RPG Digest

February 2020


Copyright 2020 by the RPG Partnership

All rights reserved


No portion of this work may be reproduced without prior written permission from


RPG Partnership

1112 Rogers Road

Graham, NC 27253


February 2020





RPG Digest

February 2020


Copyright 2019 by the RPG Partnership

All rights reserved


No portion of this work may be reproduced without prior written permission from


RPG Partnership

1112 Rogers Road

Graham, NC 27253


February 2020


Link to online version: http://alstonbooks.xyz/RPGDigest.htm




Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. Thanks to Betsy Breedlove for the beautiful spring picture below. In addition, we give a hearty welcome two new contributors, Kevin Cadigan and John Burns.


Table of Contents

February by Laura Alston. 3

The Month of February by E. B. Alston. 3

Charles Dickens Kept His Readers Hooked by Rita Berman. 4

XIII by Steven Crane. 12

Best Friends Forever by Peggy Ellis. 12

Memoir of Valentine Days by Sybil Austin Skakle. 13

Raffle (Part II) by Howard A. Goodman. 14

Lefty’s Adventure with Tequila by John Burns. 15

The Ring That Came Home for Valentine’s Day by Kevin Cadigan. 18

First English Printing Press by Randy Bittle. 20

Generations by Sybil Austin Skakle. 20

Grandfather by Marry Williamson. 21

The Seven Doors by E. B. Alston. 22

Unfinished Winter Poem in Quatrains byJohn Burns. 24

Missing Person Report 25

Repercussions or Consequences by Diana Goldsmith. 26

Pat Conroy an Acclaimed Southern Writer by Rita Berman. 27

HR Tale Too Good Not to Share by Howard A. Goodman. 28

Samuel Johnson – Book Review by E. B. Alston. 29

Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen – Serialized book by E. B. Alston. 29

Two Hunting Stories by E. B. Alston. 38

The News from Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 41

The Art of Writing by E. B. Alston. 42

First Impressions by Tim Whealton. 43

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 45

Twilight for the Gods Part 2 by E. B. Alston. 48

Contributors. 53




Laura Alston


The greenness of spring is arriving soon.

I can feel it in spite of winter’s chill.

Although spring has been gone a long time,

Its memory has sustained me through the winter.


Spring is like a frisky kitten

Running capriciously among flowers.

It is warmer breezes blowing

Among the newly budding trees.


I welcome spring with its promises.

I will gladly shed the heavy cloak of winter.

I embrace the sunny days that it brings.

I salute the spring rain that is sometimes present, too.


Spring demands to be shared;

One can not keep it to oneself.

Now I have a greenness of my own to give.

There is no more grayness within me.



The Month of February

E. B Alston


February is a busy month. The first is World Read Aloud Day. The second is Groundhog Day, celebrated with Punxsutawney Phil as the most publicized event. The Groundhog Day ceremony held at Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, centering around a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, has become the most attended. Grundsow Lodges in Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southeastern part of the state celebrate them as well. Other cities in the United States and Canada have also adopted the event.

The seventh is National Wear Red Day.

The 12th is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Lincoln was a very witty man. Col. Alexander K. McClure in his book, Abe Lincoln's Yarns and Stories wrote about the time Lincoln was much surprised when a man of rather forbidding countenance drew a revolver and thrust the weapon almost into his face. In such circumstances “Abe” at once concluded that any attempt at debate or argument was a waste of time and words.

“What seems to be the matter?" inquired Lincoln with all the calmness and self-possession he could muster.

“Well,” replied the stranger, who did not appear at all excited, “some years ago I swore an oath that if I ever came across an uglier man than myself I'd shoot him on the spot."

A feeling of relief evidently took possession of Lincoln at this rejoinder as the expression upon his countenance lost all suggestion of anxiety.

“Shoot me," he said to the stranger; "for if I am uglier than you I don't want to live."

Then there’s Valentine Day. Although a Christian bishop named Valentine was martyred on February 14 in A.D. 271, Valentine’s Day has its origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia.

Lupercalia was a fertility festival in honor of Lupa, the wolf who was said to have suckled Romulus and Remus (who went on to found the city of Rome) and dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. This was the season to start sowing seeds and hope for a fertile year of crops.

The Roman festival involved drunken young men running through the streets naked, women being smeared in animal blood, and unusual fertility rites. Ever heard the dating phrase, “being hit on”?  In this case, men literally hit on women by whipping them with the hides of the animals they had just sacrificed.

stval.jpgApparently, many women were willing participants, lining up for the festival, believed this would make them fertile. Young men also drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would lie together during the festival, in an effort to conceive.

When the Roman Empire became Christian, it evolved into the feast of St. Valentine—who was martyred at this time.  The church evolved the pagan rituals into a less bloody, raucous affair and attempted to tie the holiday to the saints. However, much of the love and romance of the day persisted.

Who was St. Valentine? In the church, Saint Valentine of Rome is a third-century Roman saint commonly associated with “courtly love.”

Although not much of St. Valentine’s life is reliably known, and whether or not the stories involve two different saints by the same name is also not officially decided, one of the St. Valentines was martyred and then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome. Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14 as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.

The notorious Saint Valentine's Day Massacre was the 1929 Valentine's Day murder of seven members and associates of Chicago's North Side Gang. The men were gathered at a Lincoln Park garage on the morning of Valentine's Day. They were lined up against a wall and shot by four unknown assailants who were dressed like police officers. The incident resulted from the struggle to control organized crime in the city during Prohibition between the Irish North Siders, headed by George "Bugs" Moran, and their Italian South Side rivals led by Al Capone. The perpetrators have never been conclusively identified, but former members of the Egan's Rats gang working for Capone are suspected of a significant role, as are members of the Chicago Police Department who allegedly wanted revenge for the killing of a police officer's son.

February 17 is President’s Day, the 25th is Mardi Gras and the 26th is Ash Wednesday.

Enjoy the month. Spring is just around the corner.



Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover. –Mark Twain


Charles Dickens Kept His Readers Hooked

By Rita Berman 


Born February 7, 1812, in Portsea a suburb of Portsmouth, England, Dickens died June 9, 1870, in Gads Hill, Rochester, Kent, England.

As an author Dickens has been described as the best recognized and loved man of nineteenth century England.  Some critics say he is second only to William Shakespeare. Tolstoy kept his portrait hanging in his study and said, “All his characters are my personal friends,”

Some background about the Victorian era might explain the general public’s interest in Dicken’s stories. It was during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) that education became available to more people and so there were more readers. Authors then had the opportunity to make a living by selling their works on the open market instead of seeking a wealthy patron. So weekly or monthly magazines and subscription libraries became the vogue.

Dickens was highly successful in keeping his readers hooked from week to week.   He was known for his character studies in which he revealed how early experiences affect a person’s development.  He has been called a “reformer” as he wrote stories about the poor, and drew attention to the cruel treatment of children, child labor, and society’s rigid ideals for women.  (A “fallen” woman who lived with a man without marriage was shunned, even by her own family).   

Dickens was also an editor, actor, playwright, and director. He gave public lectures and also readings from his novels.  

Dickens was the cofounder of Household Words, (1850-1859).  This magazine sold for 2 pence a copy, and about 40,000 copies were bought each week.  In it he published Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mrs. Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins.

While he had many friends most significant are John Forster, his confidante and appointed biographer and Wilkie Collins who became his chosen traveling companion and collaborator on plays and stories.

After his death it was said no other writer had reached their audience like Dickens.  He has been called the most popular, world-wide novelist of all time.  The Pickwick Papers (1837),    A Christmas Carol (1843),     Dombey and Son (1848),    David Copperfield, (1849-50, Bleak House, (1852-53), and Great Expectations (1860-61), are some of his major works.

In celebration of the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth, festivals, readings and workshops were held here and abroad throughout 2012.

On February 7th 2012, Some 160 of his descendants held a family reunion in London, and on February 7, 2012 were joined by Charles, the Prince of Wales, at a wreath-laying service in Westminster Abbey.  The reunion took five years to organize.  Dickens’ descendants include admirals, high court judges, businessmen, writers and actors, and have spread across the world to South Africa, Australia and California.

“Thank God for e-mail.  I’ve been doing the family tree for 20 years now,” said Commander Mark Dickens, a great-great grandson of Charles and the nominal head of the family.


Charles Dickens Early Years


Charles Dickens was born in Portsea, which was at that time a suburb of Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812.  He was the second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens.   They had 8 children.  John Dickens worked as a clerk for the Naval Pay Office but had an extravagant nature and was always short of money.  He was imprisoned for debt in February 1824 when Charles was twelve years old.

Mrs. Dickens, with four of her children went to join her husband in prison, and Charles had to go and work in a blacking factory, earning six shillings a week for sticking labels on the pots of paste-blacking.      

Fortunately, a legacy left to John Dickens by his mother enabled him to leave prison. For a while he went back to work for the Pay Office while his request for an invalid’s pension was being considered.      

Charles was 13 when the pension was granted and then his father decided he should leave the blacking factory and go back to school.  A couple of years later, when his father could no longer pay the fees, at Wellington House Academy in Hampstead,  Dickens went to work at a solicitor’s office as a junior clerk and earned ten shillings and sixpence for working six days a week.

He taught himself shorthand and by the age of 17 was working as a court reporter.   He then joined the staff of a newspaper, A Mirror of Parliament, that reported on the decisions of Parliament.  This was followed by his writing for the Morning Chronicle, for a couple of years. He received a salary of five guineas a week (that’s five pounds, five shillings). He also contributed to the Evening Chronicle, the sister paper.

He was successful as a journalist and as his interests widened he began to write fiction.   His first attempt was a short story published anonymously in a periodical called the Monthly Magazine. This led to a commission for further sketches and he adopted as a nom de plume the name of his brother Augustus ‘Boz’.

In 1836 several of these sketches were published in two volumes as Sketches by Boz, for which he received 150 pounds.

His first romantic relationship was with Maria Beadnell, when he was 18, but her parents discouraged the match.  She is the model for Dora in David Copperfield and Flora Finching in Little Dorrit.


Marriage to Catherine Hogarth


Dickens then met Catherine Hogarth, whose father was a music critic for the Morning Chronicle.  Dickens and Catherine Hogarth became engaged in 1835 and were married on April 2 1836.

In January of 1837 the first of their ten children was born, a son that they named Charles, Jr. In March 1837 Charles and Catherine moved from rented lodgings into a 12-roomed house at Doughty Street, London.  I visited this museum house in 1978 and saw furniture that he had used in later homes, the Family Bible in which the births and deaths of his children were recorded. The desk and chair he used at the end of his life was included in what was his study.  Down in the basement is the “Dingley Dell” kitchen. This is not as it was when Dickens lived there but a reproduction from his description in Pickwick.

Dickens and Catherine celebrated their first anniversary in this house, along with Catherine’s 16-year-old sister Mary and Dickens’ young brother Fred who were part of the household.

Only a few months later, on May 2, 1837, Mary was taken ill, possibly of a heart attack, and within a few hours she died.  Dickens was so shocked by her death that he could not continue his work and the publication of The Pickwick Papers was suspended for two months.

Oliver Twist was running at the same time as a serial in Bentley’s Miscellany and that was also interrupted. In 1838 when Catherine had her second child, a girl, she was named Mary.    

While living at Doughty Street Dickens and John Forster, became friends.  By the end of 1839 Dickens and his family had moved to 1 Devonshire Terrace, Regent’s Park.  He had set himself up in a thoroughly well-to-do style, with his own carriage and groom.

In 1842 Dickens, accompanied by Catherine, went on a five-month lecture tour of the United States.  He spoke out strongly against slavery and in support of other reforms.   At first he was enthusiastically welcomed; but the mood towards him changed after he publicly rebuked the Americans in his speeches for their disregard of international copyright and depriving him of income.  There was no law governing the matter at that time.  Not until 1891 was U.S. copyright law authorized for establishment of copyright relations with foreign countries.

On his return to England he wrote American Notes, a book that criticized American life as being culturally backward and materialistic desiring wealth and goods.  

After their visit to America, Catherine’s sister Georgina came to live with them.  By then Catherine was becoming overwhelmed with the duties of being the wife of a famous man and mother of four children. Georgina eventually ran the Dickens household.

As a father Dickens was easily irritated. He was not a man who could tolerate clumsiness or incompetence.  Occasionally he would break out into what he admitted himself to be “causeless rages”, or at other times he might burst into laughter when, with a more than usual display of her awkwardness, Catherine dropped her bracelets into the soup at a dinner party.  She irritated him with her clumsiness, and her post-natal depression.

Catherine was placid, slow, lethargic, kindly, unambitious and unoriginal, her nature contrasted sharply with Dicken’s brilliance, restlessness and burning energy. 

In letters to friends he wrote of her pregnancies as though he had nothing to do with them. She had her 6th child when she was 30. She grew fat on the solid meals that Victorian doctors prescribed for pregnant women. 

“My father,” one of his daughters said long after he was dead, “did not understand women,” and it was true.

  While in Doughty Street Dickens had written part of Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and other works.  As a writer of serialized fiction, he paid careful attention to the reaction of his readers and shaped the events in the following installments accordingly.  

In 1839 the household moved to 71 Devonshire Terrace where they stayed until 1851. By the late 1840s he was earning good money as a novelist. A governess was added to the household for the girls, but the boys were sent away to school.

Dickens was a rising star when he met John Forster.  Forster was literary editor of the Examiner. He became the godfather of Dickens’ daughter Mary.  He read all of Dickens manuscripts and proofs, correcting and cutting when asked.  He also reviewed Dickens books.   

He was Dickens appointed biographer. Dickens read the first instalments of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, aloud to Foster.      

Wilkie Collins was another person who became a key figure in Charles Dickens’ life.  He was 12 years younger than Dickens and just beginning as a writer while Dickens was at the height of his fame when they met and began their friendship and collaboration. 

The two men became fast friends, dined together at Verrey’s restaurant where they had a special table reserved for them, and over the years they went on holiday together to Dover, Boulogne, Switzerland, and Italy.  They are said to have gone on midnight tours of the disreputable corners of London and Paris.

Dickens and Collins became family members when Dickens’ eldest daughter, Kate, married Wilkie Collins’ younger brother Charles.

Dickens and Collins wrote many letters to each other, but Dickens destroyed much of his correspondence in a fire on 3 September 1860. Only three letters from Collins are said to have survived, while more than 160 letters from Dickens to Collins have been located.

After Dickens finished Bleak House, in 1854, he celebrated the event by taking a two months’ trip to Italy with Collins and Augustus Egg.  In 1855 and 1856 Collins and Dickens spent holidays together in Paris.         

Dickens helped Collins with the writing of his play, “The Frozen Deep,”, and arranged for its first production in his own home, acted by friends, family, and servants.  Later, a private command performance was given to Queen Victoria and her family.

Ellen Ternan


Performances of the play were given in Manchester in August, 1856, and three professional actresses joined the group.  It is then that Dickens, married and father of 10 children, met and fell in love with eighteen-year-old Ellen Ternan, who was acting in a minor role.

After meeting Ellen Ternan, Dickens wrote to John Forster that, “poor Catherine and I are not made for each other, and there is no help for it.  It is not only that she makes me uneasy and unhappy, but that I make her so too- and much more so.”

He also wrote to Wilkie Collins that he wanted to “escape… my misery amazing.”  He proposed they take a tour together, ostensibly to foray into the bleak fells of Cumberland, but Dickens had already booked rooms for himself and Collins in Doncaster where he knew Ellen Ternan was acting.

