Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 30, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Laury Hubrich, on her blog, His Mercies Are New. Laury should hopefully have the Linky tool up by the time you get there.

This week, the plot thickens in Maelstrom’s Eye, Part 3. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’m enjoying the rewrite.

Maelstrom’s Eye

Part 3

Dissidents gathered today around the so-called “Cult Crater” located near Keseechewun Lake in the northern Saskatchewan region. The protest, scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the destruction of the separatist cult compound by Maelstrom four years ago, was not authorized by Western Coalition officials. Security Forces, sent in to disperse the demonstration, reported minimal resistance from the assembled dissidents, although a few needed to be physically subdued. Citizens are reminded that the Keseechewun Crater is off-limits to unauthorized personnel, as Coalition scientists are still studying the long-term effects from the impact of the 35 meter projectile on the region.


Carl stepped into the house and glanced around. The basic layout was a mirror-image of his home, but the similarities stopped there. While his walls were a bare, neutral sand color, the Santos home sported copious photographs on pale blue walls. Some were of Celia and Guillermo, and another young woman that he assumed must be Catalina. Other, much older photographs were mingled among the obviously more recent images, and offered a tantalizing glimpse into a family history he could only guess about.

While his living room contained a plain couch and end table, the Santos living room was surrounded by a couch, love seat, and several chairs. More photographs stood in frames on the end tables, and a large Bible rested open in the center of the coffee table. A basketful of toys was tucked back into one corner, and a ceiling fan spun over the center of the room. The overall effect was warm and welcoming. Once upon a time, I lived in a home, too, instead of just staying in a house.

Celia came through the doorway to his right, wearing a brightly colored, full length apron. “Ah, good. You made perfect timing,” she said. “We’re just putting dinner on the table. Would you prefer water, tea, or coffee to drink?”

“Water, please,” he answered. “Coffee and tea just keep me awake all night.”

They entered the dining room, where Guillermo handed the box of tomatoes to Celia. She took the box into the kitchen, and returned a couple of minutes later with a handful still showing drops of water from being freshly washed.

She indicated a chair. “You can sit here, Mr. Anders.”

He sat down, and scooted closer to the table. “I can understand if you prefer to keep things more formal at work, but for tonight, could you just call me Carl?”

She smiled. “Of course, Carl.”

Guillermo poked his head into the kitchen. “Catalina, come out and meet our guest. Sé cortés, mi’ja.”

The other woman entered the dining room, carrying a covered dish with oven-mitted hands. “Sí, Papa. I kinda have my hands full, though.”

“This is our neighbor, Carl Anders,” Guillermo said. “Carl, this is my other daughter, Catalina.”

“Hi,” Catalina said, just before disappearing back into the kitchen.

Carl turned at a nudge from the side of his chair, and found himself staring into a small, grinning face. “Uh, hi,” he said to the boy.

“This is my grandson, Jimmy,” Guillermo said, with a beaming smile. “Jimmy is Catalina’s son.”

“You are the man with the funny legs?” Jimmy asked.

“Jimmy, no seas grosero,” Guillermo said.

The boy looked sheepish. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Carl said. “Yes, I’m the man with the funny legs.” He pulled up one pants leg. “Do you want to see them?”

Jimmy dropped down to look. “How’d you get them?”

“I got them when I lost my real legs in an accident.”

“What kind of accident?”

“A construction accident.”


“In space.”

Jimmy popped back up with wide-eyed wonder. “You were in space? Like an as’ronaut?”

“Yeah, like an ‘as’ronaut.’ We were building something in orbit.”

“What were you building?”

He sighed before answering. “Maelstrom.”

“Jimmy, that is enough questions. Go wash your hands for dinner,” Guillermo said. His voice was low and serious.

The little boy looked disappointed. “Sí, abuelito.” He ran out of the dining room.

“The questions really didn’t bother me,” Carl said.

Guillermo kept his voice low. “How could you have worked on that, that thing? That monstrosity?”

Celia stared at him with a look of confusion. “You never told me,” she said.

“It’s not exactly my favorite memory,” he said.

“It is nothing but a killing machine,” Guillermo went on. “Is that the kind of man you are?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Then why? Why would you work on something like that?”

