Getting Dicker With Age: Grandpa Got Issues

dicker with age

A few months ago some friends of mine lost their Grandpa.  The kind reminiscences they shared through social media clearly conveyed the great respect and love they all had for this man.  They spoke of a patron who led their family well.  He seemed to be a devoted, loving and self-sacrificing father; a man defined by integrity and character.

If my gramps died today I would tell you that he had been kind of a dick.

Alright, put down the pitchforks and hear me out before you contact social services about your probable cause for elderly abuse.

The respect and love I really have for my G-Pa should go without saying, but since this is the internet and you may not know me personally, let me reassure you.  I care greatly for my Grandpa.  He has done much for his family, and he has always been there for me.  But, after seeing my friends have such kind words for their Grandfather I am left thinking of what I would honestly say if mine was to pass.  Read my example below and maybe you’ll agree with me.

My wife and I were at my folks’ house for our weekly family dinner.  I walked in the door with a skip in my step, excited to catch up with family once again, and my adorable old-ass grandpa is the first one I see.  The man is 84 years old, and I’ll be damned if he isn’t in the best shape of any other human within two decades of his age.  He works out every day, he can see well enough to read or watch a baseball game, he retains the ability to wipe his own droopy, old-man butt cheeks… this man is living the high life in his autumn years.

At this particular gathering it had been a few weeks since I’d seen my family, and I was genuinely excited to him.  

“Grandfather! I haven’t seen you in forever, how are you?”

“Not too good, Chad.  Not too good.”  His mastery of conversation astounds me.

“Well, that’s a bummer,” was the only reply I wanted to offer.  I was prepared for his depressing and pitiful response, considering my grandpa rarely discusses any topic beyond the cascading failures of both his aging body and mind, but it’s annoying that he is so dour and predictable.  I quickly moved away to be with better company.

It was great to see everyone together again.  My family is one of those over-sharing, over-involved, love-you-so-much-it’ll-be-annoying types of families, and it rocks.  I can talk to them about anything: uncomfortable or strange bathroom experiences, my receding hairline, jokes about the ridiculously short and inappropriate boxers my dad used to wear every night (which were notorious for testicle shaped wardrobe malfunctions)… we just divulge this thought-vomit and get nothing but love and laughter in return—except for discussing my Dad’s balls, that is simply met with face-palming and the type of laughter that combines both light-hearted disgust and genuine amusement.

My family laughed and chatted.  My grandpa silently watched the television in another room.

After ten to fifteen minutes of delightful conversation with my mom and sister, my grandpa walked up to me and tossed out his next conversational morsel.

“You know Chad, you look like you’re gaining weight.”  His words echoed around us as the other conversations abruptly stopped.  My sister’s jaw dropped with the slow cadence of a weary sigh.  My mom glared at him, immediately retreating into a primal state of motherly defense.

Confused, and with a small, quizzical frown on my face I said, “You look like you’re getting meaner.”

Alright, not the best comeback ever, but I figured telling my grandpa that he looked like an asshole was bad form.  But yes, he just sort of looked like an asshole.

This is a typical conversation with the old G-Pa, unfortunately.  When you sit down and try to talk to the old man it just wears on you.  His eyes hurt.  The sun is too bright.  His feet ache and he doesn’t think he can walk for much longer.  You served him too much food at dinner.  They don’t serve him enough dinner at his retirement home.  The kids are too loud.  It’s too cold.  It’s too hot.

It’s driving us crazy.  Truly, he almost drove my mother to a complete mental breakdown while he was living at her and my dad’s house.

I can’t help but think, is this where he wants to be as he nears the end of his life?  He has two daughters who have gone straight to bat-shit crazy-ville with alcoholism and selfishness, does he actually want to drive away the small family he still has that loves and cares for him?

I think if you asked him what his legacy is he might talk about how hard he worked as a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy, or how far out of poverty he brought his family from where he was as a child.  He would list accomplishments, accolades, goals met, money earned, property gained and sold.  I am sure he would mention his family to some degree, he isn’t heartless after all.  But, what would he say of that family?

Better yet, what would that family say of him?  That he’s a dick, apparently.

If I had to honestly eulogize my Grandfather I’m sure I would focus on the brighter side of his life, but the fact that I’m tempted towards a brutal honesty should tell you something.  If I get nothing else from him before he ultimately passes on, at least I get the perspective of what I can be when I’m 84, if I choose to be.

God-Sized People

As humans we have an ironic knack for perverting our own humanity.  We disobey in the garden.  We construct massive towers, striving to reach the heavens and rival God Himself.  We trust our voices above the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit.  We equate ourselves with the Almighty, even as good-willed followers of Christ.  We fail to remember just how small we are.

My wife and I recently babysat my seven-year-old niece and five-year-old nephew.  My nephew pretty much schooled me in how to perform complicated actions on his PlayStation 3…at five years old.  I couldn’t rewind a VHS tape properly at the age of five.  Aside from gaming time for the fellas and crafting time for the girls, we also watched Honey I Shrunk The Kids.  Talk about a classic piece of cinema.

Through the course of the movie we see a quartet of children get shrunk by the whacky father’s invention—spoiler alert, in case the plot was too thinly veiled by the title—and subsequently embark on a journey across their front lawn in order to return home.  The adventure is fraught with danger due to the fact that the children are now smaller than insects.  Ordinary and often over-looked things suddenly became monstrously large and threaten the children’s very lives.  Cue the frightening scenes with lawnmowers and jurassic-sized scorpions.

In the movie the kids come across Anty.  This oddly adorable creature is just your average old ant, but thanks to the shrink-ray, he towers over each child like a dinosaur over a caveman.  The kids try to slay him to absolutely no avail, and ultimately end up befriending him while sharing a cream-filled oatmeal cookie that’s the size of a house.  Anty helps carry them through a leg of their journey and becomes a very cherished character that sacrifices himself to protect the children.  I almost cried seeing this again as a 30-year-old man.

Hold the phone here.  We’re talking about an ant.  I crush them with fierce prejudice when I see a few scouts in my kitchen.  Not in this house, little crumb suckers.  Get your food somewhere else.  But, in this fantastical movie world where humans are put on the same playing field as insects, the characters personalize this creature.  They don’t see a pest that might inconvenience them in a barely noticeable way.  They are confronted with something they can’t ignore or crush on a whim.  They are forced to see something bigger.

I was suddenly hit with a flood of thoughts.  What do I pass by every day without noticing?  What situations do I completely overlook simply because I think I am big enough to step over them?  What would happen if I was no longer the biggest thing in my world?

There are situations we are put in every day where we could help someone in need, but we just have so much going on, don’t we?  You’ve got, like, 20 shows queued on Netflix that aren’t going to watch themselves.  You have grocery shopping to do and books to read on your Kindle.  You’re busy, and it’s not your problem when a facebook friend shares a status about going through something rough.  How could you possibly help?  You click the “like” button and move on. You have your own problems.  You mentally give the finger to the jerk tailgating you on your way to work.  You scoff at the pregnant girl in the grocery store when you notice she doesn’t have a wedding ring.  Jokes are made about that weirdo in your office—the one who reminds everyone of Milton from Office Space—and you join in, afraid that defending him will ostracize you from the group.

How quickly we go from being loving Christians to the self-absorbed kings and queens of our own lives.  How quickly we forget the way Jesus lived.  How easily we push aside the very same people Christ focused His time and energy on.  We are great at loving our families, our friends, co-workers, and the kids in our church’s youth groups, but what on earth do we do to love the un-loved?  How do we help people with severe needs?  And we can’t even try to justify it by calling it a time or money issue.  Jesus didn’t go around handing black American Express cards to the prostitutes and lepers.  He invested himself.  He freely gave genuine smiles and encouraging embraces to the downtrodden and broken.  Jesus wasn’t too big for anyone or anything, and nobody’s problems were beneath his notice.

We need to pray every day that God would help us shrink ourselves.  If we see God for who He really is, if we fully grasp how much bigger He is than everything on Earth, shouldn’t that mean that we are all ants to Him?  And yet, He loves.  And yet, He cares.

If you have the means to read these words now, you are blessed beyond measure in this world.  Shrink yourself.  Give the small things in your world the attention God gives us, who are so much smaller than Him.  And if your current season of life is raining down hardship and troubles, may the people around you not be so big that they step over you without noticing your tears.

 

This Band Slaps Your Worship Music In The Face

Christian music can be downright boring. We profess to be pouring our hearts out to God but these deeply personal emotions are conveyed through flacid, uncreative music and generic vocals.

Kings Kaleidoscope knows this has to stop. Our journeys through life are not emotionless. They are not generic. They are joyously exciting, tragically difficult, and overwhelmingly exhausting at times. This is music that conveys those emotions. This is music that connects me to God.

Download or stream this album FOR FREE. I dont care if you are or are not a Christian, this is music that demands your attention.

http://bit.ly/1g77r2C

Also check out their youtube videos of this album here

Giving My Wife My Worst

Almost one entire year ago—are you freaking kidding, I’ve almost been married for a year—I pledged my eternal vow to love one very beautiful and kind woman.  I didn’t know if I would ever marry anyone.  I mean, why would anyone marry a 430lb sack of lethargy 

I was never anything more than friend-zone material as a young man.  You see, I used to be awfully large.  “Super morbidly obese,” as my doctor so lovingly put it.  I weighed 430 lbs.

Let that sink in.  Four Hundred and Thirty Pounds.  Those words crawl through my brain like rancid septic fluid.  I’m disgusted as I think about the food choices I used to make.  The convenience and relatively low cost of fast-food, coupled with my extreme addiction to on-line video gaming, led me to become Jabba-The-Chad.

I worked during the day, often sneaking away between appointments to play games on my PSP and Nintendo DS in the parking lot of some Del Taco, or Taco Bell – or if I was really desperate, a Burger King.  After work I would head straight home for a night of raiding with my World Of Warcraft guild accompanied by a freshly acquired order of 20 chicken nuggets, large fries, $1 double-cheeseburger, and diet Dr. Pepper.  What fun is sitting on your ass in front of a computer for six to eight hours if you can’t pop a nugget down your gullet between boss kills, am I right?

I kept that up for years.  That big four-three-zero number doesn’t sound so astonishing now, does it?

Gastric bypass surgery became my waistline’s salvation.  In the summer of 2009, my doctor suggested weight-loss surgery as a solution to my condition.  I was tired of living the way I was.  I was ready to be a different man.  Three months later I was on an operating table.  Snip-snap, a staple here and a staple there, and I was ready for recovery.  I was doped out of my mind from anesthesia, but I think I would have remembered seeing a construction crane in the operating room.  I have no idea how a team of six tiny asian doctors and nurses managed to hoist my gelatinous mass onto a gurney without a massive machine of some sort.

