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Twisting Topeka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annette Hope Billings, Annabelle Corrick, Jamie Crispin,

Aimee L. Gross, Ian Hall, Reaona Hemmingway,

Duane L. Herrmann, Miranda Ericsson Kendall,

C.R. Kennedy, Diana Marsh, Roxanna Namey, Vernon Neff,

Craig Paschang, Marian Rakestraw, Leah Sewell,

Lissa Staley, Paul Swearingen, and S. R. Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library

Topeka, Kansas

Twisting Topeka is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously.

Project Organizer: Lissa Staley

Project Organizer: Miranda Ericsson

Consulting Editor: Marian Rakestraw

Copy Editor: Bethany McGuire

Book Layout: Ian Hall and Reaona Hemingway

Interior Illustration: Lana Grove

Cover Design: Michael Perkins

The Community Novel Project is a work that is collaboratively conceptualized, written, illustrated, edited, published and marketed by members of our local writing community. Learn more at tscpl.org/novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library

All rights reserved.

ISBN-10: 1535596287

ISBN-13: 978-1535596282

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR TWISTING TOPEKA

“A rich collection of talent and imagination. The diversity of the stories is stunning, but they share one thing in common—each one will make you think.”

—R.L. Naquin, author of the Monster Haven series

“An eclectic collection of stories that will be entertaining for fans of short form literature.”

—James Young, author of Acts of War

TWISTING TOPEKA—time travel, tricks / turbulent & terrifying times / tunnels / tragedy, treasure, triumphs / trysts & twists—NOT your typical Topeka tales.”

—L.J. Williams, author of The Crystal Egg

“The 18 short stories in this book twist the past and warp the future, challenging the reader to imagine ‘what if?’”

—Angel Edenburn, author of Night Blind

“Welcome to a world where nothing is as it seems. The stories, characters, and prose flow from each story like interwoven chains. Authors turn Kansas history upside down and inside out, giving us alternate timelines and new spins on the ordinary. Fellow Topekans, watch out! History is about to get twisted.”

—Romualdo R. Chavez, author of El Vampiro

 

Twisting Topeka

 

Contents

 

Foreword

1. What Fate Ordains Diana Marsh

2. Native Son Marian Rakestraw

3. The Printed Word Miranda Ericsson Kendall

4. Tovarishch O’Sullivan Craig Paschang

5. Test Year Jamie Crispin

6. Proclaim the New Name Duane L. Herrmann

7. Cleansing Waters C.R. Kennedy

8. As Mercy Would Have It Annette Hope Billings

9. Underground Ark Reaona Hemmingway

10. Shake, Rattle and Roll Roxanna Namey

11. Black Blizzard Vernon Neff

12. A Library for Every Kid S. R. Thompson

13. The Jesse Owens Effect Ian Hall

14. Happiness is a Cold Pistol Paul Swearingen

15. Psychic Shift Annabelle Corrick

16. Tunnels Leah Sewell

17. Love and Friendship Lissa Staley

18. Dance with the Devil Aimee L. Gross

Afterword

Author Biographies and Interviews

Also Available

 

Foreword

 

On the eve of my heart catheterization I felt anxiety, not on account of my health, but because I was afraid I would miss a presentation on editing the novel. It was the program of the library’s 2016 series for writers that I most wanted to hear. But alas, the doctor came to tell me I had only months to live. We moved to Paris. A fellow writer translated my novel into French and I hers into English, and I left my husband an inconsolable millionaire.

Oh, did I mention that that happened in an alternate timeline?

In our own timeline, I merely missed the presentation and the story deadline, but in that version the reader also misses out on the suspense and drama of my triumph and death. In this anthology, Twisting Topeka, the writers have twisted the past or the present and made fascinating results appear when they asked “What if….?” It’s surprising how many of them have taken a small real-life incident as the starting point for their fictions.

The group that writes the Community Novel has major input on the direction the work takes. The writers at the planning meeting considered a long list of themes, and chose this one because it narrowed the focus enough to make the book interesting and characteristic, without limiting the reach of the writers’ imaginations. Kansas, maybe Topeka, maybe even the library- which turns out to have a snarky alternative history of its own in “A Library For Every Kid.” Another, unexpected library appears in the elegiac “The Printed Word.” Topeka’s mental health institutions feature in three stories: the supernatural prose poem “Tunnels,” “Psychic Shift,” in which the chaos butterfly gets a workout in a garden at Menninger’s, and “Cleansing Waters,” which divides its setting between there and Gage Park and drops some famous names. The State Capitol is the setting for “Native Son,” in which John Steuart Curry pulls a moving fast one, and for ambiguous, layered “Tovarisch O’Sullivan.”

Ordinary Topekans are menaced by death in the cynical “Happiness Is a Cold Pistol” and the tender “As Mercy Would Have It.” A girl makes a hasty choice in the chilling SF story “Test Year.” Bureaucracy is the villain in the delightful Austen homage “Love and Friendship.” No one chose the Pentecostal origin story, but Kansans get religion surprisingly in “Proclaim the New Name.”

Turning our attention to the wider world, we see a presidential candidate undone by one unconsidered act. A small piece of tech changes the space program drastically in the vividly imagined “What Fate Ordains.” Supporting the troops leads to trouble in the WWII-set “Dance with the Devil.” “Underground Ark” has echoes of “The Stand” and “A Boy and his Dog,” but it’s merely what many people might have chosen. Of course Nature has a say in a couple of stories. In the flash fiction “Shake, Rattle and Roll” the end is inevitable; in “Black Blizzard” the lost opportunities sting as the tragedy slowly unfolds.

Nonetheless this is a pretty cheerful book, and one we hope you will enjoy. In another timeline you might read my story for this project. A grown-up Dorothy, who never went to Oz, has always had odd and disturbing dreams….

 

Betsy McGuire

Topeka, KS

2016

 

What Fate Ordains

Diana Marsh

 

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”

Excerpt from undelivered speech prepared for President Richard Nixon in case of an Apollo 11 disaster.

 

July 20, 1969

 

The rocket hits the ground hard enough to snap in two; you join it a second later. You, at least, stay in one piece, even if your cheek throbs. When you look up, Claire Hooper stands over you, bent nearly in half at the waist. “Take it back,” she says. Her fists are poised in front of her and she shakes one at you as she speaks. “Take it back right now, or else.” Her eyes are narrow green slits slicing into you.

You scramble to your feet. “Will not!” You kick one dusty rocket half at her. “It’s true! Not my fault it’s true.”

“You take it back or I’ll pop you another one!”

Two adults run out of the house. Claire’s dad reaches the two of you first. He grabs her around the waist and hauls her off her feet. Your dad stands in front of you, tanned, meaty arms crossed over his chest. “What the hell are you doing, Joey? Picking fights with girls now?”

“She picked the fight!”

“He deserved it!” Claire squirms in her dad’s stringy-armed hold. You know without a doubt if she could get loose she’d sock you again for tattling.

“Claire Alice Hooper, you stop that right now.” Mr. Hooper looks at you, then the broken rocket next to you. “This over that busted thing? You breaking toys now, Joey?”

“I broke that.” Claire sounds almost proud about it, too. “It’s over him being a dufus.”

“Who’re you calling a dufus? You’re a dufus!” You look up at your dad, convinced if anyone will see the logic of your argument, it’s him. “Girls can’t be astronauts, right Dad? They don’t allow dumb ol’ girls in space.”

Claire lurches against Mr. Hooper’s tenuous hold. “They’d let a girl in space before they’d let a dufus like you anywhere near it.”

“All right, you two.” Your dad grips your shoulder. It doesn’t hurt. It’s not the “you’ve got a whipping in your future” grip; it’s the “just hold up” one. You know the difference by now. “Let’s just head inside, all right? Almost time for the big event.”

“And you two get yourselves settled, or neither of you will get to watch.” Mr. Hooper sets Claire back on her feet and swats her backside to get her moving toward the house. You follow at a safe distance—beyond arm or foot reach. The dads bring up the rear, talking about “rambunctiousness” and how you’ll both grow out of it soon. Twelve seems to be the agreed-upon age for when kids should be past that stage. Whatever “that stage” is. Mr. Hooper hopes the two of you survive the next two years to see it.

“Damned kids,” he says.

“Damned kids,” your dad agrees. “How about another beer?”

Claire heads for the kitchen, where the neighborhood women are gathered, gossiping over cheese dip and Mrs. Hooper’s fruit cocktail. Moms are always more receptive to the silly things little girls think than dads. The men head out onto the back patio, where the beer coolers and crass language await. Every now and then, you hear a cheer or a boo from the backyard. Which depends on whether the baseball gods are being kind to the White Sox or the brand new Kansas City Royals at the time. You detour to the living room – you’re a Cardinals fan, after all – and grab a seat in front of the television before any of the little kids can steal the best spots. Dad bought a brand new set for the occasion; it’s the first color T.V. your family’s ever owned and involved a trip to White Lakes Mall to get. “Something this momentous, you want to really see it,” he said. Your mom has already covered the top in family photos to block the “ugly” rabbit ears. Also makes it harder for you to get at them again. It’s not your fault they’re so fun to mess with.

“D’ya think it’s gonna work, Joey?” Tommy Hitchens settles next to you with his G.I. Joe clutched tight in his hands. Tommy’s only eight.

“Course it’ll work. Took off, didn’t it? Landing’s easy. Landing’s just falling on purpose.” This sounds like perfect logic to you. You deliver it with all the authority of your extra two years on the planet and a firm nod as backup.

The living room is stifling, even with both windows open. There’s only an occasional breeze, and when one does manage to blow through the window it’s nothing but hot air. Kansas summers are like that; it didn’t take ten of them for you to figure that out. As you sit there, watching Walter Cronkite talk over footage of the launch, “Sweet Caroline” playing lowly from the radio in the kitchen, you pull at the collar of your t-shirt and wish you were still outside, sprawled out in the shade of the elm in the front yard. Nothing blocks the breeze out there. Maybe one day they’ll invent T.V.s you can take outside, just for days like this. You wonder if the cord would stretch at least to the flower bed. Could take the window screen out. Sure, some flies would get in and your mom’s roses might get a little squished. They’ll grow back, though! And didn’t Dad say this is an historic moment that can’t be missed? Roses can be sacrificed for that, right?

You’re still pondering that when Claire plops down beside you. She’s got two sweating bottles of Coke in hand. One she reluctantly holds out to you.

“Your mom says put it against your eye,” she says. A few seconds later, she follows that up with a reluctant, “I’m sorry.” She huffs out the apology in a quiet, noncommittal rush and doesn’t look at you while delivering it.

“Yeah. Me too. I guess.”  

“Only because you got punched.”

“Only because you got in trouble for punching me.”

She shrugs. You shrug, too. For a minute, you sit and watch the same footage of the astronauts walking to the scaffolding and the rocket lifting off from the launch pad that WIBW’s replayed all afternoon. Tommy watches the two of you instead; when you catch him doing it, he looks down at his G.I. Joe.

“Gonna have a really swell black eye from it, though,” Claire finally says. You reach up and poke at the sore spot beneath your eye.

“Think so?” you ask with a wince. She nods. “Anyone asks, you weren’t the one who gave it to me. Right?”

“Maybe.” She grins around the mouth of her bottle before taking a long drink. You wonder if the bruising will look gorier if you don’t ice it. Makes sense, in the way anything else does. “If you admit girls can go to space too.”

You give her a sideways glance and mentally kick yourself. She managed to trick you somehow. Your dad warned you about that. Girls get trickier as they get older. You mutter “fine” into your bottle, but you don’t believe it. Don’t need the rest of the neighborhood knowing you got hit by a girl, either, though.

The screen changes. The rows of desks and men in white shirts and loosened ties you’ve seen before every previous launch replaces the looping footage and Mr. Cronkite’s commentary. All the NASA people are staring at the big screen in front of them. You can almost make out the colorful rows of numbers stretched sideways across it.

“Mom! Dad!” You and Claire both yell at the same moment. “It’s happening!”

The adults rush in, chattering. The moms have glasses of wine with big chunks of fruit floating in it. The dads have their cans of beer. You snuck a sip of wine once when your parents had Claire’s over to play Gin Rummy. Maybe the fruit is supposed to make it taste better? It was pretty gross on its own. So is beer, though. Learned that the same day.

You watch the grown-ups struggle for a minute over empty couch space like it’s a round of musical chairs. The losers settle for standing behind it. Your dad claims his La-Z-Boy like it’s his throne; your mom perches on the chair arm. In the excitement, no one’s turned off the radio. No one really cares that Stevie Wonder is serenading the empty dining room.

“Look at how peach they all look,” Mrs. Dudley from down the street says, leaning heavy against the back of the couch. Her glass threatens to tip over and dump wine over Mrs. Hooper’s head.

“That’s prime color there, Dale,” Mr. Groves chimes in. You don’t care about the color. You don’t care how peach any of them look. You’re waiting for the cameras on the rocket to take over. You’ve watched clips of Neil and Buzz and Michael in their tiny command module, shaving and eating and all that normal stuff. Now you want to see them land. You want to see someone walk on the moon.

The screen changes. It’s bumpy footage of a surface growing closer and closer, sometimes filling half the screen, sometimes just a corner of it. The tinny voices of Houston and the crew replace Mr. Cronkite. You nudge Claire with your elbow. She looks at you and smiles, her face pink with excitement. Her fingers wrap so tight around her Coke bottle that the tips have gone white. So have yours.

“Eagle,” you hear one of the voices say, “You’re go.”

“Thirty-five degrees. Seven fifty. Coming down at twenty-three.” That’s Buzz Aldrin. You can only guess what most of it means, but you know it’s Buzz doing the talking.

“Seven hundred and fifty feet to the surface. Degrees are the angle they’re coming down,” your dad says, smiling. “Twenty-three feet a second. That’s how fast they’re descending.”

“Seven hundred feet. Twenty-one, thirty three degrees.”

“Pretty rocky area,” the voice you’ve come to recognize as Neil Armstrong’s says. He doesn’t sound concerned. You know what worried adult sounds like by now; you’ve heard it enough in your mom’s voice whenever they talk about money. Like when your dad announced he’d bought a new TV when they’d just argued over the cost of your sister’s braces.

“Six hundred feet. Down at nineteen.”

“Eagle, check your gauge again. We have you coming in hotter.” The view on the screen is shakier now. The ground is rushing toward the camera faster than a minute ago. Houston sounds like your mother talking about orthodontists. Houston is worried.

“Gauge holding steady at nineteen, Houston. Don’t see any…”

Audio and video cut out all at once. The screen fills with static. You turn your head to look back at your dad. “Something wrong with the TV, Dad?”

“Maybe,” he says. He gets up and wedges himself in behind the set to adjust the rabbit ears. He fiddles with one, then the other, bending them each as far as they’ll go in either direction. “Screen look any better?” he asks, but it’s an act. He’s lying. You can tell, because you’ve heard him lie before. Like the night he told your mom he was at the movies with you all afternoon. He dropped you off at the Fox Theater with money enough to keep you in movie tickets and ice cream for most of the day and came back smelling like perfume three shows later.

“I don’t think it’s the T.V.,” Mr. Groves says. ”Listen. Can still hear Houston.”

“Eagle, respond. Eagle, this is Houston. Respond.” There’s not a single sound. Not on the T.V., not in the room. All you hear is the creaking of sweaty legs shifting on vinyl seat cushions. No one’s breathing – you’re pretty sure a dozen people are all holding their breath, yourself included. “Columbia, Houston. We’ve lost all data with Eagle, over.”

When you finally hear the mic in the command module engage, everyone inhales in unison. “Houston, this is Columbia. Eagle is…” Michael Collins, the lone crew member left behind in the still-orbiting module, sobs. It’s the first time in your life you’ve ever heard a grown man cry. “They’re gone. I repeat. Eagle is gone…”

The room behind you fills with gasps and wails. Your dad’s head falls forward until his chin nearly hits his chest. He hides his face behind his hands. They shake. Your mother cries quietly, one arm wrapped around herself. Tommy scrambles into his mother’s lap and hugs his G.I. Joe with all the strength his little eight-year-old body possesses, like it’s his teddy bear.

A hand finds yours, cold and damp from a bottle of Coke, and holds on so tight your fingers might break beneath it. You don’t care. Yours are squeezing just as tightly back.

“I don’t think I want to go to space anymore,” Claire whispers.

“Me either.”

In the background, “Bad Moon Rising,” starts to play. You’re still too young to appreciate the irony.

 

 

Native Son

Marian Rakestraw

 

John Steuart Curry paused for a moment, brush raised, ready to add another black line to the fresh expanse of plaster. He could feel the visitor. Not see him, but feel him. It was odd how fast he’d developed this sixth sense that let him know when he was being watched. It was useful, too.

