Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friday Fiction for April 29, 2011

Debra is our hostess for this last Friday Fiction in April, over on her blog, Writing With Debra. Go sit a spell, and enjoy some fiction reading after the work week.

I have a new short story to share this week. I’m not sure yet how long it will be, but I’ve been having fun thinking of the concept. Without further ado, here’s part 1.

Step Through

By Rick Higginson

Ian glanced at the address on the building, and then checked the text message on his phone to be sure he’d read it correctly. The old building had been vacant for as long as he could remember, and had collected its own local lore of strange happenings inside. He and his friends had once broken open a window on Halloween, daring to spend the night in the haunt. Nothing had happened, but when they returned later the next day, the window had not only been repaired, but reinforced.

Okay, Jeff, this place is certainly a trip down memory lane, but why would you want me to meet you here? He slipped the phone back in his pocket, and put the glove back on his hand. Occasional flurries of snow drifted on the breeze, confirming the weatherman’s prediction of a cold storm hitting the area that day. He paced a few minutes, and then decided to take refuge from the wind chill in the building’s entrance alcove.

He had no sooner leaned in the lee of the wall, when the door swung open.

“You made it,” Jeff said, from inside the door. “Come on in.”

“How did you get in there?” Ian asked.

“With the key.”

“Okay, where did you get the key?”

“From the realtor, when I bought this building.”

He paused on the threshold. “You bought this building? When did that happen, and whatever for?”

“Come on in, and I’ll explain inside. It’s warmer in here, and I have something I need to show you.”

The front part of the building remained unlit, and looked very much like it had on that long-past Halloween. “So, are you going to fix it up and open a business, or something?”

“It’s as fixed up as I need it right now, and I’ve already established a ‘business’ here.” Jeff locked the door, and adjusted the shade on the door to once again block any outside view. He turned on a flashlight, and aimed it towards the stairway at the back of the building. “This way,” he said.

Something cold and wet pushed at Ian’s hand, startling him momentarily. He glanced down, and a pair of ghostly blue eyes stared back at him, just before the dog gave his hand an experimental lick. “Your dog just gave me a heart attack. When did you get a dog?”

“Chronos? Oh, man, a couple of years ago, I think. He’s been helping me in my work. If you scratch his ears, you’ll have a friend. If you happen to have anything to eat in your pockets, you’ll have a friend forever. He’s a shameless mooch.” He reached the stairway, and flipped a switch on the wall. White LED lights illuminated the stairwell, and he ascended the stairs. “Up this way,” he said.

“Since you bought this place, did you think to ask the realtor who had fixed that window when we broke in? Man, what was that? Twenty-two years ago? Twenty-three?”

“Almost twenty-two, and, um, actually, it was me that fixed the window.”

Ian stopped a few steps from the top of the stairs. “You? How? The whole group of us was together the entire time. And why would you care about fixing the window, anyway?”

“I cared, because I owned the building.”

“Jeff, have you been doing something with chemicals up here? I think you’ve slipped a cog or two. If you had owned the building back then, why would we have needed to break in?”

“Because, back then, I didn’t know I owned the building.”

“All right – now I know you’re looney-tunes. You said a few minutes ago that you got the key from the realtor when you bought it, so how could you not know you owned it?”

He turned off the lights over the stairwell. “Come on up here, and I’ll show you.”

He climbed the last three steps by the residual light from the top floor, and stepped into a large room that was bare, except for a large oval ring, standing in the center of the room. “Huh. What? Are you an artist now, making abstract sculptures?”

Jeff grinned, and shook his head. “No, my old friend, this is my business. This is how I make my living, and how I bought this building.”

“Really? So where was this thing back when we were kids, and when you supposedly bought this building?”

“It’s always been right here.”

“Bull. We came up the stairs that Halloween night, and it wasn’t here.”

“Well, no, and yes. If you’d been in the building when I fixed the window, it would sort’ve been here.” He stood directly in front of the aperture. “Look through the opening, Ian. What do you see?”

With an impatient huff, he stared through the opening. “I see the other side of the room.”

He pulled a tennis ball from his coat pocket. “Now, watch this.” He tossed the ball through the opening. “Chronos, get the ball!”

The dog jumped through the opening and chased the bouncing ball until he caught up with it.

