too hot. My hand trembled as I tried to put it down again, and I grit my teeth as the hot tea sloshed out onto my wrist.

Irrationally, my failure to set the tea down properly made me want to assert my mastery over it even more. I took it in my steadier left hand and brought it to my lips to blow on it, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a massive figure standing in the doorway. I startled and let out a gasp. The mug left me entirely, but it’s path downward was not a sensible one. Instead of tipping and spilling its contents, it fell straight down and settled on my leg. I stared at it for a moment before snatching it out of its preternatural balancing act and placing it with utmost care back on the table.

Barkley stood at my side, licking my hand. I looked back at Gary, who stank of tobacco and had a smile on his wide, unassuming face for the first time. “Be careful, Doctor.” he intoned.

Then we heard the shriek. “Gary!” Evamae’s shout was not of chastisement but of terror. Barkley’s claws scrabbled on the kitchen tile and he fell onto his side before he managed to spring back up and dash to his master. I leapt from my seat to rush to the stairs, but Gary just stood where he was, his look transformed into one of intense concentration.

By the time I made it to the stairs, Evamae was at the bottom face down, her decrepit arms and legs splayed to all sides. Her white hair covered anything I could see of her face. Her cane was a few steps down from the landing. Incongruously, Barkley sat at her side and grinned, as if perversely pleased by the tragedy. Its expression sickened me.

This was my doing. I sent her up those stairs. Why didn’t I think to help her, or even go up and get the information myself? I just sat like an idiot in the kitchen in a pathetic fight with a mug of hot tea. I cursed my own defective, damaged brain. Good lord, I was no help to anyone at all.

“Evamae?” I ventured.

Evamae spoke at full volume. “Could you help me up, Philip? I’m sure I’m a very amusing sight right now, but it really is rude to stare.”

“Oh,” I took a knee and grabbed her hand, helping her get her legs under her and stand up again. Barkley hopped onto all fours again and barked in a high pitch, dancing all around. “Are you hurt?”

“Do I look hurt, Doctor?” Evamae stood straight and put one arm up behind her head as if she were modeling for me, “give me your professional opinion.” It boggled my mind –  there was not a scratch on her.

“I – well, no.” I stammered, “but this is no laughing matter, but I’m just a nurse practitioner. You should see someone with more experience in – um – geriatrics.”

“Bah,” Evamae chuckled, “if you think I’m fine that’s all the expert opinion I need,” She patted me on the arm. “I have my driver’s license. Shall we get this done?”

She pressed past me to the kitchen before I could respond. I hurried after her and found her with her arms around her gigantic son, two heads taller than she. “You smell terrible, boy,” she muttered, “I want you to go take a bath as soon as you get a moment.”

“Yes, Ma.” Gary Cudgel mumbled, “Right away.”

A couple hours later, when I let myself out of the house, it hardly surprised me that Barkley whined and hopped a few feet away and the door closed and locked behind me seemingly of its own accord. “What an impressive son you have Mrs. Cudgel,” I chuckled as I fumbled with the keys to my beat up old car, “you must be so proud.”

The Ability of Gary Cudgel Draft 2

Draft 2 – I have received a little bit of feedback, all positive. Thus, I haven’t found much in the way of major changes. I added a little more description and cut out a few excess sentences, particularly ones where the protagonist makes guesses as to what the meaning is of the strange things he is seeing and hearing at the Cudgel residence. These revisions took about ten minutes.

***

I think it would be a lie to tell you that I fully understand just what happened at the Cudgel residence on 24 Pine Way at the end of September. I was an army medic, with discharge papers for a blow to the head I had received in Afghanistan. I left with a lifetime of physical therapy and periodic tremors and loss of motor control. My comrades in arms were not so lucky. Thus, it felt right that the job I should take to supplement my pension be one helping others with struggles like mine.