None of them ever actually came into his space. He had come to feel that the second floor of the rotunda was his personal space. They came to the boundaries. They edged up to the brass-railed limit of the third floor, outside the house and senate chambers. They peeked in as they scuttled from the elevator to the governor’s office. He was surrounded by the low hum of people and the shotgun activity of government all day. The walls of the rotunda, though, and the ten foot ring of floor surrounding them, were a country unto themselves these days. He was their king and sole citizen.

It wasn’t supposed to have come to this. He was supposed to have come home to Kansas in a rosy glow of acceptance and to have felt the admiration and respect of the home state crowd. He’d started wearing overalls, for Christ’s sake, and looking jolly in photographs. He’d remade himself into the ideal of the country boy made good but still happy down on the farm. It had worked well enough, had gotten him this commission. It just hadn’t been enough. A pair of overalls hadn’t dispelled the suspicions of the people of Kansas. Right off the bat they’d started criticizing his work – bulls didn’t stand correctly, pig’s tails didn’t curl in the accepted fashion, a Prairie Madonna’s skirts were on the short side. Then there was the painting of John Brown, the lodestone for qualms. Curry had no idea how the figure had gotten quite so big, quite so wild, so clearly mad. Placing it right outside the door to the Governor’s office now seemed a slightly less brilliant idea than it had at the time.

So here he was. Still painting. Still being seen producing murals on the sacred walls of the state house. Bringing the gift of art – as he’d been hired to do by the people. Except now he was doing it in an atmosphere that could most kindly be described as poisoned. He’d almost walked off the job when the legislature had threatened to block the removal of the marble slabs covering the lower walls of his work space, marble that made his envisioned frescos an impossibility. It was ugly marble – pretentious and gaudy and in no way representative of the spirit of Kansas. The Capitol was the house of the people, not a snooty country club. He’d tried to bring some of the energy and spirit of the state into the Capitol and been brought to book like a school boy caught slipping frogs into the teacher’s desk.

He should have left. He should have refused to sign his work, and stormed off in a fit of artistic pique. But he hadn’t. Instead he’d presented cartoons of his proposed work, let them pass through committees which had vetted them for insidious political ideas and “corrected” the content. He’d smiled and nodded and chewed on his pipe and waited.

Now all of the walls, minus this last one, were covered in cheerful, bright, harmless paintings of healthy settlers with muscular forearms (the men) and apple cheeks (the women) going about the business of bringing prosperity and corseted civilization to their clear-skied home. It made him want to break all of his own fingers.

He chewed his pipe. He sketched the rough outlines of the last scene. The proposal passed by the committee showed that this was to be a scene of hog judging at the state fair. And all of the hogs were going to have Marcelled tails. As he sketched, he could feel the watcher leaving. The examination had lasted long enough to assure the visitor that John Steuart Curry was still behaving just as he ought. He was working in a reverse Panopticon, with one prisoner and many guards; there was nowhere in the rotunda that was out of sight. So he’d had to create that space.

Curry climbed down from the scaffolding and set to work erecting a canvas walled tent around his work space. The same construction that had obscured him while he worked on each of the other walls in turn. He’d made sure early on, casually, to mention to a janitor that the enclosure helped the newly painted walls to dry evenly. It was designed to help the paint sink into the plaster, to help make the frescoes permanent. Complete hogwash, of course. But he was sure the comment had made the rounds of the building, and no one had been by to challenge him about it. After the walls were up he checked for gaps, slipped inside and set to work, painting.

*****

Another early morning, three weeks later, and John Steuart Curry wiped the paint from a final brush and packed up his things. He stretched and his back gave a satisfying crack. Crouching on a scaffolding day after day was not easy, even in overalls.

He stepped outside the canvas tent and listened. Nothing. It was the golden hour when the building was clean and ready for the new day, but the earliest of the secretaries had yet to arrive. There was a night guard downstairs, but he never came up. Too many stairs for old knees. For another thirty minutes the Capitol belonged to Curry and no one else. There was time, but much to do.

He turned and started disassembling the tent, folding the canvas neatly and rolling the scaffolding out of the rotunda and into a side hall. There was no time to take it all down, but he didn’t want it to obscure his work. His masterpiece.

With that done he turned to the other walls, surveyed the satisfied paintings a last time, and fitted his nails under the very corner of the nearest one. He pulled, gently, holding his breath, but there was no need to worry. The canvas that covered the fresco underneath peeled cleanly away.

He’d been worried that his little game might fail, that covering the newly made murals with canvases painted to match the approved panels might not work. That the paintings would stick to the walls or that the murals would not. He’d spent months before beginning on the rotunda painting all of the canvases, and given each finished wall a week to dry before tacking the canvas on top. A week while he lay on the scaffold and chewed his pipe, read, and ate ham sandwiches. The extended length of time he’d spent on each wall was not really an issue. There were some advantages to being an artist. No one in the building had the remotest idea how long it took to produce works like his.

In fifteen minutes, it was done; and he could look on his work as a completed thing, a whole thing. He was pleased. No, he was exhilarated. He turned in a slow circle and stopped chewing on his pipe. The murals spread around him in a swirl of color and activity. Released from their hiding places, they burst forth in a maelstrom.

Rather than the dozen discrete scenes promised in the plans, a single continuous parade of people looped around the rotunda. Carrie Nation stormed a saloon, hatchet raised. Clyde Cessna flew loops through the blazing sky, trailing smoke. Charles Curtis sat, placidly observing Carrie Nation, with his hand resting on a law book while Fred Harvey poured him a cup of coffee. The Dalton gang lay on a table, bullet holes much in evidence. James Naismith played a game of basketball with John R. Brinkley as a herd of goats grazed nearby. There was no beginning or end to the panorama of life. It eddied and churned around the rotunda and in the eyes of each of the figures was the fire of certainty, the conviction of the righteous.

Curry realized that this was the first opportunity he’d had to see his vision in reality and all at once. This was how God must have felt when the first sun rose on his creation. This was why he had come home. It was the Kansas he’d loved as a farm boy, the Kansas he’d nurtured in memory while struggling and starving as an artist in the East. This was a Kansas of individuality and passion. Kansas as it was, and as it most feared being seen.

John Steuart Curry smiled. From the pocket of his overalls he withdrew a check equal to every penny every school child had collected to pay for his work on the murals and taped it, not without the smallest of pangs, to one of the marble door surrounds. Done. Or almost. He still had to sign his work. With a final dip of a brush into a last pool of paint, Curry stepped to his masterpiece and wrote:

 

To the People of Kansas, a gift. From a true Native Son.

John Steuart Curry, 1941

John Steuart Curry as illustrated by Lana Grove

 

The Printed Word

Miranda Ericsson

 

The timeline of my childhood is constructed around images of well-worn covers and lines memorized from favorite reads. Reaching back in memory, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t surrounded by books. My parents were both avid readers, and the colorful spines of their collection, lined up in no particular order, were shelved and stacked in every room of our old house in the Potwin neighborhood of Topeka. I was an only child, and I think my parents decided to make up for my lack of playmates with piles of colorful picture books and classic children’s novels. I learned to read the way that most children learn to speak, through immersion. I went from one book to the next without breaks in between, and read whatever titles I wanted.

Even my name was borrowed from literature, though Mom said I was named for Dickinson and Dad said it was Bronte. We laughed and agreed that either way, I was an Emily!

We visited the library every week, because we couldn’t buy everything we wanted to read. I knew all of the children’s librarians at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library by name, and they always sent me home with a bag full of recommended reads. I knew even then that I wanted to be a librarian, because I wanted to help people find books, too.

I didn’t start out as a book collector. I wasn’t trying to gather books, at first, they just appeared through opportunities. Garage sales. Library sales. Gifts. Once I had them, they became a part of me, and I rarely got rid of them. When I lost my parents, their collection became mine. Our shelves interlaced throughout their home, now mine again. When I was alone with my books in the house where I had grown up, I could close my eyes and breathe in that smell and feel close to my mom and dad again. I could pick up a book that had been a favorite of my dad’s and find his notes in the margins. I opened my mother’s books and traced my finger over her signature on each inside front cover. It made me feel close to my parents to read the books that they had read. My favorite books were often paired in my memory with a setting, too, like the comfortable chair by the window, or the soft grass near the garden, where I had first read them. Printed books can connect me instantly to the past.

I had only been a librarian for about three years when the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library announced its decision to get rid of the print collection. I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening—my own library, bookless! Well, not bookless, but that’s what we call it when a library goes all digital. Our library would still offer books for download, 24/7, but the printed books would be gone for good.

I didn’t want to accept it. EBooks are convenient, sure, and they inspire and entertain. They’re still books, after all. Reading a printed book is something more, though—a sensory experience. It means heft in your hands, fingers sliding on paper, the sound of flipping pages, and that smell of ink and paper that makes me feel soothed and excited all at once. How could anyone give up all of that, for good, in exchange for pages on a glassy screen, swiped with one finger?

I thought that our library was safe. Digital libraries had been trending for several years, but so far it had been mostly academic and medical facilities, and I had to agree that it made sense, there, with the most current, accurate information being all digital anyway. The few public libraries that had gone bookless reminded me of the computer labs from my undergrad days, or of Apple stores: rows of LCD screens instead of rows of books, clean sight lines, the hum of devices and clicking of keys. They looked like nice places to study, but they didn’t quite look like libraries, to me.

But Kansas was completely bankrupt. Library funding had been slashed big time, and a lot of librarians were let go. Topeka’s library had to pick between digital or print, and decided that providing technology to bridge the digital divide was more important than retaining the traditional stacks. I was a technology advocate, and I was as stuck to my smart phone as anyone else, but I hated the idea of getting rid of print completely.

I took to Facebook and Twitter to get folks interested enough to speak out, and I tried my best to convince the board to reconsider a hybrid collection. I cited studies showing that our brains have a different response to words in print, as opposed to words flashed across the glowing screen, and I argued for preservation in print, as an option, just in case digital access failed somehow. There was nothing I could do, though. The money just wasn’t there, and hard choices had to be made.

The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library became bookless back in 2026, and survived the budget cuts, and thrived as a house of tech-mages and a hub for community engagement—and it turned out that I loved my job just as much as I had before. I helped people learn how to use the newest tech, gave advice on cover letters and resumes, hosted book discussions, and recommended great reads. I was still a librarian.

I missed the books, though. I remembered walking down the aisles, trailing the tips of my fingers along the spines, and checking out stacks of new books to carry home in a tote bag. I missed the quiet feeling of being surrounded by books in the stacks.

It turned out that our library was on the cutting edge of things to come. Print went by the wayside in other libraries and in retail faster than anyone had predicted it would, despite upswings in print sales here and there. Digital was just so easy, and took up so much less space. That’s when I truly became a collector, a gatherer. I rescued as many books as I could, from yard sales and thrift stores, and the big chains and used book stores, before they closed for good. I saved a lot of the books that the library discarded, too, buying them on the cheap from the library bookstore. I invested in built-in, floor to ceiling shelves, and I finally spent some time weeding and organizing my collection. My library.

I’m ready now, for whatever finally brings down the grid. I’m not wishing for a technology crash or a return to simpler days, truly. I never want to see my community turned upside down, or my friends and neighbors struggling. But I feel it coming, anyway, an inevitable collapse that has nothing to do with my wishes.

Shelves full of colorful covers and flippable pages greet me when I enter my home. Standing in my living room, I close my eyes and breathe in the familiar smell of paper and ink, and I feel hopeful. I know I’m not the only one who held on to the past. There are others out there like me, keepers of the printed word, and we have something to share. Each of us, with our own ark of books, possess something that will connect people back to the world that was lost.

 

Tovarishch O’Sullivan

Craig Paschang

 

The cold winter wind whipped through Grigory O’Sullivan’s thick red beard as he darted from the tramway. He wouldn’t be out at this hour or in this weather on a normal evening. But duty called; the Party came first.

The city center was mostly dark; a café ahead on the right was still inhabited, casting a pale warm wedge of light in futile resistance to the bitter night. A man behind the counter stared back at Grigory as he passed; his eyes were black and dull.

Grigory pulled his fur-lined collar closer about his neck as he turned the corner onto Tenth Avenue—no, onto Brezhnev Avenue, he reminded himself—and the wind caught him square in the face. If only it had been snowing, he might have been able to call someone at the Committee and beg the evening off, to return home and crawl back under the covers with Katya and watch whatever was on the First Channel at this time of night.

But it was not snowing, and he was expected to show that he was made of tougher stuff.

He cut the corner at Holliday Avenue; though the rules were closely followed in Lewellingrad, and information about rule-breakers a commodity of its own, he didn’t think anyone would mind him jaywalking or cutting across the lawn so late at night. And he loved seeing the People’s House from that angle, where the limestone columns and sharp rooflines tugged at each other like dancers.

He let himself in through a ground-floor entrance; and up to his office through the back stairs. He sat at his desk in the dark for just a moment. He loved this view. His office was in the attic, and he knew that was the second-worst place to have been assigned (besides the basement), but it didn’t feel like it, not with that view. Across the street, illuminated from below with ground-level spotlights that lent its concrete edifice a beautiful harshness, stood the Justice Center, a strong Brutalist structure that predated the Revolution but unintentionally presaged the Party’s arrival. The narrow pillars of its façade seemed too small to carry the weight of its cantilevered floors, much as the proletariat once seemed too small to carry the weight of the capitalist’s yoke. But the building endured, and the proletariat triumphed.

Grigory turned on his small desk lamp and fed his electric typewriter a piece of cheap paper. The contrast between these two tools of his trade was jarring and inescapable. The typewriter, a newer model produced by the Industrial Combine, had memory functions and an auto-spell. It was black and sleek and looked like it came from the future. It represented all of the power and industrial might of the Party. The paper, which was thin enough to trace through, had barely even been bleached white. It had been designed specifically for use in a typewriter—a sharpened pencil would tear right through it—and then sent to a photocopier for reproduction. It had been over-engineered to the point of serving a single, replaceable function, and was too fragile to do anything else. Which also, in a way, represented the Party.

But am I the paper or the typewriter?

He shouldn’t have asked.

*****

Morning found him still hunched over his small desk in his small office. The plaza was beginning to fill with workers dressed in long coats and thick hats on their way to work before the sun rose above the housing blocs on the east side of the city center. Grigory watched them, half asleep, a dull ache having settled in the middle of his back.

A knock on his door startled him. “Come.”

The door opened with a creak. “Comrade O’Sullivan, come to breakfast.” His friend Pyotr stood in the doorway, his cheeks red from the walk to work. “There are duck eggs.” Pyotr knew Grigory loved duck eggs.

“Yes, alright, Comrade. I could use some coffee, too.”

“Burning the midnight oil again?”

“It’s just the farm bill.” Grigory tried to stretch out his back as he stood.

“They need something to debate today, then.” Pyotr gave him a conspiratorial wink.

Grigory sighed as he raised his arm to show Pyotr out of his office. There was always something for the Party members to debate; there just wasn’t always a bill to ground their debate in reality. As a legislative draftsman, it was Grigory’s job to make sure that didn’t happen very often.

“Yes, Comrade. Today and every day.” Grigory closed his office door behind him. He didn’t bother to lock it.

*****

Breakfast was pleasant enough. Many of the Konza Oblast Party Committee members were in attendance, making a show of greeting each other and the Committee staffers. Grigory tried not to be disdainful of their fine suits and clear eyes.

Pyotr regaled him with the latest rumors on each one as he walked by. This one had a new mistress; that one’s youngest son received permission to go to university abroad; this other one was mounting a campaign to run for the Central Committee; that other one had secretly celebrated Christmas (Can’t you see his new pocketwatch? Pyotr asked, pointing at the man’s waistcoat.)

But for all the pomp, the Party-sponsored breakfast was a little meager. There had been duck eggs, as Pyotr had promised, and bacon, and griddle-cakes, and some strawberries that must have come from Mexico or somewhere. But the thin and gray-skinned kitchen staff ensured no one—not even the Oblast Secretary who came downstairs for a few minutes towards the end—received more than a modestly-sized portion.

Pyotr ate quickly and excused himself; as a Liaison Officer for the Security Committee, he had several things to finish up before the Party Committee began its first meeting. “Just a few reports.” But they both knew reports were never just reports.

Grigory walked back to his office alone. The People’s House was over a hundred years old, but the former occupants had obscured its mural-covered hallways and built offices out into the open spaces. The Party had been restoring the building almost since taking up residence; but there was still a lot of work to be done, and not a lot of room in the Oblast budget to complete the work. A carpenter avoided Grigory’s glance as he walked by.