Life was a blur from there.  I would lose sixteen pounds a week.  I ate meals by the tablespoon.  You know how you see a nutrition label and read the serving size of something as “1 cup” and you think, “Haha, right – that’s like three bites, I’ll take an entire bowl, thanks?”  Usually, half of the suggested serving amount was what I ate.  But, I don’t mean for any of this to sound like I starved myself – I simply didn’t have room for more than that in my “baby-tummy.”  So I ate small meals frequently.  I snacked on small amounts.  I began exercising as soon as my doctor allowed it.  Time flew by, the weight flew off, and by 2011 I had lost 220lbs and I actually felt good about the dude in the mirror.  Hunky, even.

A short time later, I met my beautiful wife.

To bring this full-circle, here I am now approaching my first anniversary.  It’s been an incredible year and marriage to Jennifer Figueroa is a fantasy come to life.  Unfortunately, as our love and relationship has grown so has the spare tire around my waist.  A year of merriment has led me back into some old bad habits.  I’ve stopped focusing on staying fit.  I’m not out buying new a new shirt and jeans every few months to wear on first dates.  I’m not concerned about whether or not women are attracted to me.  I have the most attractive of all the women and she loves the crap out of me—her love won’t waver due to me buying a larger shirt size.

But, is that what she deserves?  Does my wife deserve a husband who is loving, affectionate, kind, and completely negligent when it comes to what he consumes?

Suddenly, all of this seems much more simple, doesn’t it?  God abolished me from a lifestyle of gluttony and lethargy through a life-saving surgery and an entirely changed attitude.  Now, as soon as a healthy lifestyle no longer felt necessary to find a companion, I allowed myself to indulge in forgotten shame.

It’s time to take my over-eating seriously, because—as the fact that my clothes range from not fitting at all to fitting very poorly proves—it is certainly taking me seriously.

I need to make consistently good eating decisions, not a few days of proper diet followed by a cheat meal that turns into a cheat day which turns into gaining back the two pounds I just lost.

I need to appreciate the value of unloading a good dose of sweat during a workout.  I allow laziness to rule me in my outlook on exercise.  It’s unhealthy, it’s not what God wants for me, and it’s a crap testimony to the 220 lbs I managed to lose in the past.

I need to reward myself through the feeling I get when I try on new clothes—or, in this case, old clothes which no longer fit around my rotund mid-section—and not through eating tasty crap that’s driven me to this heavier state in the first place.

It’s time to man up and stop making excuses.  My wife deserves my best.  She loves me—especially when I’m only wearing my birthday suit—but, I want to feel good about what I’m offering her.

This manly situation right here is all she’s ever gonna get, so I’ll be damned if I’m not going to make it the best it can be.

Don't get distracted by my smokin' hot wife

Don’t get distracted by my smokin’ hot wife

I’m a Bad Christian, and so are You.

You’re probably a pretty good christian, right?  You tithe.  You pray for the people in your life that are struggling.  You volunteer at church.  You have a christian radio station pre-set in your car.  Maybe you read your bible every day, or at least often enough not to feel totally awkward when other christians talk about being in The Word.

You don’t cuss, or watch super rated-R movies that glorify violence and sex.

You don’t hang out with that old group of friends anymore, the ones that used to draw on your face if you passed out.

But maybe your tithe waits until you think you can afford it.

Maybe you mechanically tell people you’ll pray for them, because that’s just sort of what you say when someone is having a hard time.  Maybe twenty minutes later you completely forget about it.

Maybe you volunteer at church, but you hate serving alongside that one annoying person that talks your ear off.

There is a movement starting.  One that threatens to shake the foundations of the modern church.

It’s a movement of honesty, centered on the unavoidable necessity of God’s mercy.  A movement that serves to bring light to our sin that God might help us overcome it.

It’s starting at http://www.badchristian.com, and the tremors of this movement have triggered a torrent of emotions in my heart.

The idea behind this is that we are all terrible at this whole following Jesus thing.

We are bad christians with a good God.

I won’t get into the scripture references in defending the label.  I urge you to check out that website.  I am not associated with them in any way other than being a brother in Christ, so I will let them speak to you on the details of what they are doing.

What I want to discuss is the light this sheds on my own walk with God, and on my relationship with fellow believers.

I hear the term “good christian” said frequently among church-goers.  Typically it is used to describe the current state of our relationship with God.  Like we are good christians when we are seeking Him, and bad christians when God is sort of in the back seat.

There is something profoundly dangerous about this.  Something that I think the Enemy constantly uses to help divide the church from the rest of society.

I think this danger is one of appearances.

I don’t want the other couples in our bible study to know that my wife and I just got done with a huge fight.  They might not see us as having a loving marriage, or they might be exposed to the things we are struggling with.

What if I skipped church sunday morning because I was hung over?  I might mention it to my family or close friends; the people I trusted.

Then what do I do when I see folks at church the following week and someone asks what I was up to last Sunday?  I can’t tell them the truth.  They might think I have an alcohol problem.  They might talk about it to other people.

There is something about the secret sin that really draws us to self-deception.  Like the things we do aren’t quite as real, or quite as devastating, when nobody else knows about them.

A “good christian” is a follower of christ that is hiding the truth about the darkness in his or her life.

What if we flipped that on it’s head?

What if we all took a moment to be honest.

Not just honest with ourselves and God, because I would never judge the state of a fellow believer’s relationship with God.  But honest with eachother.  

If we removed this label, this idea that we could ever be good in God’s eyes, and embraced the fact that we fail far more often than we succeed, we might be able to actually talk about our sin honestly.  One of the biggest hurdles we face when discussing our sin is that we don’t want anyone to know about the mistakes we make, or the issues we struggle with.

We want to appear as good as possible.

We don’t want to be a bad example.

But what better example could there be than one of a Christ follower who openly admits his faults and thanks Christ genuinely for saving him?

Afterall, that is exactly what Christ died for, isn’t it?

He did not die so we could hear sunday sermons and go to church potlucks to talk about how blessed we’ve been.

Christ died because we sin, constantly.  We sin so hard we gave God no other options.

The state of the human heart told God that of he didn’t intervene to make up for how terribly we live, then we would all end up in hell for eternity.  We are such disobedient, bad children that God allowed His Son to be brutally tortured, then murdered so we could actually have a relationship with him.

What we need to do is rip off our “good christian” masks.

We need to allow ourselves to be honest with one another about how grateful we are that God has saved us from ourselves.

We lust after other people.  We envy what others have.  We glorify money, fame, sex, and violence in popular culture.

Christians do these things.

That lady holding your hand during prayer after your bible study is struggling with hardcore sin issues.  You are desperately battling sin every day.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is forgetting that fact.

Complacency is one of the devils greatest tools.  I imagine that Satan loves the christian that feels like they are living a pure, “good” life.  How terrified must he be of the christian that is lying on the floor, sobbing and broken because they have seen the reality of their sin?

If we could let down our defenses and understand that we have all sinned and fallen short, and we felt comfortable enough with our christian brothers and sisters to talk about the sin issues that plague us, I believe God would have much wider avenues for helping us battle our temptations.

There is something about knowing that someone sees themselves as a bad christian that disarms me.  If someone admits to me, openly, that they have failed then I am instantly more comfortable discussing my own failures.

I look forward to seeing this movement begin.  I look forward to having honest conversations with my spouse, my friends, and my family about the issues we struggle with.

God has shown me an abundance of mercy and grace for the sins I have committed.

He has forgiven me for being the horrendously bad christian that I can be.

None Too Far Gone

I read a fellow blogger’s post earlier this morning. It was the frustrating cry of a woman lost in the world. Regardless of victories, regardless of achievements or progress in life, she wrote of feeling dissatisfied. I responded to her entry in a comment, and wanted to post a modified version of that here.

Please remember, all fall short, all need Jesus, and we are all together. May God use each of us to spread His love in such a loveless world.

 

None Too Far Gone

There is real pain in life. There are cuts that gouge deep. They’re painful, and they bleed. They scab. The scabs itch and we tear them open. The burning drives us insane and we just want to be healed.

I’m covered in scabs. Some have healed into scars, no more than puffy blemishes on my skin. Reminders of my past. Others are fresh. Our nature causes us to inflict wounds on ourselves and others every day.

In my own experience, Jesus healed me.

God found me in a middle-class american high school life, nothing dramatic about it. But God never left me, even when I allowed Him to gather dust in the darkest corner of the closet while I played with things I didn’t understand, but couldn’t resist.

God has freed me from those things. Although not gone, my wounds are soothed. I am comforted. In my pursuit of God I am led through life. A follower of Christ is never free from challenges. Never free from pain. Often we are tempered in a more intense fire, only to emerge stronger, and more beautifully shaped.

The trials in life are used by God as the blacksmith uses the hammer. Every sinful act, every worldly failure can be turned to good at the direction of the Almighty.

I don’t know the details of your journey. I don’t know your sorrows, past or present. But I know the Word of God is truth, and the truth has set me free absolutely.

I can’t help you, but I know my relationship with God has helped me. He can help you if you, if you ask Him to.

 

 

Regarding Blocked Paths: In Which I Reference Cro-Magnon Man and Refer to Sin as a “Jerk”

Thank You

Excerpt credits shall be revealed unto thee whenst thou hast read mine heavenly blog post. So, check the bottom of the page.

The subject of “closed doors,” or “paths made straight,” is one I need to constantly reflect on. As a Christian, I look to God to lead me down the path I know He has planned out. That is one of the most ridiculously difficult things I have ever had to face. And I get to face it every day! High five for walking the narrow path, am I right? I have had jobs, living arrangements, and romances all hinging on this one principle.

I have walked on my own for different periods in my life. There have been times, all post-revelation-on-the-mountain, tears-streaming-with-hands-raised-high, sorts of times when I knew the truth of the gospel, yet I still chose to navigate this jungle of life and go my own way. Those were the worst years of my life. Through my greatest physical and financial sufferings, I have known significantly more realistic joy than during my most worldly-focused pursuits.

I crashed cars. I don’t mean a ding in the Home Depot parking lot. I mean crashed. I hit three cars in nine months, two of which were totaled. One had been a mercedes benz that belonged to my Mother. Seriously. One of the accidents was a head-on collision with a cro-magnon-ly old man and his wife, the former of whom was removed from the scene in an ambulance. Sin is a total jerk, making me hit old people like that.  I dropped out of every college class I had signed up for over three semesters. Complete waste of my parent’s money. Still sorry about that, Mom and Pops. This is where “following my heart” and “experiencing the world” got me.

Then came an actual God focus.

Once I was broken enough, God led me back to church. I found myself with friends who supported me. I saw my life open up in completely new ways. Instead of grasping at random lines of thought, these wisps of consciousness that the the world stuffed in, I was pursuing the opportunities that blossomed without me clawing like a madman for them.  I began to pray earnestly, and honestly, for God to make my paths clear. Show me the right way, God! Reveal your wisdom unto meeeeee! He didn’t do that. Instead of seeing my life from a top-down perspective, like a cartographer poring over a map, I was seeing it from eye-level. We can only see what lies before us, not the details of things to come. Being self obsessed and arrogant, all we want is to know where we will end up.

