Tag Archives: insights

Doll – Part II

There was the dark, but the silence that came with it faded into a soft beep, regular and steady. The tone seemed to call him, urging him back to the surface. He thought about opening his eyes, but his heavy lids gave him pause, closed proved to be exactly how they wanted to stay. A gentle but firm touch near his wrist startled him ever so slightly from the brink of another dream. His head floated in a dizzy haze as he forced one eye open.

“Well, hello there,” Amanda Pike said with a slight smile. She finished taking his pulse and marked her chart.


“Sh…, Mr. Elk, you’re at Cardington Memorial. You’re a lucky man. You’ve been through quite a lot.”

“What … happened?”

Nurse Pike hung the chart at the end of the bed and stepped to his side. “The storms have caused substantial flooding and power outages all through the valley and the surrounding areas. After the evacuation orders posted, volunteers and authorities went house to house to make sure people were getting out. That’s when they found you. They thought you had a heart attack.”

“Heart …,” Chalmers muttered.

“No,” Pike said. “Like I said, you’re a lucky man. I would let the doctor explain it, but with so many coming in, it would some time before someone got up here. The doctor’s found no evidence of a heart attack. They are running a few more tests to make sure it wasn’t a stroke, but, it looks like with all the excitement of the storm, you had a pretty good anxiety attack.”

Chalmers closed his eyes. His head swam against the medication.

Nurse Pike checked the monitor and adjusted the tube of oxygen under his nose.

“Where …,” he muttered, unable to get the whole thought pulled together.

“Where, what? The flood? Everywhere. The water is just everywhere and still rising. They say it might just breach the hundred-year mark. It’s sad. I’ve never seen so many people displaced. It’s just crazy.”

“No…,” Chalmers said. It was hard to pull the words together when the sedatives urged him back to sleep. ”Where is …”

“Where is what Mr. Elk? The doctors? They are most likely tied up in the ER. Your clothes and belongings, well at least what they brought you in with are there in the closet safe and sound.”

“Doll …”

Nurse Pike turned to him and glared at the connotation.

“No …,” he tried again. His head sagged in frustration. “The doll. Where is the doll?”

“Why, what doll Mr. Elk?”

“Paisley’s doll.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Elk, There was no doll.”

His thoughts swirled back to the storm, the incredible rain, the lightning. He remembered unwrapping the thick brown paper, and the dirty gingham. He remembered the stare of the small, black soulless eyes – one that sat at half-mast. They stared at him. They stared into him. There was a doll, Paisley’s doll.

“No doll?” he whispered.

“No sir. The crew said they found you right by your front door, slumped over clutching your shirt with both hands. That’s why they thought you had a heart attack. There was no doll.”


It was the season’s first dip below 32 degrees. And the day’s wind was a harbinger for the months that lay ahead. As it picked away the leaves of fall one by one, and sent so many to their sleep, winter began its long crawl into Sterling Corners.

Chase Hatkins drove down that last mile of 420 before his exit to home. It was dark because it was late, but he reconciled that with the notion that with winter setting in, it would have been dark anyway. He glanced up at the billboard touting “Crazy Low Round Trip Airfares to St. Pete, Orlando and other Locales” and “Round Trip to Miami – $75.” He seemed to catch that one every time, as if it had brighter lights on it which more effectively drew his attention. Just thinking about the cold gave him an uncomfortable shiver in his spine, or perhaps, a touch of nausea.

He didn’t hate winter. It had its charm, in spots, but as he got older, the cold seemed to settle into his bones faster and deeper than he could recall and finding the charm in it all was more o f a struggle each year.

The billboard zipped by, but its message left a subtle impression on him that combined with the slight memories of his past few sightings which seemed to generate some consideration on its message. Chase hated the notion of being manipulated, but damn if the billboard wasn’t doing its job.

