fiction

A Deadly Silence

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Everybody has a story.

Each story is different, but most are the same. In reality, the only ones that are different are the ones that you stop for a few moments to listen to.

The problem was that I was not a good listener. My story had interacted with that of others for over 30 years now. At first, it was just with my sister and my parents. Then a couple of siblings joined the story circle and we created our own chapters with each other.

Five years later, my storybook interacted with Ms. Williams. She was really the only one that I remember from my Kindergarten class. Every year after that is now but a blur and I never really expected that my story would ever stand out.

All of that changed when I went off to college, but that in itself is not quite true. The first year or two covered the basics and a few elective classes until I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life. I would go into nursing, then maybe into pre-med with my sights on eventually becoming a doctor.

I graduated with my B.Sc. in Nursing before making the decision that I did not want to become a doctor. Instead, I would become a Physician’s Assistant, or a PA as they were called for shorthand.

After graduating with my degree, I passed my exams with flying colors and was now a fully licensed PA. I felt that I had reached the best that I could be.

Sadly, my biggest obstacle to being the best ended up being me.

Like many nurses and doctors, what I did was just a job. It was a career, but my people skills and bedside manner could be abrupt. It was not that I did not like my job, but something was missing and I realized that it was compassion.

I could sympathize with the pain that my patients endured, but I could not really empathize. For the most part, I had lived a sheltered life and I had also been blessed with good health. Ultimately, the difference needed to build a true rapport was to have an understanding of the patient. It was not really something that I had been taught in school. Oh, there were plenty of quizzes, exams, and papers that showed I knew the material, but none of those items ever told my instructors whether I was endowed with compassion or not.

However, I will never forget the summer of 1997 when my storybook took a turn I could never have seen coming. Like most young people, I enjoyed times when I could party, but I also liked my precious moments of solitude. When I was in my little zone, I didn’t want music being played and I always insisted that my housemates kept quiet.

To try and block out any extra noise, I had splurged in my sophomore year of university and bought an expensive pair of noise-cancelling earphones that I saw advertised on a flight back home. Strangely, I have yet to use them to listen to a single bit of music. Now ten years later, they were only used to enhance the silence.

My grades did not put me at the top of my class, but I would consider myself to be better than average. Despite what the admissions counselors had told me, maybe the nursing field was not as diverse for males as I had expected. With that as a caveat and despite the supposed shortage of male medical staff, it was another couple of months before I was offered a position as the resident PA for a large nursing and rehabilitation center in upstate New York.

Being the only PA on staff, my hours were long with some weeks requiring me to work six or seven days in order to keep up with the patients.

Every person in the medical profession will tell you that there are some aspects of the job that you love and some aspects that you hate. The one thing I hated was the nights I was stationed on the Delta Wing of the facility. It was noisy and it did not seem to matter what time of the day or night I worked.

At times, I would sneak into a room thinking my patients would be asleep and turn down their stereo or the television that blared out another set of obnoxious infomercials. The first few months that I tried this, I remember being sternly reprimanded by some of my patients. It appeared that the only way they could sleep was to have the tv or radio on. While on evening shift, I could even wear my headphones that helped to reduce the noise to a bare minimum. I justified wearing them to anybody who asked by saying that I had sensitive hearing.

As for me, I enjoyed getting off and going back to my home where I could relax and listen to silence.

Winter was definitely coming and the crisp breezes of evening were joined by chilly mornings and late afteernoons. I knew that snow was coming, but I also loved the snow because it brought a new level of quiet upon the countryside.

I will never forget that first year in my new job. Thanksgiving came and went with many of my patients never getting a visit from family. That was hard for me to see, but I knew Christmas was coming and thought that everybody would receive gifts or a card in remembrance of the season.

For the most part everybody did with the exception of Yosef, Leona, and Michael. When it came time to have the Christmas parties, each patient was invited to join, but these three remained in their rooms or sat together watching their tv’s as they blared in full volume.