The comfort I began to find was in the closed doors. In the blocked paths.

God gifts each of us with talents and abilities. Some are easily identified, and others take years to be realized, but we are all uniquely equipped to handle life’s challenges. I have seen myself placed in this jungle, entire valleys of obstacles before me, and I know there is a specific direction God wants me to go. I know that I can use what God has given me to start breaking trails and hacking away at the vines that confront me.

But every human being does this, don’t they? There is nothing set apart and holy about this experience for the follower of Christ over that of a lost soul.

The Christian is gifted something special: The comfort of the closed door. When we walk with Jesus’ hand in ours towards the closed path, we feel that gentle tug in our spirit to stop and look around. We see our closed doors and we know God has a different way for us. The non-Christian is alone in the wilderness. They have a brain and muscles on which to rely, but muscles tear and brains fail.

All things rooted in this world, like our bodies, are rooted in sin. We are in constant need of God’s wisdom and grace, and the everlasting blood of Jesus Christ to atone for the things we have done, and those we continue to do.

I am thankful beyond words for the closed door, because it brings comfort to know that God cares for me.

We can’t see what lies very far ahead. But whether it be a prowling beast eager to devour, or a cliff awaiting our fall, I know God will lead me to safe pastures.

A friend of mine just shared this excerpt on facebook. It was shared to her through Godvine’s facebook page, which appears to have originated through Christian based eCards site, http://www.crosscards.com
I think I have credited every responsible party. 

Onward To Creation

I started this blog just over a year ago. I had very few expectations, which was a very good thing. It’s so arrogant to think that I could sit at a keyboard, produce words onto a screen, and draw people into reading them. I feel like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, enticing unknowing victims into my blogspace with sweets so I can feed. But here it is, here I am, and (hopefully) here you are, sharing something with me.

I’ve never excelled at any one thing in my life. Nothing that really mattered in a realistic sort of way, at least. Aside from my new marriage. I kick ass at loving my wife, except when I dont, but generally, I do. I was decently well-rounded, both in size (I was a large boy) and in talent. Sports came easily in theory and practice, but there was no one great favorite for me. School was never particularly difficult, but I never tried particularly hard. I had parents that truly believed, and often vocalized, their confidence that I could do anything I wanted.

My biggest problem with that is I had no clue what I wanted.

The older I got the more I invested time in things that mattered little to my future.  I would say that consumption began to define me by my teenage years. I consumed anything that I found enjoyable: Food especially, but also entertainment. Video games, movies, music, books, television – I consumed all. As soon as high school football ended after my senior year, I began filling my new found pockets of free time with online video games. Persistent worlds. Characters that grew more powerful and stayed with me for years. I had dozens of invisible friends, made up of disembodied voices from all over the country. Our one commonality was our love of the games we played. I cherished those friendships. I weighed over 400 pounds, had never had a proper girlfriend, and felt the most at home with people who couldn’t see me. The only criteria these people had to judge me was based on my abilities in a digital world. And not to toot any horns here, but I was good at gaming. As all other areas in which I found myself talented, I didn’t do a muthalovin’ thing about it. I never nurtured the things I did well. I didn’t foster and grow the gifts that came naturally. I simply consumed. I thought about how this world could entertain me.

In school, I had friends with dreams. I grew up seeing those people who just knew what they were meant to do. They had purpose. My purpose was to just sort-of-kind-of be a fun-loving, decent guy. I was never socially ostracized. I was never pushed into fringe friendship groups because I didn’t belong with cool kids. I was never angsty or fed up with the system, or rebellious against my parents. But I do think that those emotions drive us. They give us something to prove to ourselves, because we have people in our own families or in society that aren’t sure we are good for anything. Without a strong sense of proving anything to anyone, I never ended up proving anything to myself – aside from the fact that I could survive to age 29.

So here I sit, as mentioned, and here you are. I want to tell you that I have managed to identify something I have the desire to foster and grow.

I want to write. Just a little, at least. For my own pleasure, but hopefully for yours also. Communicating comes naturally for me. It is something I am good at, inherently. And for the first time ever in the history of all things Chad, I am going to pick it up and run with it. I am going to run like Forest Gump. Like those bulls in Spain. Like a leaky nose. Like your refrigerator.

If I was realizing this in my teenage years I would pursue it fully loaded. As it is I am 29, I am married, and I have a fulfilling job that provides enough, by the absolute grace of God. But I really do yearn for more. I am longing to see myself filled with a passionate love for what I do every day. The cliche saying is that few people rarely get the pleasure of loving what they do. That most of us clock-in and clock-out, day by day, in order to feed ourselves and put roofs over heads. I think the path to freedom in our professional lives is exploring the things we enjoy, and finding a way to produce that for others. What a world that would be. If the professionals we dealt with every day, or the professionals that we are, had passion for what they did.

I have consumed enough in this world. Now, I desire to create something in it. Thank you for reading even a single word that I have typed out, on any aspect of this website. All has been brought forth with great care, and deep consideration.

 

 

The Long Journey Home – Chapter 5

So this is my first time writing dialogue, which is still pretty sparse at the end. I legitimately had to consult google on the correct way to format. It was more than a little sad. But researching the basics aside, this started to really flow once I got into the meatier bits of it. Hopefully there is some suspense building as we reach the end, and I am going to see if I can wrap this up with just one more chapter.

Enjoy! (hopefully)

The Long Journey Home

Chapter 5

The last hour of Tom’s life had been uneventful, if not entirely peaceful. The atmosphere in the forest was unsettled. The abrupt sounds that echoed between the trees. The erratic tracks of animal movement he found in the brush. All spoke of an uneasiness, and Tom felt it from his toes all the way up to the hairs on the back of his neck. He was never one to possess an active imagination. He always held firmly to reality, and believed himself to be capable through all things. Tom’s ability to maintain control in the most hectic of circumstances had been the only thing that had seen him alive through his many years as a Huntsman. Capability was no longer his defining trait, and coping with this was something Tom did very poorly.

Thomas Gladring was no longer a hunter. His body was not capable of taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles. It was capable of frowning and of speaking in disapproving tones. It had seen long years, and hard work, and the confidence he once had was cracking. He was a pane of glass that had acquired a chip, and with every day that passed the chip continued to fracture. It grew deeper and longer, like the spreading tendrils of a vine, poised to shatter at the slightest breeze. With tales of eaten children and a missing Huntsmaster in his head, Tom was acutely aware of his frailty. He was hurrying along the road as swiftly as he could manage, eager to accomplish his task before the phantoms in his head could burst from the shadows. Breathing heavily and nose leaking from exertion, Tom approached a rapidly receding treeline. He left the shade of the trees and emerged into the mouth of a wide clearing.

The towering trees of the forest gave way to an expansive glade of emerald green grass. In the center of the clearing was a crystal blue lake, framed on three sides by a lush halo of purple flowers. The north side of the lake was crowned with a sheer rock wall that rose proudly for twenty feet to its peak. Crisp mountain water flowed swiftly over the precipice, plunging into the lake below with a soft splash. Tom stood in the long grass with eyes closed tightly, the bright afternoon sun feeling harsh after the shade of the trees. His posture alternated restlessly between an upright stretch and an exhausted hunch.

     What, in the daftness of my fading mind, was I thinking? Dragging my floppy rump out half way to no place? Folks twenty years my junior spend afternoons on porches, gettin’ fat and bouncin’ babes on their knees…lazy wretches.

Tom gave himself the necessary moments to collect himself before taking in the scenery around him. This place took his breath away when he first visited it. As it was, Tom hadn’t much breath to take. His boots shuffled through the grass, moving towards the water’s edge. All remained as it had been a year ago. Just as beautiful and magnificent. The same today as when he first brought Mary to share it with him. The purple blossoms he was hunting brushed against his pant legs as Tom drew closer to the water. He stopped when the toes of his boots sank into the damp shore of the lake. He removed his pack and dropped it smartly to the ground, creating a crater of smashed flowers. Relying as always on his staff, Tom leaned on it slowly as he dropped to first one knee, then the other, inching his body to the ground. He winced and groaned, but eventually found himself staying steadily upright. With his backside resting on a bed of flowers and soft dirt, Tom was as comfortable as he could manage.

He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head, hoping to shield his eyes from the brightness of the spring afternoon. It was a few hours past midday, and what had always been a two hour hike at a leisurely pace was now a four hour journey that threatened to pull his body apart. Tom reached out and took a handful of flower stems in each hand and gave a fierce tug. He placed the bushels on his lap and fetched a cord of string from his pack. With gentle movements, he cleaned the stems of dirt and roots, bound them together with the cord, and held in his hands a beautiful bouquet. With another length of string, Tom tied the bundle of flowers to one strap of his pack.

     Blighted errand completed, He thought, with a satisfied sigh. Well, just about completed, anyway.

With the babble of the waterfall in his ears and the perfume of flowers in his nose, Tom felt safe and at ease, his concerns along the lake road were all but forgotten. He stretched his limbs out, already feeling soreness creep into his muscles.

     A quick rest’s all I can spare. Moving fast as a child toddlin’ on all fours all day, I’ll be lucky to make it outta’ here with the sun in the sky.

Tom closed his eyes and let the sounds of the water soothe him. He and Mary used to lay here together. Sunlight kissing their faces. Clouds lazily sailing along overhead. Embarrassing giggles filling the air as they lounged in the deep grass. Tom didn’t allow Mary to accompany him into the forest, but for the lake he made an exception. Mary took full advantage of the freedom, and would swim for hours in the cool water. Tom permitted himself a half-smile as he sat on the shore, remembering those times. The couple had spent entire nights on blankets of flowers, calling the bright stars above by names they had decided to one day use for their children.  He could picture her climbing up to the top of the waterfall. She had never looked more beautiful than that, standing proud on the edge of the rocks, queen of the forest lake. Her long hair prancing loosely behind her in the breeze. Her entire figure glowing in the sun. She would stare at the northern mountains from up there, wishing nothing more than to travel the entire five lands with Tom. Hoping to one day see every wonder this world contained.

She had collapsed on a day like that.

Tom and Mary strolled happily away from the lake, taking the path home. Their fingers intertwined. His thumb gently rubbing circles on the back of her small hand. Arms swinging forward and back. He looked at her eyes, thankful for the beautiful woman who loved something in him. Her black pupils were large, as they would be in darkness. Something in the pit of his stomach clenched.

“All okay, Mare?”

She looked confused, features twisting, mouth half open. She began to shake her head when her legs gave out. He wrapped his arm around her, easing her to the ground.

