It Was A Dark and Stormy Night…

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Photo by Jim Thomason

It was a dark and stormy night. The bank of clouds that had been building ominously on the west horizon all day had finally spilled across my landscape, churning and flashing with anger. There was no hint of a twinkling star, no sign of even one moonbeam to light the way home.

Is there even a moon tonight? I wondered as I switched the headlights back and forth from high to low beam finding no setting that cut through the swirling foggy mist. Full moon? Crescent moon? I couldn’t even remember. But it didn’t matter. Not tonight. The impending storm owned this night and all I wanted to do was win the race with it to my farm.

The first crack of lightening zigzagged its way across the sky casting an eerie glow just as I pulled through the gate to make my way down the long drive. The dogs were going to be bonkers by the time I finally got inside the house to shoo them outside for a quick potty break. Hopefully we could beat the rain that the impatient cloud bank was soon to release and avoid a dozen muddy paws.

All I wanted was to get inside, change into my comfy pajamas and house shoes, start a pot of chili on the stove, and enjoy the drama of the storm from the safety of my living room couch. But no. That’s not how life on a farm works. Even when you’re completely spent from a long day at work, you have to come home to your other job. The animals don’t understand “I’m taking a day off…take care of yourselves.”

Thankfully, the horses would have already been fed earlier in the day. I’d just make a quick run to the barn to be sure our old girl, GoGo, was safely inside so she wouldn’t get drenched in the storm. Then, I’d need to tuck the chickens in their coop for the night. I could surely get all of this accomplished before things got too bad. Surely.

As I put the Jeep into park another huge flash of lightening was immediately followed by a window-rattling roar of thunder that exploded all around me. Great. The storm was sitting right on top of me. Not a minute to spare. I cracked the car door open just a bit. The wind, seeming to sense my arrival, started swirling first one direction and then another as the cold front descended, promising a strong “weather event,” as our forecasters are so fond of calling it.

Taking a deep breath, I darted out of the Jeep and ran for the barn, grateful that I had on my Nikes. I’m no wimp about a little rain, but lightening really unnerves me. I’m not in favor of potentially being a human lightening rod. And right now, that barn sure seemed a lot farther away than it had earlier in the day.

Racing into the shelter, I was greeted by several startled snorts as our herd of horses and donkeys paced around nervously.

“I hear you guys…I’m not happy about this storm either.”

But everyone, including our matron mare GoGo, was safe and inside. The water trough was full. There was plenty of hay in the feeders.

One step closer to those jammies and chili!

Another deep breath and I was off to check on the chickens. No reprieve from the weather this time. The lightening was intensifying and the rain was teasing me with giant random drops hurling down to splat on the top of my head, and trickle down the back of my neck.

The coop was situated near a small grove of trees by our pond. The trees offered the chickens shelter from the hot summer sun and a little camouflage from soaring hawks overhead. Normally, I loved that little grove of trees, but tonight, the gnarled branches appeared to be reaching out to grab me and every little gust of wind crackled through the underbrush like a pack of predators in wait for a tasty meal.

Oh me and my imagination. Sometimes my best friend, but tonight, my worst enemy. Stop it, I ordered myself. Just focus on the chickens. You do this every single night. Focus.

So I peered into the coop and counted heads. As usual, I was one hen short. “Henelope?” I called out as I squinted in the darkness hoping to quickly see where my rogue hen had decided to roost this time. After just a moment, that seemed like an hour, I saw her dark form perched on the far edge of the little pen attached to the coop. Henelope gave a startled little squawk as one of the enormous raindrops beaned her right on the top of her head.

“You crazy chicken!” I said as I scooped her up and tucked her quickly inside the coop. “It appears neither of us has the sense to come in from the rain.” I secured the door on the coop and slid all of the little air vents shut so the chickens could ride out the storm snug and dry.

Another huge clap of thunder had me jumping. Just then there was an unmistakable rustle in the brush just behind me. I laughed nervously to myself. Stop being so silly, I admonished myself. You’re fine. You love storms. Well, you love them from INSIDE the house. Now, stop standing here looking around like the tragic figure in the horror movie who can’t seem to find any of her friends. Get inside to that chili!

Taking a deep breath, and cursing the lightening that still threatened to send silvery fingers down to turn my straight hair into fried curls, I turn and started toward the house, with my shoulders hunched and my head down as the rain intensified, immediately soaking my sweatshirt.