He closed his eyes and swallowed. I knew I should have just stayed home. “It was a job.”

“A job building an abomination.”

“We didn’t know.”

“How could you not know?” Celia asked. While Guillermo’s tone had turned accusatory, hers seemed perplexed.

“We weren’t supposed to know. The less we knew, the less chance we might say something that wasn’t cleared to be released.” He took a deep breath. “I went to vocational training after High School, and when the course was just about finished, this corporate recruiter showed up and offered those of us who had done well a chance for additional training. He promised us the training would be covered, and we’d get a paycheck during the training period as well. If we completed the training, we would have a guaranteed job for three years minimum, at nearly four times the pay we could expect from any other job we were qualified for otherwise.” He shifted in the chair. “All we had to do was follow directions, and respect that we couldn’t be told too much about what we were working on. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable condition for a job that was beyond anything we expected.”

Guillermo looked doubtful. “You must have had some idea what you were building.”

“We knew we were building an orbital station of some sort for the Security Forces, but they kept the various crews isolated from each other, so that we couldn’t compare notes and maybe figure out more than we were supposed to.”

“So, how do you know it was Maelstrom?” Celia asked.

“It’s the only thing in orbit that big,” Carl said. “The accident ended my involvement about a year before it was completed, but I don’t think any of us had a clue what it was until they turned that little settlement in Saskatchewan into a kilometer wide crater without warning.”

“There were families in that settlement,” Guillermo said. “Hundreds of children lived there.”

“I know,” Carl said.

Bastante,” Celia said. “Papa, let us have dinner in peace.”

“I should probably just go home,” Carl said. He started to stand up.

“Please, sit down; you are our guest.” She looked at her father. “It is not for us to hold you responsible for the decisions made by the government, is it, Papa?”

The older man appeared to deflate just a bit. “No, of course not. Forgive my rudeness, please.”

Jimmy ran back in with the front of his shirt wet, and hopped into one of the chairs. His mother came in with a sippy-cup, and placed it in front of him before taking her seat.

Guillermo took his chair at the head of the table, and waited until Celia sat down opposite Carl. “Celia, mi’ja, would you say the blessing tonight?”

“Yes, Papa,” she said, and bowed her head.

Carl stared at the empty plate in front of him, barely hearing the words she prayed. Guillermo’s words echoed louder in his mind. Hundreds of children lived there.

He swallowed back the emotions. Hundreds of children died there.

to be continued...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 23, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Julie Arduini at The Surrendered Scribe. Visit Julie’s blog for her story, and the Linky Tools for more fiction reading to fill your weekend.

This week is Part 2 of Maelstrom’s Eye. If you need to, you can click back to read Part 1. I’m really enjoying recreating this story.

Maelstrom’s Eye

Part 2

Maelstrom – The ultimate security tool in the Western Coalition’s arsenal. Maelstrom’s eye is capable of scanning every square meter of Earth, with the discrimination to differentiate between a golf ball and a ping-pong ball from orbit. When a threat is detected, Maelstrom is ready to deliver the necessary response to neutralize the threat with surgical precision. Maelstrom is capable of destroying a single automobile in the midst of a traffic jam, and just as quickly reduce an entire country to rubble.

Maelstrom: Unseen, untouchable, and unstoppable. It’s just one more way our Security Forces are keeping the Western Coalition safe from the Eastern threat.


Guillermo Santos sat on the porch, enjoying the breeze the came across the nearby alfalfa fields. After so many years of climbing the corporate management ladder, he appreciated the natural, earthy smells of agriculture.

His daughter, Celia, came out of the house two lots over and across the street. He smiled, watching her walk home. She looked up and saw him, and smiled back at him. Do you see her, Mama? She has your eyes and your smile, and she is doing so well in school. Are you proud of our daughter?

She climbed the steps to the porch, and bent down to kiss the bald extension of his forehead. “Buenas tardes, Papa,” she said.

He squeezed her hand. “How was your day, mi’ja?”

“Dr. Clemens was sick, so my afternoon class was canceled. I got to Mr. Ander’s house early, just to find him stuck in his garden again.”

“Are you sure he doesn’t do that purposely, just so you have to rescue him? Some men will do almost anything to get the attention of a pretty girl.”