“What’s happened? You alright?” Tom’s voice was low and calm. His thoughts were frantic. He was scared.

Her eyes seemed to disappear into the back of her head as the lids closed over them. Tom stretched her legs out in front of her and bundled his pack under her head. Minutes pass before Mary finally wakes. Tom tries to carry her home, but she stubbornly refuses. Mary thinks she is alright. That whatever it was had passed.

“I’m fine, you old midwife. Too much sun and adventure.” She smiles at him, trying in vain to comfort her husband and brush off the episode.

Days later and she has been sick frequently. Her expression appears joyful as she sees Tom’s excitement. He is hoping for news of a pregnancy. Mary hides her feelings, clenching her teeth for hours without end, fighting the pain in her head. It seems constant.

Time passes and her next month comes. There is no child growing in her belly. Tom continues to hope, and to smile.

Nausea plagues her for weeks before she shares her state with her husband. Tom stands before the Town Council, the Doctor, and every midwife he can find. Each of them shakes their head regretfully.

Mary has trouble speaking. Tom’s conversations with her become confused as she struggles to find words. She can’t focus. A handful of hours into every day and her body begins to fail.

A winter passes.

Tom travels to the Land of Sand, gone for weeks. He has heard stories. The Sages of Sand work miracles with plants and ointments. He is in desperate need of a miracle. Tom gives every earthly wealth he has to the Sages. They give him a pouch of colorful herbs and a container of pungent oil. He mixes ingredients and applies the stinking muck to her chest.  No change comes.

Fury begins to define him. He gave all he had on a whimsical hope. Now he has nothing but an ailing wife and no path of salvation.

Mary comforts him. She smiles and touches his hand. She loves him, she says. Everything will be alright.

He feels useless and afraid. Tom plunges heedlessly into the forest for days at a time, retreating to the only place he feels in control. He hunts. He brings food home. He doesn’t smile anymore.

The time comes when Mary is unable to care for herself. Tom stays with her, but wishes for nothing more than a beast he can plunge a knife into, hating this invisible demon that is taking Mary’s life away.

Deep lines form on the skin of his young face. His frown is constant. All joy is gone as he watches his queen deteriorate.

A second winter passes. Tom wishes to see Mary smile again. He ventures out into the woods. Mary wakes to the smell of fresh flowers. A glorious bouquet graces her bedside. He sits next to her and holds her hand. Half her face is unmoving and expressionless. The other half curves into a delicate smile. For your birthday, Mare, he explains. You will always have these for your birthday. She cherishes the gesture, glad to see him close to her.

Less than a month later and Tom is digging a hole. Tears fall on fresh dirt. People surround him, but their words are lost in the fog of his despair. Darkness fills the house of Thomas Gladring.

Tom’s experience showed him how useless he was as a husband. His vow to care for her, to protect and shelter her, seemed a farce. A terribly wicked jest played on him by fate, or God, or destiny, or whatever else dictated the course of a man’s life. Tom’s time with Mary felt a cruel, tragic sort of blessing. He cherished the memories they had made, but he longed to change things. To take her place. It was his duty to sacrifice. He should have done more. He didn’t try hard enough. But he was relieved. He couldn’t have handled another year of watching her waste away. Seeing her body lose all function. Watching her spirit fade. He was thankful for an end to the madness that came from seeing the one thing he loved slip away from him.

“You pathetic, coward of a man.”

Tom’s face went slack as his wife slowly rose from beneath the surface of the water.

“Mare?”

“You make me sick.” The words explode from her mouth like venom. “How dare you come to this place.”

“I came for your flowers. I promised you! Don’t you remember?”

Her brow was drawn down, face forming a vicious snarl. Tom fumbled for the bundle of flowers at his side, eager to prove the fulfillment of his vow.

“You arrogant oaf. You think you honor me? That this disgusting penance could free you from your wrongs? How many nights did I spend scared, and alone with my sickness? Horrified of the unknown pestilence inside me?” The surface of the water vibrated as the sounds of her booming voice filled the air.

She walked forward, emerging from the water. Chin raised high, glaring down at him. Tom scrambled backwards, terrified of the look in her eyes.

“You could have helped me!” She was screaming. “You could have saved me!”

Tom began sobbing. He held his hands up in front of his face, shielding himself from her terrible rage. “I did all I could,” he cried softly. “I wish it’d been me. You would’ve survived without me. You were so strong, Mare.”

Her eyes pierced into his like she was looking into Tom’s soul, and was disappointed in what she found. She slowly bent down and picked up his staff.

“Then come to me, you sad man. Let me finally correct the mistake that fate made.”

Mary raised the staff high over her head. Tom watched the drops of water fall from her dress as she raised her arms. Her eyes burned with madness. Mary’s lips pulled back into a mad grin. Her teeth were bared, the tips jagged and broken to sharp points. Strands of wet spittle were carried from her mouth as her shriek shattered into his ears. The staff thundered towards him. He waited for the end.

His eyes snapped open. Mary’s roar continued to echo through the air as he blinked, adjusting to the light of dusk in the sky. The surface of the lake was still. The sky was painted in brilliant orange and purple hues.

     Fallin’ asleep like a fool’s apprentice. I deserve to get eaten out here.

The roar broke into the air once again and Tom clambered to his feet. The sound came from the north, near the stream above the waterfall. Tom quickly picked up his pack and jerked his arms into the straps. Checking that the bouquet was securely hanging at his side, Tom stooped to retrieve his staff from beneath the tall flowers. His body resisted his every movement, stiff as it was from laying on the ground, unmoving for hours.

     Gotta be a Volbear up there above the lake. If I can get off into the trees I’ll be away before it can find a path south. 

Tom forced his body into an awkward canter, half jog, half limp, toward the path out of the clearing. The roar echoed into the air again.

Suddenly a voice shouted, “Run, boy! Behind me!”

Tom hesitated, turning around to face the wall of rock. He recognized Henry Shanks’ voice. Tom took a few hesitant steps back towards the lake before he stopped himself. He was not prepared to shout and draw attention to himself. He certainly wasn’t fit to scale twenty feet up a rock wall. There was nothing he could do except get away.

As he stood weighing his options, Tom heard loud splashes rapidly approaching down the stream. Darkness was quickly following the setting of the sun and Tom could barely make out the small figure that was stumbling through the water. The dark form of a boy became clearer as it drew closer to the waterfall. The water was flowing earnestly and the boy tripped, disappearing from Tom’s sight. A moment later he saw the dark blob of Samuel Haster’s body float over the edge of the rocks, and watched as it tumbled into the darkness of the lake below.

 

Kill The Grumpies

Attitudes make this world go ’round. There are good ones, bad ones, and others that fall into a blurry, ill-defined world where good things can be genetically mutated into bad things.  I’m generally one to possess a sunny and chipper disposition. I try to smile a lot, unless it’s towards strangers because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m that friendly. I definitely laugh a lot, though mostly at my own jokes, or my own bone-headed mistakes. All in all, I really try to make the best of life and not let the ocean of bad crap in this world wear down on me too much.

But dang man, there are certainly days when that’s difficult.

 

Unfortunately, today has managed to be one of those rare days. I wish I could identify where this starts, in hopes that I could turn that frown upside down all quick-like and make with the shits and giggles again.  I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I stumbled out in the same walking dead manner I always have before hot shower water hits my face. The day didn’t even start badly. All was well until I had one small work snag. It really was small, too, and typical. It was boss related, and everyone has boss related snags on a daily basis. Unfortunately for me, my boss’ name is Dad. By and large, that isn’t a great kerfuffle of a deal. Ain’t no thang. I’ve been working with my Dad for as long as I can remember and we love each other enough that, for the most part, we don’t tear each other apart or get too pissy that often. For those of you that might not have the pleasure of working  alongside a very close family member, you learn a multitude of things under those circumstances. Most of those are things you come to loathe and be irritated by very easily, usually because they are qualities that you were fortunate enough to have had passed down to you.

I need to properly collect and arrange my thoughts here. This isn’t a rant about mixing business with lineage. All this is to say that my father did something to upset me, which is nothing even close to newsworthy, and I am used to dealing with that eventuality every day. What this is a rant about, is how one thing, however infinitesimal on the greater scale of actual life problems, can change the course of an attitude and pull you into an ever widening pit of despair and sadness. A place occupied by silence, but for the wailing of a thousand tentacled netherbeasts whose splintering cries creep between the folds of your brain like weeds, taking root, spreading and growing until you’re certain that the only end to the pressure is to close your mouth, plug your nose, and blow with every shred of strength you have left.

That could have been a hair’s width on the dramatic side, but I’m trying to work on my creative writing skills, after all. But for realsies here folks, it was like an avalanche of the grumpies took over my mind. My attitude had shifted away from it’s normal happy place. I was suddenly allowing my mind to run rampant on the things that bother me about myself. If demons have specialties, I was definitely being attacked by a self-critical demon. I was bogged down by thoughts about things I wanted to accomplish that I hadn’t, or things I was working on that I was suddenly sure would fail. It was a terrible way to spend the day. It amazes me how one relatively small thing can overtake you and filter out into the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if my briefly pessimistic and destructive attitude helped bring someone else over to my wallowing pit of bitterness. I mean, what if one encounter I had during this time affected someone else and caused them to feel this same way? What if I carry this attitude home and relate to my wife under this terrible fog?  I was carrying a pestilence with me everywhere I went, and my attitude permeated every aspect of my outward relations. It really wasn’t until I sat down and put some words onto a computer that I let myself realize the origin of the problem. It had nothing to do with some extraneous event, or some wrong deed that was done to me. Outside forces assault us constantly. Circumstances change, we can’t control the actions and attitudes of others. It’s difficult enough to control our own. I was like a ship with no anchor, just wandering in the ocean. Every gust of wind took me wherever it desired, and I was acting helpless to stop it.

That’s not the truth of my life. I have a foundation. A fool floats along with a tide, ignorant and unaware that they are moving, ever so slowly, miles away from where they intended to go. I have a rock in my life to grasp when I’m tumbling down a river, inches from the waterfall. That rock is Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It’s my wife, and family, and friends that care for me. The world is going to take a dump on you. It’s gross to think about, but we swim in a world of dookie. That’s what Satan wants to force into us, with the hopes that crap is precisely what we will become. He wins us over my millimeters and nanoseconds. Microscopic changes in our minds and attitudes, like a frog gladly being boiled alive on the stove. Once we realize we are in danger, it’s already too late to get out without being skinned and eaten on a baguette. What I need to remember is, this world reeks of danger. It’s on my tv and radio. It’s on billboards and in magazines. And it’s in every single one of us.