The house on 24 Pine Way was a small one – one story, brick siding, white shutters and a shallow-pitched roof. A pickup truck stood in the yard, rusted through and overgrown with weeds. The doorbell did nothing when I pressed it, so I knocked. Evamae Cudgel shouted to her son Gary to get the door but when the door opened he was nowhere to be seen. Evamae herself was rushing down the steps on her cane when I stepped inside.

“Come in, come in, Doctor!” Evamae gestured a forceful command to entry with her left arm, the right still on her cane as she finally descended to the bottom step. Her hair was white tinged with flamboyant purple. The wrinkles on her face were all from smiling.

“You know me?” I asked, surprised.

“Of course we know you, Doctor Silver,” she chided in an energetic Western North Caroliona accent. “We do read the emails they send us. Come in! Come in! You’re letting the heat in.”

I reddened. I closed the door behind me and waited for Evamae to indicate where I should go next. I opened and shut my hands. It was a nervous tick I had developed intentionally at the recommendation of my occupational therapist. Evamae made her way to the right and I followed her into the living room.

As I came in, I heard a rattling noise of glassware. It was a tink tink tink coming from another room. “Gary,” Evamae uttered a sharp rebuke to the man sitting in an easy chair so motionless I had not even noticed him at first, “stop fidgeting.” Gary Cudgel, balding and obese in an enormous sweater, turned his head and gave his mother an absent look. In another few moments, the sound stopped.

“Gary,” Evamae ordered, jabbing a finger in my direction, “greet Dr. Silver.”

I stepped back and raised my hands, “Really, it’s fine.”

“Dr. Silver, you’re a gentleman, but Gary has to be polite.” Evamae glared at her son, “Gary?”

“Hullo, Dr. Silver,” Gary said in a slow, guileless voice, turning to look at me. Then he gave his head three slow nods, perhaps to confirm to himself that he had completed his task of delivering greeting, and turned back to his set position in the easy chair.

“Give him some time, Doctor. He’ll open right up. Please take a seat behind the coffee table.”

I had nothing to say, so I just nodded and sat in a cheap plastic folding chair behind a squat table with a red-and-white plaid tablecloth. “I wanted to go over with you the benefits you’ll be receiving under the new rules. Mostly everything has stayed the same, but I’m going to make sure you make the necessary updates to your status so you and your son don’t lose any coverage.”

Evamae smiled.”Thank you dear.” The house creaked, settling into its foundations, and she turned and snapped, “Gary!”

Gary’s face gave no indication Evamae had been heard, but the old woman seemed satisfied. I pulled out my heavy government-issued laptop and pried it open. “Mrs. Cudgel, you are widowed?”

“Yes, Doctor,” said Evamae, “do call me Evamae.”

“Certainly. Please call me Philip, then. ‘Doctor’ is my mother’s name.”

Evamae chuckled obligingly at my joke, “Philip, I reckon you’re gonna ask me if this one still can’t take care of himself?”

I glanced at Gary, wondering if he minded his mother speaking so casually about him within his hearing. He didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening.

“He can’t,” Evamae answered the question, “the side effects of the medication.” She was right that I needed to ask, of course. I marked it on my form.

“It’s much better than the alternative, of course. Schizophrenia is a terrible business, I assure you he’s much happier this way.” Evamae assured me, “Why don’t I put some tea on?”

I nodded and Evamae stood to go to the kitchen. “Ma,” said Gary, “can I go out for a smoke?”

“Go on, dear. Only one cigarette. Our friend Philip here is going to have some questions for you soon.”

“Yeah, Ma,” Gary agreed, leaving the room.

“Use your hands, Gary. Come ask me questions in the kitchen, Philip. I suppose you’re wondering if I have a job? Taking care of this one is full time.” She nodded towards the porch.

I checked off the box on my form. The conversation continued in this way, Evamae rattling off a memorized list of the questions on my form and offering her colorful answer to each. My hand was shaking more than I liked, and I tried not to let it worry me. The stress would lead to more shaking and a vicious cycle.