In 1857 after this working holiday the two men wrote about their experiences in The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices which was later serialized in Household Words.  This magazine sold for 2 pence a copy, and about 40,000 copies were bought each week.  In it he published Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mrs. Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins


Gad’s Hill


After 10 pregnancies and a number of miscarriages, his wife may have been relieved when Dickens left the marital bed and had a partition set up between that room and a dressing room where he now slept alone on a single bed.         

In May 1857 Dickens moved his household into a country house he had purchased near Rochester, Kent. This villa, Gad’s Hill, was built in the reign of Queen Anne (1685-1714) and had fascinated him since his boyhood days when he had visited it with his father.   

In May 1858, Dickens’ wife Catherine accidentally received a bracelet meant for Ellen Ternan. She was distraught, according to her daughter Kate Dickens. Charles Dickens responded by meeting with his solicitors and arranging for a formal separation from Catherine, giving her an allowance of six hundred pounds a year, and a house in Regent’s Park, where Charley, the oldest son joined her.  The other children still living at home stayed with Dickens and Georgina, Catherine’s sister. While they were not forbidden to visit their mother they were not encouraged to do so.

Rumors abounded about the breakup.  There was some gossip about an actress and some stories even suggested that Dickens was having an affair with his sister-in-law Georgina.    

Dickens installed Ellen Ternan in a cottage at Slough and later a villa at Peckham. When renting lodgings for her he used the name of Charles Tringham.  She is frequently referred to as Nelly. 

Some biographers describe the friendship of Dickens and Collins as weakening in 1858. But by then Collins was living with a Mrs. Caroline Graves and her 7-year-old daughter Harrier, and Dickens was with his children at Gad’s Hill. Here most of his later work was written, and he entertained many guests.

The collaboration between the two authors, on short stories as well as plays continued.  Each had an effect on the other’s writing.

After the Tale of Two Cities, Dickens writing changed, from loose scenes strung together, to framing and developing a plot. This has been attributed to the influence of Collins.


Extra Income as a Professional Reader


After his separation from Catherine, Dickens decided to take up a second career as a professional reader. This gave him the extra income he needed to take care of the Ternan family (Ellen, her sister, and her mother) as well as his own. 

A huge and loyal public turned out to hear him almost everywhere he went, cheering him on.

He began a reading tour in October of 1861 and during the period of 1862-1865 he divided his life between England and France, crossing the Channel at least 68 times. 

Various explanations are given as to these frequent travels.  One being that Ellen Ternan was pregnant and to avoid more scandal he settled her in France to await the birth of a child, who later died.

That might explain why, after Dickens’ frequent visits to France, Nelly and her mother were traveling back with him on the 9th of June when the train they were on hit a bridge and fell into the river below at Staplehurst, Kent.  They were alone in a first-class carriage near the front and escaped the worst, though many people died.

Ellen Ternan sustained injuries to her arm and neck.  She was discretely removed from the train with her mother before anyone was aware they were traveling with Dickens.  He went to help other passengers.

In her book Claire Tomalin noted that Nelly concealed her relationship with Dickens and had destroyed his letters. Dickens had tried to protect her reputation even though he had separated from his wife, by pretending to be a friendly uncle or benefactor of the young actress. 

But his daughter Katey said that Nelly had borne a son to Dickens.  She told this to Bernard Shaw in the 1890’s after Ellen’s death. She also told this to a friend, Gladys Storey with the intention that Storey should write and publish a book.  Miss Storey noted that Henry Dickens confirmed what Katey had said.

It wasn’t until 1952 that more research by several biographers appeared to accept that there was a love affair, and notes and letters bear this out.        

Dickens kept a private pocket diary that he lost in 1867 when in America.  It turned up in New York in 1922 from an unnamed private collector.  It was bought by the Berg brothers who were great collectors and kept it unexamined for 22 years until 1943 when the curator saw how interesting it was.  In the diary Dickens had listed the names of the towns he visited on the tour, and his friends, Forster, Wilkie etc., but other more intimate entries had only initials. Ga for Georgina, his sister-in-law, and N for Nelly (his name for Ellen).

The entries confirmed that Dickens saw Nelly frequently, walking, dining, at the theatre and looking at houses in Peckham.  Using various aliases, he paid the rates on Windsor Lodge where Nelly lived.  She was eager to go with him to America but it could not be achieved.  She went to Italy with her mother before he left for his second reading tour in America.

He was given a public farewell banquet before embarking on this tour in 1867. Wilkie Collins and family members went to Liverpool to see him off, aboard the Cuba.    

Boston was Dickens’ favorite American city.  On November 22, Henry James wrote to his brother that the first reading was to be on December 2, “but it was impossible to get tickets.  By 9 a.m. when he strolled up to the office to get tickets there were nearly a thousand people in line.”  He did, however, get in and later described it as a hard cheerless reading.  This differed from the public’s reception.   They came from miles and through heavy snow storms to hear Dickens.

The readings were never taken directly from his books but he prepared scripts that he had adapted to allow him to impersonate his favorite characters.  The public loved him, they queued up to hear him, applauded him with shouts and tears.    

In Washington, President Andrew Johnson and his ministers attended the readings every day for a week.  Dickens was almost dropping with fatigue.  His voice was rough and harsh. He had developed a bad cold and said he had to lie down on a sofa, dead beat and extremely faint, after each performance. He could only sleep after taking laudanum.     

Towards the end of the tour a cough forced him to go on a predominantly liquid diet of custards, soups, eggs, sherry and champagne.

This second tour from November 1867 to April 1868 attracted more than 100,000 people in 76 public readings.    

When he returned to England with a profit of nearly 20,000 pounds (about l.5 million dollars in today’s money) he felt sick in the mornings, suffered from attacks of giddiness. A specialist decided this was the result of extreme hurry, overwork and excitement, incidental to his readings.

In his last years he suffered from the effects of a minor stroke, and from gout so that he had a special boot made, and sat with his leg up on another chair.  He had sleepless nights.  George Eliot described him in 1870 as “dreadfully shattered.”  He had been an enthusiastic cigar smoker since the age of 15 and the late photographs show a raddled, smoker’s face with grizzled beard and deep lines.

Nonetheless he continued to write.  On 8 June 1870, after spending all day working on his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he said he felt ill during dinner and collapsed falling to the floor.  Georgina and the servants carried him to a sofa.  He had suffered a massive stroke and lay unconscious until the following day.

His daughters, son Charley, Georgina, and Ellen Ternan were with him when he died.   John Forster was away in Cornwall at this time but he returned in time to view Dickens in his open coffin.

The day of his funeral was made a day of national mourning in England.  Collins, shocked by the news of Dickens’ death, attended the funeral traveling in the same coach as his brother and Frank Beard.  

Dickens’ will said his effects were to be sold and the proceeds divided among his children.  Family members took a few personal things but the rest was sold to collectors around the world.

The Free Library of  Philadelphia library has the desk Dickens used at Gad’s Hill, and 16 display cases filled with first editions of Dickens’ works, his pen set, postal scale and his book knife, and the headstone of Dick, another of Dickens’ pet birds. 

As for Ellen Ternan (Nelly) she was named as first of the legatees in Dickens’ will and left one thousand pounds. She married an Oxford undergraduate, Wharton Robinson, 12 years younger than herself in January 1876. She pretended to be in her twenties and that she had been a god-daughter of Charles Dickens. She had two children.

  Ternan was widowed in 1910 and cared for by her son Geoffrey who had no idea of her real age or her early life with Dickens.  She died a couple of years later.  After he left the Army in 1920 Geoffrey went through his mother’s and aunt Fanny’s papers and understood how they had deceived everyone.     

   Georgina, Catherine’s sister, maintained a strong friendship with Nelly.  Georgina lived to be 91.

Literary Reputation


  Dickens had written half of the 12 installments of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and left no rough drafts for the rest.  In 1878 Collins said he had been asked to finish writing the story but had positively refused.  

  In spite of this, a sequel to the unfinished novel was published in Philadelphia and London, with the names of Collins and Dickens the Younger, as authors.  It was later reported that the sequel was written by Henry Morford a New York journalist.            

  For a while, after Dickens’ death although his novels continued to be read by a large number of readers, his literary reputation was in eclipse.  From 1880 through the early part of the 20th century Russian writers came into vogue and were generally regarded as superior to Dickens.  Yet Turgenev praised Dickens work.  Tolstoy was impressed with the spirit in all he wrote.

  Dosteovsky was so impressed that he imitated the death of Little Nell, including the sentimentality, in describing the death of Nelli Valkovsky in The Insulted and Injured.    

  It was in the 1940s and 1950s that Dickens’ literary standing was transformed because of essays written by George Orwell and Edmund Wilson.  Critics discovered complexity, darkness, and even bitterness in his novels.  By the 1960’s some critics felt that, like Shakespeare, Dickens could not be classified into existing literary categories.

  More than 320 movies, dramas, musicals, and cartoons have been inspired by Dickens’ novels.


My sources for the information on Dickens’s life include Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin, The Penguin Press, New York, 2011

Commentary, Margaret Lesser, The Times Literary Supplement,

February 10, 2012, and The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins, by William Clarke, Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1996.



Steven Crane  (1871-1900)


The wayfarer,

Perceiving the pathway to truth,

Was struck with astonishment.

It was thickly grown with weeds.

“Ha,” he said,

“I see that none has passed here

In a long time.”

Later he saw that each weed

Was a singular knife.

“Well,” he mumbled at last,

“Doubtless there are other roads.”



Best Friends Forever

Peggy Lovelace Ellis

 Gene Alston’s thoughts on friends in the September 2019 RPG Digest set me to thinking about my own view on the subject. I asked myself if it’s possible to call a person ‘friend’ if we met only once, and that was more than 60 years ago. I believe so, but you decide for yourself.

Like most people in their senior years, my thoughts wandered through a long list of names and faces, a few, or sometimes many, memories, attached to each. However, one face and name stood out in the sea of memories.

September 17th marked the five-year anniversary commemorating the death of a person I consider my BFF, my best friend forever, Emma McKenzie Lassley, who literally changed my life with one sentence.

As I write this, I swallow remembered pain. It’s 1941 again and I’m four years old, skinny, straight brown hair, keeping my face averted to avoid taunts. I was cross-eyed. The doctor told my parents that I had to wait until I was six to have corrective surgery.

In the meantime, I learned to hide my tears when other little girls pointed their fingers and whispered, and when little boys hit me in the head then ran away yelling, “There, that ought to make your eye straight.” I wished it would, so they would stop hitting me.

The day finally came for my surgery. It didn’t matter that I would miss six weeks of school. It didn’t matter that I had to lie flat on my back, my eyes bandaged, for nine days with a sand bag on each side of my head so I wouldn’t jar the stitches loose. It didn’t matter that I would have to wear glasses. Nothing mattered because never again would anybody call me names and I would soon have friends who let me join their games.

My contentment didn’t last long. Soon I was called “Four Eyes” and the kids wouldn’t play with me because they might break my glasses. As I grew older, I started hearing things like, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” And they didn’t. They vied for the attention of my younger sister with her big blue eyes that didn’t need glasses, but avoided me.

During these years, I developed friendships with pen pals all over the United States, and it was one of these who, when I was 16, altered my attitude toward those hated frames perched on my nose.

I don’t recall where I found Emma’s name and address in Ontario, California, but I bless the day.

In introducing myself, I gave a description that included the statement, “I have the misfortune of wearing glasses.” Her reply was prompt and unforgettable. It’s etched in my brain for all eternity. “My glasses are my most prized possession because without them I can’t see.”

Such wisdom from one 16-year-old to another. Would I have appreciated them at a younger age? Probably not. I can't count the number of times I've called forth her healing words in times of distress, such as when people have told me I would be prettier without glasses. How hurtful people’s careless words can be without them realizing it.

I didn’t change overnight. I remained a loner. The taunts continued, but I found it easier to ignore them as I repeated my mantra, ‘My glasses are my most prized possession because without them I can’t see.’

Through the years, I lost touch with most of my pen pals as life took us in different directions. However, letters to and from Emma continued to wing their way across the country on a regular basis. If you aren’t a letter writer, if you don’t have distant friends whom you haven’t seen in many years, you probably wonder if real friendship through mail is possible. I can tell you that it is. We congratulated each other on successes and commiserated over failures. We grieved together when family members went astray; we mourned together when our parents and siblings died. I cried with her when her husband died. We encouraged each other when we felt no one else cared about the mundane details of our lives.

Our letters stopped only when her daughter told me Emma had gone home to heaven. That afternoon, I lived again the few days I visited her in 1961; I heard again her musical voice when she called me in 1970 because she had misplaced my new address. I again watched her two children grow from babyhood through childhood, through adolescence into adulthood. My pain eased during those hours of chuckles and tears as I sat with my photo albums that contain a lifetime of memories.

Our friendship began as pen pals, but I remember Emma McKenzie Lassley best as my dearest of friends. I wouldn’t trade our friendship, physically distant though it was, for anything in this world. Someday, we’ll meet where words don’t hurt, so there’s no need for healing words. We won’t need our most prized possessions either.



Memoir of Valentine Days

Sybil Austin Skakle

Rivalries of grade school

Hoping for one from

A special little boy.

Worrying another might

Fail to receive even one

Romances of youth!


Planned a wedding

For Valentine’s day

But rushed it a week.

Memorable Valentine Day

when said husband

Smilingly faced me:

“Here I am, Honey.

What color ribbon?”


Lonely Valentine’s Day

After his death, one

From an old friend

Another from new friend.

Still remembered with love.

God’s love surrounds us.


Raffle (Part II)

Fiction by Howard A. Goodman


Aaron stood at the kitchen sink, rinsing some chicken breasts to marinate and throw on the barbecue as soon as Evan had returned from his trombone lesson. Through the window the weather this late winter Sunday afternoon was sunny, unseasonably mild.

Across the kitchen the phone rang. Aaron ran his hands through the stream spewing from the faucet, muttering expletives, grabbed for the towel and dashed over to the desk. “Hello!?” The cello voice on the other end of the line instantly doused his fire.

“Sondra? I can’t believe it! Is it really you?”

“Yeah,” she said. “And I’m so glad you’re there. I was going to wait until I saw you at work but I’m too excited.”

“Excited? About what?” God, how I'd love to be with her right now, stare into her eyes, take her in my arms.

“Remember those raffle tickets I sold you? They held the drawing after Mass today and one of your numbers was called. You’ve won the thousand dollars!”

“Oh, wow! I can’t believe it!”

Sondra laughed, sharing his joy. But just as quickly, she said, “I need to be moving on to something else,” politely terminating their conversation.

With regret Aaron said goodbye. He tried again to focus on his preparations for dinner but his exhilaration over Sondra persisted. It was still with him at bedtime, even beyond, to the point of insomnia. And he thought, What better reason?


Monday morning at 9:05 Sondra strutted into Aaron’s office. He swung around in his chair to swallow another delicious eyeful of her. She said nothing as she fumbled with her purse. Finally she withdrew a check and offered it to him with a flip of her wrist. She tried to stifle her smile but that tiny dip with her knees came reflexively.

“Oh, thank you,” he said, glimpsing the check. “Wow, I still can’t believe it!” He kicked the floor with both heels. His chair propelled backward, only a matter of inches before the backrest slammed into the edge of his desk, bolting him upright.

“Do you have any idea what you’re going to do with the money?” Sondra asked, ignoring his ill-fated joyride.