What was that sound? It almost sounded like something growling from the corner of the house. No. Nope. Stop it. Just get inside. You are doing this to yourself. Just go.

Cursing myself for not having the foresight to leave some lights on when I left the house that morning, I made my way gingerly through the inky night toward the front porch, adjusting my course with each flash of lightening.

Suddenly every hair on my neck and arms stood straight up in that moment of premonition. Then he was on me, grabbing me around my waist and clamping a hand across my mouth just as a piercing scream escaped that no one beyond my pack of frustrated dogs could hear.

I struggled, I kicked, I heard…I heard…

Laughter.

Dammit Jim.

Revenge will be sweet.

 

This story was inspired by a little “creativity prompt” that was posted in my online creative group, The Crazy Ones. It was also inspired by the thousands of times I’ve let my imagination get the best of me. And most of all, it was inspired by Jim…who popped out from dark shadows to scare me SO many times that I almost don’t react any longer. Almost. While this story is fiction…well, lets just say there’s a lot of truth in fiction. Thanks for keeping things interesting, Jim. 🙂

A Hill of Beans

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This is a piece I wrote and entered in an online short story contest. I had never really pursued fiction…but I decided to give it a try. I found the hardest part about writing a short story was the “short” part. We were given a 2500 word limit. Apparently I tend to have too many words. I did manage to whittle my little tale down to the right size and submitted it. To my delight, the judges awarded my story second place.So now I have a little taste of the fun that comes with writing fiction and I think I will try my hand at a few more make believe tales. Here is “A Hill of Beans.” I hope you enjoy it.

That’s it, thought Robby as she placed the box of old books in the back of her dusty Jeep. She brushed her hands on her faded jeans as she cleared the stairs leading back up to front porch in two long-legged strides.

There, Robby leaned against one of the sturdy stone columns to watch one more coral and gold streaked sunrise. The cabin was perfectly situated on a hill so that every sunrise and every sunset became a work of art. It was the magic that had inspired her father to buy this cabin in the first place.

A tall, lithe young woman with angular features and smooth, pale skin, Robby had light blue eyes framed by dark lashes, and curly mahogany hair that sparked with copper highlights in the morning light. Everything about the striking 28-year-old was a study in contrast; light and dark in a unique, captivating combination.

The sound of toenails clicking on wooden floors echoed from the house and soon a large blonde head nudged the screen door open just enough to peer out. “I know Harry. It’s hard to leave, but it’s time to go big guy.” With that, the golden retriever pushed the rest of the way through, as Robby stepped forward to lock the door.

“Alright, you big hairy inheritance, let’s head home.” Robby and Harry hopped into the Jeep. As she made the 30 minute drive to Tulsa, the numbing events of the past few weeks replayed in her mind. She had been the one to find her father when she had gone to the cabin for their traditional “breakfast for dinner” Sunday feast.

Her dad had been sitting serenely by the big picture window. As always, Harry was right beside her dad’s reclining rocker. Robby remembered the dog’s soft whine and seeing his worried expression as his eyes tilted back and forth from Robby’s face up to her father’s face without ever lifting his head.

Her father’s reading glasses had slipped down his nose; his book was lying across his chest. He could have been asleep, except he was not. He was gone.

“A sudden aneurysm,” the doctor had explained. “He never felt a thing.” While she was grateful that her dad had passed peacefully, there was no comfort for the sudden, jolting pain she felt at the loss. Daniel Taylor had been the most important person in her life—her father, her best friend, her only family.

Robby’s mother—the woman who had captured his father’s heart—had left just two years after she was born. It was that simple, really; she was there one day, and gone the next. She just disappeared.

“You just can’t keep a wild bird in a cage, Robby girl,” her father had always told her. “Your mother wasn’t meant to stay in one place. She touched my life and gave me the sweetest gift I could ever hope for.” With that, he would always flick a finger on the end of her nose and embrace her in one of his special bear hugs.

Now he was gone too and she and Harry were all alone in the world.

The long weekend had been therapeutic for Robby as she relived memories while also readying the cabin to be sold. The only things, beyond a few photo albums and necessary legal documents, that really mattered to Robby were her were her father’s books. She had inherited a love of reading from him and could still see her younger self sitting in his lap as he breathed life into the words on the pages.

The books would now fill shelves in the Hill, Robby’s cozy little coffee shop in an eclectic area known as the Cherry Street district. The formal name of shop was Hill of Beans, a name fittingly inspired by her father.