“Many of your benefits are moving to the state plan, Evamae. Are you registered with the state elder care and disability service?” I watched Evamae dump a cup full of sugar into her tea and thought about the diabetes she had listed on her form. I wasn’t here to change this family’s habits, though.

I accepted a mug that said “You Got This” adorned in flowers and birds. Evamae pressed her lips together, “How do I do that?”

I smiled, “I’ll pull up the website. It will only take a few minutes if you have all your information – driver’s license number and all that.”

“Do I need to get my driver’s license? It’s upstairs. Wait here a moment.”

Evamae grabbed her cane and left the room. I basked in the glow of knowing their lives would be better for my visit. It made me feel I could still be useful. I lifted the tea to my lips, but it was much too hot. My hand trembled as I tried to put it down again, and I grit my teeth as the hot tea sloshed out onto my wrist.

Irrationally, my failure to set the tea down properly made me want to assert my mastery over it even more. I took it in my steadier left hand and brought it to my lips to blow on it, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a massive figure standing in the doorway. I startled and let out a gasp. The mug left me entirely, but it’s path downward was not a sensible one. Instead of tipping and spilling its contents, it fell straight down and settled on my leg. I stared at it for a moment before snatching it out of its preternatural balancing act and placing it with utmost care back on the table.

I looked back at Gary, who stank of tobacco and had a smile on his wide, unassuming face for the first time. “Be careful, Doctor.” he intoned.

Then we heard the shriek. “Gary!” Evamae’s shout was not of chastisement but of terror. I leapt from my seat to rush to the stairs, but Gary just stood where he was, his look transformed into one of intense concentration.

By the time I made it to the stairs, Evamae was at the bottom face down, her decrepit arms and legs splayed to all sides. Her white hair covered anything I could see of her face. Her cane was a few steps down from the landing. This was my doing. I sent her up those stairs. Why didn’t I think to help her, or even go up and get the information myself? I just sat like an idiot in the kitchen in a pathetic fight with a mug of hot tea. I cursed my own defective, damaged brain. Good lord, I was no help to anyone at all.

“Evamae?” I ventured.

Evamae spoke at full volume as if nothing were amiss at all. “Could you help me up, Philip? I’m sure I’m a very amusing sight right now, but it really is rude to stare.”

“Oh,” I took a knee and grabbed her hand, helping her get her legs under her and stand up again. “Are you hurt?”

“Do I look hurt, Doctor?” Evamae stood straight and put one arm up behind her head as if she were modeling for me, “give me your professional opinion.” It boggled my mind –  there was not a scratch on her.

“I – well, no.” I stammered, “but this is no laughing matter. You should see someone with more experience in – um – geriatrics.”

“Bah,” Evamae chuckled, “if you think I’m fine that’s all the expert opinion I need,” She patted me on the arm. “I have my driver’s license. Shall we get this done?”

She pressed past me to the kitchen before I could respond. I hurried after her and found her with her arms around her gigantic son, two heads taller than she. “You smell terrible, boy,” she muttered, “I want you to go take a bath as soon as you get a moment.”

“Yes, Ma.” Gary Cudgel mumbled, “Right away.”

A couple hours later, when I let myself out of the house, it hardly surprised me that the door closed and locked behind me seemingly of its own accord. “What an impressive son you have Mrs. Cudgel,” I chuckled as I walked to my beat up old car, “you must be so proud.”

The Ability of Gary Cudgel

I am taking a break from The Sympathetic Universe for a few weeks in order to try my hand at a writing competition. I won’t describe the competition in detail here, but I will use the next several weeks to demonstrate my writing process. Each week, I will post a draft of my story. This week will be the first draft, next week the second, and so on until I am satisfied. The due date is August 15th, so that’s a maximum of 7 or so drafts, not that I think I’ll need that many. This draft was probably about two hours of work total between many interruptions.