“I donno,” he replied, recovering from his pulse of excitement, pondering, At times Sondra can be very seductive, probably without even knowing it. Maybe she figures I’ve had time to think about it since she already gave me advance notice of my winning. “But I won’t squander it,” he added.

At three thirty, Aaron dropped by Sondra’s office. She was, fortunately for him, alone, busy at her computer but immediately looked up as he reached out to her.

“What’s this?” she asked with an air of genuine surprise.

“C’mon, Sondra. What does it look like—chopped liver?”

“A check for five hundred dollars.” Her face brightened suddenly. “And you’ve made it out to Holy Family Church!”

“Yeah,” he said placidly. “After what you told me about those migrant workers, I figured they could really use it.” The sarcasm of his earlier words dissipated as quickly as it had erupted.

“What are you going to do with the other half?”

“Donate it to Temple Beth Or. They can use help, too.” He hesitated. “Even with all those doctors and lawyers.”

Sondra’s smile was wormy.

“There are a lot of Russian Jews emigrating to the Triangle,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” Sondra replied. “I didn’t know.” She studied Aaron’s check again, then looked up at him. This time her expression was warm, genuine. From behind her tortoise shell glasses her eyes locked with his. Her gaze lingered. Her lips pursed, as though she was about to express something more intimate.

Aaron stood paralyzed, weak to his knees. Does she get it? Does she finally get it?

His attempts at being productive for the remainder of his workday were doomed. The lingering excitement of what had transpired in Sondra’s office made it impossible for him to concentrate on his immediate task, or even to remain seated at his desk. No less than three times he tried to dispel his pent up excitement by making trips to the high-speed printer room, four aisles over. Only after the third excursion did he realize he’d forgotten to submit his job to the printer.

Before leaving, Aaron remembered to swing by the credit union to deposit his winnings and grab a little cash. Evan had cleaned him out again. After completing the transactions, he stepped over to the courtesy counter and retrieved his wallet to stash the bills he’d just collected.

The spent raffle tickets peeked out at him. He looked around for a waste can to discard them. But something stopped him. Tucking the tickets back inside, Aaron breathed a sigh. He couldn’t bring himself to toss something Sondra had touched.


Lefty’s Adventure with Tequila


How I Lost My Mind on Nantucket and Woke Up with a Bruise on My Head

John Burns


Following the Adventure at the Canadian Border, the carload of beer and I drove to Nantucket. D-D-D-Don and Bencini were there too, in the car, with the beer and me, having non-stopped it across the country from Wyoming, home of the big Tetons, to the great big blue Atlantic Ocean there in Massachusetts, out there with the crazy, Yankee people. Drive right up to the ocean, park the car full of beer, unload the beer into hundreds of backpacks and duffel bags, drag ‘em to the ferry and go sailing to Nantucket. Seventy-two hours in a tiny car, non-stop to the edge of the World trying to sleep with beer cans for a pillow; man I was wired. And strung out. I was so travel stupid that I didn’t even know my name, but boy, I was ready to party.

So off we go to party. To some bar way out in the absolute darkness of night time Nantucket invigorated by the salt air and the fact that there was some room in this new car, we having left the little one in a parking lot back on earth.  Off into the dark of a Nantucket night to party. To a bar somewhere in the dunes by the ocean, down by the sea, to a bar full of people who had likely enjoyed a good night’s sleep just hours before.

Well, Bencini musta been feeling guilty, after all he was the motivator behind our non-stop cross-country lickety-split trip in the little car filled with beer. True, he dragged us to this bar, stuck out on the edge of the world, torn from the intense mountain beauty of Wyoming, dragged us through the darkness to the Yankee beer joint with with no sleep to see – a girl. His girl. The Girl Friend. Hours crammed cheek-to-jowl, into a car with the beer just to watch Bencini and the Girl Friend. To be true, I was so tired that I was simply glad to be anywhere, especially anywhere alive, even a bar in Nantucket watching Bencini and the Girl Friend. So, to assuage his guilt and to generally share the joy he was feeling, Bencini shouts to me and D-D-D-Don, “Drinks are on me!” Hey, great, only thing was, I didn’t drink. Maybe twice or three times. So I’m not a real drinker, but Bencini, intent of sharing the fun and dulling the guilt starts buying everyone, me, D-D-D-Don and the Girl Friend, me fresh from clean living in the cool mountain air of the Teton Mountains, starts buying us shots of tequila. Yea, Boy!

I’d never done it before. Never. Slammed down straight tequila, or straight anything for that matter. A little salt, a little lime, and a little of that kick you in the head stuff, tequila. Yea, Boy! Why did the Mexican throw his wife off the cliff? Tequila! Have another. Bite the lime like this. Have another. Hoo Haw! Blue Agave.

Now, truth be told, I had already met Mescalito, another Mex Head Kicker,personally, in the dark after puking up some truly nasty cactus pods. There, surrounded by some curious, crazy Native Americans, in a sweat lodge, in the dark, Mescalito came to me, and this ain’t no shit, he came to me and sat down beside me there in the dark, in that impossibly tiny sweat lodge, and told me about my totem, Coyote, revealing secrets of the world only to me. How he had squeezed himself into that sweat lodge there in the dark where it was already crammed slam full of me and grinning Indians, forever remains an unrevealed mystery – one I was never privy to – but there he was nevertheless. And I knew the old man. He packed a punch and had his wicked way with my head.

But, I had never figured on the Power of that Agave juice, that sneaky plant concoction that I was drinking. After four, or eight, of those shots and those limes and all that salt, I was drunk. Not falling down, throwing up drunk, but catatonic drunk. Kinda zombie drunk. Could think, sorta, could see, hear, smell, but I couldn’t move or speak. So I just sat there and watched.

What I was watching was air hockey. I found it fascinating. I had never seen it before that night and it was a really fast moving curiosity to my Tequila addled brain. Remember, I couldn’t move so I was just kinda watching other people move, slapping that air hockey puck around on that table. It was magic from where I sat. And I was watching, and not moving. Just really too buzzed, too tired to pass out, to drunk to go to sleep. Just watching that there hockey puck slamming around on that table, people slapping it around

And then it happened. The puck, for all intents and purposes bound by gravity, bound to the surface of that table by whatever magic held it there, became airborne.

How beautiful, how sublime, I thought, but you gotta remember that I wasn’t really thinking. How clever the design, the speedy aerodynamics. And then it dawned on me. Slowly at first. That sublime, aerodynamically designed puck was headed right towards me! My head in fact! But what could I do. Although time seemed to be standing still – I could see that puck a’coming – I couldn’t move. Death and destruction was on a highway headed for ME! Sheeet! No time to act. I couldn’t act, I was too damn drunk. No time to duck, I couldn’t duck, I was too damn drunk. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I girded my loins for destruction.

And destruction arrived as promised in the form of a little plastic air hockey puck. Slapped me right on my head above my right eye, and it knocked me over backwards in my chair spilling a table full of beer and beer mugs, empty shot glasses and used up limes, mashed cigarettes, ashes, you name it -- all the detritus of an evening out in a bar generally disturbing the happy evening there in Nantucket. Luckily for me, I was out of it. For a long time it seems because when I came back Bencini and D-D-D-Don and the Girl Friend were hovering over me like some kind of alien mother ship come to reclaim their ET puck.

Well, they helped me up. I shook the glass off myself, wrung out my beer sodden shirt, and said something clever like, “What happened?” They just stood there laughing and pointing along with everyone else in the bar, especially the guy with the air hockey puck whacking thing. I was, for about ten brief seconds, the center of attention, a Legend, but the bar went back to bar business and I was history. Forgotten history.

Needless to say that killed our party right then because the seventy-two hour cross-country marathon race in the little car filled with beer had finally caught up with us all – seeing as how Mr Tequila had slowed us all down do much. And we were off to town to fall into a drunken slumber, but our ride had already departed. By now, my head, my forehead had started to swell. I had a potato growing on my head, a large troubling, red hot potato growing on my head while, at the same time, a Mexican Mariachi Band was starting to tune up their instruments a little deeper in my skull. And this was not a happy Mariachi Band tuning instruments deeper in my head, oh no, it was an angry band, maybe some of Poncho Villa’s cucarachas with an attitude. So with no ride, a potato on my head, and a band of Mexican revolutionary musicians tuning instruments under my skull we all stumbled out into the night to hitch-hike back into town.

And it was dark. And my head hurt, and my brain was pretty much wiped numb from the constant, angry music, and I was standing there holding my thumb out by the highway in the dark, there on the edge of the world, on that tiny island surrounded by a vast ocean, hundreds of years and millions of miles from the clean Wyoming mountain air when a pick-up truck stopped. Man inside says, “Get in the back.” And with the last ounce of energy that I had, and the last iota of will left me, I heaved myself up and over and into the bed of the truck.

That is where I met The Man With The Broken Leg. You see he had been at the bar too. And he was lying in the back of the truck feeling no pain ‘cuase he had washed it all away at the bar having just that very day broken his leg. And there he was in the dark, feeling no pain in the back of that pick-up truck, there on that island at the edge of the world, when 175 pounds of drunk and exhausted me fell on his leg. The broken one which was, I admit, encased in a plaster cast, but broken nonetheless. Hey, did I spoil his day? You bet. I landed square on his leg and he let out a shriek that scared the Permanent Bejesus out of me, not to mention the other three people who were following me into the back of that pick-up truck one behind the other onto the broken leg. Hey, he wasn’t happy. He cried and whimpered and cried and whimpered and crawled kinda crab-like into a corner by himself and passed out. What do you say to a man with a broken leg when you’ve just jumped into him in the dark in the back of a pick-up truck? Sorry man, I didn’t see you. Good thing I was drunk or I might’a tried to help him somehow.

What happened after that is a mystery to me now. Remember I had a angry potato on my head and the cucarachas were tuning up those instruments down there somewhere, and ole Smiley, Mr. Tequila his evil self, why he was just a laughing and smirking at me and my potato. The Man With The Broken Leg was easily forgotten. But the potato.  I lived with it for days.



The Ring That Came Home for Valentine’s Day

by Kevin Cadigan


In the early 1950s my Uncle Craig, a newly-licensed architect, lived in Swarthmore, the town where I grew up. He was eager to acquire clients who would hire him to design their forever homes. Uncle Craig was also a fervent cynophilist, a lover of dogs. He hoped to build a house for himself one day that would have enough space for a dozen rescued pound mutts.

One day his oldest friend, Bobby Dawson, called him and announced that he had just gotten engaged to Melody, a wonderful woman with a unique sense of humor. He cited as "unbelievably funny" Melody's stunt at the dinner party his parents had given for them. She had picked up a plate of Mrs. Dawson's expensive bone china, turned it over, studied it for a minute, and said: "These are really neat dishes. I'll be glad to have all of them after you pass." Bobby said he'd bring Melody over to introduce her to Uncle Craig. They wanted him to design the house they'd move to when they got married.

When Bobby and Melody knocked on Uncle Craig's door, they were greeted by Uncle Craig and by Deacon, his Border Collie. Deacon was not a cuddly dog. He was not cute. He was black, large, one-eyed, and a routine passer of gas. However, Uncle Craig found something nice to say about even the ground he pooped on.

Deacon was a frustrated canine. He was a working dog. Supposed to be herding sheep, he had to make do with people. Using a mix of nudges and gentle nips, Deacon purposefully urged Bobby and Melody towards the living room couch. If he could have talked, Deacon would no doubt have complained about Melody's Chanel No. 5; it was a perfume that rocked the room.

Seated, Melody draped herself around Bobby, updating the definition of cling, and flashed a colossal diamond ring. Uncle Craig regarded her in awe-struck silence. The lyrics of an old tune ran in front of his eyes: "Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five feet could do...."Melody was the promise of raw sex. She bulged provocatively. She was steamy couplings wrapped in a dress disguised as a bath towel.

"Well," said Uncle Craig in a voice he didn't recognize as his own, "you're the most gorgeous thing to walk into this house in a long time."

"That's true," said Melody. "I am adorable. Everybody says so. Ever heard the song, 'A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody'? That's me."

"What a sense of humor! Isn't she cute?" said Bobby.

Bobby and Uncle Craig, with Melody concentrating on adorning the room, began to discuss plans for the new house. Melody was not interested in bedrooms for future children.

"I hate kids," she said. "We're not having any. I hate dogs, too." Then she added, "Whatever happened to that ugly, smelly thing that tried to bite me when I came in?"

At that moment Deacon did just that. He was under the couch, inches away from where Melody's dangling hand played with her diamond. Deacon leaned forward and gave Melody the not-so-gentle gentle nip that would have moved sheep. Something hard fell into his mouth. Melody screamed and screamed again, at a decibel level Deacon found so appalling that he swallowed twice and the hard object was gone. But the screaming didn't stop: it got worse and worse. Deacon had swallowed Melody's ring.

Uncle Craig's reaction was immediate. He grabbed Deacon, hauled him from under the couch, and ran towards his car. "We'll talk about your house later," he said. "Right now Deacon's going to see a vet." And so they did, with Uncle Craig on the verge of tears, and Deacon comfortable, phlegmatic, and reveling in a car trip and an unexpected burst of loving concern.

Once they arrived, Deacon was examined by the veterinarian, who produced a small hand-rake. "You'll need this," he said. "The ring ought to come out in the next couple of weeks. If it doesn't, then it's gone for good but you'll own the most valuable dog in Pennsylvania."

It was a month after what Uncle Craig had started to call "the unfortunate little incident" before Melody's ring saw the light of day and could be taken to a jeweler for what was called a Total Sanitary Clean. After that Uncle Craig met Bobby and Melody again. This time Deacon, happily chewing a beef bone upstairs on Uncle Craig's bed, was not included. Appropriately, it was Valentine’s Day. Uncle Craig got the ring out of its presentation box and tried to give it to Melody.

"Here you are," he said. "Here's your ring just as good as new and even more shiny and attractive now that it's all cleaned up."

Melody gave it a withering look. "Yuck," she said. "That's disgusting. It's had pooh on it and I'm not taking it back. Bobby," she demanded, "throw it away, or give it away. Get rid of it and buy me a bigger ring, a better ring. Go down to that jewelry store and buy me the most expensive ring they've got."

She paused for a second, looked at Uncle Craig, and said, "I want this friend of yours, this so-called architect, fired. I'm not living in any house designed by a man with a dog who bites people and eats diamonds. That's a dangerous beast. I want Craig fired and, Bobby, after you get my new ring, I want you to get someone to come over here and shoot that dog."

"Nobody's shooting Deacon," said Uncle Craig.

"Bobby will do it for me, won't you, Bobby?" said Melody. "I'll even say pretty please on sugar, and," she added, "I'll give you one of my special kisses when he's dead."

"No," said Bobby in a low, hard voice. "There's not going to be a new ring and nobody's hurting Craig's dog. I don't know where you're going, Melody, but I'm leaving here and I'm leaving you."




A few years later Bobby married Sue Ann Friendly. Uncle Craig was his best man. Sue Ann wouldn't accept Bobby's proposal until he'd promised to adopt six rescue dogs from the SPCA. They'd be best friends for the four kids she was also planning on having.

Uncle Craig found great joy when he got to sit down and design a house big enough for an army of canines and kids. Deacon liked the blueprints so much he didn't even try to eat them.