I urge you all, don’t spread this disease. Trust in the promises of God and the fact that you have been made perfect in your imperfection. Without that we are all just slinging feces at each other like monkeys in the zoo, perfectly content  to roll in filth and spread that filth to everybody within an arms reach. Use that Jesus hose and clean yourself off, then do what you can to clean off the others around you. How great would it be if when we felt our attitudes altering into the negative that we had people surrounding us to help, and remind us of our value? I’m certainly not worthless. And you definitely aren’t, because if you have ever read anything on this blog and added to the site views counter, you’ve made a world of difference to me and the relevance of what I have to say.

The Long Journey Home – Chapter 4

So here we are on chapter 4 already. I wasnt sure I’d be able to finish a legible sentence, let alone something called a “chapter”. Hopefully the journey Tom is on is at least mildly interesting. I’ll take mildly interesting over greatly disappointing  for my first effort. I’m excited to finish this up and take what I’ve learned from this process and apply it to something else, but before that can happen I get the pleasure of seeing where Tom ends up.

The Long Journey Home

Chapter 4

The world that surrounded Tom would have seemed silent to most men. Birds chattered and trilled in musical tones from high among the boughs. The tall overgrowth between tree trunks shifted with the sharp crackling of twigs and rustling of leaves as creatures moved under cover. A nearly constant hum filled the air as the needles on the Fir trees vibrated in the heavy breeze that swept over the forest top. Tom delighted in these sounds. The ones that his fuzzy ear hairs allowed through, anyway. Amidst this veneer of silence Tom translated the details of distant events and potential threats. It was a world that spoke to him in the way it spoke to the foxes and weasels that were taking shelter in the brush, aware of Tom’s approach through vibrations in the earth and his scent on the wind. Tom made no attempts to conceal his presence, and would have failed miserably had he tried. Creeping about was for the young and the able bodied, and Tom’s body popped and creaked every time he moved a limb. Even still, Thomas Gladring supposed he hadn’t much to fear in this part of the forest, not giving even an ounce of weight to the recent worried talk around Wood.

For the last few months, since the snows began to melt and spring came on, the market had been full of rumors that the larger forest beasts were prowling outside the forest Heart to feed. There weren’t many creatures in the safer woods that were enough of a meal to sustain packs of Volbears or Festercraws, and as far back as Tom could remember he never saw such a predator outside the Heart. But still, his ears were functioning well enough and Tom heard the talk nonetheless. It had started when two of the Huntsmen’s youngest apprentices spoke of stumbling upon the remains of an Ash Wolf, half devoured with gaping wounds from sharp claws and jagged teeth. It sounded like every Volbear attack there had ever been, but Henry Shanks, Wood’s current Huntsmaster, dismissed the report. Tom had known Huntsmaster Shanks to be hopelessly dimwitted and the complete personification of laziness, but Tom agreed that it was highly improbable that a Vol would venture so far from its typical habitat. Dark beasts tended to remain in dark places. After relatively little debate and no investigation the story was disregarded as the fancies of scared young boys. But that had been all it took for the townsfolk to ignore logic and good sense, and the seeds of worry and paranoia had been planted. It wasn’t long before every missing animal or child out past supper was considered the fault of a blood-thirsty monster.

Mindless hogs and heifers have always gone missing when farmers snored in the grass instead of minding their business, Tom thought. Folks gettin’ their underclothes soiled over nothin’ at all. He eyed the trees along the road cautiously. Gives the women something to whisper about ‘sides from so-and-so’s offensive cooking or this-and-that’s ill-mannered children. Animals found dead in the woods was nothin’ new. Didn’t mean a damned thing. Jack Haster’s boy though…that was a thing to think on.

Tom had been in Haster’s Grocery the previous day, purchasing supplies for his trip into the woods, when he saw Mrs. Haster bawling her eyes out inconsolably on her husband Jack’s shoulder. Tom had made it a point years ago never to ask a crying woman what the matter was, knowing their emotions were as erratic as a changing wind and the tears could be from nothing more than a fray in her dress, but Tom had overheard their words and learned that Sammy Haster had been missing since the previous day. Apparently the boy had been off playing Stealth and Searchers in the woods and was a bit too skilled for his own good, as the boys taking turns as Searchers found everyone with the exception of Sam. Huntsmaster Shanks had hastily formed a search party, but there had been little light left in the day, and Henry had found no tracks or signs of the boy’s whereabouts before night fell. It had been almost two days since Samuel Haster went missing in these woods. Tom knew Henry was out looking for Sam even now, hoping to find the boy in one piece, and Tom reminded himself to stay sharp for any signs of either Sam or Shanks. Fool boy likely got lost playing hero out here in the sunshine. The light fades faster than you’d think. Wouldn’t be the first time a careless child spent the night cold and scared in the dark of the forest.

He had been ambling along an unchanging road when the dirt under his feet began to slope gradually upwards. Tom’s staff thumped heavily into the dirt with every pair of steps as he pushed himself on. He drew slowly closer to the crest of the small incline, and by the time Tom reached the top his breathing was heavy and escaped from his throat in a labored wheeze. Just ahead of him in the center of the road, not a hundred paces away, was the burnt husk of a towering oak tree. It’s skin and branches held not even a shade of green life, the bark a flaky charcoal blackness. The smell hit Tom’s nostrils as he came closer, like the stench of an unclean hearth, filling a house with the reek of perpetual smoke. The thick trunk that thrust out of the dirt was so broad that five men with hands clasped couldn’t encircle it. Skeletal limbs thrust out of the body at all angles, abruptly curving towards the sky like shattered fingers on a disfigured hand. The path flowed around either side of the Torched Oak like a river around a boulder. Tom shuffled to his right along the north side, eyeing the tree warily. He imagined that if he had uncovered a few layers of charred bark the tree might still be glowing red and smoldering at it’s core. How this solitary oak came to such a haunting end remained a much debated mystery to the folks of Wood, and as far as Tom knew there wasn’t a soul anywhere that had the proper answer. Asking twelve people about the Torched Oak’s strange state was likely to produce twenty theories, most of which ended with an admonition to keep children from playing with candles. Regardless of its origins, Tom was pleased to finally pass the landmark. From here he was more than halfway to the lake, and with the day slowly drifting by that was good news indeed. Fearless as he might be in the daylight, Tom had no desire to camp somewhere in the darkness with little food and no bed. He might be frustrated waking up each morning to a blinding sunrise and aching joints, but at least he wasn’t waking up in the belly of a Volbear. Like Samuel Haster did today, more’n likely. He was oblivious to the callousness of the thought. Tom figured children to be fools more often than anything, and he supposed that foolishness had it’s price.

A short distance beyond the Torched Oak was a small path that forked north off the main road, though it was difficult to spot if you weren’t looking for it. Approaching the intersection, Tom carefully scanned the road that continued toward the forest’s Heart, and eventually became the southern trail to the land of Sand. It wound to the left and right, meandering around the terrain, with straighter runs where the tree line allowed. Tom had just taken his first steps onto the lake path when he caught a blur of movement to his left, accompanied by a rustling of leaves. He froze immediately, planting his feet and taking up his staff in both hands, unsure if he had seen something, or if his old eyes were playing tricks. Tom scanned the road, trying to recall the image of what had drawn his attention. It had been relatively small, he thought, no bigger than a dog or a small wolf. Could’a been an Ash Wolf pup, maybe….quick as devils, but running reckless in the open isn’t exactly a tried’n true hunting strategy. He concentrated on the sounds around him, straining to detect anything else moving within earshot. All remained still as Tom took in his surroundings, breathing as quietly as he was able. One wolf doing wolfish things wasn’t worth mounting an investigation over, and Tom gave himself another moment of quiet before he decided it would be safe to move on.

Just then, a group of Thrushes suddenly burst from the trees on the north side of the path. Tom’s breath caught in his throat and he frantically hefted his staff above his head, protecting himself from the creature that had surely just launched at him from above. A moment later, when Tom realized that nothing was dragging him to the ground and feasting on his flesh, he lowered his weapon and scanned the treetops. He finally noticed the group of birds, and his eyes followed them as they darted around the open air high above the trail, ultimately disappearing south over the trees. Something had the nearby animals riled up, that much was clear to him. Tom was certain the movement that had first caught his attention had been a wolf, and he was also certain that a stealthy predator would only be so careless if it was young and frightened beyond good sense. Somethin’s givin’ these critters a fright. Doubtful it’s a thing to worry on…I’d catch a whiff of a stinking Volbear if one was prowlin’ about. He wasn’t entirely confident in the thought. He gave himself a breath to relax, releasing his death-grip on the staff and patting around his trousers, checking to be sure he hadn’t soiled himself when the thrushes caught him up. Feeling a fool for letting a worry become such a fear, and relieved his bladder had maintained control,Tom put one foot in front of the other and marched north.

The Long Journey Home – Chapter 3

The Long Journey Home

 

Chapter 3

Tom hated the sun much the same way he hated everything else in the world that caused him grief. It blinded his eyes, though he marched down the road with the golden globe shining on his back, and he resented the way its radiance forced him into an uncomfortable squint. The only circumstance in which Tom actually enjoyed the light of the sun was when he could safely appreciate it from the shade, and the only way he could enjoy the shade was when he was comfortably bundled under a blanket. Tom spent a good many afternoons doing just that, resting under a particularly shady tree, wrapped up like a child in swaddling, napping away as he dreamt of whatever it is a malcontent geezer dreamt of; perhaps of children that never raised their voices beyond a whisper, never moved faster than a careful walk, and had manners. Between the sunny days bringing about his inevitable blindness, and the cloudy days causing his joints to freeze up, Tom considered it a marvel that he managed to survive at all.

His worn boots shuffled along the road at an unsteady cadence, left leg moving a bit slower than the right. Each pair of steps was punctuated by the dull thump of his walking stick. It had been almost an hour since the Ernesto incident, and all the while Tom ambled along the road the sun had continued working its way higher and higher into the sky. He should have been well into the woods by now, he knew, but Tom was used to this journey taking longer as he got older and older. As he contemplated the likelihood of the forest actually moving farther away every year as an alternative to his ever slowing pace, Tom saw the road ahead beginning to finally curve west into the woods. It’s more than about damned time. A great wonder my feet didn’t fall off a mile ago, Tom thought, his pace quickening at this sign of progress. The forest loomed before him as he drew closer, the ancient trunks growing out into the sky like the teeth of a comb. He never failed to appreciate the sight of these trees, and the forest was one of the few things Tom had never raised a complaint about. This was a place where strength and respect were what prevailed. He felt like he belonged here. His eyes used to grow wide in wonder when he approached the woods as a child. The trees whispered of adventure and the air carried the scent of mystery and danger, things that had made his heart race as a boy. That attraction only grew as he did, and the only thing in this world that had ever pulled him away from it had been Mary.