The sun had risen high enough to cast Grigory’s office in a bath of orange light. He was about to step into that pool of sunbeams, though it promised no warmth, when he realized the draft bill was missing from his desk.

He quickly closed his door and took stock of his office. Everything was where it was supposed to be; everything except the bill.

Not that bill. Not that one. Not today.

It was a joke. He hadn’t meant anything by it. He still had plenty of time to fix it. It was just that in the early hours of the morning, when the bill was close enough to completion that his sleepless-ly fuzzy brain couldn’t choose between orneriness and celebration, he’d changed some of the words. A lot of the words.

It hadn’t been a bill on the desk next to his typewriter when he left for breakfast. It had been a manifesto. An indictment. A rumination and a prescription. A scathing review and a heartfelt sermon. It was everything he knew he shouldn’t say, most of the things he knew he couldn’t say, and quite a few of the things he knew he wouldn’t have said if he hadn’t been called in so late on such a cold night.

It wasn’t a bill. It was a confession.

Changing his name had been easy; Pyotr had done it, too, and Katya had once been Catie. He could call his state the Konza Oblast and its capital city Lewellingrad with stumbling; he had learned the new street names and mostly got them right the first time. He enjoyed looking through the House of Prototypes catalogue that came each fall, if only because Katya always told him he had the perfect frame for the newer styles. In all the little outward ways that anyone who was paying attention would notice, he had remade himself to fit squarely and securely into the new order. But changing his beliefs had been harder.

Even after ten years as a Party member, he wasn’t a communist. This deficiency hardly surprised him; he had never cared for the parties that had once vied for control of the state, and he hadn’t much cared in school when they learned about the parties that had come before—although this newest one had been smart to invoke the battle cries of Mary Elizabeth Lease and her contemporaries when they came in with their new “People’s Party.” They hadn’t even needed the tanks that were waiting on great ships just offshore and in the bellies of great planes circling overhead; they only needed to win Afghanistan and promise the people of the plains that their sons would no longer be sent abroad to fight on foreign soil, their grocery shelves would never again be empty, and their voice would always be heard. After fifteen years of war and two very hard winters, that had been enough for Grigory—and for most everyone else.

The Revolution’s only casualty was an elderly man who collapsed walking to the church two streets over to cast his vote on the referendum. Grigory didn’t feel like a traitor when he cast his vote; he felt like a pragmatist. In truth, though he had often claimed allegiance to one political party or another, often vociferously, and just as often rather sincerely, Grigory had always simply voted for the person who made the most sense.

It was easier now: though the Party committees had their debates and power struggles behind the scenes, there was only ever one candidate. He still went to the rallies, and the canvasses, though the Party always seemed to put up candidates who were indistinguishable from each other in their zeal and, eventually, in their inefficacy. He wore his Party-approved coat and waved his Party flag. He did all the right things, and he said all the right things. It had been easy to blend in, toe the line, do his job, and keep his family fed.

But now they would know. They would know that he was not reformed. That a full belly was not enough to buy his loyalty. That he didn’t care for the Party Committee members or their platforms or their hypocritical fancy suits. That he thought the whole system was a sham.

If only he had shrugged off Pyotr’s invitation and fixed the draft, like he had planned. But no. He had to have his duck eggs. Had it been worth it? Whoever had that sheaf of papers, whatever they intended to do with it, Grigory’s career was likely over. If he acted fast, he might be able to save something of his reputation, find a job with less responsibility in a suburb or a farm town somewhere. Katya could even have a garden.

He turned for the door—but behind the glazed window stood the shadow of a man, hand drawn back to rap on the glass in a rude knock.

Grigory saved him the effort and opened the door.

*****

Grigory couldn’t remember if he’d ever been in the Secretary’s office before. He’d worked in the People’s House long enough he surely must have entered the room for something or other at some point. But its smallness surprised him. Maybe he hadn’t been in there before.

The Secretary sat cross-legged behind his desk, leafing through the papers that had been left in an office that should have been locked. Now that he was only a few feet from the man, Grigory could see that his suit was well-made but not new; his glasses were chipped in a few places along the rim; his eyes were puffy with redness and lack of sleep. Grigory looked around the office again; the bookcases were plain, the carpet a little worn, the paintings on the wall were poster prints. He briefly entertained the thought that this man, the most powerful in the Konza Oblast, was a true believer. He wasn’t sure if that should worry him.

The Secretary finished reading, put the papers on his desk and worked a phlegmy cough as politely as possible. He took off his glasses with his left hand and rubbed his temples with his right. He put his glasses back on and stared at Grigory. His tired eyes were blue and sharp.

“Tell me Tovarishch O’Sullivan,” he started, using the formal Russian term as if to remind Grigory that although he had lost most of his accent he had not lost his ties to the Motherland, “why does the Party Committee debate a farm bill every spring?”

Grigory contemplated his response. Giving the Secretary the same answer he’d just read in the stolen papers was obviously not an option, but he was hard pressed to come up with a better one.

“Do you think it is to make a show? To fill the radio waves with sound bites and catchphrases? To quell the people, to convince them the merits of growing crops that receive almost no subsidy from the Central Committee? To trick them into mere obedience?”

Grigory chose not to answer.

The Secretary grew tired of waiting.

“It’s because we have quotas. Our Republic stands in unity with other soviet republics across the globe. There are radicals who would shatter the bonds that tie us together with so-called ‘decentralization’ efforts. The only way to stop them is to protect the system of mutual cooperation we have so carefully established.

“And so we must choose. Maize, or wheat? Beans, or barley? Sorghum, or rye? Do we stay at five million cattle, or should we replace some with sheep or goats? And on top of it all, we must choose where these things will go. Do we plow more fields in the east, or do we let fields lay fallow for a season? Do we build more pumps in the west, or do we turn fields over to ranching?

“These are the questions the Party Committee was supposed to debate today. And they are serious questions.” The Secretary rapped his knuckles on Grigory’s papers in emphasis. “We must have a proposal for the Central Committee to review, as must the other Oblasts. We must play our part here in the heartland, for the good of the Republic. Do you understand?”

Of course he did. The system wasn’t perfect, but it prevented the bubbles and price collapses that had driven the economy to the verge of collapse countless times before. “I didn’t sleep last night,” he offered.

“Neither did I.” The Secretary’s response was almost kind.

“I only meant—”

“I know exactly what you meant, Comrade. You were frustrated. You had every right to be. But your work is serious. You must be serious about it. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Very well then.” The Secretary pushed the papers back across the desk. “I’ll need a finished draft before noon. You did good work on the bridges bill last fall. Let’s get a little more of that out of you, shall we?” He smiled in a way that told Grigory the discussion of his transgression had come to an end.

Is that all? A stern warning and a pat on the back? Grigory stood, and offered a feeble smile in return. An aide showed him out.

He had to admit, he had done good work on the bridges bill last fall. But was that all it took? To put him in his place, to turn him back into a good little soldier?

Of course the bill debate was just a show. Of course it was designed as a source of sound bites to distract the dirt-poor farmers whose standard of living had actually decreased since the so-called “People’s Party” had swept them up in its fervor. The Central Committee had already decided who would grow what, and where.

But maybe there was another truth buried in what the Secretary had told him. Maybe the system was fragile enough they needed him—yes, him—to write another piece of legislative poetry like the bridges bill, the kind with lofty language that would inspire the kind of debate that would get endless replay on the evening news.

Maybe the Party would eventually crumble under the weight of its central planning and forced employment and social artifice and revolving patronage. Or maybe those were the only things to keep it from disintegrating. Grigory feared what would happen if there wasn’t at least a debate before the Central Committee issued its planting maps, the kind of debate that would remind the farmers how important they were to this grand new Republic while distracting them from the wealth that never seemed to flow farther than the outskirts of Lewellingrad. He felt sick to his stomach.

But duty called. And he knew he would feel better when he fixed his draft.

 

Test Year

Jamie Crispin

 

“You are our most successful patient yet. You have exceeded your predecessors by over two weeks. We are very proud of you.”

Today, Dr. Malcolm’s words sting my heart more than usual. I know I should be happy. Most patients would be thrilled receiving high praise from their doctors. But, to me, exceeding Dr. Malcolm’s goals is actually terrifying. If I weren’t so angry, like massive temper tantrum anger, then I would be crying inconsolably. I would be crying like when my best friend, Inara, moved to Omaha. I can still see the moving van disappear down the street. The farther it got from me, the more I cried. Until recently, I considered Inara leaving the worst day of my life. Now, I wake up and believe every day is the worst day ever. So, the closer Dr. Malcolm gets to me, the angrier I get.

The anger has been building. In the beginning, there was a flash of hatred that surged through my stomach when I saw a white lab coat. A few weeks ago, my hands trembled when I heard the keys unlock my door. Now, the anger has taken over my head. It pounds on my temples at night and screams inside my brain during the day.

Dr. Malcolm likes to say to me, “You are extremely valuable to the plan.”

This little mantra is so insulting and “the plan” is insane. What I hear instead is “you are extremely helpless.” I know I will never see the outside of this room. I am hooked up to wires, machines and monitors continuously. Each day, some scientist or doctor or both visit me in my room. They ask me questions about my health, my family and Topeka. At first, I didn’t talk. I just pretended that the person wasn’t in the room with me. But, they had ways to change that behavior. Now, I talk. I talk, and I journal. These days, the writing is the only thing that keeps me sane.

The only feeling that cuts this deep anger is the pain I feel thinking of my family back home. I miss hearing my dad yell at the TV during a Kansas City Royals game. I ache to see my mom reading in her special chair. I even miss my brother, Nathan. What I wouldn’t trade for one day with him, even if it meant he was throwing his socks at me.  

I have been here for 76 days. The researchers have told me that no one has made it past 61 days. I assume that is the reason for my quality visits from Dr. Malcolm. Lucky me! I know it might seem silly; but I feel that if I write this down, then, I existed. I am not sure if anyone will read this. But, I can’t bear to think that I will be so quickly forgotten. So, I guess I will just start at the beginning.

My name is Turia Shepherd Nation and on September 9, 2046, I attended my first day at school. Yes, I did say AT school. I have been attending online school for many years, but this year was the start of my Test Year. Back home, students go to school online with the exception of the 10th grade. The country decided in 2025 to change the education system due to safety issues, money, and teacher shortages. Blah, blah, blah. I wasn’t born yet, but we have studied it every year in online school. The most important part is that students have to attend school in-person for 10th grade.  

I was always taught the purpose of the Test Year was to determine one’s career goals. My government believes the Test Year provides information about our skills and talents. This is done with the use of constant video surveillance and classroom observers or in-person monitoring. At the end of the year, students are ranked nationally. No pressure, right? The lucky students considered in the top 20% are invited to attend an elite university program. For those who didn’t make the cut–well the Test Year decides that, too. The lower the ranking, the fewer choices a person has about their future or job outlook. Someone has to collect garbage or clean bathrooms! In all, the Test Year is the most dreaded and most anticipated year of anyone’s life. There is only one chance to become someone important, and it is during the Test Year.  

Thinking back, I am embarrassed at how much time I spent choosing my outfit for the first day. I wanted to stand out but not too much. I wanted to be seen as an individual, but one accepted by the masses. Needless to say, I had no idea what my Test Year was going to bring. If I had realized, then, I might have run away to Omaha to be with Inara. At least we could have faced this ordeal together.

I was assigned to Randolph School, which was perfect since I lived just a few blocks from it. I always thought the building looked like a school in the traditional sense: a brick building with white columns and a brick path flanked with trees on either side. It was just like the schools pictured in the old movies. That was it; I was walking into a movie scene.

On the first day, our instructors reminded us the cameras were present to record our best attributes. Of course, I never saw it that way. It felt eerie to know I was always being recorded. Probably because I knew the recordings were analyzed and graded. There were cameras in all corners of the building except for the bathroom and library. While the lack of cameras in the bathroom was for obvious reasons, the library was so seldom used that surveillance wasn’t necessary. Information was readily accessible and updated online. Books were quaint or decorative but not used for research any more.

Over the next few weeks, I got to know the members of my cohort since the instructors placed a high value on group work. I learned very quickly that the majority of my counterparts were seriously striving to be in the top 20%. The fiercest competitor was Lysa Washburn Harrison, an overachiever who never seemed to repeat an outfit. Her endless wardrobe was only rivaled by her boundless energy level. Lysa was a favorite among the students, but she was far from my favorite.

Though we shared many things in common, I am not sure what I did to earn what was clearly Lysa’s distaste. Our parents both worked at Stormont-Vail, the local hospital. Our brothers both played in the city soccer league, and I had been to her house for dinner. No matter what the topic, assignment or class, it seemed Lysa and I were destined to be paired. I could tell she was more bothered by it than me. I got on her wrong side from the beginning, and she didn’t hesitate to remind me.

Then, there was the day of the incident. Of all the days during my Test Year, I can still see that day play like a movie in my head.

“No, just let me do the talking, Turia. You mumble like a scared child when you present,” Lysa said as she reviewed the assignment list.  

“I don’t mumble. Just because I don’t do cartwheels off the walls, like you, doesn’t mean I can’t present.”

“Well, I think it is settled. I will continue to do cartwheels off the walls so we can get the best grade and you can coast on my success. Happy?”

In true Turia form, I scrunched my face up, tilted my head and gave her the finger. I completed the pose with a fart noise, just to add an extra dash of annoyance.

“And, that is why you will be cleaning my house at the end of this Test Year.”

Lysa started to gather up her computer and purse. It was clear I had gotten to her which is part of the reason she didn’t see the chair behind her. Before I could even call to her, she turned, tripped and lost everything in her arms. Her fall made such a loud noise that the whole school seemed to stand still in its aftershock. But, it wasn’t the fall that upset her the most. It was that the fall had projected all of her purse’s contents into plain view. Her tampons, her breath mints and several prescription pill bottles that didn’t belong to her. She lunged for the orange bottles like a mad woman as they rolled under desks and into corners. It was evident from her hurried grabbing that something was not right. Instructor Tam was quick to pick up on the situation and escorted Lysa to the administrator’s office.

When Lysa did not return to class that afternoon, the rumors spread fast. Each story was slightly different, but with one common denominator…me as the villain. In one version, I had planted the pills in Lysa’s purse in hopes she would be dismissed from the Test Year. Another tale told of how Lysa was taking the blame to cover for my pill addiction. Of course, my personal favorite was the rumor swearing I was an aspiring drug dealer hoping to turn my cohort into satisfied customers.

Their theories had added weight since my mother was a pharmacist at the local hospital. Of course, no one seemed to mention that Lysa’s father was the head nurse in the ER. In the end, I never confirmed or denied the rumors when people asked which is why so many defected to Team Lysa. I just wanted the whole day to be erased from my memory. I knew that whenever Lysa returned, everything would be ten times worse. And I was right.

When Lysa returned to Randolph, her short sabbatical did not seem to change the spring in her step or her fancy outfits. I will never know how she rallied everyone’s support so quickly. Lysa’s disdain infected my peers. I saw a shift in the air as a result of her whispers. Soon, less of my cohort talked to me. My presence seemed to make people uncomfortable. It had become clear. It was me against the rest of the school.

On one particular day, I was treated to a heavy dose of isolation during lunch. The out of place feeling filled the entire school and my heart. Feeling lost, I visited the school library out of a simple desire to be invisible.

In a virtual world full of electronic texts, tests and talks, the library made me feel safe. A musty and potent smell of old books permeated the room. I found it comforting along with the towering stacks that embraced me. I ran my fingers along the book spines just to feel a connection to something. Just like the printed words in the library, I felt overlooked and forgotten.

A small section of the library called Kansas History drew me close. My mother had spoken about an ancestor, Carrie Nation. She was a woman involved in the Temperance movement in Topeka. During the 1900’s, she was known to take on drinking, head-on and with a hatchet. She was a feisty woman for her day. I remember my mother saying, “We Nations have rebellion in our blood.”

I stumbled upon a book with a black-and-white picture of Carrie Nation. Something about seeing her face called to me. It almost felt like there was an electric current in my blood. I pictured the image of this woman, swinging a hatchet around a bar, and smiled. She was the kind of woman I wished I could be: emboldened, radical, free.

A massive bang and a click woke me from my daydreams. I heard laughing from the hallway. I had a sick feeling in my stomach that I knew what had happened. In fact, I almost didn’t want to try the handle for fear it would confirm what my gut already told me: I had been locked in.

There were no cameras in this room, and few ventured here. I knew I would be found eventually and probably within an hour. Once classes started back after lunch, then the monitors would note my absence. When I was found, I couldn’t say I did it to myself. Nor could I rat on my cohorts. Defeated, I slid down against the wall and sat on the floor.

As I was flipping through the pages, a sheet of paper fell from the book still in my hand. It was strange that I had not noticed it earlier. It was a yellow piece of paper folded in half. I could tell there was writing on the inside.