“Chronos, sit! Wait!” Jeff commanded.

Chronos sat with the ball in his mouth, facing the two men.

“Okay, Ian. Now, walk around the opening, and take the ball from Chronos.”

He skirted the structure, and stopped short. The other side of the room was empty. “He’s not here,” he said.

“He hasn’t moved. Come back here and look.”

He returned to Jeff’s side and looked. Chronos was still sitting in the same position, just on the other side of the oval. Leaning over to look around the edge of the oval, all he saw was the bare floor, but through the oval, the dog sat, waiting for the command to return. “Where is he, and just what is this thing?”

“He is precisely where he appears to be. What has changed is when he is there. I call this a ‘Step-Through.’ It’s a step through time.”

To be continued…

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Friday Fiction for April 22, 2011

Vonnie is hosting Friday Fiction this week, so make sure you stop by My Back Door, enjoy reading “Lilyanna,” and find the Linky tool with more reading for your holiday weekend.

Last week’s entry was rather heavy, and I wanted something light and fun this week. While this Challenge Entry from early 2009 didn’t place in the top ten of either my Level or the Editor’s Choice, it was one of my favorites just for the smiles I had while writing it. Please keep in mind that this is purely fiction, and that none of this actually transpired between my wife and me, or with any couples that we know.

Post-European Counseling

Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom)

Challenge Entry; week of February 19, 2009

“So,” the Pastor said as we took our seats in his office. “How was Europe?”

“It was a blast,” I replied, grinning like an idiot.

“That’s why we’re here,” my wife said, pointedly not looking in my direction.

Pastor Street eased back into his chair with a concerned expression. “Oh? Is something wrong? You were so looking forward to the concert tour.”

“I was,” she said. “It was like a dream come true being a musician for such a talented Christian singer. I should have known better than to suggest that he-” She jabbed a thumb in my direction. “-serve as a roadie.”

I shrugged. “I thought they appreciated my work.”

“Your work wasn’t the problem.”

The Pastor looked at her over the top of his glasses. “There was a problem, then?”

“From the moment we met up with the tour in Madrid,” she said. “Before I could even introduce him, he stepped forward and started singing.”

That was my cue. “Just call me Schlepper, Schlepper,” I sang. “Toting and fetching, never kvetching…”

She cut me off with a glare.

“That doesn’t seem so bad,” Pastor Street observed.

“Oh, that was just the beginning. When we got to Paris, we went to visit Notre Dame Cathedral.” She stood up. “He threw me over his shoulder and started running for the door, yelling, ‘Sanctuary! Sanctuary!’ Most of the tour crew was there; I was so embarrassed, I wanted to just disappear.”

Pastor Street was fighting to keep a straight face as he looked at me. “You didn’t!”

“Hey, at least I didn’t carry her all the way to the belfry,” I said.

She started pacing behind the chair. “While we were in Berlin, we drove down to Wittenberg to visit Schlosskirche, and genius here tries to tape his own list of theses to the door.”

“What?” I said. “Isn’t it about time for another Reformation?”

“You called for clergy to wear Groucho glasses!”

“I think Martin Luther would have appreciated the idea. He could have worn a pair while denouncing the indulgences.” I went into my best Groucho imitation. “Indulgences; that’s the most ridiculous thing I eveh hoid.”

“In Belgium, you kept asking for sprouts!”

“I never liked Brussels sprouts here. I thought maybe they were better where they originated.”

“You spent the entire time we were in the Netherlands singing, ‘There were three jolly fishermen’.”

I grinned. “They all went down to Amster-”

“Don’t you DARE start that again!”

“Sorry,” I said. “Boy Scout camp flashbacks.”

“In Copenhagen, you referred to the Mayor as the Great Dane.”

“Well, he is a great guy, and he is a Dane.”

She rolled her eyes and gestured her frustration. “I don’t even want to think about Stockholm.”

“What happened in Stockholm?” the Pastor asked.

She covered her face with her hands.

“Well,” I started to explain. “The whole tour crew was treated to a nice restaurant…”

“That’s just it!” She exclaimed. “It was a NICE restaurant. One of the nicest in the city, and you – you-” She was almost in tears. “One of the foremost chefs in the country brings our food to the table and you-”

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Pastor Street said. “What did you do, Jack?”