“I don’t think so, Papa. He wouldn’t have expected me until an hour later, and I think if he were going to set something like that up, he would have waited until closer to my normal arrival time.” She shifted her schoolbag to her other hand. “You could ask him tonight, though. I invited him to have dinner with us.”

“I wish you had asked me first. I’m not sure about that man – he always gives me strange looks when I see him in his front yard.”

She leaned back and placed her free hand on her hip, fingers turned out and knuckles against her jeans. “Now, Papa,” she said.

She looks and sounds just like you when she does that, Mama. Will she wrap a husband around her little finger with that pose, just like you did me?

“Didn’t Mama always remind us to be nice to strangers, because they might be angels in disguise?” she continued.

“He is not exactly a stranger, and I don’t think angels would have mechanical legs,” he countered.

“Maybe those legs are just to keep us from noticing his wings, Papa. Maybe God put an angel in our neighborhood, just to see if we would extend His love to him.”

“All right, mi’ja. Mr. Anders will be welcome in our home and at our table.”

Gracias, Papa.” She kissed his forehead again.

“Catalina is making dinner tonight, so you’d best let her know that we’ll have a guest.”

“I will. Are you coming inside to help?”

“No, I think I will stay here and wait for our guest.”

“Okay, Papa.” She went through the door, and the evening grew quiet on his porch.

Perhaps God did send an angel to our street – it would be like you, Mama, to ask Him to do so, just to keep us on our toes. Still, I think an angel would show up at church, at least once in a while.

He closed his eyes, and dozed until being startled awake by a sudden weight in his lap.

Abueliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiito,” the preschooler sang, patting his chest. “Mama says that dinner is almost ready.”

Already? He glanced at his watch. I nodded off for longer than I thought. “Thank you, Jimmy. Tell your Mama that I will be right in.”

The boy placed a quick kiss on his cheek, and then sprinted back into the house, yelling the whole way. “Maaaaaaamaaaaa!”

Guillermo chuckled, and stood up from his chair to stretch. Celia’s guest was approaching along the sidewalk in front of the neighbor’s house, and he leaned against the porch rail to watch the man.

The gait was a tell-tale sign of the prosthetics Anders wore. While still a very effective, normal paced walk, there was a distinctly mechanical quality to the steps. His movements lacked the fluid grace of a typical pedestrian, as though he needed to concentrate on precisely placing each foot on a pre-determined path.

He’d heard that with the best prosthetics, you couldn’t tell the difference between the movements of the natural limb and the artificial. Of course, anyone who could afford the best wouldn’t be living in such a run-of-the-mill housing tract, either.

Anders turned up the walk towards the house. He carried a box with both arms, held close to his chest. “Mr. Santos,” he said, when he’d reached the bottom porch steps.

“Guillermo, please. Won’t you come in, Mr. Anders?”

“I don’t think Celia will let me get away with not coming in. She was rather insistent that I come over for dinner tonight. She said you would like these, though. I just picked them a few minutes ago.”

“Celia is much like her mother in that way. I learned quickly it was foolish to argue with Mama.” He took the box and looked inside. “These are beautiful tomatoes; I have not seen such size and color in a long time.”

“She said you would like them.” He placed one foot on the first stair, stepping up almost like a toy robot. “You just don’t find produce in the stores that can compare with home-grown.”

“How did you learn to grow them so well?”

“While I was in physical therapy, I was living with my grandmother. She made me earn my keep by helping her in the garden, and I just decided I liked growing my own food.”

“Catalina and Celia should have dinner just about ready, Mr. Anders.”

“You can call me Carl, if you like.”

Guillermo balanced the box of tomatoes in one arm, while opening the screen door with the other. “Come in, Carl. Come in.”

to be continued...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 16, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Shelley over at The Veil Thins, where you’ll find MckLinky and more stories for your weekend. Hey, it’s one of the best deals in entertainment, which might be very important if you had to send a bunch of money to the IRS this week.

Some fifteen to twenty years ago, I wrote a short story set in a not-so-distant future. If this story was ever saved on a computer, it would have been on a 5.25” floppy (when was the last time you had a working 5.25" drive?), but it’s just as likely the story was typed on the old 1905 Underwood typewriter, and has since long been lost. I decided to give it a complete rewrite, and feature the first part this week.