I opened it up to read the word “Freedom.”

There was a crackle in the air. The hairs on my legs, arms and neck all seemed to stand up at once. If I hadn’t been sitting down, I would have sworn the ground shifted to the left and then the right. My ears popped, and my stomach did a flip. Then, two things happened at once. A strange and powerful light appeared, and suddenly someone was in the room with me.

“Turia? Turia?” A voice called to me. It was my voice, yet I hadn’t spoken out loud.

I looked up and focused in on eyes that were only too familiar. A hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me to my feet.

“Freaky. Absolutely, freaky. We do look exactly alike,” said the familiar voice.

It was true. It was me standing in front of me. Same height. Same brown hair. Same brown eyes; my nose and my chin. It was unbelievable. I started to talk but was interrupted rather quickly.

“Okay, I am sure you don’t know what to say. I get it. I am just going to come out and say it. My name is Turia Shepherd Nation. I was born February 17, 2030, in Topeka, KS. And, I am you. Well, I mean, the other you. I live in an alternative universe. Yes, parallels worlds are real. And, in my world, time travel exists. We haven’t perfected it yet. But, it has been around for a while.”

It was strange how much I was following what she was saying. I mean this situation was bizarre; but at the same time, I felt in my bones that she was telling the truth. There was something so genuine and confident about the other me. She brought me a sense of relief and peace. I couldn’t help but trust her.

“Okay, how do you know about this world? Have you been here before?” I asked.

I was a little surprised that it was my first question, as though I were blindly accepting the time travel theory as law. Why was I so calm?

“Right, okay,” the other Turia continued. “Yes, I have been here before. Actually, a few times. I read about it in the books in this area. I can’t always stay long. I mean, with time travel there is a one goes, one comes rule. Meaning I can’t stay in a world unless someone switches places with me. The someone has to be my other–or you. Bad things happen to the people who don’t follow the one goes, one comes rule. Let’s just say it gets ugly.”

“So, there just happens to be a hole between our worlds in this building?”

“It is a leak more than a hole, and it is in this book, not the entire building. A time leak isn’t supposed to happen, but they do from time to time. Generally, my government finds the holes and fixes them. Mainly because they don’t want an unexpected traveler crossing over. Again, it is the whole one goes, one comes rule. But, here we are a few months later, meeting for the first time. It almost seems like fate, right?”

“Months! You have been traveling back and forth for months?”

“Well, really it has been weeks. When I first stepped over it was September 9th. I believe it was your first day here. I was drawn to you, or I sensed you were close. I was curious. Who you were, what you did, you know, everything. I wasn’t sure if we should meet, but I just couldn’t help it. I can feel this connection to you. It is strange, but it’s like we are twins or sisters. I just had to meet you.”

I thought back over the last few weeks trying to remember anything unusual. She said she was drawn to me. For once in a long time, I felt important or unique. She was everything I wanted to be—A real Nation with rebellion in her blood!

“I want to help you out. How about we trade places for a few weeks? Maybe I can help you change your status around here. I am good at standing out, but fitting in. And you, well, you get to experience life in another world. My world is so different. Science, technology, life, love – it is alive and thriving. Anyone has the freedom to do whatever they want. You don’t have the government setting a life for you before you are even 18. You don’t have the pressure of trying to socialize with people like Lysa. I think it would be good for you to see things from a different perspective.”

Her perfect words struck me at an imperfect time. My mind was made up the second I met the other me. Honestly, I don’t think I ever considered saying no to her offer.

So, the truth is easy to guess now: I am writing all of this down from the alternative world. I took the other Turia up on her offer. We switched places and decided on a date and time that we would meet back at the time leak. I would go to the other Turia’s world, the world of time travel. The other Turia would go to my world and experience my Test Year.

As soon as I went through the time leak and exchanged places, the portal seemed to seal completely. At first, I thought maybe it would just reopen later and especially on the chosen date and time. Like perhaps the time leak was listening and would save the date in its mind. But, before I could take more than five steps outside of the library, I was surrounded, handcuffed and transported to a facility called the Menninger Clinic where I met Dr. Malcolm.

You see, the other Turia was right. Her world, or this world, is trying to perfect time travel. In fact, they are in the final phase of their research: the human trials. I am human subject #006. Apparently, they have completed this testing with five other subjects with varying degrees of success. For each trial, they were able to collate a database of information referencing a new world. That is how the other Turia knew so much about me and my universe. They coached her (or coerced her) into doing what she did.

Dr. Malcolm told me how the other Turia was chosen due to her extensive criminal record. By being involved in the human trials, she was given a chance at freedom, even if it brought death. If they treated her the way they are treating me now, then I can’t say I blame her for tricking me. I was right; she did have rebellion in her blood.

I still can’t help but be angry at the other Turia, at my world, at this damn place, and especially Dr. Malcolm. What I hate more is knowing that when I die, I won’t be Turia Shepherd Nation. Instead, I will be known as patient #006. To make things worse, Dr. Malcolm’s words continue to burn in my memory.

“I am happy to report both that you and the other Turia are doing well. Her vitals are stable and you are transitioning well into this world. This gives our people so much hope for crossing over.” Dr. Malcolm has taken to sitting on my bed when she visits. I have to fight the urge to kick her.

“Oh, you mean, when you will violently take over my world?” I didn’t have to play up the angry teenager stereotype. My angst and sarcasm poured out of me naturally.

Dr. Malcolm tells me, “Turia, you need to think big picture. This research will be able to save thousands, if not millions, of lives. We are doing what is best for the greater good. We are blessed that our technology enables us to research and explore all possible options for a better existence.”

I am never convinced by Dr. Malcolm’s statistics, research or opinions. I can see from their news and media that the people of this world have turned on each other and the planet. To put it in the other Turia’s words, “let’s just say it gets ugly.” They need a way out and they want to trade places with my home, my family and my world. Some days, I can see the parallels between our worlds; and it makes me miss my parents and brother. Damn, sometimes I even miss Randolph School and its brick path.

It is just too ironic. I traded one Test Year for another. I didn’t think I would make it through mine successfully; and, now, it looks like I won’t get out of here alive. But, I can’t help hearing my mother’s voice, “We Nations do have rebellion in our blood.” History does have a way of repeating itself.

 

 

Proclaim the New Name

Duane L. Herrmann

 

The new hats for 1909 featured wide brims holding up piles of ribbons and possibly a feather for excitement. Dresses were floor length, with long, slim lines. A three room house in Topeka rented for $6.00 a month, a five room for $13.00. A two story, six room house, just two years old, with a bathroom and good barn, was for sale on Clay street for $2,550. The Hilty family lived at 829 Monroe.

They had been living in Topeka for three years, having moved from Enterprise, KS, so their daughter, Lovelia, could attend Topeka High School. She had earlier attended Kansas School for the Blind, so far away no one felt she should travel back and forth on the train alone. And, she didn’t like it there.

The move had meant leaving baby Iona alone in her grave, but Lovelia’s needs were greater. She is twenty-one now and has to be able to support herself; we certainly can’t. Felicia reflected. But, now that Leonard has the Apex Café, we have more steady income.

Louella has been married for six years now. We no longer needed to worry about her. Being blind, Lovelia is another matter.

These were her thoughts that evening of May 18, 1909, as she cleaned up after supper. Leonard was reading the evening paper, the Topeka State Journal.

“Look at this,” Leonard said to her as he pointed to a headline. “It says the Bahá’ís are going to build a temple. This wasn’t mentioned in the class we attended in my mother’s home.” Together they had attended this class in 1897, in Enterprise. The teacher had given the name of the religion only to those who, at the end of the class, had stated that they had agreed with the teachings. Leonard had said it didn’t make any difference to him. To Felicia, it had.

The teachings were not difficult: there is one God, the Creator, who has a personal relationship with humanity and periodically sends special Messengers to guide humanity, including Moses, Jesus and now Bahá’u’lláh, each the fulfillment of the one before, the “return” so to speak. Now, here was news of it in the Journal.

Mother Ehrsam and Mrs. Frey, who had also attended, are so far away, Felicity regretted. She recited the First Commune. She knew prayer was important and she tried to live in a manner that was worthy; but with no other believers around, it was difficult. She wished there was a book she could read, but she didn’t know of any.

The dateline of the article was Chicago. Ten years earlier Felicity had planned a trip there to learn more, but the need for surgery had prevented it. She had recovered fine, but the urgency for the trip had diminished and later there was no time or money. Financial difficulties seemed never to end.

Once Leonard had to declare bankruptcy and twice his paying with bad checks made things worse. She had wanted to learn more about her religion, but there was no opportunity.

Abilene had seemed like a big town, but not nearly as large and confusing as Topeka. Still, they had settled in and learned their way around the Capital City.

She finished reading the news article: “The temple to be called ‘Mashrak-El-Azcar,’ will be a mixture of modern and Oriental architecture. It will be modeled after a similar temple in Eshkabad, Russia, the plans for which were drawn by Baha-Ullah, father of the Abdul-Baha of Galilee, the present prophet and leader…

Felicia tried to imagine such a building, but she could not.  How could a design combine contemporary and Eastern elements? Would there be arches? A dome? Columns and pillars?

Abdu’l-Bahá, she remembered. In 1905, the year before we moved to Topeka, I signed a petition with hundreds of others around the country, asking Him to come to America.

“Nine walls and nine fountains…” That would be interesting, she mused. A nine-sided building —the shape would be circular. She clipped the article and put it away, then became involved in other things. Strawberries were blooming and the first lettuce and radishes were ready to pick. Her life was in full swing once more. There was hardly time to pause.

The next summer she was surprised again. “UNCLE SAM ISSUES RELIGION BULLETIN, was a headline on Sunday, August 14, 1910, in the Topeka Daily Capital, the morning paper. A paragraph several down the column was even more surprising than the one on the temple had been the year before. It not only mentioned the Bahá’í Faith, but said:

“This is a comparatively new sect, growing out of the teaching of a Persian leader of the middle of the last century named Ali Mehammed. He claimed to be the forerunner ‘of him whom God would manifest.’ And called himself ‘Bab’ or ‘the Gate.’ Later came Baha Ulla, who claimed to be the one who’s coming had been foretold, and from him the real name of the body is derived. In 1906 he had 1,280 followers in the United States who worshipped in 24 places through 14 states…”

Are there others in Kansas besides Enterprise and Topeka? Who would know?

Felicity had to put these questions aside and take care of daily needs. Lovelia had begun giving violin recitals and concerts. She needed to advertise her ability to play in order to draw students for lessons. Teaching music, violin and voice was a way of earning an income despite being blind. Her first concert was in May 1911 in Topeka. Later, in December, she gave one in Valley Falls, where her mother was born and family still lived. Newspapers in both cities praised her ability. The concerts attracted students. This was good.

After the December concert, Felicity was looking through the new issue of Everybody’s and came to the story, “The Light in the Lantern.” The entire story, several pages with illustrations, was all about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his home! The author had visited Him and written about the visit. Felicity was so startled that she wrote to her mother-in-law, who also subscribed, and to her friend, Mrs. Frey, both in Enterprise.

Her mother-in-law commented on the article, Mrs. Frey’s answer surprised her. She stated that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would be coming to the United States the next spring. She and her daughter, Elsbeth, were making plans see Him in Chicago. Did Felicity want to join them?

Leonard agreed, but she still had concerns.

“You must be sure to have money in the bank to cover every check,” she admonished. “I won’t be here to keep track for you.” He glumly nodded.

“And Lovelia,” Felicity paused. “What if she gets hit again?” Three years before, a driver had hit her and sped on. No one ever found out who did it. The car had only grazed Lovelia, but she was badly bruised. She had been nineteen then, young enough to bounce back quickly, but what about next time, her mother wondered.

“Don’t you ever tell her that,” Leonard warned. “She’ll think we won’t trust her to go out by herself.”

“I know, I know, but I still worry.” Felicity let the matter drop. Three days later she was able to find peace with the decision to go.

“You seem particularly happy, Mother,” Lovelia remarked that morning.

“I just had the most amazing dream last night,” Felicity answered. “Abdu’l-Bahá was in it.”

“I’m glad, Mother.” Lovelia walked up to her mother and gave her a hug.

“You’re such a lover,” her mother said and hugged her in return.

“That’s what the kids called me at school,” Lovelia giggled.

“Called you what?”

“Lover,” she giggled some more. “It was kind of cute.”

Lovelia would be later be known in the family as “Auntie Lover.”

Felicity and Mrs. Frey wrote back and forth to make sure they would be on the same train and stay in the same hotel. On the big day Leonard drove Felicity to the train station. Elsbeth  stuck her head out of the train window to signal Felicity which car to board. Mrs. Frey wasn’t quite as audacious. The three of them settled in together for the ride.

“Have you heard what happened to the Titanic?” Felicity asked.

“Such a tragedy,” Mrs. Frey remarked.

“Someone wrote me that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was offered passage on the Titanic,” Elsbeth said. “He declined and booked passage on the Cedric instead.”

“Really?” Felicity was surprised. Could He have known?

They had brought food to eat: boiled eggs, sandwiches, and fruit. None of them quite trusted the food on the train. Besides, it was expensive.

Conversation turned to the class in Enterprise all those years ago.

“Our teacher really was not well informed,” Mrs. Frey said. “He had learned of the Truth while in Egypt, but made up a lot himself.

“When He went to Haifa,” Elsbeth added. “With the first group of pilgrims, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tried to correct him, and he seemed to agree. But, after the group returned, he resumed his idea of being the Head of the Faith in America. That was simply not possible. Bahá’u’lláh had written out who was to be the Head of the Faith, it was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. No one could change that.”

“I see,” Felicity said. This was another detail she hadn’t known.

“It is through the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh that we turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá now,” Mrs. Frey added. “No one else.”

“And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá can’t change that,” Elsbeth added.

‘Then our teacher renounced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and tried to start his own religion,” Mrs. Frey added.

“There was confusion all around,” Elsbeth continued. “Mother and I are the only ones in Enterprise who remained interested.”

“Except for Mrs. Ehrsam,” Mrs. Frey added.

“She only has a slight interest now,” Elsbeth protested. “Not like before.”

“It’s sad that her interest waned,” said Mrs. Frey regretfully. “We were such a nice little band of believers.”

“‘Abdu’l-Bahá is going to dedicate the Temple site,” Elsbeth said. “That is one reason He’s coming. The land is on the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago in the village of Wilmette. It will be beautiful.”

“Nine entrances will show that people can come from all directions and meet in unity to worship the One Creator,” Elsbeth continued. “It will be unique.”

The day and scenery passed. Once they went by a pasture with cows and calves. The cows calmly continued to eat, but the calves bounded away. We must seem like some kind of monster to them, Felicity thought. Poor things. Another time, deer stood in the shadows of trees some distance from the track and watched the train go by.

The night was spent uncomfortably sitting and trying to sleep, but they did sleep some. Once, when the train stopped to let on some new passengers, Felicity roused enough to feel sorry for those who boarded the train in the middle of the night. They must be in some great hurry not to wait for morning.

In the afternoon of the second day, the women arrived in Chicago. They were greeted by members of the convention Reception Committee who directed them to the Entertainment Committee, whose members had hotel and other room accommodation information. One member gave them directions to their hotel and secured a hack to deliver them there. Upon arrival, all three refreshed themselves and took short naps. They were too tired and dirty to think yet about supper.

They had signed up for the Rizwan Feast which would be held that evening. The next morning, Sunday, April 28, the convention would begin. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was to speak at the convention and dedicate the Temple site. He would also greet people in his hotel suite in the evenings. The women determined to see him as often as possible.

Elsbeth woke from her nap before the others and went to explore the hotel. She found a reading nook off the lobby with local newspapers. In one she found an article about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Excited, she took it up to the room to show the others.

“Mother, Felicity!” she exclaimed, seeing they were waking up. “Listen to this.” She read:

“‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the leader of the impressive Bahá’í movement which has sprung up to the Mohammedan world, is coming to Chicago this month to attend — strange to say — the international conference of the people of his faith…

“It is a pity that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has to talk through an interpreter. It would be hard to find anybody coming out of the Mohammedan world whose views of Christianity and the Western World would be more interesting or even impressive. The Bahá’í movement, with its large generalizations of the universal brotherhood of man, the unity of all religions and creeds, and of universal tolerance and peace, affords a splendid scale upon which to measure Western achievements. But this can’t be easily conveyed through an interpreter.”

“There’s a photograph of Him, too,” Elsbeth added. She held the paper so the others could see it; a kindly face, with loving eyes and a wide brow under a simple kind of hat, not quite a turban, above a white beard. He looked like one who had suffered, but bore no ill-will to anyone. He had been born into an aristocratic family who had lost everything for their beliefs, even their homeland. He had seen the result of the torture inflicted upon His father, He had lost two brothers, one an infant, the other a young man. He, Himself, had been pelted with stones as a young boy.