I asked my colleagues why no family ever visited them, but few seemed to provide a qualified answer. Walking into Michael’s room one evening about a week before Christmas, I noticed a small emblem on his dresser and realized that it was a Star of David.

That certainly explained a great deal, I thought to myself as I ran my fingers along each edge of the plain trinket. Over in the corner, the television was trying to convince parents to buy just one more “must-have” gift for their spoiled children, but I had tuned those out long ago.

Continuing my rounds, I walked into Yosef’s room followed by that of Leona. Taking an extra moment, I looked around and saw the same emblems that Michael had displayed.

Turning to go, I felt a soft touch on the sleeve of my lab coat. It startled me as I thought the old lady was sound asleep. Pulling off my headphones, I took her withered old hand in mind.

“Leona, are you not feeling well? You should be asleep.”

“Dr. Macomb, do you have time to sit with me for a few minutes?

Glancing at the television, I noticed it had shifted from infomercials to another Christmas movie that really had nothing to do with Christmas.

I sighed and replied, “Yes, for just a few minutes.”

Leona nodded her appreciation and I sat down beside her bed and together we listened to the incessant drone of the bad actors on the screen.

A slight squeeze caused me to turn my attention back to my patient.

“Dr. Macomb, may I ask you a question?” Without waiting for an answer, she continued, “Why do you wear the headphones all the time? I can tell they are not connected to anything, so you cannot be listening to music.”

“Leona, that is a great question. I will answer but I get to ask you a question. I wear them because I love silence. I do not want to listen to music or noise all the time, and even when I am at home, I can wear them for hours and enjoy the quiet.”

A brief nod before she replied, “What is your question, Doctor?”

“I do not want to be rude, but why do you, Yosef, and Michael all like to play your radios or televisions loudly every hour of the day?”

A range of emotions crossed her face and she turned away from me toward the opposite wall. It was a few moments before she spoke again.

“Dr. Macomb, the reason is simple. All three of us come from the same little town. We went to school together, played in the streets together, and even skated together on the rivers when they froze in the winter.”

“But one day, our whole lives were turned upside down. War had been declared and although we did not really understand what that meant, the look on the faces of the adults made us afraid.”

“Every week, things grew worse and before long we were no longer allowed to play outside. The electricity would often go out and we ate many meals cold instead of being cooked, and I soon forgot the taste of hot oatmeal.”

“At night, the darkness would fall upon our town and we learned to have a healthy fear of the silence that surrounded us.”

“If we spoke too loudly, our parents would scold us and sometimes might even give us a quick smack in order to remind us to keep silent. I hated the long nights, but what I hated the worse was when we would be woken up and had to go and hide behind the extra wall that Papa had built in the early days of the war. The silence would be deafening. Sometimes soldiers would come. We could hear them, but they never heard us.”

“However, all of that changed one dreadful night. The moon was hidden and winter was quickly approaching. We never heard music any more, and I had not seen Yosef or Michael in two or three months. The silence seemed to overwhelm us as we hid behind the wall that night. And then it happened.”

“What happened, Leona?” I asked this intriguing old lady.

“My sister sneezed. She tried to hold it in, but it just slipped out. In just a few moments, the wall was being torn down and the soldiers pulled us out. As we turned to go, the night reverberated with the sounds of the solders’ boots on the cobblestones.”

Leona shuddered repeatedly as she recalled the nightmares of that night. She told me of the blackness being broken by bursts from semi-automatic weapons. If anybody screamed, they would also be shot.

“That was the last time I saw Papa and Mama for the soldiers left them lying face down on the street along with several other neighbors. I whimpered and bit down hard on my lips so that I would not cry. I looked around the truck where they had seated us and in the flashes of light from the torches carried by the soldiers, I saw Yosef and Michael.”

“Dr. Macomb, by now, you have probably guessed by my story and by my accent that I am not from America. The three of us are from a small village in Poland. We managed to survive the death camps together, and I think it is only because we were young, but old enough to help with certain chores.”

Leona’s lips began to quiver and tears coursed down her cheeks as she continued her story.