  Melody married, exhausted, and buried four husbands, all multi- millionaires. When the last one died, she was the seventh richest woman in the United States. Tony Bennett came to all her weddings and sang her signature song. While looking for her fifth husband, Melody started a nation-wide birth-control franchise. Her motto was:

Want to Chill

And Get a Thrill

Better Buy Our Pill



First English Printing Press

Randy Bittle


My childhood imagination gobbled up the derring-do exploits in Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers.”  I also fed my young mind with the chivalric adventures of King Arthur and stories about the Knights of the Round Table.  Recently I sought to rejuvenate my aging mind by rereading these wonderful works of literature.  Both were found at Amazon, in digital format for the Kindle, for 99 cents apiece.  Having thoroughly enjoyed “The Three Musketeers,” I am now beginning to read the King Arthur tales.

This collection of stories about Arthur and the Knights is adapted and modernized from the original version printed in the late 1400’s by William Caxton, who obtained and revised the stories following initial editor Sir Thomas Malory’s death.  Caxton’s preface, which credited Malory for his work, is included in my Kindle edition giving an air of authenticity to the collection.  A glossary is also included to help with some of the antiquated words.  I studied Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in Middle English when I was in college and find it enchanting to read this version of the Arthurian stories.

Fascinated with the style and information in Caxton’s preface, I looked him up on Wikipedia.  He was the first to bring the printing press to England, setting up his model near Westminster, in London, in 1476.  The first work known to be printed by him was Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”  He translated several works into English and began a trend early on to print and distribute books in English vernacular.  At a time when Latin was the prevalent written language of educated people across Europe, approximately 80 percent of Caxton’s books were printed in English.  He was supported, but not dependent on, members of the English nobility and gentry.

William Caxton set a precedent in English printing that 125 years later led to William Shakespeare’s classic dramatic works and the King James Bible.  Once begun, written English flourished.  In the 1700’s, it was the predominate language used in newspapers throughout Britain and the American colonies.  Today, 525 years after the first English printing press, modernized selections from Caxton’s initial printing of the “Canterbury Tales” are often required reading in high school and college.  I am looking forward to reading about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, especially with my increased awareness of the earliest printing of the collection.



Sybil Austin Skakle


My granddaughter came to bring her dog to be cared for while she went to her college orientation. I offered her refreshment and she chose water.

“I’m trying to drink more water,” she said.

“That’s good!” I replied.

When she asked if I wanted to sit in the kitchen or the living room, I was pleased we were going to have a visit. Usually she is eager to be off, to find friends her age. I have lived and observed life with more than casual interest for 86 years and know that the young live their lives insulated by their youth.

She shared with me about her summer work, and we are both aware of the gulf of years that divide us. There was not the bubbling over to tell me everything. And I did not know how to promote that freedom for her. In a short while, she began to look at her iPhone and said, “You go on talking.”

That electronic device in her hand has more hold on her life than I do. She does not understand my reluctance to intrude on her iPhone involvement. To me it seems rude to interrupt. I wait.

Too soon she says, “I have to go. I am meeting a friend at 12 noon.”

“Boy or girl, “I asked.

“Girl,” she said, “but she has a brother, who is a friend of mine too.”

So, what will they talk about, I wondered.

I have the experience to understand that she tried to be generous and to give her time to me in exchange for my care of her dog. She is a loving young woman, but age separates us. She does not know I want her to enjoy her visit, not as an obligation, but as a privilege of love. When years finally enable her to understand, I may not be here. That is how it is. I remember my own uninformed attitudes toward my older relatives when I was even older than she.  They were nothing of which I might brag. It was their giving and my accepting their generosity of hospitality.

When we went to visit my mother after my father died, I spent most of my time, not visiting with her, but benefiting from her provision for me and those with me.  Later, I did what I thought would help her, like extra cleaning and cooking. For the larger part of the time I was involved with doing what I wanted to do with my own family.

Fast forward, we did not expect her life to end so soon for her genes leaned toward long life. Cancer of the liver changed that expectation. Finally, when I visited, instead of cleaning the house during the precious hours I spent with her, I took her in my car and as women together we went visiting. This is what she wanted more than clean floors.

Too late, I realized that my insistence on cleaning her house was a criticism. She wanted to be with me, as I want to be with my granddaughter, as friends, enjoying our time together. Too late we become wise!




Marry Williamson


My grandfather was born in Leiden in the Netherlands in 1885. The family moved to Haarlem in 1890. Money was tight or non-existent. He had no education beyond the age of eleven. Yet somehow he managed from these humble beginnings to improve his life.  He worked in a publishing firm and having started as an errand boy in the print shop worked his way up through the company by educating himself, attending evening classes in accountancy. From the print shop he progressed to bookkeeper, cashier, and chief accountant finishing his career as Company Secretary. He lifted his family from working class to middle class but never forgot his humble beginnings. He stayed a staunch Labour supporter all his life and played a role in setting up the Printers Union in Haarlem, helping out of work print workers.

The following story is a translation from his own journal about his early life and boyhood.



Well, it was in pieces. Nobody knew exactly how it happened or whose fault it was but there it lay. In the dirt. The cart had tipped over and the expensive Japanese dinner service was broken and the boy knew that he was in for it, no matter who actually upended the cart. At eleven he was the youngest and very expendable. While one man started to pick the pieces off the road and straighten out the cart and the older man went to break the happy news to the lady who was expecting the nice new dinner service the boy made his desolate way from the affluent suburb back to town. His boss was sure to be very angry and his parents were sure to be angrier still.

Well, it was as he had expected, the boss was beside himself, cuffed him round each earhole and worse still, sacked him and no pay either for the 4 days already worked.

“Bugger off, you useless sod and never darken this doorway again”.

Now what? He dared not go home and face his parents. No job and no money. His parents would not just be very angry, they would kill him! 

His father was in and out of work, mostly out and they were desperately poor. He had been made to work one way or another since he was six. Helping a baker with the bread, deliveries early in the morning before school and for a newsagent after school delivering the evening papers. For five years his days had been work, school, work, sleep. When he was eleven his parents decided he ought to contribute properly to the family budget, took him out of school and found a job for him with an importer of oriental goods.

So this is how he came to be on the road with the men, the cart and the dinner service and now jobless. He roamed the streets, too scared to go home and face his parents, feeling utterly lost, alone, useless and very, very sorry for himself. But fate intervened in the guise of a piece of paper stuck in the window of a tall house.

“Apprentice wanted, apply within”.

He read it twice before he twigged that here might lie his salvation and without another thought he rang the bell. It was not until he was let in and shown into a somewhat dark and dingy room that it occurred to him that he had no clue as to the nature of the business he was ‘applying within’ for. After waiting some time alternatively wanting to flee or seeing the thing through, a door in the back of the room opened and a most odd looking old man appeared. Small, crooked and smelling powerfully of tobacco.

This man looked him up and down for what seemed hours and finally said: “Well boy, so you fancy becoming an apprentice typographer?”

Typographer, what the hell was that?

The old man saw his confusion because he added: “This is print works and publishers you know”

The boy managed to nod and whisper, “Yes please”. 

He did not feel very at ease with this odd little man but a job is a job, the pay mentioned was all right, it was hopefully going to lead to a skill even if he did not know exactly what and above everything else it would pacify his parents.



Americans tend to think us Aussies are all dumb... But at least we get our weather information from meteorologists and not groundhogs.


The Seven Doors

E. B. Alston


The Gods came to me one evening

While I slept in my recliner.

It was late.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“Because you seek the Truth,”

The God of Truth replied.

“And because you honor the Past,”

The God of Past events said.

“And because you are attentive to the present,”

The God of Now answered.

“Because you feel beauty in your soul,”

The God of Beauty said.

“Because you thirst for knowledge,”

The All Knowing God replied.

“And because you do not fear the Unknown,”

They all replied.

“But what do you want from me?” I asked.

“We will reveal to you what no man has seen,”

They said.

They took me to a long hallway

That stretched away as far as I could see.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“This is the Hall of Eternity,” they replied.

We stopped at a door marked “What Has Happened.”

“What is this?” I asked.

“The door to the Past,” They answered.

“Open it.”

I opened the door and saw all of history

Right before my eyes.


I wanted to stay and absorb it all

But they pulled me away.

“We waste time,” they said.

“The past cannot be changed.”  

 They took me to a door marked “Now.”

I opened it and saw a stream of events

Such as I had never imagined.

It was like a fast flowing river.

They closed the door quickly.

“You must not focus on the present,”

They said.

The next door was marked “Under Construction.”

“This is the Future,” they said.

I opened it and saw a kaleidoscope of images

Constantly changing shape.

“The future flows from the present,” they said

And closed the door.

The next door was marked “Beauty.”

I opened it while the Gods looked on smiling.

It was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen

And heard. And felt. I wanted to go inside.

But they prevented me.

“The Gods love Beauty most,” they said.

“You are not a God.”

They pushed me to a door marked “Knowledge.”

I opened it and saw all knowledge before me.

Everything. I felt blessed.

They closed it and motioned

Me to a door marked, “Truth.”

“Open it,” they said with a smile.

I opened it and saw the same thing

I saw behind the door called “Knowledge.”

The Gods laughed at me.

 “Knowledge and Truth are one,” they said. 

The last door was unmarked.

“Open it,” they said.

“What’s behind it?” I asked.

“We do not know,” they replied.

“I thought Gods knew everything,”

I said. “And I thought there was just one God.”

“We are one,” they replied.

“But we don’t know what’s behind that door.

You are unafraid. We want you to open it.”

I reached for the handle to open it.

When I looked back,

The Gods were gone.




 Unfinished Winter Poem in Quatrains

By John Burns


“‘Tis frosty out” old beaver said

To those around him gathered.

“To go out now t’would leave you dead

If the heat of it left you lathered.


You’d freeze quite stiff, and in a drift

We’d find you in the morning.

You’d not thaw, we’d be bereft.

There’s be no use in forlorning.”


Author’s note


Written in Chapel Hill, NC during the Winter of 1977. During that Winter I hiked on the frozen surface of the Eno River and froze to death living in a small apartment with no heat. As a graduate student I could not afford to run the electric baseboard heater furnished by my landlord. Fortunately, my death was never recorded and I was able to earn my degree once I thawed out.


Missing Person Report

Husband: My wife‍ is missing. She went shopping yesterday and has  not come home !
 Officer:  Age?
Husband:  I'm not sure. Somewhere between 50 and 60.  We don't do birthdays .

Officer: Height?
Husband:  I'm not sure.  A little over five-feet tall.
OFFICER : Weight?
Husband:  Don't know.  Not slim, not really fat.
OFFICER :  Color of eyes ?
Husband:  Sort of brown, I think . Never really noticed.
OFFICER :  Color of hair?
Husband: Changes a couple times a year.  Maybe dark brown now. I can't remember.
OFFICER :  What was she wearing?
Husband:  Could have been pants, or maybe a skirt or shorts.  I don't know exactly.
OFFICER :  What kind of car  did she go in?
Husband:  She went in my truck.
OFFICER :  What kind of truck was it?
Husband :  A 2017, manufactured September 16th, pearl white Ram Limited 4X4 .with 6.4l Hemi V8 engine ordered with the Ram Box bar and
fridge option, led lighting, back up and front camera, Moose hide leather heated and cooled seats, climate controlled air conditioning.
It has a custom matching white cover for the bed, Weather Tech floor mats. Trailing package with gold hitch, sunroof, DVD with full GPS
navigation, satellite radio, Cobra 75 WX ST 40-channel CB radio, six cup holders, 3 USB ports, and 4 power outlets.  I added special alloy
wheels and off-road Toyo tires.    It has custom retracting running boards and under-glow wheel well lighting.  At this point the husband
started choking up.
OFFICER :  Take it easy sir,    We'll find your truck



Repercussions or Consequences

Diana  Goldsmith


For every action there is a consequence. It's a little like an equation where both sides have to balance.

Sometimes it doesn't have to actually be something we do it can be spoken or written.

By written I also mean tweeted or emailed or even posted.

A throw- away remark can lead to a change in personality for someone who is outgoing  they may turn into a depressive full of self- loathing who only sees darkness and despair.

A spark can turn into a blaze which wrecks vegetation, wildlife, property and lives.

A chance remark can start a riot and a riot can turn into a war

Actions mean consequences

The heaviness unbalances the equilibrium


The Mathematics of Affection


I said I love you and now we are two

I said I love you more and now we are three in

I said I don't love you anymore and now the three are one

One plus one equals two

One plus one equals three!

Three take away one equals nothing


There is a  mystery to be solved

One became twelve

Twelve became  hundreds and thousands

Now millions but the end is one.


Sow a seed reap a tree

Sow a tree reap a forest


Sow a word reap a smile

Sow a smile reap a hug

Sow a hug reap a friend

Sow a friend reap a community

Sow a community reap a country


The lake is a mirror where I can see myself

The stone hits the surface and shatters my illusions

It sinks deep under but the ripples move outwards, outwards.

I am broken into a million minute pieces

I am unfulfilled dreams and desires.


Rebuild, rebuild I say

Let the ripples move inwards and join up

Am I together yet,

Let the cord of love bind us together.

I am whole again.



Pat Conroy an Acclaimed Southern Writer

By Rita Berman


In 2006 I attended some of the events in Durham at the North Carolina Festival of the Book. Durham. What I remember most is the session with Pat Conroy and Doug Marlette speaking about friendship. Conroy and Marlette, an editorial cartoonist were the best of friends. Conroy had encouraged Marlette to write his book The Bridge, about Marlette’s grandmother who had been a mill worker and union member and lived in Hillsborough, NC.  During a labor uprising in 1934 she was bayoneted by the National Guard.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, the eldest of seven children (five boys and two girls), Conroy had tapped into his own family history, acknowledging that “my own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction.”

Anyone who has read some of his eleven books, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, to name a few would agree. Conroy had a way of revealing the pain and heartache that may lurk behind a cheerful countenance.  Scenes from the 1991 movie of Prince of Tides, with Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand still linger in my mind.

Conroy was born in 1945 and died March 4, 2016, only a few months after hundreds had gathered to celebrate his 70th birthday. He ran out of time before he ran out of material.  This past year I read his Low Country Heart book, followed by his My Reading Life, and last month Our Prince of Scribes, published in 2018, in which some 80 writers shared their memories of him, stories of how he impacted their lives and encouraged their work. What a legacy. 

Cassandra King Conroy, his widow, wrote that the remembrances bear a common theme – meeting Pat, being influenced by him – each is filtered through the writer’s personal reflections, so each offers a unique perspective. A writer herself she observed that “words are so inadequate… they can’t possibly make his readers see the Pat we knew, the wonderfully warm, funny, irascible, generous man we loved so much.”

Barbra Streisand referred back to The Prince of Tides in a letter she wrote to Conroy in 2015 and said “she is always drawn to stories about transformation – love and loss- and the secrets that can destroy you until you bring them into light.”  As soon as she finished reading the book she started to visualize it as a movie. When they met later in New York she asked him to teach her how to do the Shag, a dance mentioned in the book. She was impressed with his footwork.

Royalties from Our Prince of Scribes support the Pat Conroy Literary Center and the Friends of Story River Books. The center houses a collection of Conroy memorabilia and hosts an annual literary festival.  During his lifetime Conroy was nominated for and received numerous awards. Four of his books were made into movies. 

In My Reading Life, Conroy said good writing is the hardest form of thinking. He explained it involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. 

Commenting that his mother told him she was raising him to be a “Southern writer.” He was never sure that she knew what that meant. But if you read his books you will find his sense of place is evident, his love for certain areas of Beaufort County, It was during his year on Fripp Island that he developed what he called “a Lowcountry heart.”  He said he can’t write an English sentence without breaking out in song praising the everlasting summons of these shining Sea Islands.