“Under it,” Elsbeth continued, “the caption says:

“The Persian philosopher and leader has arrived in New York. He was born in Teheran in 1844. His father was a prince of Persia’s royal line, who gave up his position to strive for the regeneration of man. For advocating liberal ideas he was thrown into prison, and his young son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went with him. In 1908, after the Young Turks came to power, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was released and at once took up the work of his father. He estimates the number of his followers at about 2,000,000, about 5,000 of these being in this country. The basis of his teachings is human solidarity. He believes that all nations and religions should be united. His followers include Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Mohammedans. He will lecture in various cities and will attend the International Peace Conference at Lake Mohonk.’”

“Well!” exclaimed Mrs. Frey. “What do you think of that, Felicity?”

“I’m impressed. Neither of the Topeka papers had anything like that, that I saw. Can we keep it here so we can thoroughly read it?”

“I don’t know why not,” Elsbeth answered. “We won’t take it out of the hotel.”

This was the most Felicity had read of the Bahá’í teachings. There had been no book for the class she had attended in Enterprise, just a small pamphlet which they all passed around. This news article and the opportunity to discuss it, clarified a lot of her thoughts and questions.

“Dear,” Mrs. Frey turned to Felicity. “There are more books now than when we were in the class. And the magazine, Star of the West. You really have been out of touch since you’ve been in Topeka.”

“I guess so.” Felicity answered. “Can you help me get more while we’re here?”

“Sure we can,” Elsbeth joined in.

The next few days were a blur for Felicity, with the convention and seeing more Bahá’ís than she had ever imagined existed in one place. And, of course, she saw ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself.

At the closing session He addressed the convention:

“Among the institutes of the Holy Books is that of the foundation of places of worship. That is to say, an edifice or temple is to be built in order that humanity might find a place of meeting, and this is to be conducive to unity and fellowship among them. The real temple is the very Word of God; for to it all humanity must turn…”

He presented a dramatic vision to Western eyes. His layered robes immediately attracted attention. He paced, gestured and spoke, pausing frequently for the interpreter. Felicity wished that a translator was not necessary. She simply wanted to listen to those words pour over her. She found it difficult to believe that He was, truly, nearly seventy years old; that He had been out of prison for only four years; that He had been a prisoner since He was ten years old; that He had no formal education…It was too much to take in!

She turned her attention back to His words:

“Temples are the symbols of the divine uniting force so that when the people gather there in the House of God they may recall the fact that the law has been revealed for them and that the law is to unite them. They will realize that just as this temple was founded for the unification of mankind, the law preceding and creating it came forth in the manifest Word. Jesus Christ, addressing Peter, said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.’ This utterance was indicative of the faith of Peter, signifying: This faith of thine, O Peter, is the very cause and message of unity to the nations; it shall be the bond of union between the hearts of men and the foundation of the oneness of the world of humanity. In brief, the original purpose of temples and houses of worship is simply that of unity…

“For thousands of years the human race has been at war. It is enough…”

The next morning as many as possible journeyed to the temple site in Wilmette, north of Chicago. Mrs. Frey decided not to go because the weather was windy, cold and damp. Felicity and Elsbeth bundled up and set forth. They rode streetcars but had to walk the last several blocks; it was past the end of the line. But they weren’t alone. The car was crowded to the end and all got off and walked and talked together.

A large tent had been erected as protection from the weather, but the wind coming directly off the lake was sharp. Though the program was to start at “noon” there was some delay. The stone to be used could not be found. Eventually it was located in some weeds and recognized. It did not look like a cornerstone – it was a broken stone that someone had brought from a construction site. Felicity overheard the woman who brought it describe how she had asked the builder for a stone and he let her pick one from a pile of rejects. Then she struggled, with the assistance of an elderly man, to convey it here. The streetcar operator did not want it on his car, but eventually let them rest it outside, on the bumper. At the end of the line they borrowed a child’s wagon, but it soon broke. Someone else, later, had to bring the stone the rest of the way. She marveled that she had been able to get it here at all. She had no money to give.

As Felicity listened, she thought of the verse in the Gospel of Luke, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.” She was amazed at how fully the verse had become true.

Finally they were to begin. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the crowd:

“The power which has gathered you here today notwithstanding the cold and windy weather is, indeed, mighty and wonderful. It is the power of God, the divine favor of Bahá’u’lláh which has drawn you together. We praise God that through His constraining love human souls are assembled and associated in this way.

“The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Ishqabad is almost completed. It is centrally located, nine avenues leading into it, nine gardens, nine fountains; all the arrangement and construction is according to the principle and proportion of the number nine. It is like a beautiful bouquet.

“Imagine a very lofty, imposing edifice surrounded completely by gardens of variegated flowers, with nine avenues leading through them, nine fountains and pools of water. Such is its matchless, beautiful design. Now they are building a hospital, a school for orphans, a home for cripples, a hospice and a large dispensary. God willing, when it is fully completed, it will be a paradise.

“I hope the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Chicago will be like this…”

Then, He proceeded to turn the first dirt. After that He called various people representing different backgrounds, to also turn some dirt so that as much of the human race as possible could be represented, at least in spirit.

After the ceremony, people lingered and eventually drifted back to the streetcar line to return to Chicago. On their return the younger two informed Mrs. Frey of all they had experienced so vividly that she felt she had been there too.

“Photographs were taken,” Elsbeth added. “And, I think I’m in one of them, with this new hat.” She patted its wide brim.

Felicity and the Freys left Chicago the next day.

Back in Topeka, Felicity pondered what to do. She would never forget the moments she had had with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His hotel suite that one evening. It was brief, and the room was crowded, but those moments were engraved on her heart. She had never felt so much love from anyone, not even her parents, husband or children, as she experience then. It was not a brief emotion, it was a solid thing—more “real” than the everyday world of cars and houses. It was as if a window to a deeper, truer reality had opened briefly. It had been too brief. If this is Heaven, Felicity thought, then I’m ready.

She now realized how important these teachings were to her and she wanted to share them. She was dismayed that she had so done nothing in support of her beliefs. Now she was energized and wanted to do something, but wasn’t sure what. She wanted to tell everyone in the city, but how?

Among other things, she had brought back a pamphlet about Bahá’u’lláh and Christ. The connections were amazing and implausible, but in her heart, she felt they were true. The experience of seeing so many other Bahá’ís, from so many different backgrounds and colors, confirmed for her that there was a power in this Message that could unite people. It was not just words. Here was concrete proof!

She remembered the newspaper article in the hotel. Everyone read newspapers; many people in Topeka took both the morning and evening papers. Aside from gossip, the newspapers were the only source of news. Newspapers were the key.

One night she had a dream in which people were opening newspapers all across town. When Felicity woke up, she knew what she could do. It would take a little money, but she had some saved for a special occasion. This was a special occasion.

After breakfast, she went to the offices of both the Capital and the Journal and told the advertising clerks what she wanted to do. When they gasped in surprise, she knew it would get the attention of others too. It was the right thing to do.

Two days later, she opened the The Capital, as she knew thousands of others in Topeka were doing, and saw the words she had planned. Some readers gasped in surprise, ‘How can anyone make such a claim?’ ‘Blasphemy,’ many others muttered. Not a few went so far as to think or exclaim, ‘Anti-Christ!’ More than one sermon for the next Sunday was hastily revised to warn innocent flocks to beware of this heresy. Such a claim was surely not less than that. The words were in a large display ad in the center of the top half of the page:

 

CHRIST HAS RISEN AND RETURNED

with the new name, as promised:

Baha-u-llah

The Glory of God—Revelations 3:12

 

 

Cleansing Waters

C.R. Kennedy

 

Purple, yellow, and white blooming bulbs—mostly iris and daffodils—accented the rock garden like seashells on a beach. After two days alone in the car, Melanie was quite happy she’d abandoned her spring break vacation and exchanged the seashells on Galveston Island, Texas, for the flowers in her hometown at Gage Park. Beau, her fluffy, white Bichon, led her along the paths and stopped to sniff flowers, tree roots, and random insects. It neared sunset, and the unseasonable warmth of the day convinced Melanie a mosquito was teasing her calf just below the bottom hem of her dress. She turned around to swat it away, and Beau yanked hard on his leash. She allowed the dog to pull her, continuing to shoo the insect until an unpleasant odor struck her. Melanie snapped her head around and discovered her dog brushing against worn, brown work boots. The man wearing them sat on a wooden bench with his face buried in his hands, and Melanie gazed at the top of his unraveling straw hat.

“Oh…pardon my dog,” she said.

“Animals don’t bother me,” he replied.

Beau indulged himself in the dusty leather of the boots, their barnyard scent apparently a delight to him. Despite Melanie’s tugs, the dog sprawled his short, white body on the top of the boots. The man reached down and sank his fingers into Beau’s curly white fur. Man and beast seemed in need of each other, so Melanie sat to the man’s left, noting the last glimmers of sunlight sparkling across the pond.

“Don’t you love this garden?” she said. “They created it the same year I started as a freshman at the new high school building, back in 1931.” She sat back and analyzed how the garden had matured. “I can’t believe that was nine years ago. My two favorite places in Topeka—the rock garden and Topeka High—both finished in the same year. I’d never considered it.” He didn’t respond, but remained slumped over, his fingers woven in Beau’s fur while the dog appeared quite content. Melanie continued:  ”What’s your favorite place in Topeka?”

“I live in the country,” he said after a long silence. “But I guess it would be the grain elevator.”

An unusual response she thought. “I assume you’re a farmer.”

“I won’t be for much longer,” he replied, choking on the last word. “I have to sell the farm.”

“Why?”

“My fiancée is very ill. The last few years have been difficult for her—her father passed away. Then her mother got influenza during the winter and…Loraine…she…” He shook his head but never revealed his face. “She would never let me help her. Her mother died and Loraine blamed herself. She…she…well, she’s in the hospital on the hill.” He nodded to the north, and Melanie knew exactly what he was referring to.

“She’ll get excellent care there. I promise.”

“Expensive care,” he added.

“Yes.” She knew dinner at her parent’s house would be served at eight o’clock sharp, but walking away from this man and his pain seemed heartless. “What’s your name?”

“Reginald.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Melanie.” His face remained hidden, but a bit of black hair protruded under the bottom of his straw hat. “I’m a graduate student at Kansas University,” she said. “It’s spring break week, and I had planned to spend it at the Gulf of Mexico with my sorority sisters, but after a few days I was bored. Perhaps I’m too grown-up for that sort of thing now.” No response from the man. “So I came back early. Maybe for the company of adults.”

Reginald let go of Beau and slapped that hand over his face, loud sobs causing Melanie to regret her words. “This pond is so pretty,” she said quickly, hoping to plant happier thoughts in his head. “But all the years I’ve been coming here with my family and Beau, I’ve never left without having this one thought.” She pointed to the clearing. “I’d like to see a water fountain in that spot. European. Romantic. Poseidon, the Greek God of the sea, standing tall in the center of a pool, with water shooting straight up in the air from the tips of his trident. And off to the side of the pool,” she motioned, “I imagine Pegasus playfully splashing in the water.” Melanie sighed, looking up to the heavens. It was going to be a wonderful night. Even though her mother was on the east coast visiting her grandmother, Melanie was so looking forward to time with her father. She’d have a quiet dinner with him, maybe a few games of cards, then she’d sleep in her own bed with Beau snoozing by her feet.

Reginald stood up but still kept his head twisted away from her. Beau jumped on her lap nuzzling his face into her dress. “An awful waste of money if I ever heard one,” Reginald said. “I apologize for being bad company. Good night, ma’am.”

He walked down the path, then down the road. Melanie didn’t move an inch until he was out of sight. She allowed her back to relax, enjoying the sunset for twenty minutes or so, imagining evening sunrays sparkling across the splashing water of her imaginary fountain.

Before she’d even closed the front door behind her, Beau leapt from her arm and ran up the stairs. This was unexpected, as he normally headed straight for his water dish in the kitchen. A wonderful smell caught her attention, and she moved quickly through the dining room and into the kitchen, but Mrs. Lewis wasn’t there. Opening the oven door revealed rosemary chicken, a longstanding special occasion dinner. She strolled through the house and was almost to her bedroom at the top of the stairs when Mrs. Lewis popped out from behind the hall wardrobe door. She rushed toward Melanie with a stack of sheets and towels but went right on by her and into Melanie’s bedroom.

“Are you okay, Mrs. Lewis?”

“No child.” She threw the stack of linens on the upholstered chair next to the bed. “Next time you decide to come home for dinner please give us more warning than a note on the kitchen counter.”

“You don’t need to do anything special for me,” Melanie insisted. Mrs. Lewis pulled a sheet off the top of the stack and quickly tucked it around the bare mattress as Melanie rushed around the bed to help.

“Well, we are doing something special, so you need to dress appropriately.” She grabbed the next sheet, unfolding it across the bed with a quick flick of the wrists. Melanie grabbed the hem on her side and began straightening.

“Why?” Melanie asked.

“Orders from your father,” the maid snapped. “Oh…” She slapped her hand on her forehead, “I forgot about the asparagus.” Melanie stepped toward her, but Mrs. Lewis waved her away.

“I can finish this,” Melanie insisted. “You go back to the kitchen, and I’ll be down to help in a minute.”

“There’s not time,” Mrs. Lewis explained, walking to the door. “Look your best,” she said. “And for goodness sakes, be at the table by eight.” She hurried out of the room, closing the door.

Melanie moved the bedspread and towels from the chair to her bed and sat down. She picked up her alarm clock, then tossed it on the bed. Seven-fifty. She had nine minutes to freshen her hair and makeup and see what might be hanging in her closet.

As she hurried down the stairs, Melanie reached behind her and tugged the zipper on her white shimmering gown all the way up, to the middle of her back. She was ecstatic that this dress, which she had worn to the hospital’s fundraising gala, was still in her closet. She swayed across the marble in the foyer, almost gliding to the dining room entrance. The dining table, which she could see from the foyer, looked glorious, set with her mother’s silver rimmed china. She caught a whiff of the soup, probably a broth laced with herbs and, maybe, mushrooms. About to step into the dining room, Melanie realized the man sitting in her father’s seat was not her father. She did a quick spin and leaned against the foyer wall.

Melanie searched her mind for all her father’s friends and the other doctors at the hospital, but no one looked even similar to the man she had just seen. His dark hair, brown eyes, and handsome features would be unmistakable. She had never met this man.

She ran through the foyer straight to the other kitchen entrance. Mrs. Lewis was about to push through the swinging kitchen door to the dining room. She held a silver tray which carried the soup bowl and silver ladle, but when she saw Melanie she stepped away from the door. “Why aren’t you at the table?” Mrs. Lewis whispered.

“Who is that man?” Melanie demanded.

“Shhh….” Mrs. Lewis placed her finger over her lip. “I don’t know.”

“What?”

“He’s our guest. Staying with us tonight. Very important man. You need to impress him.”

“Where’s Father?”

“Delayed. One of his patients…I don’t know,” Mrs. Lewis finally said. “There’s a problem at the hospital.”

“So I’m entertaining this man—a complete stranger—alone?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Lewis snapped. “You have ten seconds to get in your chair so I can get this soup in front of you. You know I don’t like—.”

“Oh, I know.” Melanie said. “You don’t like serving cold soup. And I don’t like eating it.” She hustled back to the dining room only to find herself alone in the room. She sat down just as Mrs. Lewis pushed through the door and dropped her jaw.

“Where is he?” the maid whispered.

“I don’t know,” Melanie replied.

Mrs. Lewis ladled soup into Melanie’s bowl and then placed the large soup tureen next to the place set for the guest. She went back into the kitchen, shaking her head. Melanie retrieved her soup spoon and scooped up a bit of broth, blowing across it gently.

“My apologies.” At the sound of his voice, Melanie dropped the spoon and stood straight up. The unknown gentleman was beside her, reaching for her hand. Melanie offered it, and he kissed it gently. “I’m sorry to delay dinner, but I had to adjust my eyeglasses.” He tweaked the black frames on his face, but Melanie couldn’t remember seeing them on him before. “I’m Dr. Fritzl,” he said in a heavy German accent.

“A pleasure to meet you. I’m Melanie Rains. Please sit down, and I’ll serve you some soup.”

Melanie followed him to his chair, but before she could pick up the ladle Mrs. Lewis burst through the door and gave her a “find your seat, child,” stare. Melanie obliged, allowing the maid to do her job. As Melanie was about to taste the soup she heard the rattle of tags on Beau’s collar. He wasn’t allowed in the dining room, so Melanie assumed he was stretching out on the cool marble floor just off dining room.