“You’ve got to work hard in school if you want to amount to more than a hill of beans, Robby girl.”
“Eat your vegetables, Robby—you have to be healthy if you want to amount to more than a hill of beans.” And so the advice went on and on.

Two years ago, when Robby had grown restless with her fledgling career, it had been her dad who had quietly suggested that she try something new. “You have to have a job, but it should be a job you also love.”

That simple bit of advice inspired Robby to completely upend her life, putting her bachelor’s degree to use operating her own business instead of working for someone else. Her father had cheered her on every step of the way.

He was there when she bought the old building. He worked by her side to renovate the space, creating a charming, inviting shop. He was there to see her vision turn into a popular gathering place for people of all ages and walks of life.

“Leave it to my Robby girl to show me that amounting to a hill of beans is actually a pretty good thing,” he had joked as they stood admiring her logo in the big window that allowed soft light to filter into the storefront.

Robby turned onto her tree-lined street and pulled into the driveway of her small bungalow style home. She and Harry crossed the wide porch, gathered the mail that had collected during her weekend away, and stepped inside. Almost immediately, Harry bolted for the dog door that led out into the backyard.

“Harry!” she hissed out the back door, “It’s too early!”

Ignoring her, the big dog raced through an open gate that joined Robby’s yard to the yard next door, straight to the back door of the house, barking and dancing with excitement. The door quickly opened and a lovely soft face crinkled into a delighted grin. “Harry! I’ve missed you.”

“Ava, I’m so sorry he’s bothering you at this hour,” exclaimed Robby from her side of the fence.
“Oh no, dear, I’m an early bird. It’s perfectly fine,” the dainty elderly woman said in delight, and Robby knew she meant it. Harry had been the thread that inspired a new-found friendship between Robby and her neighbor, Ava Sawyer.

Ava was a lovely woman who Robby guessed to be in her mid-eighties. She had moved into the house the previous spring. Robby had introduced herself to Ava, but the two rarely spoke until Harry had moved in.

Frustrated when Robby headed off to work each day, Harry had quickly discovered the gate in the fence between the properties. With a flick of his nose, he had opened the gate and proceeded to make himself at home with Ava during the day.

Robby would always remember walking home from the Hill to find a note attached to her front door. The artful handwriting simply said, Harry and I are having some tea. Won’t you join us? -Ava

Concerned that her dog was being a pest, Robby ran immediately to Ava’s door, which was open to the mild fall air. Through the screen, she could see inside the tidy living room where Ava sat knitting with Harry lying on a small rug next to her chair.

Ava looked up and smiled at Robby. “Come in! I hope you don’t think I have kidnapped your dog, but we have just had the most wonderful day together.” And with that, all concern vanished and a new tradition was born.

Harry would head over to Ava’s after seeing Robby off to work each day with a wag of his feathered tail. At the end of the day, Robby would stop by Ava’s to collect the dog, but more often than not, to also enjoy a bite of dinner.

Sometimes Robby would stop at one of the cafes along Cherry Street for some steamy soup to share; sometimes Ava would fix a home cooked meal for Robby. The neighbors quickly settled into a comfortable routine and friendship, joined by the dog who gratefully accepted any scraps passed his way.

During their time together, Ava would share stories about her family. Like Robby, most of her family was gone now, but she had one grandson who, by all accounts, was the light of her life.

“J.B. Sawyer,” Ava would say, “Remember that name. He’s going to be famous.” The son of her only child, J.B. was apparently a gifted musician who was currently traveling in Europe with a band. “He’ll be coming home soon and I can’t wait for you to meet him,” Ava would say with a gleam in her eye. Robby always side-stepped the obvious attempts Ava was making at matchmaking. After recovering from a recent breakup, a new romance with this mysterious grandson was the last thing on Robby’s mind.

Ava had raised J.B. from the time he was four years old. Tragically, Ava’s son and J.B.’s mother had been killed in a car accident on a rainy night. From that moment forward, Ava’s life had revolved around her grandson. They were family, just as Robby and her father had been.

Robby, Ava, and Harry’s routine bloomed into a comfortable friendship. They talked about J.B. They laughed at Harry’s antics. They talked about Robby’s father. They talked about Hill of Beans.

“You know, a cozy coffee shop like the Hill should have live music—someone playing acoustic guitar,” advised Ava. “J.B. will be perfect for that when he comes home,” she said with a sense of certainty. Somehow she always managed to bring the conversation back to her grandson.