Shrimp boats, beaches, loggerhead turtles, horseshoe crabs, a full moon raising out of the Atlantic. These are memories he carried since 1961 when the Marine Corps orders sent his father Colonel Donald Conroy to the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., and the family went too.

For those of us who live in the South and love it, we understand and identify with Conroy’s descriptions. He was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame on March 18, 2009.



HR Tale Too Good Not to Share

Corporate Absurdity by Howard A. Goodman


A fellow contract professional who worked for the same staffing firm as I did at the time related this story by word of mouth. It was just too incredible not to memorialize here.

            Steve, a validation specialist, had been in his assignment for several months before I arrived at the client, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm. Briefly, the process of validating manufacturing hardware used in an industry as highly regulated as Pharma is exacting and requires a combination of skills that can only come with years of on-the–job experience.

            One day Steve spotted on the bulletin board outside the cafeteria postings for two permanent jobs, both very similar in description to his contract assignment. Although it was brought to his attention that the odds of an outsider being hired were not optimistic, he had in his work as a validation specialist been called upon to challenge many pieces of pharmaceutical machinery and saw this as opportunity to challenge a machine of another kind.

            Steve submitted his résumé and eventually was called for an interview with one of the recruiters in the pharmaceutical firm’s first line of resistance, its HR department. Following brief formalities, the recruiter, let’s call her Jill, informed Steve that he was being turned down for the position because he held only a two-year college degree.

            Using factual arguments of his having been in the job for several months, and having demonstrated competence to his supervisor’s complete satisfaction, Steve, amiable and articulate, pleaded an elegant case to defend his qualifications. As before, he was politely but firmly turned down.

            But the tale continues.

            Several months later Steve was perusing a copy of the newsletter the contract staffing firm we work for emails to its employees. In it, under the heading of Service Anniversary Recognition he spotted a familiar name—Jill. It turned out that Jill, the recruiter in HR who had turned him down for the permanent position, was not a direct employee of the pharmaceutical firm but rather another contractor! Steve continues to work at this firm, under the more rational umbrella of professional contracting.

            So, let’s recap. Steve had been placed into the seemingly impossible position of being simultaneously “qualified” (as a contractor), yet “unqualified” (as a prospective direct employee) for the very same position. His fate was not being determined by his supervisor, who had documented first-hand evidence of his work, but rather by the HR department. No surprise here.

            And by a person who was not an employee of the pharmaceutical firm but, like Steve, a contractor!



Samuel Johnson

A Biography by John Wain

388 pages-Hard Cover-Out of Print

Reviewed by E. B. Alston


I know many RPG readers have noticed the many one-liner quotes by Samuel Johnson that I have used in the magazine. There’s one this month, too. Johnson’s fame in my eyes is the amount of wisdom, and wry humor, he can get into one sentence.

  I read The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791) by James Boswell years ago and what I remember most is that Boswell was obviously in thrall of the great man. This book was published in1974 and it has been sitting unread on one of my many bookshelves through eleven moves. I started reading it the middle of December.

Like Johnson, Wain was educated at Oxford, but the similarities between the two men ends there. And the picture we get of Johnson, the man, is very different from the worshipful Boswell account. In Southern redneck terms, Samuel Johnson was a “piece of work!” While I realize that genius can be, and mostly is always, eccentric, the Johnson Wain describes goes way beyond anyone I have read about. None of these revelations diminish his greatness as a writer, moralist and entertainer, but, after reading this, I would hate to take a long trip with Samuel Johnson.


Gene Alston



When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. –Helen Keller


On Groundhog Day what does it mean if the groundhog sees a stupid monster?
You'll have six more weeks of stupidity!

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good. Samuel Johnson


Hammer Spade and the Four Horsemen


Part Two


The Black Horse of


Jack Kane and Clare Davis


The Third Horseman in the Book of Revelation rides a Black Horse. “And there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard the sound of a voice among four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”


The Third Horseman of the Apocalypse refers to a great famine that will take place as a result of the wars from the Second Horseman. Food will be scarce, but luxuries, such as wine and oil, will be readily available.




Chapter Four


A man in civilian clothes escorted Jack to a plain block building at Langley, Virginia, and ushered him into a sparsely furnished, windowless room. The only furniture in the room was folding chairs and tables and a red telephone on a shelf in the far corner.

Jack thought this must be a very high-priority project.

“Set your stuff anywhere,” his escort said. “Ms. Davis will arrive within the hour. The project coordinator will brief you at 11:00.”

“Where will we stay?” Jack asked.

“In the secure barracks on base.”

After the man left, Jack opened his cell phone. There was no signal. He thought it must have been because the building was electromagnetically shielded. He paced restlessly around the room a few minutes before he sat on one of the metal chairs.

He reflected on the last few months of his life. He still had a few aches from the frog poison. Much of his time in the hospital in Bogotá was a hazy memory of sleeping and hearing hushed conversations by doctors standing at his bedside. The only breaks were when Isabela visited. For the first two weeks, she had been at his bedside every morning when he woke up. He developed a lot of affection for her during those weeks. Isabela’s genuine concern showed and her smile always brightened his day. He had only a vague memory of the time she drove him to the hospital after he had been stabbed in the leg with a nail coated with golden frog poison. Clover told him that he owed his life to Isabela’s quick action.

Isabela’s presence of mind in that incident impressed Clover. Because of her decisiveness and ability to size up a situation, he assigned her to continue the search for Raúl Fuente on Hammer’s team. Jack was disappointed the day she told him she was going to Chile to work with Hammer. He missed her after she was gone. By the time she returned, he was in recovery and her visits were less frequent.

Isabela seemed different after she returned. She was still concerned about his welfare, but the affection was gone. He wondered what had happened that changed her. She told him about Lady Margot and how they had finally gotten Fuente. Jack guessed the brutality of what they had done affected Isabela. It would affect anybody, especially a sensitive, intelligent young woman like Isabela who had lived a relatively sheltered life. She talked a lot about Hammer and how much she admired him. Dave was his old self when he dropped by the hospital on his way back home. Isabela told Jack later that Quigley fired the shot that ended Raúl Fuente’s criminal career.

Jack was uneasy about this new project. What troubled him most was there seemed to be a serious lack of focus on exactly what they were supposed to do. He would rather have been assigned Hammer or Dave to work with, but Clare was good at this business. It could have been a whole lot worse. Phoebus had told him that Hammer and Dave had been pre-empted for other parts of the same case. The whole thing sounded unorganized at best, but somebody was prepared to spend a lot of money on it. Maybe it was real and the threat was severe. He had to treat it that way in any case.

The door opened and Clare came in. She sat her luggage down, rushed to Jack and hugged him. Her escort stayed a minute, as if to make sure they got along, then left and closed the door.

Clare smiled. “It is so good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Clare.”

“I heard about you getting poisoned. Are you okay?”

“I’ve almost recovered.”

She looked around the room. “Where are Hammer and Dave?”

“They’re on other assignments.”

“So it’s just me and you?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“I’m okay with it. I just hoped all of us would be together again.”

“Nope. Just me and you.”

“I hope you’re okay with me being your partner.”

“Clare, with your shooting ability, I’m proud to be working with you.”

She laughed. “You’re pretty good yourself.” She changed the subject. “I heard about Lady Fisher. Is Hammer okay?”

“He’s as good as can be expected, but that case was hard on him.”

“I hope he’ll be alright.”

Jack shrugged. “Hammer’s tough. He can take a lot.”

“How about Alonia? Does she still love him?”

“She’s telling everybody that they’re gonna get married.”

She laughed. “What does Hammer say?”

“He’s kinda tight lipped about it but I think they will.”

“What number will he be for her?”

“Twelve or thirteen, I’m not sure which.”

“Hammer’s been good for her. He’s so steady.”

“That’s what her sister said.”

“Hammer’s a handsome man. She’s not giving up anything in that department.”

“She sure seems to think so.”

“Does Alonia have any children from her earlier marriages?”

“Two, I think. Minerva said they were dead. Alonia hasn’t discussed them around me.”

“How terrible! Poor Alonia. She’s young, with her only children dead!”

“In many ways, Alonia has had a tough life.”

“I didn’t know that. I thought she came from an old-world aristocratic family with lots of money.”

“They have plenty of money, but money doesn’t keep bad things from happening to people.”

“I guess so. Even after Glei kidnapped her, Alonia is the most confident woman I know.”

“Minerva told me Alonia was kidnapped once before when she was a teenager.”

“Who kidnapped her?”

“Some soldiers found her alone on a remote mountain and thought she was a spy.”

“That’s terrible! What did they do?”

“They took her to their camp.”

“Where did it happen?”

“Somewhere in the Middle East.”

“Was she hurt?”

“No. But when the commander of the unit saw how pretty she was, he took her away from the man that captured her.”

“Why did he do that?”

“He wanted her for himself and took her to his tent.”

“To rape her! What happened?”

“Alonia slipped some kind of knockout drops into his cup of wine and he passed out on his bed. Her father and brothers came at daylight and rescued her.”

“I’m sure she was glad to see them. How did they get by the soldiers?”

“They killed them.”

“Did they kill the commander too?”

“No, her father crippled him and left him to suffer.”

“I bet he didn’t kidnap any more pretty girls.”

“Alonia’s family is one of those old-time families that gets even when folks cross them. They’re not a family you want to have mad at you.”

“Do you know them?”

“No. Just Minerva, Alonia and Phoebus. Lady Cynthia Spiller warned me about them.”

“Is she Sir Burton’s wife?”

“That’s the one, that old man on the Midnight Treader project.”

“That old man was more than equal to a lot of young men.”

“Sir Burton was our boss on the diamond smuggler case. She invited me to their mansion right before we left South Africa to ask me to warn Hammer about Alonia’s family.”

“What did she say?”

“That Alonia’s family was not a family he wanted to get crossways with.”

Clare laughed. “What did Hammer say to that?”

“He said he didn’t plan to cross them.”

Clare laughed again “That’s all he said?”

“That’s all. He hasn’t brought it up since.”

“That Hammer! Nothing rattles him. I bet his expression didn’t change when you told him.”

“Not a bit.”

“Hammer is the perfect man for Alonia.”

“Yeah, nobody’s gonna hurt her as long as he’s around.”

Two janitors entered and began to arrange the tables and chairs into a conference configuration.

“I guess we better get ready for the big briefing,” Jack said. “Maybe this thing will make more sense after they tell us what we are supposed to do.”

At eleven o’clock, the door opened and a short, gruff-looking man with heavy eyebrows entered, followed by two young women. They came to where Jack and Clare waited.

The man extended his hand to Clare first. “Martin Loflin,” he said. “Ms. Davis, I presume.”

“Yes, I am,” Clare replied.

They shook hands. Then he addressed Jack. “And you must be Mr. Kane.”

“That’s me.”

Loflin motioned to his companions. “This is Essa Mills,” he said pointing to the tall, dark-haired woman, “and Aimé Savoy,” pointing to a statuesque woman with flaming red hair. “They are my assistants.”

Loflin laid a thick manila folder on the table and motioned for Jack and Clare to take seats.

“I am your case manager and your main contact within the firm,” Loflin began. “Essa and Aimé work for me and they will take messages in case I am unavailable.”

“Your assignment is to infiltrate a wing of a group called The Four Horsemen.”

“Phoebus mentioned The Four Horsemen,” Jack said. “What kind of people are they and what are they after?”

“Their goal is to destabilize and destroy the governments of the western democracies.”

“Is it a religious organization?”

“Not as far as we know, but they will foment religious conflict to further their ends. It is an economic and political attack meant to bring down western governments.”

“Who sponsors them?”

“We are not sure. We think they are well funded. We suspect some comes from Muslim countries and China, but not necessarily the Chinese government.”

“It could be a shadow firm run by Chinese operatives,” Jack suggested.

“Exactly. But we suspect most of their funding comes from the illegal international drug trade and governments who will profit from the breakdown of western civilization. We have evidence of interest by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, India, Colombia and Venezuela.”

“What about Russia?” Clare asked.

“Russia would like nothing better than the collapse of the West, but they don’t have the resources.”

“So they’re cheering from the sidelines,” Jack observed.

“Officially, they know nothing of the group.” Loflin paused. “You two are assigned to infiltrate The Black Horseman organization.”

“Famine?” Clare interjected.

“Yes, the biblical Third Horseman, who rides a black horse.”

“What are they trying to do?” Jack asked.

“We don’t know. Your job is to find out.”

“It sounds like a disruption of world food supplies,” Clare suggested.

“Maybe,” Loflin agreed. There was a knock on the door. “Lunch has arrived.” 

Essa rose, went to the door and let a man pushing a cart enter the room. He laid out sandwiches, salads, soft drinks and coffee on a table in the corner before he left.

“Let’s eat while it’s warm and fresh,” Loflin suggested.

Jack and the rest rose and went to the table where they selected what they wanted to eat.

Essa and Aimé chose a separate table because they wanted to get to know Clare. Loflin and Jack resumed their places at the conference table.

“We heard that you’ve been to Russia,” Aimé said to Clare.

“Yes, I have,” Clare replied.

“Were you working—on a case?” Essa asked.

“It wasn’t business,” Clare replied. “I was visiting a friend.”

“Was the friend a Russian?” Aimé asked.

“Yes,” Clare replied.

“Was it a man?” Aimé wanted to know.


“I think Russian men are very intriguing,” Aimé said. “Was he your boyfriend?”

“Yes, he was.”

“How very exciting!” Aimé exclaimed. “Will you two get married?”

“I doubt it,” Clare replied.

“Why not?” Essa asked.

“I wouldn’t live in Russia and he doesn’t want to live in the United States.”

“Oh!” Aimé exclaimed. “I sooooo admire your independence of spirit.”

“It has its drawbacks,” Clare replied dryly.

“I suppose so,” Essa agreed. “Where are you from?”

“North Carolina.”

“Which part?”

“I lived in Raleigh until my mother was killed. Then I moved in with my grandparents who live near Boone.”

“Where was your father?” Aimé asked.

“My mother was a single mom.”

“You are so self-assured. She must have been a remarkable mother.”

“She was very remarkable.”

“What happened to her?” Essa asked.

“She was an undercover agent. She was killed in a drug bust that went bad.”

“How old were you when she died?” Aimé asked.


“How sad. Do you know who your father is?” Essa asked.

“Mother never told me who he was,” Clare replied. “But Jack located him a couple of years ago. My father didn’t know about me.”

“Have you met him?” Aimé wanted to know.


“What is he like?” Essa asked.

“He is a wonderful man.”

“Is he an agent of some sort?” Essa asked.

“He was on a temporary undercover assignment with my mother. He’s an executive at a large company.”

“Is he married?” Aimé asked.


“Have you met his wife?” Essa asked.

“Yes. His wife was very nice to me.”

“Do you have brothers and sisters?” Essa asked.

“Four. They were nice to me too.”

Aimé laughed, “Five kids! Your father is quite a guy. When did you see them last?”

“They invited me to their home for Christmas.”

“That is so sweet!” Aimé exclaimed.

“I am very proud to be my father’s daughter,” Clare said quietly. Why were they so curious about her? Maybe it was because they never got to do anything themselves.

Loflin interrupted their discussion. “We’ve got work to do, ladies,” he said gruffly.

Loflin passed two large document boxes to Jack and Clare.