It had been over eleven years since he took a vacation. It was a long weekend in Virginia Beach because his feet demanded that they be soaked in the rippling waves of the ocean for a few days. He liked vacations. He liked being away. He was so good at forgetting everything he was responsible for back home that is was almost as if he became a wholly other person. And as he thought about “Crazy Low Round Trip Airfares to St. Pete, Orlando and other Locales” and “Round Trip to Miami – $75,” and balanced that against the pending winter, a tiny ember of longing stirred in his soul.

He could take a vacation, a trip to someplace warm. It would probably be good for him. The airfare seemed right. Then again, he knew those posted airfares were bait meant to lure longing minds like his to dangerous considerations with the promise inexpensive opportunities. A round trip flight to Miami might start at $75, but there would surely be rate windows and limitations, then fees and taxes to make the real cost something higher. Then, there was lodging to consider … and food.

If he tapped out his available savings he could probably spend three economical weeks away soaking up sun rays and forgetting about his frozen existence back home. Work would have no part of it of course. Nobody was allowed more than a week at a time to ensure production quotas. Another consideration was that even after whatever time he could cobble together, he would have to come back. Not only to work, but to the dark and the cold, to his humble abode and to the real life he lead, one far less dramatic and important than the lives he created while away.

He deserved it right? Maybe. Maybe he only deserved what he had because whether by design or by default, that was what he earned.

A burst of wind pushed hard against his car as he left the highway to head up Stiger Road. A neon palm tree flickered in the window of the Southern Heat Tanning Salon. The man on the radio began to talk about the possibility of snow.


Gell read the sentiment and realized it took him all of four days to become disenchanted with the wonders of Facebook.

This one in particular, started with some lofty, candy-coated, generalized phrase about the wonders of having a great mother and that if you loved your mother, you would click “Like” to share that notion with the world.

While this one was about mothers, in the four days since he signed on, he saw the same tactic applied to everything from cats and dogs and other household pets to siblings and uncles and grandparents and goat cheese and beyond.

His mother was a fine mother. He took her to lunch once a week. He talked to her on the phone every three days. He ran errands for her. He fixed things that broke around her apartment. She made him laugh. But he’d be damned if he was going to give some Hallmark writing, guilt-laden message scrawled across the view of a sunset and flowers his nod of approval known these days as the “Like.”

Just as bad were the, “Very few people will be brave enough to post this on their status even for an hour…” sort of messages which pandered to whomever’s concern of the day. If posting something regarding anything were the true measure of bravery, he’d rather be seen as a coward. On the days he hates cancer, he would just post, “I hate cancer” and leave it alone. In his mind, it was a forgone conclusion that the majority of the populace hated cancer. Why go through the exercise of getting everyone to “Like” hating cancer?

The one that puzzled him the most was the one he saw yesterday, from a person who noted she might not actually be friends with, or actually know in some way, the people that polluted her friends list. To clarify who these people were, all they had to do was respond to her request with the name of the city where they met or some other clue to cement their association. Then, they needed to make the request their status so she could return the favor.


Gell had seventeen people on his friend list. He knew them all. They were his friends. It was not that hard. On day two, he received a friend request from a guy in Tulsa, who sent the request because, as far as Gell could tell, they both indicated they liked reading The Wind in the Willows. Gell had never been to Tulsa. Request denied.

Over his four-day initiation, he saw images and posts, ads and offers, rants and tirades, honors and tributes, jokes and many, many pictures of food. And he determined that Facebook offered one’s brain all the mental stimulation and nutrition of a giant cosmic jelly donut.


“You’re out of your mind,” Durf said, flipping the tops of the boxes open to release the glorious scents and magnificent sight of two Canterelli pizzas. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

Lex reached over and grabbed a slice of pepperoni. “From heaven above,” he said plopping back down on the couch. “And I don’t know why you disagree with the premise.” His words wrestled with the molten glob of pepperoni, sauce, cheese and dough to make their way to the air clearly.

“Uh, because it’s stupid,” Durf said, plopping down on the other side of the couch while balancing a hearty slice of everything but anchovies.