Maelstrom’s Eye

By Rick Higginson

He floated weightless, hovering partially through the bulkhead hatchway. Slowly, carefully, he connected the various plugs that would integrate the next section of the station into the previous assembly. The work was not especially difficult, but with the thick gloves of the protective suit, it would be easy to misalign a plug, and possibly damage it.

He took hold of a larger power plug, turning it to the proper orientation for the matching receptacle. He pressed it into place, and was surprised by sudden flashing lights. “What the-” he thought. “None of these circuits are supposed to be live yet.”

Before he could contact the construction coordinator and inquire about the discrepancy, his legs were pinned by a crushing force. He tried to twist to see what had happened, but could not bend sufficiently in the heavy suit. Alarms were sounding in his helmet, and he reached below his hips to feel for the obstacle.

The hatchway! The bulkheads were programmed to immediately shut if vacuum were detected on either side, and the live plug must have provided the power to the hatchway actuators.

Other workers moved into view. Voices came through his helmet communicator, and one swore before yelling, “Get that hatchway open!”

“No!” Another yelled right back. “The hatch is the only thing keeping him alive. The pressure is keeping the damaged legs of the suit sealed, and if we open it now, the vacuum’ll kill him.”

“I can’t feel my feet,” he muttered. His eyes refused to focus, and the compartment seemed to be getting dark…

He woke up, gasping and sweating in his bed, the way he always woke up from the nightmare. It had been five years, and while the dreams of his last day as a productive worker had decreased, they still hadn’t gone away.

“Time,” he said.

“Five thirty-two A.M.,” the computer responded.

He sat up. Random rays of the sunrise poked through gaps in the curtains and illuminated motes of dust floating through the air. “Lights, medium soft,” he said, and the computer brought up a pleasant level of lighting in the room.

Grabbing his clothes, he walked to the bathroom. Like he did every morning, he paused at the full-length mirror and sighed. The prosthetic legs looked high tech and impressive, but unlike the cybernetics of science fiction, they didn’t make him fast or powerful. They simply restored basic mobility. His weren’t even pretty – those with sufficient wealth could get prosthetics specially designed to look just like their natural limbs, but those were out of his price range.

He spent the day as he spent most of his days when the weather was good, tending the large garden that filled most of his back yard. The tomato plants were doing well, but it was a constant battle to keep the hornworms from devouring the leaves. He worked his way down the rows of produce, dropping the ugly green pests into a large bucket, while plucking the fast sprouting weeds with a long grabber.

He made it to the far corner of the garden by early afternoon, and stopped by the fence to mop the sweat from his face with a faded bandana. With the bucket of weeds and worms in one hand, and the bandana in his other, he started back for the house.

The right leg went forward one step, and then started beeping.

“No,” he moaned. “Just five minutes more, come on.”

The depleted batteries were as unresponsive to his pleading as they always were, and he leaned back against the fence. They would recharge in time from the built-in generators that converted femoral artery blood flow into electricity, but it wouldn’t be quick.

It was a bit over an hour until the back door opened. “Mr. Anders? Are you out here?”

“Back here, Celia,” he yelled.

She ran to the back fence. “Oh, no. You didn’t run your legs down again, did you?”

“I thought I had enough juice left to get back inside,” he said. “I forgot that I woke up early this morning.”

“How long have you been out here?”

“Maybe an hour or so.”

“You’re lucky my afternoon class got cancelled, or you could have been out here a lot longer,” she said. “You really should start carrying a phone with you.”

“Yeah, probably, but I hate the stupid thing. The only calls I ever get on it are from people wanting to sell me something.”

She took the bucket and grabber from him. “I’ll put these up by the house, and be back in a minute with the porta-pack.” Hefting the bucket, she added, “You could have set this down, you know.”

“No, I could have dropped it, and risked it tipping over and letting all the worms go back to my plants.”

“There are other ways to take care of worms,” she said over her shoulder as she walked to the house.

“Yeah, but you know I prefer the low-tech means.”