“These files contain everything we know about the group you are to infiltrate. They also contain documentation for the identities you are to use while you are on this project. Ms. Davis, you are to dye your hair black and style it to match the photo on your new passport. Mr. Kane, grow a mustache to match your photo. Since you will be leaving in a few days, in case someone notices its absence, you can say you shaved it off.

“Mr. Kane, your alias will be Cecil Council, Jr. and Ms. Davis will be your wife, Cornelia.” Clare thought that was very funny.

“Where in heck did you come up with these names?” Jack asked.

“The department chose names of deceased people who were in the agricultural field. Both of you will pose as agronomists, a husband and wife team whose specialty is genetic mutation of cereal plants. Your names have been slightly altered to prevent an internet search revealing that you died a hundred years ago.

“We have manufactured a life history that supports your aliases. It has been posted on Wikipedia and both of you have personal Facebook sites. Your history indicates that you are fringe academics who favor all the trendy leftist causes, including population control and PETA memberships with a record of financial support for these causes. You are anti-war pacifists and one-world exponents.”

Clare laughed. “Did you choose us because we are the exact opposites of Cornelia and Cecil?”

“We wanted to be sure the people you meet will not influence you, no matter how persuasive their arguments are. The Four Horsemen are sincere people who believe they are saving mankind.”

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Jack said.

“Mr. Delius, with whom you are well acquainted, recommended you and Ms. Davis to us. We have knowledge of some of your exploits, Mr. Kane, and we believe you are the best man available for this assignment. Because you are well-grounded and confident of your personal self and your ideals, you will be able to play the part while retaining the street smarts edge that your experience and training has provided.”

“Will we be armed?” Clare asked.

“Yes,” Loflin replied. “But you must carry weapons we furnish because the firearms in your possession must be untraceable.”

“Then we’ll have to practice,” Jack said.

“There’s no time for that. Our gunsmiths will convert our guns to duplicates of yours. We asked that you bring them with you.”

“I brought mine,” Jack replied. Clare nodded that she did the same.

Loflin gave them a long lecture on the organization they were supposed to infiltrate, that it had been forming the past eighteen months and they were planning an organizational meeting in the near future at an unknown location. He told them that Essa and Aimé had been in contact with them on Facebook and email posing as Cornelia. It was at a point where Cecil and Cornelia were all but charter members of the Black Horse Group responsible for producing catastrophic food shortages in the western democracies.

“These people are serious nutcases,” Aimé interjected.

“They are nonetheless threats to western civilization,” Loflin added grimly.

By now, it was after dark. Loflin looked at the clock. “We’ll call it a day. Give me your weapons. I’ll take them to our armorer so he can get started right away.”

When Clare handed Loflin her pistol, he studied it for a moment after he saw the engraving on the slide that read, Benjamin Trask, Col. USMC. “Clare, where did you obtain this pistol?”

“It was my mother’s.”

“Where did she get it?” Loflin asked with a trace of suspicion in his voice.

“In the late 1960s, when she was on special assignment in the Camp Lejeune area.”

“This is a military issue firearm.”

“I knew it was,” Clare replied.

“Do you know how your mother came to possess a personalized match grade service pistol?”


Loflin dropped the magazine of the 1911A1 Colt and made sure the gun was empty. Then he cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. He grinned. “Excellent.” Then he held it by the barrel with his left hand and pushed the slide back a half-inch with his left thumb. “A top notch armorer built this pistol. It is very accurate.”

“They say my mother could shoot the ashes off a cigarette with it,” Clare said.

“Can you?” Loflin asked.

Jack interjected, “Yeah, she can.”

“I must know how your mother came to possess this weapon,” Loflin said.

“I’ve told you all I know about it. The agency gave it to me after my mother died,” Clare replied.

“I know how she got it,” Jack said.


“Clare’s father was on an undercover drug case with her mother. The gang had killed four previous undercover agents before they sent her dad and mom in. It turned out that the gang leader was a Marine Colonel who was killed by Clare’s dad in a shootout. Her mom had lost her issue pistol earlier in the fight and her dad gave this pistol to her mom. Clare’s mom liked the pistol and kept it.”

“Can this be verified?” Loflin asked.

“It was a top secret operation. The records are sealed. This happened almost forty years ago. I doubt if they would let you see them if they could be found.”

Loflin looked away while he thought. Then he turned to Clare. “I will assume that you are the legal owner of this pistol. I will forbid any investigation as to how it came into your mother’s possession and I will make sure it is returned to you in its present condition.”

“Thank you,” Clare replied.

“In a few minutes an agent will come and escort you to your quarters.” Loflin then turned on his heel and left the room followed by his two assistants.

“Strange guy,” Clare observed.

“You meet a lot of strange people in this business,” Jack replied.

“How do you know so much about my mom’s pistol?”

“Your dad told me all about it.”

A woman in a guard uniform entered the room. “I’ll take you to your quarters,” she said.



Clare and Jack ate breakfast in a cafeteria on the bottom floor of the barracks.

“Did you sleep well?” Jack asked.

“Yes, but my room is the plainest room I have ever slept in.”

“It’s better than an army barracks.”

“You were in the army, weren’t you?”


“Army barracks were as plain as this?”

“This is fancy compared to what we had.”

Clare laughed. “I’m not sure I believe you, Jack.”

After breakfast, they waited in the dayroom for their escort to take them to the conference room. Jack was reading a newspaper when the uniformed guard came to get them.

Loflin greeted them curtly when he and his two assistants arrived at eight. They brought a laptop and viewer with them. He took his place at the head of the table. Aimé pulled a screen down on the wall opposite the chalkboard and launched a two-hour audio-visual tour of the espionage world into which Clare and Jack must infiltrate. After a break they watched training films of different situations they might encounter on their assignment. After lunch, Loflin reviewed every piece of paper in the file boxes they had been issued. Thus ended their second day.

Before Loflin left, he told them the briefing would be completed tomorrow and they would leave for Perth, Australia, next week.



When Loflin arrived the next morning, he brought another laptop computer, their pistols and two more pistols.

When he handed Clare her pistol, he said, “The armorer didn’t have time to make its substitute equal to yours but it’s as close as he could make it in the time he had.” Then he handed Clare another 1911A1 Colt.

“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Clare replied.

He then handed Jack his 45 and its substitute.

Aimé opened the laptop computer and proceeded to show Jack and Clare which programs were on it and the passwords that connected this computer to Loflin’s special CIA network assigned to this case.

Then they were issued credit cards and cell phones with GPS capable of sending and receiving encrypted messages.

By this time it was noon and they had another wheeled-in lunch.

Loflin had to leave but Aimé and Essa stayed and visited with Clare. Jack sat alone, wondering when they would know what they were supposed to do.



Loflin returned at two p.m. “You two will depart next Tuesday for Perth, Australia, where you will take rooms at the Mounts Bay Waters Apartment Hotel, 112 Mounts Bay Road, Perth 6000. On Thursday at eleven a.m., you will meet a man whose name is Swede Fox in the hotel lobby and another man named Thaddeus F. Wasielewski. Fox is the head honcho of the Black Horseman sub-group.

“You must convincingly act the parts of your alias identities. We know their goal is to reduce the world’s food supply and access to potable water. You will have to familiarize yourselves with the agricultural information we provided you. We don’t know what they have in mind. It is your job to figure that out, and, if possible, become a member of their team. We believe you two will be able to pull this off. It would be good if you became members of their inner circle. We think a man with a name like ‘Swede’ might be impressed by ‘Cornelia’ here with her good looks, her confident manner and no-nonsense attitude.”

He paused. “The United States government expects you two to be good actors. The future of the world is in your hands. Check in with one of us every day.”

Then Loflin shook their hands, bade them Godspeed, gathered up his papers and left the room followed by Aimé and Essa.


Continued Next Month



Two Hunting Stories

E. B. Alston


Bird Dog Humor


            Every bird dog, actually every dog, has a distinct personality. Some are jokesters and enjoy pulling a joke on you or another dog.

Amos was not one of them. He was all business. No frivolity there. For Amos everything was graveyard serious. This made Amos a sitting duck for Zak who took fiendish delight whenever he managed to pull something on somebody.

Zak’s favorite joke was to be hunting in front of Amos along the edge of a thicket. He would stop in front of the worst briar patch in four counties and look as if he smelled something. He didn’t point. If he had pointed, Amos would have honored his point. Zak just tried to look as if he was about ready to point. Amos would see him and rush to where he was so he could find the birds first. When Zak saw Amos coming, he’d look as if he was ready to sail into that briar thicket. Amos would rush past him and hit the briars wide open. Then Zak would trot off. A few minutes later, Amos would emerge, briar-torn with his tongue and ears bleeding, without having found birds. Zak was somewhere else having himself a big laugh at Amos’s expense. During hunting season, Zak would pull this on Amos once or twice a week.

When I hunted with Amos I carried hard candy because he suffered from low blood sugar. He learned that sugar made him feel better and when he felt an attack coming on, he’d stop in front of me and show me his eyes so I could see that he needed a candy drop.

One late summer day, Zak was roaming somewhere and came into the yard carrying an over-ripe pear in his mouth. I believe he brought it to torment Amos. Zak paraded in front of Amos to show him the pear. Amos wanted that pear! Zak would lay it on the ground a few feet from Amos and act as if he was uninterested until Amos made a move for the pear. Then Zak snatched it up and dashed off with it in his mouth. He played this game until Amos got mad. Then he laid it on the ground in front of Amos, giving it to him.

On one memorable day, C. V. Conner and I were hunting near Pantego, North Carolina, with Zak and Amos. It was Zak’s first season. He was a teenager feeling his oats. He loved to hunt and knew he was good at it. Amos was methodically hunting in a thicket when Zak found a covey at the edge of a narrow canal and pointed. Amos was still in the thicket, so we flushed the birds and C. V. got one. It fell on the other side of the canal. Zak sailed into the water, retrieved the bird in classic fashion, swam back across the canal, trotted up to C. V., sat on his haunches and ate C. V.’s quail.

C. V. was indignant. “What are you going to do about that?”

“Nothing,” I replied.

“Why not?” C. V. wanted to know.

“It wasn’t my bird,” I replied.

C. V. grumbled about my prima-donna bird dog.

A few minutes later Zak pointed a single and I got him. When Zak brought me the bird, the feathers were barely ruffled. C. V. got indignant all over again and said he hoped Amos found the next one he shot.

Amos was a linear thinker. If he and Zak were hunting together when I whistled them to come, Amos came to me straight as an arrow through thickets and god-awful briars. Zak came the circular route by the trail. He always got to me first.

Amos was the most careful dog I ever owned. He tried his best not to flush a quail and got upset when he did. Gillis Alston and I had finished hunting a field and were loading up to go somewhere else. Amos was hunting a honeysuckle thicket in his usual thorough fashion and didn’t come when I called. He was concentrating so hard, he apparently didn’t hear the whistle either. I got mad and picked up a switch, went to him and whacked him. He thought he had accidentally flushed a bird and hunted like a vacuum cleaner all the way to the truck while I followed. 

Gillis asked me, “Don’t you feel ashamed of yourself?”

I felt lower than whale manure.

In his fashion, Amos pulled one off on my daughter’s Brittany spaniel named Max. Max thought he was the world’s greatest tennis ball retriever. I would bat balls, using an old tennis racquet, for him and Zak to catch and retrieve. Amos was usually on another mission, but he would participate sometimes.

I batted a high fly ball and Max had it lined up and was sitting on the ground with his mouth open to receive the ball. Amos was passing by at a hard gallop, saw the tennis ball descending, took a flying leap and caught the ball in mid-air a few feet off the ground. With his head elevated and his mouth open, Max didn’t see Amos snatch the ball from the sky. When Max realized that he ought to have caught the ball by then, he looked around mystified wondering what had happened. Then he saw Amos trotting towards me carrying his ball.


How My Bird Dog Made Me Look Foolish


Trinity United Methodist Church on Goshen Road northwest of Berea, North Carolina, used to have a hunter’s lunch on the opening day of quail season, which was also the first Saturday of deer season. They may still have it but since I quit bird hunting, I’m not around to partake.

They put out a fantastic country-style feast that hundreds of hunters came to enjoy. The church grounds were full of pickups. The ladies who took my money always remembered me because I bought plates for my bird dogs.

My dog team on this day was Zak and Amos. My hunting partners were C. V. Conner and Tom Pierson. Tom likes to eat and he gave a good account of himself at the lunch.

Tom admired the way Zak methodically quartered a big soybean fields in a way that maximized coverage and minimized effort. If he didn’t find quail, Zak made his way back to the pickup so we could go to another field. Tom was a telephone company engineer and understood the importance of analysis. He said Zak was smart enough to work at the phone company.

Zak was one of three bird dogs that I owned that hunted thoughtfully in an organized fashion. Buckley and Fred were the others. You walk a lot less when you have dogs like them. They would hunt a big field while I stood beside the pickup. If they found birds, they pointed and held them until we got there. If they didn’t find anything, they came back to the truck. We loaded up and moved to the next field.

One time on a sweep like this, Buckley held a covey so long that the quail had forgotten he was there and they had started to move about. He was in heavy cover and we had to use another dog to locate him. When we finally walked up, he looked at me as if to say, “Where in Hades have you been?”

These dogs were aware of time and they made sure you saw them about every four minutes. If they were out of sight more than their cycle, you could be sure they were on birds. Then you went looking for them. It is a pleasure to hunt behind dogs like that.

My friend, Randy Guthrie, had one that would break point, come find us and lead us to where the birds were. But the most remarkable thing I saw him do was when we had a covey running ahead of us. His dog broke point and ran in a big circle to where he blocked the running quail. Dogs like that are born. There is no way a man could teach a dog how to do that.

Anyway, on this day, we had done pretty well that morning. Following that big lunch we were full up. It was a brisk afternoon but the sun was out and, with our hunting clothes on, it was balmy out of the wind.

We planned to hunt a field close to the church next and on the way, we passed an inviting, wide, sunlit, grassy road shoulder that looked like a good place to rest and digest our lunch. I parked on the shoulder and let the dogs out. All of us lay down in that warm sun and went to sleep.

Passing cars blowing their horns woke me up. One passed about the time I sat up and a grinning woman pointed towards the edge of the thicket. I turned around and looked. There was Amos, locked up in a rock-solid point. There is no telling how long Amos had been pointing while strangers rode by and saw us sleeping. Zak, Tom and C. V. were still asleep. I woke them up. Zak went straight to Amos and backed him in another rock-solid point. We quietly got our shotguns and loaded up. When I flushed the biggest covey we had seen all day, we got a measly two birds. Amos gave me a look as if to say, “I stood here all that time for you to get just TWO BIRDS!”

At least the passersby had something to laugh about.  They probably still laugh every time they remember it.


These stories first appeared in Topsail Island Info. They are also in my book of short stories called Telling It Like It Was.



The News from Moccasin Gap*

Brad Carver

Column February 2009


            I went to visit the only doctor in Moccasin Gap the other day. He’s the same doctor who delivered me years ago. And every time he sees me he says the same thing, “There’s got to be a way to put him back.”

http://www.unc.edu/~jlallen/portfold/photog2/porch.jpg            I don’t know why he feels that way. I haven’t done anything to him other than call him a Nazi with a tongue depressor. That’s not so bad, is it?

            He’s an old fashioned doctor, too, knows nothing about modern medicine. He prescribes the same medication for everything – Valium. Got a headache, take Valium, bad nerves, Valium, bad skin, Valium PH.