“Do you work with my father?” Melanie asked the gentleman.

“I will be for a short time.” Dr. Fritzl took a spoonful of soup and smiled at her. “I hope to observe his methods and understand his research while taking in the management of the clinic, sanitarium and the peaceful grounds.”

“Oh…Menninger’s is a wonderful place,” Melanie confirmed. “Renowned.”

“Yes.” The doctor smiled at her again, and she found herself sincerely smiling back.

Melanie ate her soup, not minding that it was cold. She heard the jingle of Beau’s tags again, and glanced to the foyer, but he wasn’t to be seen. “I assume you’re a psychiatrist, like my father.”

“I studied in Vienna,” he said.

“Really? At the University?” She put down her spoon for the last time. “Under Freud?” Mrs. Lewis brought in the main course and side dish.

“Oh yes. I attended many lectures by Dr. Freud.”

“May he rest in peace,” Melanie quickly added.

Dr. Fritzl shifted his weight and took a sip of wine. “Yes. Good man.”

Melanie cut into her chicken. “I’m so happy you’re dining with us—I mean, me—tonight. Rosemary chicken is Mrs. Lewis’ specialty.”

“Divine,” he said after a bite. “Simply divine.”

Melanie sat down her silverware and leaned back. “You remind me of someone,” she said. “But I can’t place whom.”

“Perhaps I have a common face.”

“Oh, no,” she remarked. In fact his face was markedly uncommon…. good looking enough to cause her to blush. She quickly reached for her wine. “I think you look like someone who I’ve seen recently.”

He took another bite of chicken then tapped his fork in the air. “I’ve got it. Perhaps you’ve seen my picture in one of your father’s medical journals.”

“Never read them.”

He shrugged while cutting his asparagus.

“But I do know a lot about psychiatry and psychoanalysis,” she explained.

“Are you studying that at the Kansas University?”

She swirled her wine for a moment. “I don’t remember telling you I went to school there.”

“Your father told me, but he didn’t mention your field of study.”

“Anthropology.” She finished her wine and wondered where Mrs. Lewis was with the wine bottle. Melanie guessed the woman’s ear was glued to the other side of the door. “But I was telling you about my understanding of psychiatry—from growing up and listening to my father. Just this afternoon I had the most interesting experience. I wish you could have been there.”

“Tell me about it.”

She recounted meeting Reginald in the park and explained that she was confident his fiancée, Loraine, was being treated at Menninger’s. When Melanie told Dr. Fritzl that the poor man was contemplating selling his farm she began to tear up, and noticed Dr. Fritzl doing the same. When she finished her story he sat back with his wine, spinning the stem of his glass between his fingers, watching the liquid react against the movement of the glass.

“Tomorrow I’m going to find out exactly who this Loraine is,” he said. “I’ll assist in her care.” He finished off the glass. “I’m here on a special grant, Miss Rains, and can do with the funds as I see fit. If Loraine is my patient, and I document her situation and my conclusions, it’s reasonable to me her care should be funded by the grant. I’ll make it my mission to track down Reginald before he sells his farm. No one should have to lose their home and livelihood to get treatment. Not if I have a say.”

Melanie pressed her hands over her face and tears released everywhere. “That’s…I…” she wiped her eyes with her napkin. “You’re so generous and compassionate. I could kiss you.”

“You’re too kind. It’s my obligation,” he said. Dr. Fritzl had the last few bites of dinner and lavished praise upon Mrs. Lewis when she came through the door with the wine bottle. After she filled both glasses and went into the kitchen, he leaned forward toward Melanie. “I feel we’re being chaperoned, don’t you?”

Melanie burst out laughing. “Yes. She treats me like a child, but so do my parents. You’ve had time to analyze me, Doctor. Is my inner child dominating?”

“Your outer woman dominates,” he said. “And your inner woman is running a close second.”

She put the chilled wine glass to her cheek. “That’s romantic.”

“I assume Mrs. Lewis has prepared a tasty dessert for us.”

“Oh…I’m sure.”

“And that she will be serving it any minute.”

“Yes.”

“And that you’re looking forward to it, as I am.”

“Well…”

“But what would happen if we weren’t here when she brought in the desserts?”

Melanie moved the cool wine glass to her other cheek. “Go on…”

“What if we were in the drawing room, listening to something on the phonograph?”

“Mrs. Lewis would never take dessert into the drawing room. Or more wine. It would be improper for her to do so without us asking.” Melanie leaned closer to him and whispered: “She’s not my nanny.”

Dr. Fritzl stood up with his glass, and Melanie did the same. As he walked toward her she noticed Beau beside his feet. Obviously the dog must have been there throughout dinner. She wanted to scold him but it would spoil the moment. Melanie led the doctor and her dog to the drawing room and put a Glenn Miller record on the phonograph. She turned around to find Dr. Fritzl right behind her.

“May I have this dance?” he asked.

“Certainly.”

He drew her close. “Would your father object to this?”

“I’ve danced with boys in this room for years.”

“I’m not a boy, Miss Rains,” he whispered. “Perhaps you do need a chaperone.”

She noticed Beau hovering around his feet. She pulled back and glanced at the doctor’s lips, and then to his eyes behind the thick glasses. “Bringing up Baby,” she whispered. “That’s who you remind me of—the actor in that movie. He played a doctor—a paleontologist. But I can’t remember his name.”

“I never pay attention to the movies,” he said, kissing her softly.

As the kiss grew she closed her eyes and imagined her water fountain in Gage Park. “You make me feel like Aphrodite,” she said when the kiss broke. “With water streaming over my hair, down my back…all the way to my feet.” He kissed her again, and she felt those same waters pouring over her heart, removing any trace of any kisses that had been planted there before.

With Beau under one arm and a picnic basket handle on the other, Melanie strolled across the Menninger campus. The clock tower was beautiful with sunshine flooding down over it. If her father had made it home at all last night, it had been long after Melanie went to bed, and both he and Dr. Fritzl had left before she awoke. In her mother’s absence, Melanie had decided to take a warm lunch to her father at work. It was a Friday tradition that dated back to before Melanie was born. As they got closer to the tower Beau squirmed in her arms. He wiggled free and ran toward a group of people on the east end of the tower base. Melanie approached the group and discovered Beau at the feet of a man wearing a tattered straw hat. Overjoyed, she ran to him. “Reginald,” she cried when she was just a few feet behind him. He turned around.

The picnic basket slid along her arm. “Who…?” she muttered. He didn’t say a word, but looked at her for a moment. She pulled off his straw hat, and he closed his eyes. “Dr. Fritzl? How…? Are you…?” She glanced down to Beau, brushing against his dusty boots. “There was a dog in the movie,” she finally said. “In Bringing up Baby, there was a dog.” She looked deep into the eyes of Reginald or Dr. Fritzl or whoever this man really was. “I can’t remember. Was the dog named ‘Baby’?”

The man shook his head. “Baby was the leopard.”

His voice didn’t match Reginald’s or Dr. Fritzl’s. It sounded English. Melanie studied the group. A young man holding a camera lingered about ten feet away, and another man with glasses similar to Dr. Fritzl’s stood near, holding a clipboard. Melanie pointed, “Are those the glasses you wore last night?”

“Yes. That’s why I left the table before you came in for dinner. Mr. Cukor was outside the front door waiting to hand them to me.”

“But not because you need them to see.”

He shook his head. “Because I needed to look like a doctor. I needed to play a part.”

“Because…” she felt dizzy. “Because you’re an actor.”

“Yes Miss Rains, I’m an actor.”

“And you’ve played a doctor before. In that movie…the one with the leopard and the dog…that’s who you really are. You’re…you’re…”

“I’m Cary Grant.”

“Ahh…” she shrieked. “I fell in love with Cary Grant?” She swung the picnic basket at him then dropped it and ran. Beau barked behind and she continued through the awakening spring grass until a hand grabbed her arm.

“Listen to me,” he said.

“You tricked me. Twice,” she snapped. “What did I ever do to you?”

“You showed me compassion. And kindness. And shared your inner beauty. And melted my heart.”

“What are you talking about?”

He clapped his hands on his handsome face and rubbed hard. “You can’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. Ever.”

“Okay,” she snapped.

“Kate Hepburn is here. She had a nervous breakdown right before we started filming our next movie.”

“Kate…” She closed her eyes. “Katherine Hepburn. The Katherine Hepburn is here? I need to sit down.” She went straight down into the grass, and Mr. Grant sat next to her. “Miss Hepburn was in the leopard movie, too.”

“Yes. But she’s had difficulties since that movie, and the pressure for this next film was too much for her. Mr. Cukor, our director and friend, and I came here to support her. Then he remembered a screenplay that had been floating around MGM for a few years about a woman who went crazy and her fiancé who sold the farm to get her well. We were doing test shots yesterday for that potential film. This hospital would make an excellent backdrop for it.”

Melanie held her head in her hands. “When I found you in the park yesterday—.”

“I was still in character. Reginald is the film character.”

“And last night?”

“Your father agreed to let me stay with him since he was supposed to be alone all week. But when his maid discovered your note that you were home, she called him. He called me at the house later and insisted I disguise myself. Dr. Fritzl was the first thing I thought of.”

She grabbed Beau and stood quickly. “And yesterday in the park, when you were playing the role of Reginald…all that emotion was just acting. I felt so sorry for you.”

He stood. “None of it was acting. When I was a child I was told my mother was dead. But she was really put in a mental institution. I had no idea until my father died a few years ago. She’s alive but very sick, Miss Rains. Those tears in the park—they were real.”

She shook her head. “But those kisses—last night—I was falling for you. I was imagining the most glorious water fountain. One themed with love and beauty. Instead of Aphrodite I should have imagined Hades, murky, dirty river water shooting from his eyes, all over me and Beau and our flowers in the garden.”

Tears streamed down Mr. Grant’s face, which Melanie never wanted to see again. She ran back to her car, and continued running for five months. She spent the summer in New York with her grandmother, and didn’t come home to Topeka until she was settled back at Kansas University in the fall.

One mild September weekend she came home, picked up Beau, and headed to the park. The daffodils were long since faded, and the chrysanthemums were yet to arrive. But what had emerged overwhelmed her. She sat on the bench, gazing at the spectacle for hours. In the clearing stood a sculpted tree—an olive tree—with a white marble dove gripping to a branch. Crystal clear water poured down over the top of the branches and fell gently into a pool. Just before sunset, when the sunrays crept through the branches and put sparkle in the streams, Melanie took Beau over to the base of the fountain. A bronze plaque simply read: To Elsie and Melanie, with all my affection, C.G.

She momentarily mirrored the fountain, tears streaming down her warm cheeks. She assumed ‘Elsie’ to be the sick mother who brought about real emotion in this park last spring. Melanie was confident she was the second woman mentioned, whose pain for the last several months over being tricked was now being washed away, leaving only sincere, healthy devotion.

 

As Mercy Would Have It

Annette Hope Billings

 

Cora Lee Jackson giggled as she played with her younger siblings in her grandmother’s front yard. She claimed the right of game choice as the oldest at seven. The game that morning was Simon Says. Her brother, Merdel, was five and partially understood the rules. The youngest, Dettie, was a happy lost cause at age four. They’d spent the night with their grandmother, Meemaw, so their mother could leave early for work. The children were always happy to stay with their grandmother; time with her was bliss. Tension was high in the Jackson household—three rapidly-growing children, very little income and their mother, Carlotta, had gone two months without a period. The children experienced the stress at home as a coarseness in the air. Their chests would tighten when their parents argued. The air was soft at Meemaw’s and easy to breathe.

Meemaw was cooking a grand Saturday breakfast as the children played—honey biscuits, fried potatoes with onions, scrambled eggs and bacon. She took care to fry some of the bacon just how Cora liked it – so crisp it almost broke when she picked it up. Meemaw adored her grandchildren equally; the made-to-order bacon was her nod to Cora being the first grandchild.

The children knew Meemaw as a sweet soul, but they’d also seen her be stern as stone. She always welcomed them into her house with, “Come on in here and give Meemaw some suga’.” The greeting would be uttered in her caramel, Tennessee drawl, though Topeka, Kansas, had been home for thirty years. Poor behavior would result in her spitting out, “Go out there and get me a switch!” Those switchings were very rare and were reserved for wrongdoings Meemaw felt “would make Sweet Jesus weep.” Cora and her siblings were well-behaved and vastly more familiar with their grandmother’s face-covering kisses than welts on their legs. Their mother disagreed with how far Meemaw allowed the children to go before she corrected them. But Meemaw always stood her ground. She’d explain that sparing-the-rod scriptures applied to parents, not grandparents. Carlotta would roll her eyes. Meemaw would invariably go on to say her discipline decisions were based on “the Gospel according to Meemaw.”

Out in the yard, the children remained swept up in play. Cora was impatient with the number of times she had to re-explain the rules. Then, Merdel would do something that would make all of them erupt in laughter. Cora’s back was to the road as she shouted Simon and non-Simon commands.

“Simon says hop on one leg!”

She didn’t notice the car slowly coming up the road. Merdel and Dettie saw it. The orange Plymouth sedan slowed to a stop at their yard. The two younger children watched a man exit the driver door and walk quickly around the front of the vehicle. His eyes narrowed on Cora and he sprinted toward her. They froze.

Not understanding why her siblings stood unmoving, Cora started to repeat, “Simon says ho”— she heard commotion behind her. As she turned toward the sound, the man was already at her. He snatched her up, mid-turn, with one arm. She screamed. Her siblings screamed. Their three-part chorus of terror escalated as the man opened the front passenger door and threw Cora inside.

“Sit still, girl!,” he hissed as she tried to keep him from shutting the door. Cora stopped screaming, tears rolling and looked at her siblings through the car window. Seconds later, the man was in the driver’s seat and speeding away.

Simon says don’t cry.

Cora’s sibling’s last sight of her was her wet face pressed against the car window.

Meemaw heard the screams through a closed kitchen window. The sound was different than the familiar squeals in the peak of children’s play. She felt a bolt of dread.

“Sweet Jesus,” she murmured as she hobbled across the kitchen to the window.

Her biggest fear was one of the children, likely Dettie, had wandered into the road and been struck by a car. A quick prayer took shape as she reached the window above the sink. She moved the curtains aside and reserved hope that what she’d heard was from some overzealous game. She’d tell them to quiet down, maybe threaten a switching, then she’d finish cooking.

She could see her entire front yard.Two of her grandchildren clung to each other crying. No Cora. Merdel and Dettie saw her at the window. The look on their faces… Meemaw’s head swam. She steadied herself on the counter and pressed a hand to her heart. Terror coursed through her. She knew whatever had happened could not be undone with a switch.

She hurried to the front door. Merdel and Dettie, hysterical, met her there and flew into her arms. She pulled them from her enough to look into their faces.

“What’s wrong? Where’s Cora Lee?” she asked them. “Where is Sissy?”

She looked frantically up and down the road as she tried to make out their sob-riddled answers. She expected to see Cora lying in the road. She saw nothing except a cloud of dust. Her heartbeat doubled. She wondered if a car had hit Cora and kept going.

She looked back down at the children and pressed them again. “Please, Meemaw needs you to hush cryin’ and tell me where Cora is. It’ll be okay.”

Many minutes passed before she settled them enough to understand what they were saying. When she made out Dettie was saying “car,” she thought her worst fear had been realized.

She searched the road again and asked, “A car hit Cora?”

Merdel shook his head, “No Ma’am, a white man stealed Cora in a car!” He began to sob hard again. Meemaw was stunned.

“No, Merdel, no!” She grabbed his shoulders. “Are you sure?” Then, desperately, “Is this a game? Is Cora hiding and you children are trying to trick Meemaw? Tell me the truth and I won’t be mad at none of you.” Even as she spoke the words, she knew the story was too awful for him to create. She groaned, “Please, Jesus, please” as she turned and led the children into the house. She made a frantic call to the sheriff. Next, she phoned the home where her daughter was working.

The lady of the house answered and replied curtly to Meemaw’s request to speak with Carlotta.

“I do not allow my help to receive calls.”

Meemaw swallowed hard. Rarely-used profanity rose in the back of her  throat like bile.

“Please Ma’am, this is a terrible emergency with one of her children.” Silence. “Please.”

The woman did not respond. Meemaw heard the phone being laid down hard.

Minutes later, “Mama,” it was Carlotta, “what’s wrong?”

“Carlotta, something has happened to Cora,” she began.

Meemaw couldn’t recall later how she explained the unthinkable to her daughter. But she would never forget her daughter’s sustained howl of, “N-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, Mama, n-o-o-o-o-o-o!”