“Every night, the lights would come on and silence was required. If we were caught speaking, the solders would kill several of the children. We soon learned to endure the silence. There was no more laughter. If we cried, we cried into the crook of our arms so we would not be heard.”

“Rumors began to circulate that the Americans were coming and before long, the big bombers would fly over the camp. I had been in the camp for about two years and I began to understand more of what happened throughout the week in other parts of the camp.”

“Trains would come into the prison and thousands would fall out of the cattle cars. Their luggage would be piled into great heaps and each person had to take all of their clothes off. There was no modesty and anybody that protested would be immediately shot.”

I had read enough history to know where Leona’s story was headed, but I could no longer speak. My head and heart were already condemning me for my callous thoughts and actions.

“Dr. Macomb, at the far end of our camp, each new load of prisoners would exit the train and be marched to the brick buildings at the end. When the building was full, we could hear the screaming, but soon there was nothing but silence. Nobody spoke as the guards demanded help in removing the dead bodies from the rooms. Yosef and Michael were required to help move them and they would whisper to me later about what was going on.”

“You see, Dr. Macomb, in the end, our families and friends were killed because of the silence. Nobody said anything about the others disappearing until they came for us. When they came for us, it was too late and there was nobody left to help or listen.”

“So, you ask why we do not turn our televisions or radios down. Doctor, it is because we fear the silence. We fear that if it is too quiet, we will hear the cries of those who died around us. We fear that if the silence comes again that more will die because we do not ever seem to learn from history.”

Tears streamed down my own face as I pondered the hell that these three loud patients must have endured. I patted Leona’s hand until she fell asleep.

The rest of the night passed but I never lifted my headphones back to my ears. I had learned a valuable lesson in the art of knowing the pain of others.

As my shift came to a conclusion, I made one more set of rounds just as dawn broke over the eastern sky. Returning to Leona’s room, I realized that she had passed quietly in her sleep. Her face radiated a sense of peace and I knew that somewhere in the dark that she had crossed into a place where she no longer had to fear the silence.

Returning home, I savored each bite of my hot oatmeal, turned the television on, and promptly fell asleep.

Written in response to Warrior Writers Prompt #27

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The Music of the Night

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violin

Music never ceases.

Music never really dies.

If it did, the story of our life would have to end with it. Problems come when life seems to demand it always be played in a major chord.

Uplifting to the soul, music also has the ability to crush the heart. For those who are wise, music will be allowed to play its song no matter how it sounds. For those who fail, it will be the listener who dies.

For the love of all the music in the world, Meg knew the point of no return was in front of her. All that she had worked for was for nothing if she refused to seek the path that led past the curtain and the broken mirror.

Her hand caressed the velvet, but it was only fleeting as she made her choice. Meg’s feet had followed her heart and there was nothing her mother could have done to stop her. In the midst of the music being played, the angelic strains of the voice thrilled her beyond imagination.

The voices rose and fell in hollow shrieks as her followers failed to comprehend how she could have just disappeared. Stroking the item in her hand, she moved farther into the dark shadows of the night.

Was it really night, though?

Meg vaguely remembered leaving the light of day before transcending into the depths of the abyss. Here, along the haunted paths, Father Time no longer seemed to matter. All that mattered was the truth of what lay ahead.

Would it matter?

The beautiful girl with the golden curls cared for nothing but to embrace the darkness and make light out of the discordant strains of music that stung with its sharp embrace.

How long had she known?

The answer might trouble her on occasion, but neither the question nor the answer would ever be spoken aloud. Ever. Stumbling along with her delicate hand sliding across the fabled wall, the dampness called to her again as she strained to follow the wisp of light that bobbed up and down far ahead of her. At times, the light seemed to disappear, but Meg knew that it would be waiting.

Her followers had long ago given up, but the one she followed knew that she was coming. The voice grated through the darkness, but it was not meant for her.

“Why have you brought me here?”

Sobs punctuated each word and tore at her heart, but the time had not yet come. The music continued to play its somber tunes as both the followed and the follower danced to what was playing in their heart and head.