            I went to him one time for jock itch. I still had it when I left, but I didn’t care. I actually enjoyed scratching for a change.

            I’m going back to see him again next week Scratching is so much fun thanks to Dr. Feelgood.

            I also went to see the only dentist in town Dr. Fillum. He’s the only dentist I know who has false teeth. Let this be a lesson boys and girls, never trust a dentist with false teeth. And never take your car to a mechanic who walks to work. Not good.

            I don’t understand dentists. They open your mouth as wide as it will go, they stick both hands and instruments in there, and then they start asking you questions.

            It doesn’t matter what my answer is, it’s not going to make any sense; his hands are in my mouth. Yet he acts like he understands me.

            He comes at me with a needle the size of a caulking gun, tells me to open wide and relax. How can I relax when he’s shoving a caulking gun into the roof of my mouth? Pain is not relaxing.

            And you know the little suction thing that dentists hang on the side of your mouth so suck out the blood and spit? My dentist doesn’t have one. He uses an Oreck vacuum cleaner. He says it saves him money.

            Save money or not, it will suck your face clean off your head.

            My dentist’s assistant, Nurse Ratchet has no bedside manners at all. Every time I squirm she hits me in the head with a metal thong. Every time I tell her I have to spit she hands me a spittoon. That’s not the kind of spitting I’m talking about.

            I think I’m going to a different dentist next time. But I’m going to the same doctor as long as he prescribes Valium.

            I guess that’s what everyone in Moccasin Gap is so laid back. They’re all on Valium, thanks to Doctor Feelgood. (* Moccasin Gap is the original name of Roxboro)



Fun Facts and Interesting Trivia about Groundhogs

groundhog b-w.jpg

The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. Groundhogs are covered with coarse grayish hairs tipped with brown or sometimes dull red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are surprisingly quick. Their jaws are exceptionally strong. The groundhog’s diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves. A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they begin courting. Insects do not bother groundhogs and germs leave them alone. They are resistant to the plagues that periodically wipe out large numbers of wild animals. One reason for this is their cleanliness. Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is actually a deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops. Young Groundhogs are usually born in mid-April or May, and by July they are able to go out on their own. The size of the litter is 4 to 9. A baby groundhog is called a kit or a cub. A groundhog's life span is normally 6 to 8 years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him 7 more years of life.


The Art of Writing

E. B Alston


A four-part story, Twilight for the Gods that I began in the January issue caused me to think about how my stories are developed. This is the first time I have applied any analysis to my writing process. I think this story is my best work.

Some of my writings are autobiographical. These are very easy to put together. I had a lot of experience using written instructions at the phone company. I used written instructions in order to do my job. I know of no more thorough documentation than telephone company technical documentation. In the section describing the ordinary single-line desk telephone there is the following piece of information: “The bells are installed in the telephone to alert the customer that they are wanted on the line.”  These instructions are so well and efficiently written that anybody who can read and use basic tools can install a telephone central office, or a long distance cable line. I liked that.

When I was on staff, I had to investigate and write instructions like that on new equipment and network systems. What it was for, how to buy it, how to install, test it and maintain it. We had technical review committees who were to examine and approve these documents. There is no editorial review group anywhere that sets harsher standards. Rightfully so because a minor typo could cause a tech in North Dakota to make a change that knocked down the national network.

I still write like this.

When I get an idea for a story, the first thing I do is either write the last scene or, in the case of short stories, have the ending firmly in my mind. This serves several purposes. It keeps me focused on the storyline plus, the ending will seem logical no matter how many twists and turns the story takes. My theory is that realistic scenes have to be based on real life.

My first book was a story set on a telephone company line crew with the drama and soap opera stuff added. Truthfully, line work is a pretty dull subject. Although the names were changed, the characters were based on real people. When I wrote a scene with one of the characters, I thought of their real life model; the way they looked, talked and personalities, good or bad. There are folks alive today in Jacksonville, NC who will remember some of the scenes and dialog. Some are in that story under another name.

Most of my personal reading has been about history and philosophy. I have no idea how many books I have read but from my army days until being promoted to management (about 15 years), I averaged reading two books a week. Fort Bragg had a magnificent library.

I get ideas for stories from what I have read.  One example could be Hammer Spade and the Ring of Fire. The opening scene is from the Old Testament. The theft of the ring from the Hermitage Museum in Russia is based on online research about the museum. (I sent a copy of the book to the museum and the director wrote me a nice letter.) I paid an ancient languages professor in California $190.00 to translate the cuneiform inscription on the ring. The trip to the Oracle at Delphi is based on a scene in the Iliad. The conversation with the tribal chief in Somalia is based on a historical scene in Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant. The scenes in Greece are based the works of historian Michael Grant.

Now, let me get to what I wanted to say about Twilight for the Gods. This story is an almost verbatim historical account of an incident in one of the Balkan countries in the last months of World War II. I changed the names and moved it to South America, where the politics are just as nasty as Nazi Germany. Plus, I updated the narrative to today’s world. There were no Cessna King Airs in World War II.

There are two scenes in this story that are editorially untouched, except for place and names. One is when Allen ends up sleeping in the same bed with the main character, Cristina. This scene will be in the March issue. No writer could invent their conversation the next morning. The other is the balcony scene in part four. No writer, no matter how talented, could invent that actual historical scene.

Real-life the scenes make better stories.



First Impressions

Tim Whealton


I noticed my nearly childhood memories have become more a collection of events than a continuous story. Strange the things that stay in memory. I remember my sister telling me there were snakes under my bed. Shooting my first bird with my BB gun. Water in our front yard during a hurricane. Maybe the funniest is my Aunt coming back to my room to change clothes and telling whoever was with her “No, he is too young to ever remember seeing this”. I always liked her.

All those memories were before I turned six. I know that because we moved the summer I turned six to a house on the river. My Pop opened Whealton’s Marine Service and we needed to be on the water. His shop was beside the house. I had my new best friend Jim living next door and life was good. Both our Moms stayed at home and my Pop was there in the shop so we were never far from management.

We could stay outside all day or go in and out of each other’s houses if we didn’t have school. We were not allowed to go past the water’s edge or across any street. We were cautioned daily to look where we stepped for snakes and to never reach into anything outside that might have a Black Widow spider in it. We made toys and played Army with pine cones for hand grenades.

One day that first summer we started down to the water to catch minnows. Neuse River was a spawning area for sturgeons and there were always plenty to keep us entertained. We were told to stay away from the edge around the boat house because it was deep enough to drown. Well that didn’t mean we couldn’t go close enough to find minnows so we crawled up to the edge. We had to be careful because if we didn’t drown we would be given a lesson of correction that would leave lasting impressions on the backs of our legs (it was before time out was invented!).

 As I slid forward to look for minnows my eye caught movement overhead. I froze when I realized it was a huge snake. I don’t know what kind but it was brown and tan in color and had a thick body. Jim saw him too and we jumped up and ran while looking back to see if the snake was chasing us. We ran to Pop’s shop to get him to save us from the serpent but the shop was locked and the car was gone. He must have gone to get parts I reasoned. We ran to my house to tell Mama but the front door was closed so she must have gone with Pop. I remember that feeling of being defenseless. I still hate that feeling.

There was only one place left, Jim’s house. His Dad worked and wouldn’t be home till supper but maybe his Mom would know someone to call or maybe just hide us till someone could make our world safe. She was sitting in her back room shelling butter beans when we burst in the back door screaming SNAKE! She calmly got up and put her beans in the kitchen before she asked where the snake was. I expected her to be as scared as we were but she calmly stepped in her shoes and reached behind the back door for a rifle. I had seen Pop shoot a snake with the shotgun so the 22 rifle looked a little puny for that huge snake.

She made us get behind her as we walked to the river shore. As we walked she talked about being safe with guns and how we were never to touch without permission and never point one unloaded or not at another person. When we were around 30 yards or so from the boat house we stopped and the big snake was still there. She told us to freeze and we did.

She walked forward a few more steps and worked the bolt on the little rifle. I remember hearing the safety go forward after the gun was on her shoulder. She held it a little odd, her left hand was pulled closer to the receiver. After what seemed like forever the rifle cracked and part of the snakes head flew off. The snake fell on the edge and rolled on his back. He was dead but still moving. She unloaded the rifle and headed back to finish supper after she reminded us to be careful.

It would be years later before I could appreciate how well she handled the rifle, snake, and us. After I became a shooter I found out she had shot in competitions and excelled. Like a true champion she never bragged about what she could do, she just did it when the time came. That seemed to be a quality that was shared in those days.

Her rifle was a Winchester model 69. Hers was equipped with a Redfield receiver sight on the back and a regular post on the front. My personal guns have to have special meaning to get a place in my safe. A few days ago I got chance to get an old Winchester 69. I already had the sight and now it will be a spring project during my last semester teaching gunsmithing. I plan to restore it and make it just like the first rifle that ever impressed me. Hopefully it will end up in someone’s hands that appreciate what it can do in good hands.


From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza


Valentine's Day Caramels



Valentine's Day Caramels.jpg12 ounces chocolate- and/or vanilla-flavor candy coating*, coarsely chopped

1 cup toffee pieces, crushed; finely chopped pistachios; and/or other nuts

48 short plastic or wooden skewers (optional but I use them)

1 14 - ounce package vanilla caramels (about 48), unwrapped

2 ounces chocolate- and/or vanilla-flavor candy coating*, coarsely chopped (optional)



In a microwave-safe 4-cup measure, place the 12 ounces candy coating. Microwave on 100% power (high) for 3 minutes or just until melted, stirring every 30 seconds.

Place toffee pieces, nuts, and/or nonpareils in a shallow dish. If desired, insert a skewer into each caramel. Dip one caramel into melted candy coating; turn to coat as much of the caramel as desired, allowing excess coating to drip off caramel. (If not using skewers, use a fork to lift caramel out of candy coating, drawing the fork across the rim of the glass measure to remove excess coating from caramel.) Place dipped caramel in toffee pieces, nuts, and/or nonpareils, turning to coat. Place coated caramel on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Repeat with remaining caramels. Let caramels stand about 1 hour or until coating dries.

If desired, microwave 2 ounces of a contrasting color of candy coating in a microwave-safe bowl on 100% power (high) for 2 minutes or just until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Cool slightly. Transfer coating to a small, heavy plastic bag; cut a small hole in one corner of bag and drizzle additional coating over coated caramels. Let caramels stand until set. Makes 48 pieces.


Storing Them:

Layer caramels between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.


*If desired, substitute milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and/or white chocolate baking squares with cocoa butter for candy coating.


Valentine's Day Marshmallow Treats


Dress up rice cereal hearts with frosting, pretzels, peanut butter, chocolate and other flavors for Valentine's Day treats.

Valentine Marshmallow Treats.jpg


1/4 cup butter

1 10 - ounce package tiny marshmallows

1 13 - ounce jar marshmallow creme

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 cups crisp rice cereal



Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over edges of pan. Lightly butter foil; set pan aside.

In a 6- to 8-quart heavy Dutch oven melt the 1/4 cup butter over low heat. Stir in marshmallows. Cook and stir until marshmallows are melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme, vanilla, and salt until combined. Remove from heat. Add cereal to marshmallow mixture, stirring gently to coat.


Transfer cereal mixture to the prepared baking pan. Using a buttered spatula or buttered waxed paper, press mixture firmly and evenly into pan. Let stand until set.

Using the edges of the foil, lift uncut bars out of pan. Using a buttered long knife, cut into bars.

To Store: Wrap bars individually in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week.


Other Ideas:

Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallow Treats:

In a small heavy saucepan cook and stir 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate pieces and 6 ounces chocolate-flavor candy coating over low heat until melted and smooth. Cut bars as directed. Dip half of each heart into melted chocolate mixture, letting excess drip back into saucepan. Place on waxed paper. If desired, sprinkle with desired sprinkles.

Caramel-Pretzel Mallow Treats:

Carefully spread caramel-flavor ice cream topping over cereal mixture. Sprinkle with chopped pretzels.


PB&J Treats:

Carefully spread creamy peanut butter over cereal mixture. Dot with strawberry or grape jelly on top of peanut butter. Using a knife or small metal spatula, swirl the jelly into the peanut butter.

Frosting 'n Sprinkle Treats:

Spread canned vanilla frosting over cereal mixture. Sprinkle with multicolored jimmies.


Valentines Day Sugar Cookies

Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies.jpg 


1 cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

Red food coloring

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk



Beat shortening in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, vanilla, and peppermint extract until combined. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Tint and shape dough as directed for each cookie variation. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to wire racks and cool. Makes 30 cookies.


Other Ideas:

Checkerboard Hearts and Bleeding Heart Cookies:

Divide dough in half; divide one half in half again. Tint one quarter red and one quarter pink with food coloring. Wrap each portion in clear plastic wrap; freeze for 20 minutes. Divide plain potion into eight pieces. Divide each colored portion into four pieces. Roll each piece on a lightly floured surface into an 8-inch-long rope. Flatten each on four sides to form a square rope. For checkerboard design, place four ropes side by side on waxed paper, alternating colors with plain ropes. Top with four more ropes, alternating colors. Repeat two more times, forming an 8x8x2-inch dough block with a checkerboard pattern. Wrap in waxed paper and freeze 1 hour or until firm. Cut dough crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut a heart shape from each slice with a floured 2-inch heart-shape cookie cutter. Reserve scraps for Bleeding Heart Cookies. Bake as directed.


Checkerboard Hearts and Bleeding Heart Cookies:


Mix dough scraps lightly with your hands so dough looks marbled. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with floured 2-inch heart-shape cookie cutter. Bake as directed.

Inside-Out Cookies:

Divide dough into three portions. Tint one portion pink and one portion red with food coloring. Roll dough, one color at a time, on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with floured different size heart-shape cookie cutters. Using a smaller cookie cutter, cut hearts from the center of each cookie. Remove smaller hearts and interchange them so cookies have a contrasting colored heart in the center. Reroll dough scraps and repeat. Bake as directed.


New Wave Cookies:

Cover and chill dough for 2 hours or overnight. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a floured 3-inch heart-shape cookie cutter. Place cutouts about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake as directed. Transfer to wire racks and cool. Frost with Powdered Sugar Icing. Dry on a wire rack. Combine small amounts of the remaining icing and a few drops of desired food colorings. Place each color icing in a small sealable plastic bag. Decorate cookies with colored icings. Let dry.


Twilight for the Gods

E. B. Alston

Part 2


I got to the dining room five minutes early and found my place. The only name I recognized at my table was Christina’s. She was seated to my right. I wondered why she wasn’t sitting beside the president at the head table but I remembered that she was his consort, not his wife, and photos would probably be taken. I couldn’t make up my mind if Christina or Carlos was the luckiest. Or the unluckiest.

The other twenty or so attendees arrived and took their seats. Christina was the last to arrive. There were several other women in attendance and I guessed they were wives or girlfriends of staff and advisors. I supposed Christina and I were seated together because our rooms were adjacent, or because she was assigned to make sure I behaved. The president’s wife was not sitting beside him and I didn’t see her anywhere in the crowd.

I had seen his wife on several occasions. She was a haughty woman. I had never seen her smile.

We stood to attention as the president arrived and a local singer stood up to serenade us with the national anthem. Then a Catholic priest led a prayer. After we were seated, the president made a short speech welcoming his staff and advisors, praising their diligence and telling us how important this conference was to the economic welfare of their country. His speech was decent and it was short. He ended with a smile and ordered that the wine be served.