He knew her all his life, in the way everyone knows everyone else in a village like Wood. They had played together as children. She had chased him through these woods herself, as young girls often chase young boys, and he ran from her as if she carried an infectious disease, as young boys often do. As they grew into young adulthood, common sense and natural bodily function finally slapped Tom like a tree branch to the face, and he began to doubt the appeal of living a life without Mary in it. Careful not to be seen as overly eager, Mary made Tom do some chasing himself, feeling that he deserved to know just how annoying his childish teasing had been. Once he had suffered to her liking the two became inseparable. Tom outgrew his apprenticeship with Erron Quivers, the most skilled Huntsmaster anywhere, the man from whom Tom learned every little thing he could about forest life. And Mary was ready to care for a husband and a home, and to be the mother to as many little Gladrings as that home could hold. Their love was magic, for a time. Tom took to the forest only as often as necessary to provide for his new family, and Mary filled their home with every gentle touch and care a woman could. Vividly colorful flowers, sweetly scented candles, and far more pillows than Tom saw any need for. He may not have understood these things, but he understood the look of joy and contentment in Mary’s eyes as they rested around their fireplace every night. Their home was one of warmth and welcoming and laughter, for Mary knew as much about enjoying life with people she loved as Tom knew about gutting and cleaning every creature on two, four, or seven legs in the woods.

Tom crossed the threshold of the tree line. He felt the warmth of the midday sun fading behind him, each step carrying him farther away from the harshly bright valley and deeper into the comfortable quiet of the forest. He finally allowed the muscles in his face to relax, fully opening his eyes as they adjusted to the dim atmosphere. The path here was narrower than the main road outside, but still wide enough for four men to walk abreast. There was one main road for travel through the forest of Wood. It ran west from where Tom had entered, straight as an arrow, to the dense heart of the forest. From there it forked south. This was the only trade road down to the low, dry valleys of the deserts, and the distant town of Sand. Tom recalled, with mixed emotions, the few seasons he spent after Mary’s passing, guiding and protecting merchant trains along with other hired Hunters. The outskirts of the forest were safe enough from the larger predators, the trees having a proper respect for each other, their trunks being farther apart, allowing sunlight to filter through their branches, and providing less cover for catching prey unaware. The heart of the forest was not this way. The trees there were monstrous, the predators large and constantly hungry, and the sun rarely visible through the threatening boughs that covered the area. Remains were sometimes found near the edge of the forest’s heart, nothing more than skeletons, picked clean by whatever animals were willing to fight each other for a mouthful. It had been more than twenty years since Tom had crept through the darker and deadlier ways of the wood. That life was taken from him with the rough passing of too many years, and Thomas Gladring had no intention of feeding his leathery hide to a Volbear.

Tom spotted a fallen log on the side of the road, moss covered and weathered. As comfortable a spot as one could hope to rest on in here. He walked over to it, his staff crunching in the dried needles and leaves of the forest floor, and took a seat on the softest looking moss patch he could find. He laid his staff to one side and pulled off his pack, groaning as his elbows bent and the muscles under his shoulders worked. As he unlaced the ties and searched for his water skin, Tom thought of the next leg of his journey. He had made poor time venturing down the dull road from his home, but Tom had always moved faster in the comfort of the woods, and the lake road was not far off. Maybe less than an hour and I ‘oughtta hit the Torched Oak. After that, it’s the north fork on up to the lake. Flowers, home, bed. And the sooner the better. Everything ached, even at this early stage of his trip. His hands were already sore from leaning on his staff, constantly switching its weight from right hand to left, trying to achieve some measure of comfort as he walked. His legs burned. Not unbearable yet, but he knew they’d be staging a mutiny by the time he reached home. Even his shoulders hurt, simply from bearing the light weight of his backpack. Tom cursed to himself and silently regretted his promise to wreath his wife’s grave in these blossoms for her birthday. Pain right in my wrinkled backside, this is. Mare, why couldn’t you love weeds? Plenty o’ those between here and home. He took a deep breath and followed it with a long sigh. I never expected to live long enough to be running this…this errand after all these years. Like a ghost in the ground cares two turds about what I’m doing in here. Tom took a long swallow from his water skin, replaced it in his bag, and readied himself to move again. Feeling tired to his bones, and guilty for his thoughts, Tom retrieved his staff and carried on.

The Long Journey Home – Chapter 2

The Long Journey Home

Chapter 2

Ernesto was very likely the largest, fluffiest, and laziest cat in the entire world. He was intensely lovable and most folks couldn’t help but rub his belly and coo at him in high-pitched, baby-like tones. He laid in a sprawl on Thomas Gladring’s front porch, half asleep, wondering where he could possibly mewl his next bowl of milk from, when the front door swung open. Tom eyed the kitten disdainfully as he came through the threshold, hoping to frighten the animal away with a well-practiced stare of pure hate. Victims of this scornful gaze had been known to become plagued with nightmares and lie awake through the night in a cold sweat of dreadful fear. At the very least they might flee to the opposite side of the street, hoping to avoid catching whatever disease could cause a man’s eyes to screw up in such a disturbing fashion. Ernesto remained unimpressed and responded by licking himself over every inch of fur he could reach without rolling himself into a new position.

Tom’s traveling staff was resting against the wall of the house, to the right of the door, where he always left it after returning home. With one eye locked on his feline intruder, Tom carefully reached for the staff. He hefted it in his fist, gathering his strength for a swift strike to the beast’s exposed belly. Tom croaked out his most fearsome battle cry as the tip of the staff whistled in a graceful arc, cutting through the still morning air. The heavy weapon came crashing down precisely where Ernesto would have been, had he not fled in terror at the old man’s war cry, shattering a hole into the wood porch at Tom’s feet. His arm trembled and shook with a sudden violence as the force of the blow reverberated from the wooden staff’s tip all the way up to his shoulder. He immediately lost his grip as he recoiled in pain and the weapon tumbled off down the porch steps. Tom hopped back and forth from one foot to the other, hugging his injured arm against himself as the bones continued to throb painfully. “Dad gum sonuva…sonuva’n…ass!” He screamed his frustration out into the empty air, hoping the rodent was still in earshot, so it might feel his fury. Ernesto hadn’t gone far, having used up most of his daily energy reserves to escape certain death, and he lazily sauntered out of the high grass and over to the walking path. The creature began to curiously sniff and lick at the long weapon that had very nearly popped his bulging belly.

Upon seeing this egregious display of disrespect, Tom became enraged and he shuffled, quick as he could while hunched half over in pain, to give the beast a swift kick. Ernesto squealed and fled once more, wisely choosing to seek out considerably less hostile humans. Tom lurched to a halt on the dusty path and shook his fist at the cat’s backside as it disappeared into the grass. “There’s more o’ that in store if you bring your damned fleas ’round this house again,” Tom barked. “Constant vigilance ’round here! Filthy beast.” Having walked off a bit of the pain during his sprint down the yard, Tom gingerly straightened his injured limb and assessed the damage. Everything seemed to be in functioning order as the arm operated in the same creaky fashion it usually did, although his pride would be some time in mending. Oughtta visit ol’ George again to have a look. Could be somethin’ internal. It’s things like this could cause me to lose an arm to the rot. Can’t be too careful. Tom visited Doctor George no fewer than twice a month, or any time he was concerned about some area of his well-being, which was constantly. He was of the mind that if there wasn’t anything noticeably ailing him in the morning, there probably would be by the time he arrived at Doctor George’s place.

Tom stooped to retrieve his fallen walking stick and readjusted his pack, which was twisted in disarray after the brief altercation. He made a mental note to bring back a suitable piece of lumber from the woods to mend the recently acquired hole in his porch, which was clearly Ernesto’s fault, and to have a long word with the cat’s owners down the road about the cost of labor and materials for the damage their pet had caused. Feeling exhausted already, Tom determinedly made his way around the back of the house. He turned the corner and walked a brief way to the edge of his rear yard. It was meticulously maintained, of course, with green grass properly cut and watered, the flower beds expertly groomed and vividly colorful. He approached the edge of the yard, which gently sloped up to a small fenced area that contained the tallest, brightest sunflowers anyone had ever seen. They were growing in a half-circle around a smooth patch of rich, black dirt. At the head of this patch was a stone grave marker which read:

Mary Eleanor Gladring
Too Soon

Tom put his weight on the staff as he bent down to one knee in front of the grave. He exhaled deeply, a sigh that carried the weight of a quiet sadness. Thirty years this marker had been here. Thirty years since he had laid her to rest and surrounded her with the flowers she cherished. He had never permitted his wife to accompany him on his trips to the forest. The places he went were far too dangerous, and providing was his duty. Her place had been here. Mary had been a beautiful light of a woman, and Tom had struggled every day to be a man worthy of holding that light in his hands. He was her protector and provider. Tom was her rock, stoic and dependable. He was her failure. He reached his hand out and placed his palm uncertainly on the earth before him. Memories flooded his mind. He recalled the lake in the forest they picnicked by, every year for Mary’s birthday. She loved the still waters, the contented chirping of the birds, the rustle of leaves as the breeze tickled the trees. Most of all she loved the flowers. The entire perimeter of the lake was trimmed with the most vibrant halo of purple blossoms. They would lay among those flowers for hours, dozing under the sun as clouds drifted by. Time stood still in that place, when they were young. But time doesn’t stop, not for anybody, and it is not always kind. His smile slipped as the happy memories gave way, as they always did, to the ones that brought the pain and, sometimes, the tears. That’s enough of that, I s’pose. He blinked away the water in his eyes and gave a few short sniffs to clear his throat.

Tom clenched his fist into the dirt, brought it up against his heart, and kissed the top of his hand. “Time for your flowers, Mare.”

With aid the of his staff Tom managed to hoist himself back to his feet. He took a last look at the view off the hill, squinting into the bright morning, and let the soil slowly fall through his fingers. The lake road’s not long, but it’s no closer with me standing about. Into the wind, then. Tom shuffled away from the grave, back around the house, and walked down the path to the road.

The Long Journey Home – Chapter 1

The Long Journey Home

 

Chapter 1

It was dawn, as it often is when a story begins. The sun broke over the eastern mountains and slowly dispelled the chill and dark of another spring night in the town of Wood. Many fine and respectable folks called this place their home. These people, each and every one, worked to provide all they required for their families, trading freely, and living in community. Some raised animals that provided milk, food, and cloth. Others tilled the land which broke easily under their plows, and grew every kind of thing. That isn’t to say that Wood was not without its exceptions, of course. The eggshells in the omelette, if you will.

One such eggshell resided on the outskirts of Wood, for he didn’t much care for close neighbors, near the edge of the vast forest from which the town earned its name. Thomas Gladring was soundly asnooze in his bedroom, and as his daily schedule consisted of little aside from grumbling, or of making lists of things to grumble about, he was not eager to rise. Unfortunately for Tom, the sole window of his bedroom faced proudly towards the eastern sky and the beautiful, golden sun. Mr. Gladring would explain to you, with a rather arrogant and haughty demeanor, that this window’s location was an insufferable building defect, and it was a wonder the walls stood at all with the incompetence of the town’s carpenter. A worn and wrinkled face peeked out from underneath the covers and squinted towards the coming morning. Thomas internally grumbled, Should have built this damned place myself. With his first complaint marked off for the day, Thomas rolled over and hastily covered his head with his freshly laundered bedding.