She returned carrying the pale yellow porta-pack, and looped its strap over his head and across his shoulder, before attaching the power cable to the connector on his artificial thigh.

His legs responded, and he stood upright. “Much better,” he said.

“You go straight to the house, and get yourself hooked up to the external charger,” she said. “Have you even had lunch yet?”

“That’s where I was heading when the batteries died.”

She rattled off something in Spanish, which sounded suspiciously like she was chewing him out some more. “I don’t know what you’re going to do when I graduate college, and move on to a full-time job.”

He shrugged. “I guess I’ll just have to call the agency and hire someone else.”

“Like the last person the agency sent? The one that was stealing from you? You’d be better off calling my church and finding out if they have another student willing to work for what you can afford to pay.”

“I’m still trying to figure out why you’re willing to work for what I can afford to pay.”

She laughed pleasantly. “Because you’re almost right across the street from Papa’s house, you don’t mind adjusting my schedule every semester to accommodate my classes, and you don’t expect me to do anything that Papa would kill you for.”

“Well, he is kind of scary. I’ve seen him sitting out on the front porch in the evenings, and he doesn’t exactly give me friendly looks.”

“Maybe you should come over and meet him some evening, and then maybe you would both understand each other better.”

“I’m fine, just spending my evenings alone.”

“You’ve lived in this neighborhood for three years, and I don’t think you know any of your neighbors. What will you do when I’m not around, and you need help?”

“I’ll manage. I always have.”

She stopped him at the door. “No, you won’t. One of these days, something is going to happen that you can’t manage on your own, and you’re going to need someone. I think it would be good for you to come over and have dinner with my family tonight.”

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Bring tomatoes,” she said. “Papa loves fresh tomatoes, and that way, you won’t be imposing, you’ll be contributing.”

to be continued...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 9, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne, over at An Open Book. Since I’m posting a bit late, I see that there’s already a good turnout on MckLinky, so if you haven’t already, get over there and peruse the wonderful submissions for this week.

I’m taking it a bit easy this week, after so many new submissions the past couple of months, and pulling an excerpt from “The Eridanus Dream.” For those unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in a distant future when humanity is expanding to the stars. At this point in the story, Sean and Y’La have been joined by a phenomenon the Eridani people call “besela,” wherein their minds are permanently telepathically linked. Italicized dialogue in the excerpt is spoken in the Eridani (or Qi’le) language.
The klur is the Eridani beast of burden, used in many of the same ways as the Terran horse. The DEB rifle is a Directed Energy Beam weapon, capable of delivering a pulse of flesh-searing heat to a target. They have just had their journey interrupted by a voice behind them after entering a meadow.


Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.
~ Vernon Sanders Law

The four travelers brought their kluri to a halt and looked behind them. Just outside the edge of the trees stood two women; rugged, dirty, and dangerous looking. Both held long Polearm weapons, and between the two one held a vicious looking carnivore on a short lead.

Drop the Temple tribute on the ground, leave your kluri and be on your way and you will not be harmed. If you try to run, the tzek will easily overtake at least one of you, and the death will not be pleasant,” the one holding the beast’s lead said.

“What’s happening, Sean?” Bob asked in a low voice.

“They’re attempting to rob us,” he replied, not as worried about keeping his voice down, since he knew the criminals would not understand him anyway. “Is your DEB rifle charged?”

The Temple tribute belongs to God,” Y’La objected. “You cannot take it.

Bob casually slipped the rifle from behind his back to his right hand, thumbing the safety off as he did. “Should be mostly charged; it’ll only take a moment for the pulse network to be ready to fire.”

Sean likewise brought the shotgun from behind his back, locking the slide forward and releasing the safety as well. “You any good with the DEB?”

If the tribute belongs to God,” the robber said with a haughty laugh, “perhaps She Herself will come and tell me I cannot take it.”

“Good enough,” Bob replied. “The beauty of the DEB is I simply put the laser spot where I want to hit, and pull the trigger. It’s one reason I chose it.”

“I’ll take the beast, whatever that thing is. If they release it, I’m guessing it’s going to move fast and the shotgun will be the best thing to try on it. Go for the knees on the robbers; they can’t pursue and fight if they can’t walk.”

You would mock God?” Y’La asked with a hint of warning in her voice.