“It’s not stupid. It’s amply reflected in popular culture. Popular culture represents us as a race and as a species. Therefore one can surmise that the popular culture, while admittedly glorified for effect, can be tied to reality.”

“Yes, but aliens?” said Durf.

“Absolutely!” said Lex. “Don’t confuse a truth with acceptance. Just because something exists and it is what it is, doesn’t mean we have to accept it or participate. But, we can’t ignore it as if it’s not the truth and hope that everything works out differently. I just think it’s some weird fascination of mankind’s that probably dates all they way back to when we crawled out of the primordial goo.”

“Some sort of latent survival instinct?”

“Exactly! It’s the desire to propel the species, if not forward, at least onward. I’m not sure what’s so hard to get.”

Durf took a big bite of his slice. After a few hearty chews he forced the mass into his cheek. “I wouldn’t do it.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do.”

“You don’t and it’s stupid to say so.”

“I know.”

Lex licked his fingers and reached for another slice. “You don’t. That’s like saying if we discovered a new fruit deep in the jungle somewhere that could cure any disease, you wouldn’t try it because you never heard it before, because you had no familiarity with it.”

“It’s hardly the same thing.”

“It isn’t. All I’m saying is that if we encountered a race of aliens, someone, somewhere, at some point would try to mate with it. It’s inevitable. I never said it was right. I just said that it’s our reality. And…I’ll go as far to say that after a while, with enough time, it probably wouldn’t matter what the alien looked like. I mean it’s a slam-dunk if they all came down looking like Tani Capers.”

“Tani Capers?”

“See? I got you,” Lex said. “If a spaceship full of Tani Capers looking aliens dropped down into the backyard, I’ll bet your entire pristine collection of classic Hobarts albums that you would have more on your mind than finding out how the ship works or taking them to your leader.”

Durf sat and thought for a moment. “Fine. I can see alien Tani Capers, but not those from something like Space Scream Six.”

“What if they could transform?”

“Shut up.”


In a small town like Cromwell, it stood to reason that the Bronson Family Funeral Home would see nothing but slow weeks. And that was usually that case. Unless there was a service, Thad Bronson, III was generally in his chair at home plodding his way through the newspaper and capping off his first scotch of the evening by 6:30.

This past week however, proved something of an anomaly. Poor Tyler Montgomery came in after a tragic swimming accident at the quarry. There was the John Doe, found dead on Route 32 and if that weren’t enough, one of the town matriarchs, Maggie Crisp passed away in her sleep last night.

Creature of habit, Thad liked everything in its place, and with three in the cooler, he got to his routine a bit later than he anticipated. Deep in the heart of Fall, it was already dark outside by the time he put the last of the tools away and finished wiping everything down. When he gave the room his last inspection before heading out, he nodded silently to himself in satisfaction.

The Bronson Family Funeral Home had been a staple of the Cromwell community for well over 75 years. It was a fairly simple but effective operation that the people in town seemed to appreciate. Much like Pastor Kirt or Doc Matts, the folks who made their stay in Cromwell were destined to come to the Bronson’s place sooner of later.

Thad took over the family business just over a year ago after his father died. He liked the business overall. It was calming, quiet work that served a purpose. There was a simple level of gratification that came with it, a sense of peace.

Thad washed his hands one last time and wiped the sink out. Slipping his watch over his wrist, he noticed it was much later than he anticipated almost 11:30. He grabbed his jacket from the hook near the stairs and headed up. He was three steps closer to home when he heard the small crash behind him. He stopped, turned and listened. A small frown crossed his face as he stepped back down into the workroom.

A small pile of glass that used to be a beaker lay on the floor. “Hm,” Thad thought with a grunt. He secured the broom and dustpan and cleaned the mess quickly, but effectively to ensure no wayward shards got away. He took a good look around the room, even closer than before to make double sure everything was in its place.

Once more, he headed to the steps, but drew to a stop the moment he heard it…a small, single knock.

Thad turned to face the room again. He squinted as he traced the space from end to end. Sometimes kids like to mess with funeral homes, mostly because they were scared of them. Dares and double dares often led to small and mostly harmless pranks.