Mr. Gladring had grown to be an irritable and sour man in these twilight years. At Eighty-One years of age, exasperatingly old as far as his neighbors were concerned, he had earned such a reputation for grumpiness that almost everyone referred to him as Grandpa Glad – behind his back, at least. He would not be the first, second, or even sixth invited to an afternoon of tea when the occasion arose. Mrs. Jeffs learned that lesson the hardest of ways, as she had suffered his presence at one of her own social events years ago. Whether it was the window drapes swaying in too dizzying a fashion, or her seating couch being much too hard for his old rump, not one area of her hospitality was acceptable or appreciated by Grandpa Glad. Even the cookies and cakes she had baked were criticized, obviously needing a pinch more of this, or a dose less of that, according to his very ignorant opinion. Every time his criticisms were recalled at subsequent parties, Mrs. Jeffs would slap her rolling-pin into her palm menacingly and picture exactly what she thought that old geezer could use a pinch more of. Her baking was in fact the best in the village and Tom had consumed no less than three-fourths of the entire dessert table that day without so much as a thank you. That was likely the last time Josephine Jeffs indulged a kindly and inclusive mood for the sake of community building. And naturally, Grandpa Glad shook his fist any time he happened across children playing throughout the town. He did not walk three miles to the local market for his eyes to be pervaded upon by lay-abouts and free-loaders. And their age is no excuse, he will have you know, as he was earning callouses on his palms from a day’s labor before the age of five. Surely.

Once he determined that the sun had baked his sheets to a temperature suitable enough for frying eggs, Tom ventured to remove his stiff bones from their nightly resting place . With no less than five dramatic grunts and two or three unnecessary heaves, he unfolded himself from the bed and began his morning stretch routine. Most men half his age had less than half his flexibility, although Tom would have you believe he could hardly walk without aid of a stout cane. More than likely, he simply preferred having a blunt weapon at hand with which to apply a stern whacking to anyone he became annoyed with, which was everyone. Backs were bent, toes were touched, and tenuous muscles stretched as he went through his morning forms. After a handful of jumping jacks, several push ups, and a proper number of squats, he yawned away the last remnants of sleep and shuffled over to his dressing closet. Tom’s reflection slowly tilted into view as the wooden doors creaked open, revealing the interior mirrors and the neat rows of clothing that hung within. He gave himself a good look-over. His hair was a shock of pure white growth, sprouting up in all directions. Children wondered if the color of his hair had gotten scared, and run away from Grandpa Glad’s head. The theory had some merit. Although thinner than it once was, Tom was proud he had any hair at all these days, and couldn’t bear the thought of being crowned by an embarrassing bald spot. He ran both hands over the snowy mess, prodding and patting the strands into some form of order, his tongue sticking out in concentration.

Feeling as presentable as he ever got, Tom reached for the folded shirt and trousers he had picked out the prior evening. As he mechanically dressed himself, Thomas’ eyes locked on to the golden chain that hung from a peg inside his closet. The metal links were beautifully crafted, the work of another of Wood’s gifted residents, and strung on it were two golden rings. One was thick and heavy, large enough to slide over the knobby knuckles of well worked hands. The other was dainty in comparison, but beautiful; crafted in a delicately woven pattern that looped into itself over and over. It was crowned with a large stone, brilliantly white in the light of the sun. Tom had traveled for weeks across the eastern mountains to the land of Stone to trade for that dazzling gem. His gaze lingered on the jewelry. His mind lingered on recollections of a past life, days that had come and gone far too quickly to be appreciated while they were lived. You never get what you expect out of life, Tom thought. Never what you want for yourself, anyhow.

With an ounce more force than was necessary, Tom shut up his closet and tore his eyes away from its contents. He made his way out of the bedroom, through a small hallway, and entered the harshly decorated great room and kitchen. A large lounging chair, upholstered in a rough, genuine Volbear skin, resided against one wall facing the hearth. The glassy black eyes of the beast seemed to follow him from the top of the chair as he walked into the room. The walls told the tales of a dozen hunting trips, every one ending with trophies of varying size, yet each was equally majestic and fearsome, stuffed skins though they were. In his middle years, Thomas had hunted and conquered almost every predator in the woods. A Tremhawk hung from the high ceiling. Each sinewy leg was tipped with five eight-inch long talons, like obsidian meat hooks, its beak sharper than a steel knife. A Moss Lion was postured proudly up on its hind legs atop a wooden display base. It’s fur still as dark green and eyes just as yellow as they were in life. Tom had tracked the creature over the fallen logs and un-broken trails of the forest for days before finally returning to Wood with the lifeless corpse hanging from his shoulders. He had a good chuckle to himself, recalling the distress he had caused when he came marching into town, covered in clumps of dried mud, chunks of tree bark camouflaging his body, and looking very much like a madman.

His favorite challenge, however, had been the Hunched Festercraw. It’s frame was stuffed into an intimidating pose, massive fists held high overhead . Along the ground they shuffled with bent backs, stooped from the weight of their long and muscular arms. Huncher’s excelled at stalking prey from high above, using their arms to navigate the tree tops. After several attempts had failed at trapping this species heroically, Tom had taken shameful advantage of unknowing bait. He had observed a trio of children, far deeper into the forest than was safe, what with the Festercraw Tom was stalking and all. Instead of warning them away and returning them safely to their mothers, Tom remained in cover as the beast shadowed the helpless children from the trees. The strategy had worked perfectly. The Huncher soundlessly descended on the children, lips curled back in a foaming snarl, massive jaws open wide in anticipation of a three-course meal. The children screamed as Tom launched out of the underbrush, massive knives clenched in his fists, the gleaming blades as long as his forearms. Man and beast smashed together as they collided mid-air. The beast roared its surprise, deadly fists slamming into Tom’s muscled back as they wrestled along the ground. It had been over in moments. The beast’s strength slowly slipped away through the gaping knife wound in its chest. Comforting children was something he had less than no experience with, and their wails assaulted his ears for hours as he shepherded them home.

Full of fool thoughts today, eh? He shook his head and sighed to himself. Trinkets in the closet, ghosts haunting me in my own home. The stinking leftovers from another man’s life. Nonsense, all of it. Now I’m as hunched as my father used to be, but without even the comfort of a son to pass on whatever pitiful knowledge I can. Best to die young than live to become a floppy sack of bones.

Tom strode over to his leather pack, which was resting on the stout oak table at the end of the room. Although he had spent the last three weeks slowly adding contents, and all of the previous day double checking what he had added, Tom still diligently un-laced and sorted through the worn backpack to ensure that he had not missed a single necessity. Unfortunately, today’s journey was to be considerably less exciting than most, and arriving at his destination wouldn’t take more than a hobble along the common roads through the safer edges of the wood. Tom finished double checking his luggage, added a fresh water skin, and glared once more into the dead eyes of the formerly ferocious beasts that resided in his home. He slung his pack onto his shoulders, tightened the straps down, and moved briskly towards the door.

The Long Journey Home – Entry 2

As my last post explained, I’ve been trying to get all creative up in this mother. So I think every time I read these paragraphs I change and alter things. Either adding, deleting, changing the tone and trying to add some more personality…who knows, but it seems like nothing you write is ever finished exactly to your liking. Stuff I thought was incredibly awesome one day is poo-poo the next, or vice versa. Anyways, I have started exploring this character a bit, and I am really curious to flesh this world out a bit more and get Tom into this forest I keep talking about. I also have one or two more characters I am percolating on, so hopefully I’ll weave them in there soon!

The Long Journey Home

Chapter 1

It was dawn, as it often is when a story begins. The sun broke over the eastern mountains and slowly dispelled the chill and dark of another spring night in the town of Wood. Many fine and respectable folks called this place their home. These people, each and every one, worked to provide all they required for their families, trading freely, and living in community. Some raised animals that provided milk, food, and cloth. Others tilled the land which broke easily under their plows, and grew every kind of thing. That isn’t to say that Wood was not without its exceptions, of course. The eggshells in the omelette, if you will.

One such eggshell resided on the outskirts of Wood, for he didn’t much care for close neighbors, near the edge of the vast forest from which the town earned its name. Thomas Gladring was soundly asnooze in his bedroom, and as his daily schedule consisted of little aside from grumbling, or of making lists of things to grumble about, he was not eager to rise. Unfortunately for Tom, the sole window of his bedroom faced proudly towards the eastern sky and the beautiful, golden sun. Mr. Gladring would explain to you, with a rather arrogant and haughty demeanor, that this window’s location was an insufferable building defect, and it was a wonder the walls stood at all with the incompetence of the town’s carpenter. A worn and wrinkled face peeked out from underneath the covers and squinted towards the coming morning. Thomas internally grumbled, Should have built this damned place myself. With his first complaint marked off for the day, Thomas rolled over and hastily covered his head with his freshly laundered bedding.

Mr. Gladring had grown to be an irritable and sour man in these twilight years. At Eighty-One years of age, exasperatingly old as far as his neighbors were concerned, he had earned such a reputation for grumpiness that almost everyone referred to him as Grandpa Glad – behind his back, at least. He would not be the first, second, or even sixth invited to an afternoon of tea when the occasion arose. Mrs. Jeffs learned that lesson the hardest of ways, as she had suffered his presence at one of her own social events years ago. Whether it was the window drapes swaying in too dizzying a fashion, or her seating couch being much too hard for his old rump, not one area of her hospitality was acceptable or appreciated by Grandpa Glad. Even the cookies and cakes she had baked were criticized, obviously needing a pinch more of this, or a dose less of that, according to his very ignorant opinion. Every time his criticisms were recalled at subsequent parties, Mrs. Jeffs would slap her rolling-pin into her palm menacingly and picture exactly what she thought that old geezer could use a pinch more of. Her baking was in fact the best in the village and Tom had consumed no less than three-fourths of the entire dessert table that day without so much as a thank you. That was likely the last time Josephine Jeffs indulged a kindly and inclusive mood for the sake of community building. And naturally, Grandpa Glad shook his fist any time he happened across children playing throughout the town. He did not walk three miles to the local market for his eyes to be pervaded upon by lay-abouts and free-loaders. And their age is no excuse, he will have you know, as he was earning callouses on his palms from a day’s labor before the age of five. Surely.