Enough conversation, priestess; I have mocked God my entire life, and never once have I heard Her so much as whisper in Her defense. Drop the tribute and dismount, or I will release the tzek; you will not find her as genial as you find me.”

“Are you ready?” Sean asked.

Bob took a deep breath. “As ready as I’ll ever be, kid.”

Honored priestess,” Sean spoke loudly enough to be heard by all. “Does your law permit killing in self defense?

Y’La turned her attention to him, “Yes,” she said aloud. “The tzek is extremely fast, and its claws contain poison,” she informed him mentally.

The other robber laughed derisively. “The man speaks boldly, sister! Perhaps we should claim him for some sport as well!”

We are continuing our journey to the Temple, with the tribute and our kluri,” Sean said, ignoring the bawdy gesture the woman made. “If you wish to walk away from this meadow today, you will not attempt to hinder us.”

Fool,” the woman holding the beast spat and released the animal.

Sean!” Y’La cried out as the animal sprinted towards them.

He shouldered the shotgun, took quick aim and squeezed the trigger. The first blast shredded one foreleg of the tzek, causing it to stumble. In the same moment, the woman who had held the leash screamed in pain as her right knee erupted in a small burst of flame. The tzek rolled back to its remaining feet and, snarling, began to advance once again. Sean worked the slide of the shotgun and released another blast, this one mangling the beast’s head.

The second robber hesitated, looking in confusion from her sister to the mortally wounded tzek. As she finally began to move, the DEB flame flared on her inner thigh. She stayed to her feet, swaying uncertainly even as she brought the Polearm forward as if to charge them. The second DEB hit to her hip sent her sprawling to the ground.

The tzek writhed in the grass a short distance from Sean, alternating between deep growling and a distressed howling. Sean dismounted, pumping the action on the shotgun one more time, and approached the suffering animal. Staying sufficiently out of its reach, he took aim at the back of the skull and with one final round ended its misery.

Working the action on the shotgun to again charge the chamber, he approached the two robbers. The one who had held the leash made to raise her Polearm, and he stopped out of reach of the weapon. “Can you move faster than your tzek?” Sean asked, leveling the barrel at her chest.

She dropped the weapon even as she glared at him with an intense hate.

“What should we do with them, Y’La?” Sean asked aloud and in English, not taking his eyes off the two.

Leave them,” she replied. “Perhaps now, instead of mocking God, they will call upon Her for mercy.

When the pain of your wounds subsides, which it will eventually, you might be able to walk away from here if you use your weapons as staffs to support yourselves on,” Sean said to the two. “My mother taught me a lesson many years ago, and I will share it with you. She said, ‘Do not be fooled; God is not mocked. Whatever you plant is what you will harvest.’ Maybe God did not come here today and tell you not to take the tribute, but it appears that the message was delivered nonetheless.

He returned to his klur, retrieving the spent shot shells as he did, and without a backward glance the four rode on.

In all that we have shared,” Y’La thought to him as they re-entered the woods on the far side of the meadow, “I had not considered what your weapons were capable of.

It is not something I really wanted an opportunity to demonstrate.” Now that the moment was passed his nerves were shaky and he felt nauseous.

“I guess this answers one question,” Bob said, interrupting the silent exchange. “We haven’t found Utopia where everyone gets along just fine and dandy.”

“If we ever do,” Sean replied, “I hope we leave it without making our presence known. It would be the greatest sin of mankind to corrupt such a place with our vices.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 2, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene over on Homespun Expressions. It’s Karlene’s birthday as well as Good Friday, so be sure to visit her blog and share your birthday greetings before perusing MckLinky for some great fiction.

This week’s story is a complete rewrite of a story that I wrote some eleven years ago, and lost the file for. It was the original story for what would become a series of stories for me, and as such holds a special place in my heart. I wanted to rewrite it for this week. Whatever holidays you keep, may you observe them in peace and joy.

The Prophet’s Cup

By Rick Higginson

He poured the wine, hearing the echoes of voices from his past. I don’t know what you expected, Rube. Why should we believe you this time, when we’ve heard all your assurances before? His brother, the corporate executive, was never one to mince words.