Meg stopped momentarily. Realizing the light had grown in its intensity, her mind failed to comprehend that the sight of the torch meant that she must face the music of her own choosing.

The outstretched arm of the one she followed was wrapped in black and her eyes struggled to adjust to the smoky gloom.

A whisper caressed the dank air and this time it was to Meg that the voice came, “Why do you follow me?”

No thread of fear tinged her reply, “I came for you!”

Bitterness threatened to envelop both speakers as she stared at him. “Do you like what you see, Meg? Does it not bring fear to your heart?”

The thought of any struggles that the future would bring were distant as she pondered the best response. He was already broken, but she was all he had left. Whether he could or would recognize what she was offering him would depend on his choice to die or to enjoy the music no opera had ever written.

The dark figure hissed his displeasure, but did not recoil as she touched his arm. “I have come to bring you what is yours.”

Lifting her hand, Meg held out the item she had carried for the last few hours. “The music you have sung may have been meant for another, but it is my heart that was captured many years ago.”

Bowing her head, Meg’s eyes filled with tears. There was no condemnation in her voice, only the regret of life’s minor chords that had been played for far too long.

“I have come for you. It is you alone that has filled my heart with the music of the night.”

Jerking his arm away from her, the man took a few steps down the long passageway. Turning back to face her, he quickly lifted his arm so the light would fall full upon his hideousness. In so doing, he knew that it was not just his scars that he was baring before the young woman. Every part of his heart was crushed beyond any recognition, yet she still faced him with wonder and care.

“I knew you were there when she said goodbye. You watched her leave with my heart. Why have you come? You know what I am.”

As the music of the night swelled to a new crescendo, Meg wrapped her arms carefully around his waist. Placing her head on his chest, she was certain that the music she heard beating would grow and become a glorious symphony.

Holding the flickering torch away from both of them, his free arm encircled her waist in return. Love’s melody would bring light to their darkened world.

Sobs broke from his parched throat again and he tried to speak. But a soft finger placed itself against his lips to keep him from speaking.

Meg whispered into his chest, “There is nothing that will keep me from loving you. You are my angel of music. In time, all I ask of you is that you learn to do the same with me.”

It would be impossible to tell how much time passed in that hallowed tunnel, but the light soon disappeared. With the dimming light fading into darkness, two tortured souls made their way to where day would never shine. Walking arm in arm, Meg dropped the long revered item into a watery grave.

She spoke again with clarity. “With me by your side, you will have no fear. You will never have need of this again.”

It may have been but a few days later, a month, or maybe years had passed. From beneath the ground, the water brought the item to the surface. Picked up by a young lad on his way back into the city, the boy paused to consider why a phantom mask would be found in such a place.

Placing the mask on an unmarked tombstone in a nearby cemetery, the boy paused. For a moment, he thought his mind must be playing tricks on him. From beneath his feet, he was certain that he could hear beautiful music. The music rose and fell in its beauty and upon the wind, a voice echoed through the gloom of the coming night.

“Meg, my angel of music, I will always love you!”

(With apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber)

My First Interview

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I had the privilege of being interviewed by Parker J Cole of “Write Stuff.”  This was my first interview about my book “Heroes of Courage.”  I also had the honor of being able to speak about Liberia which is still very close to my heart.

 

The Beauty and the Beast

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“The devil is in the details.”

Terry whispered to himself as he stared at the gathering storm clouds. He did not normally have an overactive imagination, but he was certain there was an ominous figure dancing over the town.

The mesmerizing clouds billowed dark while the wind swirled first in one direction, then a few seconds later in the other. Craning his neck, he looked up past the edge of the sun visor as several loud cracks of thunder accompanied an immediate display of lightning.

The storm was so close that there was no time to count “1…1000, 2…1000, etc.” between the lightning strikes and the thunder. They were simultaneous.

The 1972 Ford F250 was Terry’s pride and joy. It had originally belonged to his grandpa who had bought it brand new off the lot from Old Man McCormick. His grandpa had babied the truck and even now, it had less than 70,000 original miles on it. Terry did all the maintenance on it, and nobody was allowed to drive it, not even Maggie. Well, there was one time she drove it, but that was a different story.