Life continued in this manner through winter, and then into the early blush of spring. On one perfect Tuesday afternoon, with everything blooming in the soft colors of new life, Robby rounded the corner toward home carrying a small bouquet of bright flowers for Ava. Glancing up the street, she stopped short, her breath catching in her throat. Just ahead she saw two police cars and an ambulance—all in front of Ava’s house.

Robby sprinted to the front door, flowers still clutched in her fist. A police officer caught her just before she crossed the threshold. Apparently, that morning, when Harry had gone over to Ava’s back door, she had not answered the dog’s barks to be let in. Harry had apparently barked hysterically until a neighbor who lived a few houses away decided to investigate.

Concerned when she got no response at the door, the neighbor called 911. The first-responders had forced the door open only to find that it was too late. Ava Sawyer had died in her sleep.

This was the news that the burly police officer gently delivered to Robby as Harry somehow found his way to her on the porch and pushed his big head into her lap. Robby hugged the dog as she struggled to face another loss; one just as painful as if it had been her own grandmother.

In the ensuing days, Robby did her best to stay busy. She put in long hours at the Hill, bringing Harry with her into the small office in the back of the shop. Robby worked from open until close each day, just so she wouldn’t have to pass Ava’s empty house to go sit with Harry in hers.

After several days of self-imposed overtime, Robby finally gave in to her concerned employees and headed home to rest. She left the Hill at midday, barely noticing the perfect spring day that greeted her. As she started up the sidewalk that led to her porch, a voice called out from next door.

“Hello? Excuse me…”

Robby turned to see a tall, lanky man with pleasantly tousled dark hair and an open, easy smile. He wore dark sunglasses, a simple t-shirt, and well-worn jeans with running shoes. He crossed the yard carrying a large folder in his hand. Harry raced to greet him in obvious delight.

“Some watch dog you have here,” the man laughed as he ruffled the fur along Harry’s back. “I’m sorry to intrude, but you’re Robin? And this must be Harry?”

“Yes, I’m Robin…Robby. And you are?” She questioned.

“I’m J.B., Ava’s grandson,” He quickly explained. “Listen, I know you’re just getting home, but I’m here going through my grandmother’s personal effects, and there is this one folder that I’m supposed to open with you present,” said J.B.

“Oh…J.B. I’m so sorry. Please, come on over,” Robby replied.

The pair settled into chairs on Robby’s porch as Harry sat adoringly by the newcomer. J.B. pulled a white envelope out of the folder. It was addressed to both of them. Inside was a short note in Ava’s familiar script.

Dear J.B and Robby, Forgive the cliché, but If you are reading this, I must be gone. I am so sorry I can’t explain this to you in person. To cut straight to the point, the two of you need to be together. Now Robby, I know you think I’ve been trying to fix you up with J.B., but that’s not exactly the case.

J.B. stopped reading and looked at Robby in amusement. “Please, just keep reading,” she said laughing, as a blush crawled up her face.

Inside this envelope you will find the proof supporting what I’m about to tell you. I have spent years putting this together. I am now giving you the best gift I can possibly imagine. I am giving you family. Jay Blue Sawyer, meet your sister, Robin Taylor. Birds of a feather really should flock together. Love always, Grandma

Without a word, J.B. lowered the letter, removed his sunglasses, and looked directly at Robby in wonder. Robby stared back into eyes exactly like her own, light blue with thick dark lashes. For several heartbeats the two just sat studying each other. Then J.B. spoke quietly, “It would appear that you and I have more in common than a love for my grandmother.”

In that instant, tears filled Robby’s eyes. “I have a brother,” she whispered. “And I have a sister,” J.B. replied.

Quickly they looked through the folder where they found more details about Katelyn Roberts—the free-spirited woman whom they had both known to be their mother.

Now brother and sister sat in stunned silence, just trying to digest the information carefully outlined by Ava. “Guess this explains why she moved here,” J.B. said, glancing next door. “Yeah,” said Robby, “she was scoping me out. Ava was undercover!” They laughed together at the thought of the crafty little grandmother.

“You know Jay, I could really use a good cup of coffee right now,”

“You know Robin, I’ve heard there’s a great little coffee shop right around the corner, although according to Grandma, they could really use some live music in the place.”

“Really? Well, I think we’re about to have an open audition,” laughed Robby

With that, J.B. retrieved his guitar and the tall duo with dark curly hair and striking light blue eyes walked toward the Hill together with a golden retriever trotting happily between them.