He lifted the cup and sang. “Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam, borey p’ri ha’gafen.” Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine. He drank the first cup, and set it back on the table before the next memory came.

I’m sorry, Ruben. I wish you well, and I’d love to see you, but after the last time, I just can’t risk it. You knew you weren’t supposed to have that stuff in my house, and I just thank God when the kids found your stash, they didn’t eat any of it. It had been all his sister could do to keep her husband from calling the police right then and there and having him arrested. For a supposedly mild-mannered journalist, the man had not shown any hesitation to busting Ruben’s nose while ejecting him from the home.

His father’s words hurt the most. After all you’ve already put her through, you want to do this to your mother? Better that she think you’re still rotting in prison, than this latest news you have. Don’t you dare call back to tell her this, you hear me?

I’m still keeping the Pesach, Papa, but now it means something to me. He picked up a piece of parsley, and held it at eye level while he canted the blessing. “Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu melech ha’olam, borey p’ri ha’adama.” Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the earth. He dipped the parsley in a paper cup of salt water, and ate it.

From a stack of folded paper towels, he removed a piece of matzah and broke it, placing one part back in the stack. Not much of a matzah tosh, but on my budget, it will have to do. The nicest thing I have is the cup for Elijah, and even that’s a cheap wine glass from a thrift store. He wrapped the other piece in a white napkin, and set it off to the side. With a sad smile, he lifted the plastic plate from the center of the table, and recited from memory. “This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come in and eat; let all who are in need join this Passover feast.”

He replaced the plate on the table, thinking of the beautiful Seder plate that would be in the center of his parents’ table that night, and of the time long before when he’d been the youngest child. Back then, it had fallen to him to recite the Four Questions, and while it seemed rather silly in a room by himself, he started to sing them again. “Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleyot!” How different is this night from all other nights!

A quiet knock on the door interrupted the recitation, and he stopped and listened, not sure if he’d really heard it. When it repeated, he went to the door and opened it.

An old man in dirty clothes, with greasy hair and beard, stood outside his apartment. “I’m sorry to bother ya,” the man said. “I ain’t had but to eat today, and I was wonderin’ if you might spare a little food?”

That could have been me in a few years, if God hadn’t saved me. He opened the door wider. “I haven’t got much, friend, but you’re welcome to share what I have.”

“Much obliged,” the man said, stepping in. He slipped his grungy coat from his shoulders, and draped it across the back of the couch. With a shuffling walk, he went to the chair on the far side of the table and sat down.

Ruben closed the door and started for the small kitchen in the apartment. “Let me get you a cup for the wine,” he said.

“S’okay,” the man said, reaching for the empty goblet on the table. “This one’ll be fine.”

“That’s the Prophet’s cup,” Ruben said. “It’s for Elijah.”

“Well, is this ‘Lijah feller here?”

“No, but-”

“C’mon and sit down. I ain’t no cause for puttin’ yourself out. I’m grateful to share the meal, and I don’t want’cha fussin’ over me ‘till your food gets cold.”

Ruben sat back down. “I was having-”

“Ain’t’cha gonna offer me some wine?” The man reached the goblet towards him.

He felt a little flustered. A Seder is supposed to follow a certain order. He started to say his thoughts aloud, but stopped. He is a guest. It would be rude to expect him to just sit and wait. “Of course,” he said, reaching for the bottle. “It’s not very good wine, though, but it was what I could afford.”

“It’s better’n what I was lookin’ forward to this evening,” the man said, smiling in approval at the measure of red liquid in the goblet. “Ya got a blessing to sing, don’t’cha, before I drink?”

“What?” he asked, surprised.

The old man’s voice went soft, and he smiled encouragingly. “This is a Passover Seder, right? That means ya got a blessing to sing before we drink.” He pointed with his free hand. “Don’t forget to pour yourself a cup, too.”

He added a small amount of wine to his cup, and raised it. “Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam, borey p’ri ha’gafen.”

“Amen,” sang the old man. He brought the goblet close to his lips and added, “L’chayim.” To life.

“L’chayim,” Ruben agreed.

The old man drained the goblet, and nodded approval. “The Second Cup, the Cup of Instruction,” he said. “Always a good one.”