The phone at the Jackson home had been turned off. She called a neighbor to go tell the children’s father to come. The next call was to her pastor. His reply, “We’re on our way, MotherSister.”

Meemaw had been standing as she made the calls, the children clinging to her clothes on either side. She collapsed into a recliner once she knew the pastor was on his way. She drew the children onto her lap and rocked them. She cried quiet prayers while the bacon burned to black.

A contingent of folks from True Holiness Baptist Church arrived soon. Each had a Bible in hand. They arrived before the sheriff. The pastor had gone by and picked up Carlotta. She called Merdel and Dettie to her as she ran through the door. She clutched them so tightly they’d be bruised the next day. Once Meemaw saw the children were in their mother’s care, the room began to spin around her. Church ladies eased her down onto a sofa and fanned her. She declined their insistence that she take sips of water.

Through a torrent of tears, she managed to speak. “I knew something awful had happened because I heard Sweet Jesus weeping when I looked out and saw Cora gone.”

“There, there, MotherSister,” the pastor cooed at her, patting her arm. She thought she heard doubt in his tone.

She stiffened, stopped crying, and snapped, “I know what I heard, Pastor!”

*****

Cora’s thoughts reeled as she whimpered in the front seat of the man’s car. When she cried too loudly the man responded with, “Shut it up!” In her mind, to be taken by this stranger meant one thing. She, Merdel and Dettie must have done something very wrong. Warnings from her mother and Meemaw careened through her thoughts about what to do and what not to do “‘round white folk.” It’d been drummed into them to be quick to apologize to white people even if they had no idea what mistake they’d made.

“Even if you know, for gospel truth, you’ve done nothin’ wrong,” Meemaw emphasized, “say ‘I’m sorry’ to white folk and say it fast! It’s 1964, Babies, and the only thing you might be doing wrong is being colored.”

Each time Carlotta heard her mother say “colored,” she inserted that she preferred the term “Negro” or “African-American.”

Meemaw’s standard reply, ““Colored” has suited me all these years and it’s still fine by me.”

Trapped in the car, Cora knew whatever wrong she and her siblings had been caught doing, she must’ve been doing it the worst. She was the only one the man took. She thought he was probably taking her to jail. He wore no uniform, but police were the only people who could take children.

Simon says, Go to jail.

“I-I’m s-s-sorry, M-M-Mister,” she whimpered, huddled against the car door. “I’m very s-s-sorry. My brother and my sister and me didn’t know we shouldn’t—” she struggled. She could think of nothing they were doing that was remotely wrong. The man’s face bore little expression and he scarcely looked at her. A bad odor wafted from him.

“Quiet, doll. I’m not gonna hurt ya,” he said, “I’m just gonna take ya for a ride. Ya like to go for rides?”

Cora tried to make her head shake “no” but it wouldn’t obey. Restrained sobs convulsed in her body. They made it hard for her to control any part of it. Terrified, she’d wet herself when he forced her into the car.

“Everything is gonna be just fine, okay doll?” He lit a cigarette. “Say, how ‘bout I buy ya some candy? Some Pixie Sticks or Lemonheads? Hey, ya like little Tootsie Rolls? I’ll buy you a can full of them if you stay quiet.” He held her tight against her seat with his right arm while he steered with his left.

She managed, “I d-don’t want c-c-c-candy, s-s-sir.” Tears and snot dripped onto the shirt covering the arm restraining her. She added, when she remembered, “Th-Thank you.”

He glanced at her, then frowned at his wet sleeve. The corner of his mouth twitched. A smile? Not like one Cora had ever seen. His mouth moved, but the rest of his face didn’t budge.

“Aw come on, even little colored kids like candy, don’t they?”

Cora knew she was never to lie—to bear false witness as she learned in Sunday School. She’d recited the Commandments in church on a recent Sunday. Meemaw rewarded her afterwards with a pack of Juicy Fruit gum and an extra-long hug. Cora thought of grandmother’s hugs as she rode in the man’s car. Meemaw always smelled of Avon Vita-Moist Cream. Cora loved to bury her face in the fragrant bosoms. After a deep inhalation, she would announce, “You smell just like Heaven, Meemaw!”

Her grandmother would respond smiling, “And how would you know how Heaven smells, Babygirl?”

Cora would usually shrug and smile. But the last time, Cora had looked up into her grandmother’s face, solemn. “I will know what Heaven smells like someday Meemaw, won’t I?”

Her question had elicited a tight hug, “Yes, you will,” Meemaw had assured her, “if you get those commandments learned right.”

Cora had spent the rest of that week memorizing and, the following Sunday, she stood before the congregation to recite. The first five commandments came easily. With the sixth, nerves and the sight of her giggling siblings, made her stumble.

“Thou shalt not…” She looked out at Meemaw who shot a warning glare at Merdel and Dettie. She looked back at Cora, smiled and mouthed “kill.” Cora relaxed her tiny shoulders and spoke the fifth commandment and then six through ten with confidence. She grinned when she finished, certain her place in Heaven was secured.

Cora loved sweets, but she managed to shake her head “No” to the man’s question about candy. All she wanted was to go home. She hoped Meemaw and Jesus would forgive her for lying.

The man blew cigarette smoke out of the side of his mouth closest to her. They’d driven a long time. It was dusk. He stopped the car near a field and turned it off. He stubbed his cigarette.

“Don’t you move.” He kept his face straight ahead and got out of the car.

Cora heard him open and close the trunk. He walked to her side of the car and opened the door. He carried her into the middle of the field and laid her on the ground. Cora felt ashamed that he now knew she was wet. She caught sight of the object in his hand. An axe handle. Meemaw had one under her bed “‘case someone is fool enough to break in here to do harm.”

Cora lay still without being told. She watched the man. He stood over her and looked her in the eyes. He bent over to place one hand flat across her chest. Sweat from his face dropped onto her. Cora hated that sweat being on her more than the pee. He brought the axe handle down with a grunt. Cora reflexively tried to roll away. She didn’t make a sound as the handle impacted her head and her skull collapsed like porcelain. As mercy would have it, she only felt that first of the multiple blows. The man who was bludgeoning her had driven the roads of her town.

“I’m looking for a colored doll,” was what he told a man at a liquor store. He had found one.

Simon says pretend your hands are teacups.

Cora’s hands twitched and her last thought was about the tea party she had the day before. Merdel balked at playing and Dettie drank the pretend tea before the pretend cookies finished baking. That made Cora mad and she had a strong urge to pinch her baby sister. She resisted because intentionally hurting someone was high on Meemaw’s list of punishable offenses.

*****

After that final, fractured memory of her siblings, Cora only felt peace—like she was encased in velvet. She felt herself rise, quickly at first. When above the man’s reach, she hovered there. She felt light—as if air had replaced the marrow in her bones. She’d felt a similar feeling at the county fair a few months before. She’d stood on The Wheel of Certain Death. It was a circular carnival ride whose floor, by design, dropped out as it spun fast. Riders were held in an upright position by centrifugal force as they rode pressed against the walls. The children around Cora screamed and cried when the floor dropped away, even much older ones. Not Cora, she loved the sensation. She laughed the duration of the ride until her stomach was sore. She would have ridden it again had she not run out of money. She’d started saving pennies she found in hopes of making it to the next year’s fair. In the air above the man, she had experienced that ride’s exhilaration again—only magnified. She giggled full out. The levity she felt unhinged all the places where confusion and terror had been anchored earlier in the day.

She became aware of pressure at two places in her back. It was not painful, but distinct enough to make her turn her head over each shoulder to look. She saw peaks protruding from the skin on her back. Two feathered appendages emerged. Her eyes widened, and she gasped in delighted recognition. Wings! They were the same mint green as her best Sunday dress. She flexed her shoulders and watched the expanse of each wing broaden and slowly flutter. More giggling. She rose higher and looked down to see the clothes on the body on the ground were splattered an irregular red. She stared, feeling no connection to the body below, even as the man completed his horror, dropped the axe handle, and drove from the field.

Cora flew back to Meemaw’s house. The road in front was full of cars. Some she recognized as belonging to family or church folks. There were two sheriff’s cars, their lights flashing. She scrunched her face at the sight of them. It was taking a lot of people to decide her punishment for whatever she’d done wrong. The people entering and exiting the house looked very serious. She decided the sky was a good place to be for a while. She hoped they’d soon miss her enough to forget what her wrongdoing had been.

She decided to fly over favorite places: her school playground, the library, her best friend Mae Anne’s house. She saved one place for last—the woods behind Meemaw’s house. Her most beloved haunt, it would become a new home for her.

A week later, she flew back to the field where the man had murdered her. Sheriffs were there searching for her body. She fluttered happily around the grim men, eager to show them that the body was no longer hers. But, despite the warm wind she swept toward their faces with her aerial acrobatics, those men left that field sadder than they came.

At her long funeral service, she flew from one family member to another. No longer having any understanding of sadness, she cocked her head at their weeping. Merdel and Dettie, usually in competition for the squirmyest, were strangely still. Cora hovered above the chancel when they began to roll out the closed wooden box with a spray of pink carnations atop it. She’d heard someone say it would be taken to the cemetery. What Cora recalled most about cemeteries was their lack of playgrounds. She opted to return to her woods.

The killer was soon caught. Meemaw attended every day of his trial sitting in the section allotted for coloreds. Carlotta fervently prayed he would be hanged. Not Meemaw. She didn’t want death for him, she wanted his sentence to be a long life of having to live with himself and what he had done.

“That will be worse than any prison sentence or death,” she told everyone who would listen. She didn’t believe what he testified—that he didn’t recall anything about kidnapping and killing Cora. She stared at him and caught his eye one day as he looked up while being led from court. She saw that he remembered everything before he quickly looked away from her.

He did remember Cora— every day of the rest of his life. Memories of what he’d done to her made him pray to die. He dreamt of death countless times; but in every dream, the Grim Reaper was turned back by a small brown girl.

Simon Says don’t forget me.

He lived to be ninety-seven.

*****

On the summer morning that he was buried, the sky was as only a Kansas sky could be. Cora, still seven, reveled in the blue. Meemaw was with her now. They spent their days in airborne adventures. As it suited them, they would head back to their Heaven. The air was soft there and smelled of a grandmother’s embrace.

 

Underground Ark

Reaona Hemmingway

 

May 2013

The door to the old bomb shelter groaned as seventeen-year-old Ken Crawford heaved it open. After listening to Grandpa Willard talk about how Great-Grandpa Ellis conducted air raid drills back in the 1950s, he had searched and found the abandoned bunker on the family ranch in the Flint Hills west of Topeka, Kansas. Flashlight in hand, he peered into the depths of the concrete manhole. A switch near the ladder turned on a series of lights that seemed to descend into the ground forever.

“Cool! It’s hooked up to the grid.”

“Let me see.” His girlfriend, Alicia, shoved in next to him. “Ew! I couldn’t live in such a dark, cramped place?”

“You could, if your life depended on it.” He handed her the flashlight and swung his legs into the hole. “With the way Iran and North Korea keep messing around with nukes, we might need to use this thing someday. You should come down with me and check it out.”

“No, I’ll stay here in case you yell for help.”

The ladder descended seventy feet before he reached bottom. The entry chamber contained clothes racks filled with military-style chemical and radiation protection suits. Helmets, gloves, and boots lay on shelves. The whole room was set up for decontamination after returning from the outside. He opened an airtight door that led into a shower room. In the next chamber he found clothes closets.

The final portal led to living quarters furnished in the mid-century modern style popular when Great-Grandpa Ellis built the bomb shelter. The main living area offered kitchen, dining, and lounging space. Three doors on the far wall led to bedrooms. He opened a door on the other end of the kitchen.

“Whoa!”

Ken stared at shelving racks laden with supplies from fifty years ago; all left behind after Great-Grandpa Ellis died in 1964. Bookshelves contained manuals on building construction, farming, and every topic needed to survive and rebuild a community after a disaster.

The food supplies were old and no doubt unsafe to eat, but in enough abundance to last Ellis’ family of six over a year. He wondered if the fruit and vegetable seeds would still grow.

“What are you doing down here, son?”

Ken jumped. His dad stood in the hatchway with his arms crossed.

“We should refurbish this thing and restock it.”

“Why would we do that?”

“To save our lives when Iran and North Korea mess up and blow up the world.”

His dad laughed and shook his head. “You sound like Grandpa Ellis. Only he worried about Russians blowing us up.”

“How can you laugh? You’re the one who joined the Kansas Patriot Responders. Their whole mission is to help defend this country, if we get attacked by foreign or domestic enemies. This would be a great place to use as a base of operations should something happen.”

His dad, who had served thirty-five years with the Army’s Corps of Engineers before retiring two months ago, glanced over the supply racks. He looked over his shoulder at the living area before refocusing on Ken.

“You’re right. But counting the members of my unit, their spouses, and children, there’s not enough space for everyone. We’d need to purchase the missile silo across the road and build enough living pods to house, feed, and support over four hundred people. We’d also need to make accommodations for livestock. Not to mention planting hydroponic gardens, finding a power source, and filtering breathable air and safe drinking water.”

Ken grabbed a shovel from a wall hook. “Let’s do it.”

That night at dinner, his mother’s jaw dropped. “You’re doing what?”

Ken looked at his dad. “We’ll blast through the rock and make living pods just like the one Great-Grandpa Ellis made when the military built the silo across the road. It will be our underground ark for surviving nuclear disaster.”

“James Crawford, you’ve warped this boy’s mind with all your survivalist talk.”

“There’s nothing warped about him. He’s talking sense. I researched underground cities this afternoon and it can be done with enough concrete and steel to protect against ground shifts. And purchasing the silo will cut down on some of the digging and construction work needed.” He reached over and took her hand. “Face it, Carol, with the way things are going, even if there isn’t a nuclear Armageddon, we may need a place to hide our families from those committing genocide.”

She threw up her hands. “Fine, but where will you get the money?”

 

Seven Years Later

Ken stared up at the gigantic windmills. Transforming the Crawford Cattle Ranch into a wind farm had not only generated revenue to finance building the underground ark; the huge turbines also powered the community.

He walked to one of the windmills and entered a door in its base. Inside, a ladder went up for maintenance and a hatchway opened down into what insiders called New Topeka. He climbed down into a decontamination chamber and passed through to a corridor where an underground stream ran through a covered trench in the center. The portal he entered next led into one of ten hydroponics gardens where fruits and vegetables grew.

Alicia stood in a row, picking ripe strawberries. He kissed her on the cheek.

“How’s the harvest going?”

“Great! We’ll have plenty of food for our wedding banquet.”

He wrapped his arms around her. “I still wish we were having the banquet below ground to help christen the ark.”

She stiffened. “We’re holding the wedding topside like normal people.”

“I know. Besides, Mom is ecstatic that we’re holding the ceremony in her flower garden and Dad already has the barbeque in the smoker.” He touched his nose to hers. “And…I’m happy we won’t have far to go to start our honeymoon.”

She frowned. “I wish our first home together wasn’t a living pod in New Topeka.”

“We talked about this. Living in our pod will help us save money for a down payment on our own house.”

“We could live in the apartment above Dad’s garage.”

“And I’d have to commute to the ranch every day. Besides, once the satellite dishes I ordered arrive, I’ll need every moment I can get each day to get our rural Internet service off the ground and running.”

“You’re right. I’ll do my best to get used to it.”

Ken gave her a reassuring kiss before leaving the garden. He walked further down the stream corridor and entered the underground pasture, which was built to support enough livestock to provide residents with enough milk, eggs, and protein for a healthy diet. He bent down and felt the five inch tall pasture grass. A week ago they started keeping a small herd of inside to see how well the animals assimilated to underground living. So far the cattle and horses seemed content to roam around the huge cavern, which received sunlight through a lead glass designed to stop radiation and chemical leakage. A rooster crowed and pig squealed, the sounds echoing through the manmade cavern.

As he listened to the familiar barnyard sounds, he wondered how noisy a second animal habitat built near the missile silo entrance would get. Like Noah, they arranged to house several varieties of animals, which would transfer in from the Topeka Zoo in the event of an emergency. The underground zoo offered the animals the same environments they lived in at Gage Park, but would require a full zoo staff to maintain compared the few ranch hands who would take care of the animals in the pasture chamber.

“There you are.”

Ken stood and joined his dad in the corridor. “How many families do we have on the roster?”

“We’re up to forty-five families and thirty-one singles. We still have fifteen family pods and twenty-one studio apartments available.”

They walked along the corridor to a landing where the stream turned into a waterfall to fill a pond in a park area below. Ken looked down and watched the fish swim while his father reviewed the latest enrollment information with him.

“A few Patriots don’t think living underground is for them. They’d rather be up top helping survivors get to medical care and safety.”