Thad turned slowly toward the steps as if he was waiting for something to happen. The moment his foot touched the first step, another knock came. He spun around.

“Who’s there?”

He set his posture and decided on one more look, when another knock came and another. They were soft at first, but as the volume grew so did the intensity. Thad’s heart was pounding heavy in is chest. For a moment, he thought of his father who died of a heart attack. The sound of the pounding began to fill the room. It was coming from the cooler.

Thad stepped closer, almost as if hypnotized. The sound of the pounding grew and the cooler door, a good solid and heavy door, appeared to shake and rattle on its hinges. He placed his and on the door to confirm the vibrations. With his heart pounding in his ears, Thad reached for the handle. Taking a deep breath, he pulled that handle and yanked at the door forcing the light inside to click on.

He staggered backwards. Three gurneys sat in a line. All was well, accept for Maggie Crisp who sat upright before him, her drape had slid into her lap.

Thad gulped heavy breaths to try and keep pace with his racing heart. He stared at the woman, his face contorting with disbelief as her head slowly turned to meet his gaze, but with closed eyes. The stiff, deceased muscle made the movement slow and strained. Maggie lifted her hand, again slow and with substantial effort. She began to point at him.

Thad stepped backward. His chest heaved as he gulped in the cold air. His heart beat like a bass drum in his head.

Maggie’s mouth a jaw split open and worked itself a couple of times as if it had just been released from a vice.

Thad had backed himself up against the cooled wall and while he had nowhere to go his feet continued to push.

A long, soft, guttural whisper gushed from the deceased woman’s mouth, “Four Days.” It was then that Maggie Crisp truly expired. Whatever work she was intended to do was done. The corpse collapsed backwards with enough speed and force to knock it to the floor.

It was then that Thad Bronson, III began to scream.


Carrington Phit was not a fan of the general public. It’s not that he hated people. It’s more that people, in their inherent predictability, never failed to prove themselves capable of even contemplating their true potential. More often than not, they preferred wallowing in their mediocrity and complaining about why they didn’t have more. They made victims of themselves.

Being successful took work. Even though his own path to success featured struggles and challenges that brought him to the brink of bankruptcy, both in money and in spirit, he could proudly say that he made it through and he was a better person for it.

Now, having achieved a certain stature in the human pecking order, he felt entitled to proceed through the rest of his years as he saw fit. In his mind, there were ways of doing things.  Some might consider his ways old-fashioned, you dressed for dinner out, you supported the proper community groups, at least monetarily, and you conducted yourself with a modicum of grace and refinement when in public.

His work required that he travel regularly. Often enough that he could access many of the various airline perks afforded the frequent flier. Still, it was not enough to keep him out of the flow of the general traveling public. He didn’t consider himself an elitist, but he did often wonder what happened to some of the refinement that used to come with traveling. It used to be special. Now people are treated like cattle and they often behave much the same way. They seemed all right with it. He was not.

Carrington viewed the lack of smart dress and diminished interpersonal skills as evidence of the ongoing social decay he felt all around him. Thanks to some idiot who tried to set his shoes on fire on a flight some years ago, he now had to go through the degrading practice of practically disrobing in order to get to his flight.  He worked to streamline the time he spent in these lines, but there was only so much he was willing to do.

That was another problem with people generally, their willingness to forego certain graces in the name of convenience, especially at airports, subjected him to a flood of ill-fitting clothing and more bare feet than he ever wanted to see beyond the boundaries of some Oceanside resort. Worse still, was the apparent lack of hygiene these poor feet enjoyed. Nauseating.


He stared at it for a long time.

There before him, his likeness stood frozen for all eternity in a pose that indicated a pinnacle moment, but one he could scarcely remember. It was obviously a clear enough moment for the one who posted it and important enough to them to make them raise it of from the deep-sea of all things past and forgotten to shine under the new light of the modern future.

Was that even him, he wondered.