“You’re Jewish?” Ruben asked. “You’ve been to a Seder before?”

“I’ve been to lots of Seders before,” the man said. “Thank you for inviting me to yours, Ruben.”

“I invited you, and you know my name? Have we met before?”


“When did I invite you, then?”

“Just a few moments ago, when you raised your plate and gave the open invitation. Your invitation was heard, and I came in response.”

“But, I said it so softly, how could anyone have heard it through the walls?”

“God heard your prayers through prison walls, Ruben. Is it really so difficult for Him to let me hear through apartment walls, when need be?”

“Who are you?”

He lifted the goblet towards him. “Refill my cup, Ruben.”

Ruben reached for the wine bottle, and then stopped. “Your cup? Your cup?” He looked at the man’s face. The eyes were ancient and full of wisdom, and his expression one of compassion. “Elijah?” he asked.

“Are you going to fill my cup, Ruben?”

Without taking his eyes away from the man’s face, he tipped the bottle over the goblet and poured a good measure of wine.

The man lifted both his glass and his eyes, and canted a series of blessings in Hebrew, not all of which Ruben understood or remembered. When he finished, he waited, and after a moment, raised his eyebrows at Ruben.

“Amen,” Ruben sang, feeling a bit foolish for having neglected to do so without prompting.

“Don’t forget your cup.”

He started to tip the bottle over his cup, and then stopped on seeing a full measure of wine already in it. “When did I refill this?”

“God has filled your cup, Ruben, and bids you to partake of His joy. This third cup is the Cup of Redemption, and while you have tasted of it before, tonight you shall drink of its fullness.”

He put the cup to his lips, and took a small mouthful at first. The flavor was sweet and warm, and when he swallowed, it lacked the bitterness that remained after the cheap wine he’d sampled earlier. He took another swallow, and another, until he’d drained the cup. The warmth filled his stomach, and he could feel it already spreading throughout his body. He set the cup back on the table and looked deep into the man’s eyes. “Why did you come here tonight, Elijah?”

“Because you invited me, Ruben.”

“But, surely there were much better Passover Seders tonight you could have attended. You are invited to every one of them.”

“There is a cup for Elijah on many tables tonight, and the invitation will be recited at almost every Seder, but yours, Ruben, was sincere. You didn’t just say the words, you opened your table to the hungry and the needy without reservation. More importantly, you were not afraid to see me.”

He shook his head. “Who would be afraid to see you? Haven’t we waited for you for generations? You were to come and tell us that Moshiach was coming.”

“Many people are afraid to see me, because a prophet must speak the words that God gives him. Most people don’t really want to hear what God might say to them, and most don’t want their business-as-usual world upset by the coming of Moshiach. Oh, they say they want what Moshiach will do for them, but they don’t want what Moshiach will require of them, and as such, they don’t want to see me at their table.”

“So, it’s time?”

“I do not know the time, Ruben, but it’s close enough now that I’ve been sent to begin my work. Before I again stand and challenge the people to choose who they will serve, I have other work to do in preparation for His coming. What did the prophet tell you about that?”

“That you would come and turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children, lest God strike the world with a curse.” He sighed. “Would that you could turn my father’s heart back to me. When he’d learned I became a Christian in prison, he cut me completely out of his life.”

Elijah stood, and pulled a cell phone from one pocket. “Call your parents tonight, Ruben.”

“What do I say to them?”

“Just say, ‘l’shanah ha ba’ah b’Yerushalyim.’ They do not believe they will ever make it to Jerusalem for Passover, but when you meet them and the rest of your family there for Passover next year, they will understand, and they will receive you back.”

“But, I can barely make ends meet as it is. How am I going to get to Jerusalem?”

“It isn’t what you can do, Ruben. It’s about what God can do. Next year, you will be in Jerusalem. For now, though, I must go.”

“We haven’t eaten yet; must you go so soon?”

“There are other Seders I must visit tonight, and other messages I must deliver.” He lifted his coat from the back of the couch, and reached for the door. “Call them, Ruben. Say what I told you to say, and when you see them in Jerusalem next year, remember to tell them my message.”

“I will, Eliyahu.”

“And Ruben?”


“I will not drink from a finer cup tonight.”