I was already laughing at the memory. “Erst gefurnee ver de ber,” I said.

“You did the Swedish Chef in a fancy Stockholm restaurant?” he asked, barely containing his own laughter.

“He’s always been one of my favorite Muppets.”

My wife gave the Pastor an incredulous look. “You think this is funny?”

“You have to admit, there is a certain humor to it,” he said.

“I’ll be lucky if I ever get hired to work a tour again, and you two think it’s funny!” She grabbed her purse. “Men,” she huffed as she walked out of the office.

Pastor Street sighed. “You really should go after her and apologize, Jack. Even then, I think you’re going to be in the doghouse for a while.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said. “The doghouse is okay, though. I can be the Swedish Chef’s dog – erf erf, bork bork bork!”

“Go apologize.”

I chased after her, figuring the letter I had in my pocket would help soften her mood. She didn’t know yet, but the same singer had invited us to join them for the Australia tour next year.

I was already getting my Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee impersonations ready.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ponderings for April 19, 2011

Passover Ponderings


By Rick Higginson

The Jewish Passover Seder is a beautiful ceremony, enhanced by the way each family or group tends to individualize the observance. The personality of the person leading the Seder, along with the dynamics of those gathered for the meal, bring changes even from year to year in the same setting. Certain elements, however, are traditionally kept in the Seder, both in keeping with the commands regarding the observance, and the customs handed down through countless generations.

One of these is the Dayeinu. Spoken or sang, the Dayeinu takes the gathering through a progression of the events associated with the first Passover, with each event marked by reciting the word, dayeinu. It starts with, “If He had brought us out of Egypt, but not executed judgment upon our oppressors, dayeinu.”

Dayeinu means something along the lines of, “It would have been enough,” though there are other nuances involved. There is an implication of, “It would have been more than we deserved,” or, “It would have been more than we had the right to ask for.” The Dayeinu takes fifteen steps of God’s action on behalf of Israel – five relating to the deliverance from slavery, five relating to the miracles of the Exodus, and five relating to the covenant relationship with God that Israel is brought into – and declares that each is itself enough of a blessing from God.

Dayeinu is both an expression of worship and humility. It declares the glory of each blessing, but also declares that if each blessing had been the last, it would have been enough to show God’s love for His people. It states, “It is only by God’s great love that we may approach and ask for anything more.” It’s certainly nothing that we have earned.

It’s a strange pronouncement in our modern, entitlement culture, to declare that if God were to never bless us again, He would still have done enough for us. Even within the Christian Church, we see ample teachings and doctrines encouraging us to all but demand blessings from God, as if these blessings were our due.

How would it be received in our churches, if we taught the concept of Dayeinu?

Singer/Songwriter John Fischer wrote a song back in the 1970s titled, Circle of Blessing. The song dealt with the loss of a child during pregnancy, and the second verse went as follows:

The hard rain, it falls, the same on us all. And how you do all depends on your point of view. One man may curse, while another says, ‘It could be worse,’ as he lifts his cup, whether full or empty, to You.

He lifts his cup, whether full or empty, to God. The cup is not being lifted to ask for a refill, but rather, is being lifted in an expression of praise and thanksgiving. Like Job, the lifter is declaring, “The Lord has given; the Lord has taken. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” If we praise God with the expectation of being blessed by Him in return, then we are not really praising. We are performing or reciting for pay, and in a very real way, engaging in a form of spiritual harlotry. Our love for God should be given freely, without conditions set for the delivering of our affections.

As this Passover begins, and as Christendom celebrates the death and resurrection of Messiah, we should ask ourselves this question – If God were to never bless us again, would we still see all He has done already as enough?

Full or empty, our challenge (not just yours, but mine as well) is to lift our cups and declare, “Dayeinu.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Friday Fiction for April 15, 2011

The ever-imaginative Sara is our hostess for Friday Fiction this week. Visit her Fiction Fusion blog for her story, and to find the Linky tool with the list of other great submissions.