***

I think it would be a lie to tell you that I fully understand just what happened at the Cudgel residence on 24 Pine Way at the end of September. I was an army medic, with discharge papers for a blow to the head I had received in Afghanistan. I left with a lifetime of physical therapy and periodic tremors and loss of motor control. My comrades in arms were not so lucky. Thus, it felt right that the job I should take to supplement my pension be one helping others with struggles like mine.

The house on 24 Pine Way was a small one – one story, brick siding, white shutters and a shallow-pitched roof. The doorbell did not appear to activate anything when I pressed it, so I knocked. Evamae Cudgel shouted to her son Gary to get the door but when the door opened he was nowhere to be seen. Evamae herself was rushing down the steps on her cane when I stepped inside. At that time, I reasoned he must prefer not to be seen and have pulled the door behind him and made his escape before I could venture in.

“Come in, come in, Doctor!” Evamae gestured a forceful command to entry with her left arm, the right still on her cane as she finally descended to the bottom step.

“You know me?” I asked, surprised.

“Of course we know you, Doctor Silver. We do read the emails they send us. Come in! Come in! You’re letting the heat in.”

I reddened. I closed the door behind me and waited for Evamae to indicate where I should go next. I opened and shut my hands. It was a nervous tick I had developed intentionally at the recommendation of my occupational therapist. Evamae made her way to the right and I followed her into the living room.

As I came in, I heard a rattling noise of glassware. It was a tink tink tink coming from another room. Probably a dishwasher, or some plates on top of a drier. “Gary,” Evamae uttered a sharp rebuke to the man sitting in an easy chair so motionless I had not even noticed him at first, “stop fidgeting.” Gary Cudgel, balding and obese in an enormous sweater, turned his head and gave his mother an absent look. In another few moments, the sound stopped.

“Gary,” Evamae ordered, jabbing a finger in my direction, “greet Dr. Silver.”

I stepped back and raised my hands, “Really, it’s fine.”

“Dr. Silver, you’re a gentleman, but Gary has to be polite.” Evamae glared at her son, “Gary?”

“Hullo, Dr. Silver,” Gary said in a slow, guileless voice, turning to look at me. Then he gave his head three slow nods, perhaps to confirm to himself that he had completed his task of delivering greeting, as he turned back to his set position in the easy chair.

“Give him some time, Doctor. He’ll open right up. Please take a seat behind the coffee table.”

I had nothing to say, so I just nodded and sat in a cheap plastic folding chair behind a squat table with a red-and-white plaid tablecloth. “I wanted to go over with you the benefits you’ll be receiving under the new rules. Mostly everything has stayed the same, but I’m going to make sure you make the necessary updates to your status so you and your son don’t lose any coverage.”

Evamae smiled.”Thank you dear.” The house creaked, settling into its foundations, and she turned and snapped, “Gary!”

Gary’s face gave no indication Evamae had been heard, but the old woman seemed satisfied. I pulled out my heavy government-issued laptop and pried it open. “Mrs. Cudgel, you are widowed?”

“Yes, Doctor,” said Evamae, “do call me Evamae.”

“Certainly. Please call me Philip, then. ‘Doctor’ is my mother’s name.”

Evamae chuckled obligingly at my joke, “Philip, I reckon you’re gonna ask me if this one still can’t take care of himself?”

I glanced at Gary, wondering if he minded his mother speaking so casually about him within his hearing. He didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening.

“He can’t,” Evamae answered the question, “the side effects of the medication.” She was right that I needed to ask, of course. I marked it on my form.

“It’s much better than the alternative, of course. Schizophrenia is a terrible business, I assure you he’s much happier this way.” Evamae assured me, “Why don’t I put some tea on?”

I nodded and Evamae stood to go to the kitchen. “Ma,” said Gary, “can I go out?”

“Go on, dear. Only one cigarette. Our friend Philip here is going to have some questions for you soon.”

“Yeah, Ma,” Gary agreed, leaving the room.

“Use your hands, Gary. Come ask me questions in the kitchen, Philip. I suppose you’re wondering if I have a job? Taking care of this one is full time.” She nodded towards the porch.