I was hungry and it was a very good breakfast. Christina spent most of the meal talking to the man on her right who I guessed was a lawyer. After breakfast we were ushered into a conference room where the president outlined his purpose for having this conference and gave the group a preview of his strategies. He told them that he wanted them to always voice their honest opinions even it they differed from his. He said honest discussion was the only way they could improve their poor country’s place in the economic world. He ended his speech with a call for honesty and fairness in managing the economy of their country. 

It was a good speech, one that would go over well in the United States. I noted that the big man and wine-breath were not in the room during the speech. Christina stood beside the president, shaking hands with everyone as the group filed by them on the way out of the room. Several members of the group hugged Christina. I noticed that everybody treated her with respect. The girl who grew up in a hovel with a dirt floor in a tiny, remote village had come a long way for a young woman of thirty-one.

We were on our own for lunch so I ate the luncheon buffet, which was very good. Apparently dinner was a big deal because my prescribed attire was the black tuxedo with the white cummerbund. I wished I had something to read but all the reading material the hotel had was vacation and local sightseeing stuff. They offered a scenic tour at one p.m. and I decided to take it to kill some time.

I put all this speculation aside and enjoyed the tour. I saw scene after scene of magnificent mountain vistas. The bus was full of people I had seen during the president’s address. We got back to the hotel just in time to get ready for the evening’s festivities.

I tried to come up with a sensible reason for me being here. I had been kidnapped by a high government official. I was being treated like royalty. My room was next to the one occupied by the president’s mistress. That was no accident. And I was certain that she was not close by in case I wanted a little casual romance. 

The president was in on at least part of it, whatever it was, because of the manner in which he had greeted me upon my arrival. 

On the surface it looked as if I had been brought here to report on the conference. But the big man had hinted that this would be the chance of a lifetime for me. An economic conference is not a world-shattering event anywhere and all of the Fortune 500 companies in the United States had bigger operating budgets than this country. My guess was the conference was a cover for something else. The only plausible thing I could come up with was that I was brought here to be in observance when it occurred so I could report it in the American news media. But what was it? And why would they want my slant on anything? Everything I had written was critical of their government. Why would they want to give me a break? 



I was seated beside Christina again at dinner. They were keeping me under close supervision. This crowd was larger and the room was bigger. From the way everybody was talking I was the only stranger in the place. In addition, they were in a party mood. I also noticed quite a number of attractive, unattached-looking young women mingling in the crowd. When the president entered the room, all stood and applauded as he made his way to the podium. Then a beautiful singer sang the national anthem while we continued to stand. The president said a few words of welcome and then a Cardinal said grace. After we were seated, an army of waiters served the meal.  

After the meal was finished a comedian and a chorus singing ribald songs entertained us. While all this was going on we were plied with all kinds of alcoholic beverages.

After the chorus finished, we were herded into an adjacent ballroom with a band. By now the crowd was drunk and the unattached young women teased the men onto the dance floor. Soon everybody was dancing.

I joined in. Why not? I might as well get some enjoyment out of this. As a result, the evening became an intoxicated blur. I remember dancing with Christina once and her calling me “neighbor.” I didn’t remember going back to my room. 

I woke up at ten the next morning with a terrible hangover. I wondered if everybody felt as bad as I did. I walked out onto the balcony and saw Christina in her lavender robe having a cup of coffee. Without saying a word, she poured some coffee from a little thermos on her table into another cup and handed it to me.

“You look as if you need this, neighbor,” she observed with a smile.

She didn’t look hung over. She looked fabulous. It was as if she had just awakened from a nice, refreshing night’s sleep while I must have looked like death warmed over.

“How come you look so refreshed?” I asked.

“I only drank two glasses of wine. I didn’t try to drink everything on the table.”

“You must have remarkable self-control.”

“I don’t care to be intoxicated.”

“I thought that’s what these things were for.”

“They are. But somebody has to be in charge.”

“Of Carlos?”

“He depends on me.”

“So you’re the power behind the throne?”

“No. Jorge is. I just look after Carlos personally.”

“Who is Jorge?”

“The man who sat beside me on the plane.”

The big man. “I didn’t see him or his buddy at dinner.”

“Jorge is all business. He thinks this sort of thing is a waste of time and money.”

“I agree with that.”

“But people must be allowed to unwind.”

“So this was Carlos’ idea.”

“No, it was Jorge’s.”


“He planned the whole thing.”

“If he is against this kind of function, why did he suggest it?”

“I don’t know. But he talked Carlos into having it two months ago.”

“Do Carlos and Jorge get along?”

“Not really. Especially not lately.”

“Why. Did they have some kind of falling out?”

“Falling out?” she asked.

“You know, disagreement.”

“Sorry. I don’t always understand American slang. I’ve been trying to get Carlos to do more for the poor people of our country. Our country faces many challenges in the years ahead. I believe we must design social structures that allow a more equitable distribution of income and opportunities.”

“Jorge doesn’t like that?”

“He thinks efforts to aid the poor are a waste of money.”

“He would.”

“This summit is to discuss how to manage the economy in ways that benefit the poor. They need to identify creative strategies that promote economic growth. This requires strong, democratic political leadership.”

“So Carlos is getting a feel for what the country’s leaders think?”

“That is his purpose for this meeting.”

She looked at her watch. “I must get ready. See you at the luncheon.”

She rose to leave, gave me a friendly smile and went back inside her room. 

This former slum child had a head on her shoulders. Maybe she was the power behind the throne and wouldn’t admit it. Maybe Jorge is and she’s trying to supplant him. Or is Jorge working on her behalf? She was intelligent, ambitious, levelheaded, very well informed, famous and disarmingly lovely. What an effective combination.



The luncheon began with wine. The local wines, while good, were potent. I wondered how anybody would be able to concentrate during the presentations after lunch. Christina sat beside Carlos at the head table to his right. Jorge was to his left. Wine-breath was to Jorge’s left. 

Christina looked radiant. She had the manners and mannerisms of royalty.  No queen or princess looked lovelier than Christina did up there beside her lover and patron. She interacted with the crowd and it was evident that they loved her. Carlos tried to look businesslike but couldn’t quite bring it off. The best he could do was look like a politician. Jorge frowned at everybody and made side remarks to wine-breath during the meal. 

After lunch, the crowd moved to the big auditorium. Everybody, even the distracting unattached lovelies, went inside and took seats in the auditorium. 

The president made a short speech outlining his reasons for having the conference. Christina seemed to have a lot of influence on the president. He parroted what Christina had said to me earlier. Many of the attendees were nodding their heads in agreement at what he was saying. I looked at Jorge to see his reaction but his face was expressionless.

After the president made his remarks, the presentation team took over with hosts of slides about industrial productivity, manpower utilization and national competitiveness. They droned on until mid-afternoon when we took an extended break and more wine was served in the next room. 

When the program resumed many of the attendees were drunk. The unattached lovelies began to distract the men from listening to what was being said at the podium.  

If this had been an American program, they would have adjourned for the day when the speakers observed how inattentive the audience had become and the wine during the break would have been a no-no. Instead the presenters droned on to an increasingly inattentive audience. The conference adjourned at six-thirty and we were invited to attend the banquet at eight-thirty.



The crowd was festive when we gathered in the banquet room for dinner. A lot of attendees were still drunk. The president made a few remarks and then the meal was served. He must have known that it was a waste of time to say anything important since nobody was in any condition to listen.

After the meal we adjourned to the grand ballroom where the band was already warmed up and the unattached lovelies began to ply their trade. Some were scandalously dressed, revealing their charms to anybody who cared to look. This was a classic example of hedonism gone wild. 

The night was more raucous than the previous celebration and, once again, I got to bed late.

Christina woke me up after ten.

“How’d you get in?” I asked.

“You’re in my room.”

“I am?” I looked around and saw that it wasn’t my room.

“I didn’t wish to disturb you so I slept in your room last night.”

“I’m sorry.” I paused, “So you got in later than I did.”

“Yes. Carlos was in a romantic mood.”

“I can’t get over how you can look so bright and alert while I look and feel terrible.”

“Don’t drink so much.”

“It’s boring when I’m sober.”

“You must learn to be patient, neighbor.”

“Yeah, I need to work on that.”

“I must get ready.”

I got out of her bed wearing only my shorts. She paid no attention to my attire when she handed my clothes to me. I slipped on my pants and carried the rest to my room. When I looked in the mirror, I looked terrible. I took a shower, dressed and went down to the dining room to get something to eat.

A few minutes later Christina joined me.

“You look much better,” she observed.

“Thanks. You look great.”

“Why, thank you.”

“I thought yesterday’s session might have been informative if everybody hadn’t been drunk.”

“The drinking is Jorge’s idea. Carlos is upset.”

“He ought to be. It’s wrecking his conference. Why doesn’t he stop it?”

“He can’t.”

“Why not? He’s the president.”

“Jorge is a very powerful man in our country.”

“But the president was elected by the people.”

“Jorge put him in office. He financed Carlos’s campaign and paid all the workers.”

“Then why are we having this conference at all?”

“Jorge wants the world to know about the conference. It will help us with the IMF and the World Bank. They are demanding reforms.”

“So this is all a show.”

“Yes.” She sighed. “I wanted this to be what it was advertised to be and something concrete done for the poor in my country.” She paused and stared into the distance. “But it’s just a farce.” She acted calm and diplomatic but I knew that she was very upset.

“Well, there’s just tonight and tomorrow. Then we can go home.”

She looked me in the eye. “We’ll go home tomorrow and announce how we have met and solved all of our tiny country’s problems. As soon as they are implemented and take effect the people will be happy once more,” she said bitterly. “Then all will remain the same and the people will forget the promises.”

“Not much to look forward to, is it?”

“Inside I am very angry at Carlos for being so weak and I’m angry at Jorge for being so strong and ruthless.”

The president approached our table. Christina rose to meet him, smiled sweetly and kissed him good morning. Then the president took a seat at our table.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” the president asked.

“The accommodations are great, the food wonderful and the wine spectacular.”

“Yes, it is,” he observed laconically. “I only wish the conference was going better.”

“It’s an excellent program but you can’t make them listen to it.”

“I know. Jorge is sabotaging the conference with all the liquor and women. Who wants to listen to a talk about industrial production when a lovely, thinly clad woman sits on your lap?” He gave a wry smile. “Today we discuss cattle and animal husbandry.”

“The presenters are very professional.”

“They are the best. They are trying but nobody listens,” he said sadly.

Then Jorge and wine-breath joined us and the conversation took a different turn.


Continued Next Month




P.L. Almanza: From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza; lives in Hamlet, North Carolina. She has been writing stories since she was four years old. Her first book, The East Side Killers came out in April 2014. Her cookbook, Family Meals and Desserts, came out in the summer of 2015. She is currently working on two new cookbooks 


E. B. Alston: Author, columnist, literary critic, and sometimes poet. His work has been published in various newspapers, telecommunications trade magazines, and books. He is the Managing Editor of the magazine.


Laura A. Alston: February, lives and writes in Inez, North Carolina. Her first book, My Pet Rocky Renee, was published in June 2010. In addition she has published Too Many Goodbyes, You Gave me Wings and a book of her collected poems, From My Heart to Yours


Rita Berman: Charles Dickens Kept His readers Hooked and Gone and Pat Conroy, an Acclaimed Southern Writer; was born in London, England and now lives in Mebane, N.C. Her business, travel, and writing advice articles have been published in more than 500 diverse newspapers and magazines in the United States and Gt. Britain. Her reference book, The A-Z of Writing and Selling,  was a Writer's Digest Book Club selection for September 1981.  Her other books, available on Amazon.com are Still Hopping, Still Hoping, (2012), The Dating Adventures of a Widow, (2013), The Key, (2014), Parallel Lives, (2016), Ariana Mangum's Books and Columns (2017),and Military Wives and Widows Tell Their Stories, (2018).


Randy Bittle: First English Printing Press; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.


John Burns: Lefty’s Adventure with Tequila and Unfinished Winter Poem in Quatrains; “As a graduate student I could not afford to run the electric baseboard heater furnished by my landlord. Fortunately, my death was never recorded and I was able to earn my degree once I thawed out.”


Kevin Cadigan: The Friendship Ring That Failed; Retired college professor, taught British history, University administrator, Temple University, Philadelphia. Married, two children, a grandson, have lived most of  his life in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and in Los Osos , California. Now living in a retirement community In Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Stephen Crane (1871-1900): XIII; was born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. He was educated at Lafayette College and Syracuse University. ... In 1895, Crane published his second novel, The Red Badge of Courage. It was a powerful and realistic psychological portrait of a young soldier fighting in the American Civil War.


Brad Carver: The News From Moccasin Gap; was a regular columnist. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. Brad was a humorist, and friend who lived in Semora, North Carolina.  This is a reprint from November 2012. He is now deceased and I still miss him.


Peggy Lovelace Ellis, Best Friends Forever, has been a freelance editor for 48 years, and a published author for considerably less. Over the past 25 years, she has published regularly in such magazines as Good Old Days, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Rock and Gem, Aquarium, True Story, Splickety, Woman’s World, Highlights, and Righter Monthly/Quarterly Review. She publishes in the Divine Moments series, Merry Christmas Moments (November 2017) and The Right Words at the Right Time (forthcoming). She has compiled and edited three anthologies for her writers’ group: Challenges on the Home Front World War II (Chapel Hill Press, 2004), Lest the Colors Fade (Righter Books, 2008), and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories (Righter Books, 2010). Each contains her short fiction, memoirs, and research.


Diana Goldsmith: Repercussions or Consequences; Diana has been attending and now runs a shared learner’s ‘Writing for pleasure’ group for the past 8 years.  She is an avid reader especially historical crime and loves Anne Perry’s books about Victorian England. She lives in Chard, Somerset, UK.


Howard A Goodman: HR Tale Too Good to Be True and Raffle (Part II: A veteran of corporate society his entire working life, Howard discovered his passion for writing—an occupation that had lurked subliminally in his subconscious—thanks to the grim reality of suddenly being forced to make a major mid-life career transition. Though he didn’t grow up in the South and is not particularly partial to grits, Howard considers himself a Southern author of sorts. In contrast to those who spin tales of being raised dirt-poor on a tobacco farm, Howard's focus is on the lives of corporate professionals and their families—the thousands who flocked to the upscale cities and towns surrounding North Carolina’s high-tech Research Triangle Park—the Neo-Southerners. Howard resides with his wife in Cary, North Carolina.


Sybil Austin Skakle:  Memoir of Valentine Days, and Generations; grew up in Hatteras, NC, born January 10, 1926, was a hospital pharmacist for 23 years, has published poetry, Searchings, 2001; a memoir, Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly, 2002; another memoir Valley of the Shadow, 2009. Her work has appeared in periodicals and numerous poetry and prose anthologies, four of which were published by The Chapel Hill Writers’ Discussion Group. She has been a member of Friday Noon Poets for more than thirty years.    


Marry Williamson: Grandfather; lives in Chard, Somerset, England. She was born in the Netherlands and moved to Britain in 1966. She worked for an Anglo-Dutch company in London. In 1999, Marry and her husband retired and moved to Chard, Somerset. Her hobbies are writing, reading, bird watching, and exploring ancient monuments. She is a member of a local writers’ group in England.


Tim Whealton: First Impressions : writes a regular column from New Bern, NC. He is a gunsmith whose shop is in Cove City, North Carolina. His book, According to Tim was published in 2013.