In just a few days, the anniversary of the Lisbon Massacre will occur. There is a custom among some Jewish sects, that on Purim (The Feast of Esther), one should get so drunk as to not be able to differentiate between righteous Mordecai, and wicked Haman. The Rabbis who promote this tradition teach that it is to show us that the potential for good and evil exists in everyone, and that what defines us is the choices we make, not the circumstances of our birth or our heritage. We hear a great deal about violent, radical Muslims, but as the Lisbon Massacre should remind us, we as Christians also possess the potential to descend into horrific violence. When I wrote the novella, “If I Forget Jerusalem” for the Peculiar People Heirloom Chronicles, I set my story during this massacre. While the main characters are fictitious, the events referred to are real. From Sunday, April 19, 1506 through Tuesday, April 21, between two thousand and four thousand were slaughtered by a mob, encouraged by a pair of Dominican monks that wanted the Inquisition to come to Portugal. Since the entire story is short, this will be the last excerpt I post from it, but I wanted something to coincide with the anniversary this week.

Chapter 3

Hayom Asara Yamim – Today is Ten Days (of the Omer)

Sunday, April 19th, 1506 – late afternoon

“Sh’muel! Open up! Quickly!”

He opened the door to his friend. Shalom aleichem, Baruch. Have you come to say the blessing for the counting of the Omer with us this evening?”

Baruch entered the house and closed the door behind him. “Keep your voice down; has not the recent arrest of those observing the Pesach taught you anything?"

“They were released unharmed, were they not?”

“That has not helped us. It only made our enemies angrier.” He placed a hand on Sh’muel’s upper arm. “I’ve come to warn you.”

“Warn us? What is happening?” He led the man to a chair and offered him some wine. “You are trembling, my friend. What is wrong?”

“There were a few of us up at St. Dominic’s, and some of the Christians claimed to have seen a miracle on the crucifix in the Jesus Chapel.”

“A miracle? What kind of miracle?”

He waved his hand as if the information was of little consequence. “They say the wound on Jesus’ side was shining with some heavenly light, but Shaul disagreed. He said it was just dry wood and that nothing miraculous was happening.” He gulped his wine and sobbed. “They fell on him, Sh’muel. They dragged him from the church by his hair, ripped him apart, and burned his body.” The tremors in his back returned anew. “Hide your family, Sh’muel. The Dominicans are inciting the people against us, and they are already starting after those who could not get away from the crowd. It will not be long until they are here.”

Hurrying to the door, he opened it just a crack and peeked out. In the direction of the marketplace near the church, columns of smoke were rising and a dull noise penetrated the distance. “What of your family, Baruch?”

“My sons were with me; we ran when we heard the Dominicans calling for the people to avenge the heresy on us. We split up in order to warn as many as we could, with my youngest running as fast as he could to home and warn the women. We are to meet there.” He shook his head. “They were promising that those who killed us would be granted a hundred days of absolution in the world to come.”

“Hurry home; I fear we have little time left before they reach us. Thank you for bringing us this warning.”

Bolting the door after Baruch left, he hurried to find hiding places for each member of the family. Perhaps God would calm the mob before any of the homes were reached; still, it would be prudent to not present any ready targets for their rage if they did come that far.

He paired the children up, hoping the older ones could keep the younger ones from becoming too afraid. His wife took their infant son to one place of seclusion, while he cradled their toddler daughter in his hiding place.

The sounds of people shouting were near enough to discern voices; some angry and others fearful or pleading. Holding the child close to his breast, he whispered calm assurances and hoped she would not get too restless having to stay in one position for too long.

The sound of wood breaking was closer, and he could not stop his imagination from seeing his neighbor’s door being kicked in by a mob. He began to quietly daven; rocking back and forth and muttering prayers for the safety of whoever might be in the home being invaded.

His walls did little to muffle the screams that echoed down their narrow street, and his daughter gave a fearful whimper. He tried to reassure her, hoping he sounded calmer than he felt. “Hine, lo yanum, v’lo ishan, shomer Yisrael,” he quietly canted the Psalm to her. Behold, He does not slumber, and He does not sleep, Who watches Israel. The desperate cries of someone in the distance pleading for mercy, made him realize he was singing as much to reassure himself as the child.

He kissed the top of her head and rubbed one hand gently across her back. If You would send a deliverer, oh Most High, this would be a good time to do so.

* * *

You can read more about the Lisbon Massacre here.