I checked off the box on my form. The conversation continued in this way, Evamae rattling off a memorized list of the questions on my form and offering her colorful answer to each. My hand was shaking more than I liked, and I tried not to let it worry me. The stress would lead to more shaking and a vicious cycle.

“Many of your benefits are moving to the state plan, Evamae. Are you registered with the state elder care and disability service?” I watched Evamae dump a cup full of sugar into her tea and thought about the diabetes she had listed on her form. I wasn’t here to change this family’s habits, though.

I accepted a mug that said “You Got This” adorned in flowers and birds. Evamae pressed her lips together, “How do I do that?”

I smiled, “I’ll pull up the website. It will only take a few minutes if you have all your information – driver’s license number and all that.”

“Do I need to get my driver’s license? It’s upstairs. Wait here a moment.”

Evamae grabbed her cane and left the room. I basked in the glow of knowing their lives would be better for my visit. It made me feel I could still be useful. I lifted the tea to my lips, but it was much too hot. My hand trembled as I tried to put it down again, and I grit my teeth in pain as the hot tea sloshed out onto my wrist.

Irrationally, my failure to set the tea down properly made me want to assert my mastery over it even more. I took it in my steadier left hand and brought it to my lips to blow on it, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a massive figure standing in the doorway. I startled and let out a gasp. The mug left me entirely, but it’s path downward was not a sensible one. Instead of tipping and spilling its contents, it fell straight down and settled on my leg. I stared at it for a moment before snatching it out of its preternatural balancing act and placing it with utmost care back on the table.

I looked back at Gary, who stank of tobacco and had a smile on his wide, unassuming face for the first time. “Be careful, Doctor.” he intoned.

Then we heard the shriek. “Gary!” Evamae’s shout was not of chastisement but of terror. I leapt from my seat to rush to the stairs, but Gary just stood where he was, his look transformed into one of intense concentration.

By the time I made it to the stairs, Evamae was at the bottom face down, her decrepit arms and legs splayed to all sides. Her white hair covered anything I could see of her face. Her cane was a few steps down from the landing. This was my doing. I sent her up those stairs. Why didn’t I think to help her, or even go up and get the information myself? I just sat like an idiot in the kitchen fighting with a mug of excessively sweet tea. I cursed my own defective, damaged brain. Good lord, I was no help to anyone at all.

“Evamae?” I ventured.

“Could you help me up, Philip? I’m sure I’m a very amusing sight right now, but it really is rude to stare.”

“Oh,” I took a knee and grabbed her hand, helping her get her legs under her and stand up again. “Are you hurt?”

“Do I look hurt, Doctor?” Evamae stood straight and put one arm up behind her head as if she were modeling for me, “give me your professional opinion.” It boggled my mind –  there was not a scratch on her.

“I – well, no.” I stammered, “but this is no laughing matter. You should see someone with more experience in – um – geriatrics.”

“Bah,” Evamae chuckled, “if you think I’m fine that’s all the expert opinion I need,” She patted me on the arm. “I have my driver’s license. Shall we get this done?”

She pressed past me to the kitchen before I could respond. I hurried after her and found her with her arms around her gigantic son, two heads taller than she. “You smell terrible, boy,” she muttered, “I want you to go take a bath as soon as you get a moment.”

“Yes, Ma.” Gary Cudgel mumbled, “Right away.”

A couple hours later, when I let myself out of the house, it hardly surprised me that the door closed and locked behind me seemingly of its own accord. “What an impressive son you have Mrs. Cudgel,” I chuckled as I walked to my car, “you must be so proud.”

The End of Infinity Part 4

“Boys,” Sarah-Maybeline said with a knowing look on her delicate features. She sat on Vanessa’s bed, her long dress bunched up beneath her. Vanessa sat at her desk and kept her head down on her math homework.

“You know,” Sarah-Maybeline said, “you should really go for this football thing.”