Crack, crack, crack! Three more bolts hit in quick succession and the hair on the back of his head stood straight up. The F250 felt like it was going to sink into the earth as it swayed under the intense air pressure.

Off to his right, Terry heard it before he ever saw it. Even though it was only just past 2pm, the air was almost dark like twilight. A quick succession of lightning strikes revealed the origin of the sound. He knew immediately that a tornado had formed.

Through the swirling debris and hail that pelted the truck, Terry tried to look for a way out, but knew that any path of escape had come and gone a long time ago. The sound of the tornado grew louder and he could no longer even hear the sounds of the sirens in the city.

Screaming to the gods he did not believe in, Terry’s bravado melted into whimpers. “Why did we not listen to those who said this was coming?”

People were going to be hurt in this storm. As far as he could remember from all the stories, there was nothing to equal what he saw playing out before him. The figure in the clouds seemed to dance with glee and to his horror, Terry saw first one tornado, and then another, form off to the left. There were now three competing tornadoes on the ground.

Driven with despair, he no longer cared about the welfare of his grandpa’s truck. He only wanted to live.

On the far side of town, the earth exploded upwards as the fiery lightning rained down upon the town. Terry began to wretch as he smelt the sulphuric fumes assault his nose and senses. Before he could move, the road around him began to melt and crumble and all the young man had left was to briefly contemplate the memories of all that he had accomplished. Sadly, there was so much more he wanted to do with his life, but it was too late. He had waited too long.

Resigned to his fate, he stared at the clouds as they rained death upon the town. They were coming for him as well and the beauty of the storm in its beginning was now vastly more superior in its form as the beast.

Terry’s moans grew shallower as the fumes overwhelmed him. In just a few minutes, the pristine paint job was reduced to peeling paint flecks. The pings of tiny pieces of hail gave way to the thundering booms of ice that had transformed into balls the size of grapefruits.

He never saw the waves of fiery mud that crashed over the truck and soon all was quiet. The storm dissipated over the next few days and green grass began to sprout up from the destroyed earth. Flowers quickly followed and you would never have guessed that destruction had reigned on the town.

Walking over the field, Madison and her team looked at the clouds gathering around the base of the mountain. If she was not careful, the rain would catch her and the last thing she wanted to do was catch a cold.

Turning back to their hover vehicles, Madison’s insistence that they escape the coming storm brought laughs from her team members. They had been with her for several years and they knew she hated storms. Each team entered their designated GeoPod and proceeded to log in the coordinates for their return to main base camp. As leader, Madison always traveled by herself, which was fine by the rest as they did not fancy being harangued by her lectures.

Madison pushed the pulsing electo-start button, but even the short delay had cost them. It was too late. With several ear-splitting cracks, the skies erupted. Electrical surges shorted out each vehicle and even though she could see them, Madison could not hear the screams emanating from each of her team members. The storm arrived so suddenly and all they could do was to sit and hope that it moved off quickly.

The earth began to quake and Madison screamed as her GeoPod began to sink into the ground. It was as if the earth had turned to water. As it continued to shift, her mind began to play tricks on her. She knew her time as a scientist was coming to an end and whatever happened now would bring no comfort.

The earth churned again and a great crevasse yawned open just a few feet in front of her pod. The fumes began to assault her senses, but as she stared at death approaching, she was shocked to see an ancient vehicle slide out of the mud in front of her. Her memory and love for history told her that it was what was called a pickup truck from the last part of the 20th century.

Gasping her last breaths, something else slid out of the mud and pressed up against the plexifiber window. The force of the pressure was causing the window to splinter and Madison knew it would be but seconds before the fiery mud swallowed her.

Strangely, her mind became coherent enough to see that the object pressing on the window of her GeoPod had an old style of English writing on it. She could barely make out the words, but they finally came to her just as the window shattered in its entirety.