He didn’t feel he looked like that anymore. He probably didn’t think like that anymore and if he did, he hoped his thinking, and his behavior was a bit more refined.

And what was his obligation to this resurgence of the past? Did he need to explain it? Embrace it? Support it? Deny it? Was there a need to defend this person and these actions – whatever they were? Or was the better choice to ignore it as if it had never come up. Was it really so big a deal as even this amount of consideration?

Still here stared.

That younger face was foreign to him. Those settings, that time seemed connected to him, sort of, but by a very, very thin thread, and so distant that it might have been easy to deny that was him and to make a strong case in support of that. A doppelganger perhaps.
He spent a long time looking at the face, the eyes. Where did that boy go?

Was he a better person now? Did he do enough of the right things between that time and now? And when the current version of himself is forced to recall this time, will he be able to look back on this time and think well of the time that passed? Did he progress? Did he grow? Did he take care of his people? Did he learn enough and do enough to be well prepared to leave the world a tiny bit better than he found it?

An open letter to Mark Burnett

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Mark Burnett –

Dear mark Burnett:

I don’t know you. Chances are I never will.  I understand you are the reason the show ‘Survivor’ exists. Good for you. I enjoyed watching the first season, but after that, it just got all “same old, same old,” me.

Last night, I had a dream where I was climbing a mountain. At the top of the mountain, you sat in a giant golden chair with bright light all around you making it appear as if you were glowing in regal splendor. There was a line of people waiting to see you. It was Free Idea Thursday. One day of every week, you allowed the little people of the planet a chance to have an audience with you to share their ideas and thoughts about your programs.

You had all the people whose ideas you like carried away on chariots, while the ones you didn’t found themselves mysteriously flung from the mountain by an invisible force.  Screaming.

As with all dreams, the moment it was my turn and I began to speak, while shielding my eyes from your glory…I woke up.

So, because I believe I was destined for your magical chariot ride, here is my idea.

Scandalous Survivor.

Taste that for a moment before you fling me from the mountain.

You gather up all the people who are currently embroiled in scandal and controversy and let them fight for their survival in the very harshest of conditions. These people seem to be skilled liars, keen manipulators, deeply motivated by self-preservation, self-promotion, ego, cash and power. I’d be shocked if their hubris would allow them to decline.

I can sense your interest. Ponder the wonder of possibility as I share with you some thoughts about the cast.

  • Anthony Weiner – too obvious?
  • Eliot Spitzer
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Bob Filner
  • Dick Cheney
  • David Rivera
  • Laura Richardson
  • Tom Delay
  • Maybe that guy who was leading BP at the time of that giant oil spill just to mix it up

The list is virtually endless.

I’ll leave you now and I’ll let you stew on that one for a bit. I’m sure it won’t take long for you to imagine the possibilities. Your skill at bringing the wondrously dysfunctional to our TV screens will certainly help you mold this nugget of inspiration into ratings gold.

Be well. Eat lots of fruit. Oh, and I do enjoy Shark Tank.

– Java


Criz dropped the pen.

Rubbing his hands together, he reviewed the page.


What was supposed to be elegant and sharp on the whole, started out with a practiced neatness, but turned into a mosh of mismatched angles and strained lines by the third sentence.

His handwriting was never stellar, but there was a time there where at least had some consistency…some uniformity in construction. He had known people over the years who could write like their own font had been programmed directly into their hands. No matter the circumstance, they could tirelessly create smooth lines, clear turns and regimented spacing with a certain grace that could make even a grocery list a joy for the eyes to absorb.

He mostly typed his words now. And while his high school typing teacher would disagree with his perceived mastery of the skill, he got by. At least it was legible. There were sticky notes with important things handwritten on them that he had to ball up and toss out because he couldn’t make enough sense of the scratch to trigger the right memory of what he was supposed to do. Lost information. And now, even when trying to write something to add a more personal touch, something to share that shows a deeper more personal connection between the written word and the writer, his hand rebelled with fatigue leaving the letters, words and ultimately the message diminished in some way. Far less than what he intended.