“Why on Earth would I do that?” Vanessa snapped, “I have more than enough on my plate between my classes, Toastmasters, and my job.”

“Your job at McDonalds.” Sarah-Maybeline lifted an immaculate auburn eyebrow.

“Yes, Sarah-Maybeline. McDonalds.” Vanessa straightened and turned around to look at her. “it’s teaching me valuable life skills and the money will help pay for college.”

Sarah-Maybeline fell forward and lifted her feet behind her. Vanessa wondered if Sarah-Maybeline’s mother would be scandalized to know that Vanessa was seeing her bare feet and shins. “You know what teaches valuable life skills?” Sarah-Maybeline said, “Football. You know what pays for college? A football scholarship.”

“I’m not going to get a football scholarship. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Vanessa turned back to her homework.

“Maybe not, but you will get attention.” Sarah-Maybeline paused for effect, propping her head up with her forearms and swaying her legs at the knees, “from bee-oh-wai-ess.”

Vanessa’s pencil stopped moving, all the math going out of her head. She was done with bee-oh-wai-ess. She was a strong and independent woman. There was no need and there would be no need for them in her life. She refused to let such a frivolous matter have any effect on her future.


Vanessa stood with Sarah-Maybeline in a wide green field overlooked by the ever-present Adirondack mountains. Sarah-Maybeline showed her how to grip the football with her fingers on the laces.

“How do you know how to do this?” Vanessa asked, incredulous.

“Five brothers, eighteen male cousins. I’m the only girl in my family, remember?” She took Vanessa’s shoulders and whispered in her ear, “So you can count on me to know boys.”

Vanessa lifted her arm above her head. She flicked her wrist and the football twirled and landed a few feet away.

“No no no, put your whole arm into it. Your core, too. Twist away from the direction you’re throwing, then send it all forward at once. Here, let me show you.”

Vanessa and Sarah-Maybeline looked like they were from another time in their long muted dresses. Vanessa figured a football looked out of place in her hands, but to see Sarah-Maybeline twist back and send the ball sailing far overhead to land out of sight behind a rolling hill was something else. She looked so at home in both a long dress and with a football that for a moment it was easy to believe the two were not in conflict with one another.

Now Vanessa was eager. She and Sarah-Maybeline ran over the hill to the ball, and she picked it up again, trying to mimic Sarah-Maybeline. “Correct my position,” Vanessa ordered. Sarah-Maybeline pulled her shoulder back, rearranged her fingers, and lifted her arm.

Vanessa’s arm lurched forward and the ball landed on its tip in the dirt a couple yards away. “That’s improvement!” Sarah-Maybeline assured her, “Now think about keeping the ball going in a straight path throughout your throw. The most perfect starting position won’t matter if you let it all loose the moment you start moving.”

Vanessa stepped forward and picked up the ball. She assumed the position and let Sarah-Maybeline correct her. “Now, Vanessa, remember to keep it straight. Focus. Throw like you mean it this time.”

Vanessa put her mind on the ball and imagined it going in a straight line as the rest of her body moved in a fluid motion around it. She took a deep breath and unwound her tensed posture into what felt like the perfect throw. She watched with dismay as the ball began once more to flip side over side. It didn’t fall, though. It just kept going higher and higher like gravity had no interest in it.

“Wwwwwwwwwoooooooooooaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!” Sarah-Maybeline cried, her wavy brown hair lagging behind her as she bent her knees to jump up again in triumph.

Sarah-Maybeline returned to normal and they watched the tiny dot in the sky as it finally began to descend, disappearing in the trees high on one of the mountains in the distance well to the left of the direction Vanessa had been hoping to throw.

Sarah-Maybeline tackled Vanessa to the grass. “Oh my goodness gracious. You are the coolest person I know! You are going to get so much money and everyone is going to want to be your boyfriend.”

Vanessa was stunned.

“First off,” Sarah-Maybeline considered, straightening up, still pinning Vanessa to the ground, covering most of her body in her long dress, “we need to buy my brother a new ball.”