Once he determined that the sun had baked his sheets to a temperature suitable enough for frying eggs, Tom ventured to remove his stiff bones from their nightly resting place . With no less than five dramatic grunts and two or three unnecessary heaves, he unfolded himself from the bed and began his morning stretch routine. Most men half his age had less than half his flexibility, although Tom would have you believe he could hardly walk without aid of a stout cane. More than likely, he simply preferred having a blunt weapon at hand with which to apply a stern whacking to anyone he became annoyed with, which was everyone. Backs were bent, toes were touched, and tenuous muscles stretched as he went through his morning forms. After a handful of jumping jacks, several push ups, and a proper number of squats, he yawned away the last remnants of sleep and shuffled over to his dressing closet. Tom’s reflection slowly tilted into view as the wooden doors creaked open, revealing the interior mirrors and the neat rows of clothing that hung within. He gave himself a good look-over. His hair was a shock of pure white growth, sprouting up in all directions. Children wondered if the color of his hair had gotten scared, and run away from Grandpa Glad’s head. The theory had some merit. Although thinner than it once was, Tom was proud he had any hair at all these days, and couldn’t bear the thought of being crowned by an embarrassing bald spot. He ran both hands over the snowy mess, prodding and patting the strands into some form of order, his tongue sticking out in concentration.

Feeling as presentable as he ever got, Tom reached for the folded shirt and trousers he had picked out the prior evening. As he mechanically dressed himself, Thomas’ eyes locked on to the golden chain that hung from a peg inside his closet. The metal links were beautifully crafted, the work of another of Wood’s gifted residents, and strung on it were two golden rings. One was thick and heavy, large enough to slide over the knobby knuckles of well worked hands. The other was dainty in comparison, but beautiful; crafted in a delicately woven pattern that looped into itself over and over. It was crowned with a large stone, brilliantly white in the light of the sun. Tom had traveled for weeks across the eastern mountains to the land of Stone to trade for that dazzling gem. His gaze lingered on the jewelry. His mind lingered on recollections of a past life, days that had come and gone far too quickly to be appreciated while they were lived. You never get what you expect out of life, Tom thought. Never what you want for yourself, anyhow.

With an ounce more force than was necessary, Tom shut up his closet and tore his eyes away from its contents. He made his way out of the bedroom, through a small hallway, and entered the harshly decorated great room and kitchen. A large lounging chair, upholstered in a rough, genuine Volbear skin, resided against one wall facing the hearth. The glassy black eyes of the beast seemed to follow him from the top of the chair as he walked into the room. The walls told the tales of a dozen hunting trips, every one ending with trophies of varying size, yet each was equally majestic and fearsome, stuffed skins though they were. In his middle years, Thomas had hunted and conquered almost every predator in the woods. A Tremhawk hung from the high ceiling. Each sinewy leg was tipped with five eight-inch long talons, like obsidian meat hooks, its beak sharper than a steel knife. A Moss Lion was postured proudly up on its hind legs atop a wooden display base. It’s fur still as dark green and eyes just as yellow as they were in life. Tom had tracked the creature over the fallen logs and un-broken trails of the forest for days before finally returning to Wood with the lifeless corpse hanging from his shoulders. He had a good chuckle to himself, recalling the distress he had caused when he came marching into town, covered in clumps of dried mud, chunks of tree bark camouflaging his body, and looking very much like a madman.

His favorite challenge, however, had been the Hunched Festercraw. It’s frame was stuffed into an intimidating pose, massive fists held high overhead . Along the ground they shuffled with bent backs, stooped from the weight of their long and muscular arms. Huncher’s excelled at stalking prey from high above, using their arms to navigate the tree tops. After several attempts had failed at trapping this species heroically, Tom had taken shameful advantage of unknowing bait. He had observed a trio of children, far deeper into the forest than was safe, what with the Festercraw Tom was stalking and all. Instead of warning them away and returning them safely to their mothers, Tom remained in cover as the beast shadowed the helpless children from the trees. The strategy had worked perfectly. The Huncher soundlessly descended on the children, lips curled back in a foaming snarl, massive jaws open wide in anticipation of a three-course meal. The children screamed as Tom launched out of the underbrush, massive knives clenched in his fists, the gleaming blades as long as his forearms. Man and beast smashed together as they collided mid-air. The beast roared its surprise, deadly fists slamming into Tom’s muscled back as they wrestled along the ground. It had been over in moments. The beast’s strength slowly slipped away through the gaping knife wound in its chest. Comforting children was something he had less than no experience with, and their wails assaulted his ears for hours as he shepherded them home.

Full of fool thoughts today, eh? He shook his head and sighed to himself. Trinkets in the closet, ghosts haunting me in my own home. The stinking leftovers from another man’s life. Nonsense, all of it. Now I’m as hunched as my father used to be, but without even the comfort of a son to pass on whatever pitiful knowledge I can. Best to die young than live to become a floppy sack of bones.

Tom strode over to his leather pack, which was resting on the stout oak table at the end of the room. Although he had spent the last three weeks slowly adding contents, and all of the previous day double checking what he had added, Tom still diligently un-laced and sorted through the worn backpack to ensure that he had not missed a single necessity. Unfortunately, today’s journey was to be considerably less exciting than most, and arriving at his destination wouldn’t take more than a hobble along the common roads through the safer edges of the wood. Tom finished double checking his luggage, added a fresh water skin, and glared once more into the dead eyes of the formerly ferocious beasts that resided in his home. He slung his pack onto his shoulders, tightened the straps down, and moved briskly towards the door.

Chapter 2

Ernesto was very likely the largest, fluffiest, and laziest cat in the entire world. He was intensely lovable and most folks couldn’t help but rub his belly and coo at him in high-pitched, baby-like tones. He laid in a sprawl on Thomas Gladring’s front porch, half asleep, wondering where he could possibly mewl his next bowl of milk from, when the front door swung open. Tom eyed the kitten disdainfully as he came through the threshold, hoping to frighten the animal away with a well-practiced stare of pure hate. Victims of this scornful gaze had been known to become plagued with nightmares and lie awake through the night in a cold sweat of dreadful fear. At the very least they might flee to the opposite side of the street, hoping to avoid catching whatever disease could cause a man’s eyes to screw up in such a disturbing fashion. Ernesto remained unimpressed and responded by licking himself over every inch of fur he could reach without rolling himself into a new position.

Tom’s traveling staff was resting against the wall of the house, to the right of the door, where he always left it after returning home. With one eye locked on his feline intruder, Tom carefully reached for the staff. He hefted it in his fist, gathering his strength for a swift strike to the beast’s exposed belly. Tom croaked out his most fearsome battle cry as the tip of the staff whistled in a graceful arc, cutting through the still morning air. The heavy weapon came crashing down precisely where Ernesto would have been, had he not fled in terror at the old man’s war cry, shattering a hole into the wood porch at Tom’s feet. His arm trembled and shook with a sudden violence as the force of the blow reverberated from the wooden staff’s tip all the way up to his shoulder. He immediately lost his grip as he recoiled in pain and the weapon tumbled off down the porch steps.Tom hopped back and forth from one foot to the other, hugging his injured arm against himself as the bones continued to throb painfully. “Dad gum sonuva…sonuva’n…ass!” He screamed his frustration out into the empty air, hoping the rodent was still in earshot, so it might feel his fury. Ernesto hadn’t gone far, having used up most of his daily energy reserves to escape certain death, and he lazily sauntered out of the high grass and over to the walking path. The creature began to curiously sniff and lick at the long weapon that had very nearly popped his bulging belly.

Upon seeing this egregious display of disrespect, Tom became enraged and he shuffled, quick as he could while hunched half over in pain, to give the beast a swift kick. Ernesto squealed and fled once more, wisely choosing to seek out considerably less hostile humans. Tom lurched to a halt on the dusty path and shook his fist at the cat’s backside as it disappeared into the grass. “There’s more o’ that in store if you bring your damned fleas ’round this house again,” Tom barked. “Constant vigilance ’round here! Filthy beast.” Having walked off a bit of the pain during his sprint down the yard, Tom gingerly straightened his injured limb and assessed the damage. Everything seemed to be in functioning order as the arm operated in the same creaky fashion it usually did, although his pride would be some time in mending. Oughtta visit ol’ George again to have a look. Could be somethin’ internal. It’s things like this could cause me to lose an arm to the rot. Can’t be too careful. Tom visited Doctor George no fewer than twice a month, or any time he was concerned about some area of his well-being, which was constantly. He was of the mind that if there wasn’t anything noticeably ailing him in the morning, there probably would be by the time he arrived at Doctor George’s place.

Tom stooped to retrieve his fallen walking stick and readjusted his pack, which was twisted in disarray after the brief altercation. He made a mental note to bring back a suitable piece of lumber from the woods to mend the recently acquired hole in his porch, which was clearly Ernesto’s fault, and to have a long word with the cat’s owners down the road about the cost of labor and materials for the damage their pet had caused. Feeling exhausted already, Tom determinedly made his way around the back of the house. He turned the corner and walked a brief way to the edge of his rear yard. It was meticulously maintained, of course, with green grass properly cut and watered, the flower beds expertly groomed and vividly colorful. He approached the edge of the yard, which gently sloped up to a small fenced area that contained the tallest, brightest sunflowers anyone had ever seen. They were growing in a half-circle around a smooth patch of rich, black dirt. At the head of this patch was a stone grave marker which read:

Mary Eleanor Gladring
Too Soon

Tom put his weight on the staff as he bent down to one knee in front of the grave. He exhaled deeply, a sigh that carried the weight of a quiet sadness. Thirty years this marker had been here. Thirty years since he had laid her to rest and surrounded her with the flowers she cherished. He had never permitted his wife to accompany him on his trips to the forest. The places he went were far too dangerous, and providing was his duty. Her place had been here. Mary had been a beautiful light of a woman, and Tom had struggled every day to be a man worthy of holding that light in his hands. He was her protector and provider. Tom was her rock, stoic and dependable. He was her failure. He reached his hand out and placed his palm uncertainly on the earth before him. Memories flooded his mind. He recalled the lake in the forest they picnicked by, every year for Mary’s birthday. She loved the still waters, the contented chirping of the birds, the rustle of leaves as the breeze tickled the trees. Most of all she loved the flowers. The entire perimeter of the lake was trimmed with the most vibrant halo of purple blossoms. They would lay among those flowers for hours, dozing under the sun as clouds drifted by. Time stood still in that place, when they were young. But time doesn’t stop, not for anybody, and it is not always kind. His smile slipped as the happy memories gave way, as they always did, to the ones that brought the pain and, sometimes, the tears. That’s enough of that, I s’pose. He blinked away the water in his eyes and gave a few short sniffs to clear his throat.

Tom clenched his fist into the dirt, brought it up against his heart, and kissed the top of his hand. “Time for your flowers, Mare.”

With aid the of his staff Tom managed to hoist himself back to his feet. He took a last look at the view off the hill, squinting into the bright morning, and let the soil slowly fall through his fingers. The lake road’s not long, but it’s no closer with me standing about. Into the wind, then. Tom shuffled away from the grave, back around the house, and walked down the path to the road.