“Welcome to Pompeii!”storm

Murder in the Bedroom

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Murderous thoughts flooded my brain until it consumed me. She should have known better than to cross paths with me, now she would pay for everything she represented.

For too many nights, I had watched her mock me. Her actions showed that she was oblivious to my feelings or my emotions. It had been a long time since I had chosen to endure the humiliation.

One would be wise to assume that I could have just asked her to move out, but in many ways I guess I am but a coward at heart.

Our relationship had started innocently enough for I was amazed at the grace she exhibited when she moved. Her long slender legs were the things of dreams, and there had been more than one of those in recent days.

Sadly, her actions had changed, almost overnight, and the dreams turned to nightmares. In these night terrors, there was no escape. Waking up in cold sweats, I could only imagine that it would be a matter of time before one of us would end up dead.

Each day, I warily sampled my breakfast, lunch, and dinner wondering whether she intended to poison me. My imagination ran wild as to what it would feel like to die such a gruesome death. All that took place was that my heart became more determined to find a way to remove her from my life.

Yet, I was also selfish. I could have allowed her to leave and live with another, but I would never be willing to share her. Looking back now, I can remember her dark eyes watched me and I knew she was waiting for me to drift off to another round of troubled dreams.

Often I would try to stay awake as long as possible fearing what the night might bring. Her stamina surpassed mine on several levels, but I was not able to stay awake for long.

We would argue incessantly, but she always managed to have the upper hand. I pleaded with her to just leave and enjoy her life with others, but she normally ignored me.

The finale came sooner than I was expecting. After a long day at work, I came home only to become entangled in another argument with her. The results terrified me, and my children screamed as they watched us face off once again.

Putting the children to bed, I prepared one last attempt to reconcile, but she refused to listen. The arguments escalated again until I thought it would wake the children. Walking into our bedroom, I shut the door, but I knew it was futile. Threats would no longer work and we both knew it.

Before I could contain my anger, I grabbed a large walking stick from the closet. Screaming at her to just leave us alone, the chase began and it was over almost before it had started. Blood splattered on the wall and my weapon as I hit her over and over again.

Collapsing in sheer exhaustion, I fell onto the bed. I knew with the deed complete, I would have to remove the body before my children woke up. For the first time in a very long time, I was free, no matter what tomorrow held.

Summoning up the courage necessary, I drifted off to a dreamless state knowing I would have a little time in the morning.

The sun was streaming through the lace that covered my bedroom when I finally awoke. My mind told me it would be a beautiful day, but then the memory of the previous night brought reality crashing down on me.

I was now fully awake. Sitting straight up in bed, my mind seemed a little fuddled as I stared at the bat in the corner and the wall. There was no blood and no evidence of the damage that I know I had inflicted.

On the pillow beside me, a paper fluttered in the breeze from the fan beside our bed. Picking it up, I read it twice through trying to ascertain what had transpired.

“Don’t worry, I took care of the body.”

At that moment, the door handle clicked and a hand pushed open the bedroom door. Stepping into the room, my wife spoke to me.

“Sweetheart, I see you read my message. I was afraid you would wake up before I returned from my college class, so I left the note.”

“Violet, what is going on? What did you do with her?”

“Sweetheart, I came home and cleaned up the mess. You and our children will never have to worry about her again!”

My mind whirled with the realization that my wife had covered my tracks so carefully, but then she spoke again.

“I just have one question. Did you really have to use a bat to kill the spider that lived in the corner?”

bat1

Originally Published here at Warrior Writers on Medium

The Island

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Just a shout-out to my readers about a great book that should not only be a part of every library, but should be required reading.  J.L. Pattison does a great job weaving a story without all the extra baggage that accompanies most novels. The book is now available on Amazon in Kindle format as well as paperback.

The Island

Heroes of Courage – Book 1

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There are few things in life that are as exciting as seeing your own material finally in print. This is the first in a series of books.  If you order a copy, please consider leaving a review for me when you have finished the book. Thank you.

My second book is almost complete and I am hoping that it will be on the market by late summer 2018. Stay tuned.