“You’d think with how the hate groups are killing innocent people without reason, they’d at least want their families in here safe from harm.”

His dad nodded. “We can’t force anyone to live down here. The most we can do is make room for them should they change their minds.”

Ken watched as construction workers continued to create what in essence amounted to a utopia. In the town square, a library held not only how-to books like those Great-Grandpa Ellis had collected, but also biographies, fiction, poetry, music, movies, and a school. An infirmary equipped to handle radiation and chemical poisoning was built with a direct access elevator from the outside. Around the town square waited chambers where residents could set up shops and cafés.

“Do you think we’ve planned for every need?”

His dad put an arm around his shoulder. “We’ve accommodated for people, plants, and animals. And until the time comes when we need to live here, members can use their living pods for vacations and weekend getaways.”

“Alicia doesn’t want to live down here.”

“You’re more than welcome to live in the ranch house with Mom and me.”

Ken shook his head. “I can’t explain it, but I feel called to help others adjust to living underground. And to do that, I need to live here to understand how living below ground affects our psychological well being.”

“So that’s why you minored in sociology while majoring in computer science and multi-media communications.”

 

Eleven Months Later

“Push!”

Ken wiped sweat off Alicia’s brow as she bore down and gave birth to their son. Dr. Wilson cut the cord and handed him the child. He looked down at the little red, slimy, squirming infant in his hands and laughed.

“You did it, Babe. The first child born in New Topeka.”

“Let me…see him,” she gasped.

He laid their son on her stomach and she cradled her hands around him. “He’s beautiful.”

A siren sounded and the nurse switched on a radio. Amid the bustle of cleaning up their son and the birthing room, they listened to news reports about how an accident in the Middle East released not only radiation, but chemical nerve agents into the jet stream. Millions of people were dying in the Mediterranean and Asia. In retaliation, North Korea launched its nuclear arsenal on the Middle East and claimed missiles exploding in Europe, Asia, and Africa were targeting accidents.

“Ken, we need to get the animals moved in, now,” his dad yelled.

He kissed his wife. “I’ll be back. We have to get everyone inside before that deadly air passes into the United States and over Kansas.”

Although she looked frightened, she said, “Go! Little Noah and I will be fine.”

Ken rushed to a decontamination chamber and put on a protective suit. From there he went to the underground pasture and saddled his horse. Half the herd already lived inside, but the remaining animals ranged outside. The long tunnel they went through provided mass entry through three air-locked, lead-lined, steel doors. Before each door opened, the previous one closed to prevent contamination of the underground ark.

“How much time do we have?” Ken asked.

His dad shook his head. “Not long. Twelve to fifteen hours. The accident only happened six hours ago and the Japanese estimate that nearly half their population was affected. According to the weather reports, the jet stream has several abrupt direction changes and is moving rather fast. If the air jets don’t break up, this catastrophe could potentially affect every nation on Earth within a day.”

Herding the livestock into the underground pasture took eleven hours since they ran each animal through a dip bath to rid them of parasites before releasing them into the meadow. They checked in with the south entrance and learned that the job of settling the zoo animals down took just as long.

When they finally finished cleaning up in the decontamination chamber, Ken’s dad walked to the end of the stream corridor and checked the gauges on the water filtration unit.

“Colonel Crawford.” A Patriot sentry stopped and saluted. “All members are present and accounted for. What do we do about the extra people who have asked to join us?”

“How many?”

The sentry held out a clipboard. “Ken’s in-laws and relatives of Patriots make up about two dozen. The rest are outsiders.”

His dad studied the list. “We can only take forty-two more people without risking over population. There are over a hundred people on this list.”

“I know, sir.”

Ken watched his dad put checkmarks beside forty-two names. He breathed a sigh of relief when Alicia’s folks received approval. As the sentry scurried off, he stared at this man who just made such a life and death decision.

“Do I dare ask how you chose?”

They walked to the landing and looked down over the harried activities of people locating their pods and moving in boxes of personal belongings.

“Noah from the Bible was only allowed to bring his family and two pairs of each animal. Like his ark, New Topeka is being colonized to help rebuild a whole civilization. Other survivors around the world will find shelter, but there will be those who will die suddenly from the nerve agents like those in Asia. Others will get radiation sickness and die in a matter of days, weeks, and months. There’s nothing we can do about that. All we can do is keep those inside this community safe and healthy. What I did to avoid overcrowding is take care of our own first and our future second. Relatives are a no brainer. They’re blood, you can’t turn them away. Next, I chose those important to our future; teachers, ministers, and medical professionals. At that point, I had three spots left; so I picked a fitness instructor, an artist, and a poet.”

“Why them?”

“The fitness instructor will help us keep our bodies in shape. The artist and poet will help keep our minds open to creativity.”

*****

The news over the next few days came sporadically. Ken used the above ground satellite dishes to tap into the Internet as well as short wave radio to locate survivors around the world. Each week he posted population counts by country on the library bulletin board. The counts declined as infected people succumbed to chemical and radiation poisoning. To put variety in his figures he asked those reporting to him to give demographics like sex, race, religion, age, and occupation when they were available.

“Was it worth surviving, if no one else lives?” Alicia asked over breakfast.

“People are alive.”

“But they’re dying.”

“Not all of them. Those who were far enough from the jet stream or have shelters like ours are fine. The real challenge is moving food and medical supplies. Once things stabilize and it’s safe to go outside, we’ll establish supply chains again.”

“But how do we bring order to all the unrest going on out there?”

“That’s in the hands of the military and first responders. All we have to worry about is keeping ourselves safe.”

She pointed across the room to the monitors, which showed images of cities on fire after militants exploded car bombs. “With so many of the world leaders either dead or underground, who’s going to lead those of us who are left?”

“There’s talk of forming a world government along the lines of Star Trek’s Federation of Planets.”

“How would that work differently than the United Nations?”

He gave her a good humored grin. “We could watch some Star Trek movies and find out while we go back to bed and make love.”

“Not funny.”

“Okay, so maybe we’ll wait until after dinner.” He took her hand and kissed the backs of her fingers. “Dad’s asked me to help him birth calves. I’ll see you tonight.”

Before leaving their pod, he checked on Noah, who slept after his morning feeding. He loved watching his son. The time he spent with Alicia and Noah helped him ground his thoughts from all the techno jargon that went through his mind while working with the computers.

“I thought you were headed to work.”

“I’m just procrastinating with the ones I love.”

Two deep passionate kisses later, he managed to leave. He walked to the library and posted his daily report. On his way to the stream corridor, he waved to his mom who monitored the preschoolers while they petted bunnies and lambs in the park.

He stopped on the landing to look down on this underground ark. The population count now numbered 453 with the birth of another baby last night. The carbon monoxide filtering system along with oxygen production from the plants provided enough breathable air for a maximum of 800 people and animals. For the contingency they wound up living below ground longer than two years, his dad and the other engineers continued to work on options for filtering in outside air.

His dad met him at the pasture door. “You’re late.”

“I was comforting Alicia. She’s worried about whether all this was worth it.”

“She’s not adjusting well to living down here; is she, son?”

“I talked to her folks. Her dad said she suffered from claustrophobia when she was a kid.”

His dad opened the door to the calving shed. “We’re halfway around the world from ground zero, so our radiation levels are much lower than in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The others and I doubt we’ll have to stay down here more than a year.”

“Even so, I’m wondering if I should take Alicia to a safe zone. But if I do that, there won’t be anyone here who can run the monitoring equipment I’ve set up.”

“You’ve got a hard decision to make, son. Just remember what I said before: Taking care of family is a no brainer.”

 

Thirteen Months Later

The ground shook. Ken awoke and rushed into his pod’s living chamber. He switched on the shortwave radio and listened to reports of nuclear bombs exploding all over the world. The closest one hit Fort Riley. It took time, but he managed to connect to a satellite network capable of giving him the ability to assess the damage.

“What’s going on?” Alicia asked, holding Noah’s hand as he toddled along beside her.

“Militants took over several nuclear missile silos and are attacking military targets. The American and Russian military are counterattacking and they believe they’ve killed those involved. At the moment, there are still three missiles in route to targets, but our fighter jets are intercepting to take them down.”

“How bad is the damage?”

“Bad.” Ken brought up grainy satellite images showing areas affected by nuclear radiation. “This will prolong our need to live underground.”

“But just last week you said we’d be able to start spending short periods of time outside.”

“These nuclear attacks have set us back. We’re pretty much starting all over again.”

“Is there anywhere safe we can go outside?”

The maps showed radioactive hotspots on every continent with the highest concentrations around major military bases and shelters where world leaders lived. “A few.” He took her hand as he pointed out the safe zones in remote areas of the United States. “We’ll survive, but we’ll have to stay down here longer.”

She yanked her hand away. “I can’t live like this forever, Ken!”

He stood up and took her into his arms. “Shh! I know it’s hard. I miss being on the outside too. All any of us can do is take each day and make the best of it.”

She let go of Noah’s hand and backed away. “You make the best of it. I’m going outside.”

“Don’t!”

“I’m sorry! I can’t hide in this hole while people outside are dying.”

She ran into the bedroom.

He lifted Noah into his playpen and followed her.

Her suitcase was open on the bed and she hurriedly shoved clothes into it.

“At least wait a few days to make sure it’s safe to travel.”

“I’m going now!”

She forced the suitcase closed and headed toward the infirmary where she could use the elevator. Ken carried Noah and followed while he continued trying to persuade her not to leave.

“Are you sure you want to risk your baby’s life?” Dr. Wilson asked.

“Noah’s staying with his father.”

“I meant the child you’re carrying now.”

A spark of hope filled Ken. He walked closer to her and took her hands in his. “Please stay, Alicia. Do it for our children.”

She sank to the floor and sobbed. The doctor gave her a fetus safe sedative and led her to a patient room.

“When did she take a pregnancy test?” Ken asked.

“It’s standard procedure during a female physical, which she took late yesterday afternoon after complaining about feeling fatigued.”

Ken absorbed the news of his wife’s depression, which Dr. Wilson said stemmed from missing the endorphins one absorbs from natural sunlight. When he told Wilson about her childhood experience with claustrophobia, the doctor agreed it contributed to her depression.

He returned to monitoring information received from his world contacts. Collecting and disseminating the data via shortwave radio to survivors who didn’t have computer capabilities kept him busy until Alicia returned to their pod that evening.

“What do you want for supper? I’ll cook.”

“Nothing. I just want to go to bed.” She entered the bedroom and shut the door.

He checked on Noah before following her into the bedroom. She already lay in bed, curled in a fetal position. He sat on the bed. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“If I hadn’t gotten you pregnant again, you’d be outside headed for some the sunlight.”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Please leave.”

As he left the room, he turned on the intercom to listen in on her. He opened the book Dr. Wilson loaned him about depression and spent most of the night reading while monitoring the state of the outside world.

At six in the morning, the phone rang. He awoke, lifted his head up off the desk, and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Sir. It’s the south entrance.”

“Yes.”

“Your wife just left.”

“Why didn’t you stop her?”

“She had a gun and said if we tried to stop her, she’d shoot herself.”

Ken fired up his monitors and zoomed an exterior security camera in on her. She wore a protective suit and climbed into a farm truck with a suitcase.

He used the GPS locator to track her progress as she drove north. Occasionally, he managed to locate her on satellite. Each time she stopped for gas or let other survivors climb in the back of the truck he tried to call, but she didn’t pick up. With a good idea of where she headed, he made inquiries and found her lodging. Not until she reached a cold zone in South Dakota that he texted her about did she stop and call him.

“Is this the right place?”

“Yes. The owner’s son served with Dad.”

“You should come join me.”

“As much as I want to, I have to stay.” He looked at the statistics building up on his computer. He didn’t dare tell her the world population was down to a fourth of what it was before the nuclear accident. “I’ll call you every night. Let me know if you need anything.”

She hung up and entered the bed and breakfast outside of Keystone.

Ken grabbed a marker and stood up. He wrote Alicia’s name over the dove flying back with an olive branch in the painting of Noah and his ark on the wall above his desk. He prayed she would return someday, but deep down, he knew it was up to him to follow her once he trained someone how to run the satellite monitoring system.

 

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Roxanna Namey

 

April 24, 1867 – 2 p.m.

“I’m so glad the fashion is for fewer crinolines this year,” Effie thought as she scrutinized her appearance in the full-length framed mirror. “I hope John likes my new dress.”

She put on the plainer of the two jackets she had ordered from the seamstress to coordinate with the mauve skirt. This one had long pagoda sleeves with a high neckline trimmed by tatting she had made herself. She leaned in to get a good look, being a little nearsighted and too vain to wear glasses except when reading.

She checked the center part in her hair. Her long, slim fingers smoothed the texture to the nape of her neck where her low bun was coiled, making sure every hair was in place. Satisfied, she reached for the matching hat, adjusted it, then tied the wide ribbons securely under her cleft chin.

She stepped outside into the sunshine and turned towards downtown to meet John outside Constitution Hall on South Kansas Avenue. Her step was light as she nearly danced down the street in anticipation of meeting “her John”.

Effie crossed the street, being careful to keep her skirt as clean as possible. She spied John waiting down the block and raised her hand in recognition. Effie’s pace increased in anticipation of their lunch date.

Wham!

Effie found herself lying on the sidewalk. The ground shook violently.

Whoosh!

Flames shot out the door of the building next to her. She tried to regain her feet, but could not do so because of the stiff crinolines under her voluminous skirt.

The shaking increased in intensity. Effie now lay prone in the middle of the street. She instinctively reached for her hat as she got tossed around.

Fire erupted all around her. She felt heat on her face. Effie had just time to note the sound of screaming around her. Trails of flame crossed the street rapidly and kissed the hem of her skirt, setting it on fire.

She heard more screaming, not realizing it was her own loud cries. The street surface moved in waves, like a rough sea. Buildings were crumbling. Bricks, glass and timber fell helter-skelter.

Suddenly the earth split directly under Effie, creating a gaping grin along Kansas Avenue. She fell like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole, disappearing into the fiery pit waiting to receive her body below.

 

April 24, 2017 – 2 p.m.

A tomato red compact car pulled alongside a sign beside the entrance to one of the driver’s planned scenic destinations. Ratchel was on her way to the state capital in Dodge City. The young, strawberry-haired driver checked her appearance in the rearview mirror and then pressed a button on the door. The window made a small whirring sound as it lowered so she could read the sign without glare:

 

Welcome to Sunflower Canyon National Park

 

Formed as the result of a catastrophic earthquake

Which occurred at 2:22 p.m. on April 24, 1867

 

Black Blizzard

Vernon Neff

 

Opening my eyes I can instantly feel the lingering dust in the air. A thin crusty layer coats my eyelashes. My mouth, and my nostrils are dry and gritty. Although it is uncomfortable, I have grown used to the feeling after all these years. Most people either wear masks or hang wet sheets around their bed to cut back on the dust while they sleep. I gave up on this practice a while ago; just seemed pointless. The dust always managed to find its way in to suffocate me while I dreamed.

As I sit up in bed I look around the dismal room. Even in the dim light I can see the tiny particles floating in the air. Everything in the room has a light layer of dust and grime coating. It is hard to remember when this wasn’t normal, after five long years this has just became a way of life.

I get up and look out the giant picture window in my room. There was once a time when I could see the Indian warrior upon the Topeka capitol dome but now he rarely makes an appearance. Today seems still and calming. So maybe the curtain of dust will fall to reveal the warrior with a deep blue sky as his backdrop. That is, until the next storm blows in, stealing him from view once again.

If you have never witnessed these storms, I will admit they are fascinating and beautiful. They appear like giant tidal waves rolling across the landscape, stretching a mile into the air and canvassing every bit of ground in sight. Sometimes they even come in different colors depending on the winds carry them in. Grays, browns, blacks. I have even seen a red storm once, but regardless of color, the storms all act the same way. They grow, they move, until they engulf everything around you. These storms can cause your house to vibrate to the point where you think that everything is going to crash down onto you. The dust attacks your eyes, burning more with each blink. Then your mouth is attacked, drying it out. You try to spit out the dirt and what comes out looks like tobacco juice, thick and brown. Your lungs are then attacked, making it nearly impossible to breathe. Then the dust steals the light. People don’t understand darkness until they are in one of these storms. I remember one time not being able to see my hand, only inches from my face. Needless to say you don’t want to get caught outside in one of these storms. Not only does the air feel like it is blown from a hot furnace, but also the sand tears at your skin. There is a very real chance of becoming disoriented even in the most familiar places, and if you didn’t find shelter fast enough, you could very easily suffocate.

After spending a few more seconds at the window, I move on into my dining room. There are four places set at the table even though I am alone. As I eat my breakfast of stale bread and water, I try not to focus on how it feels like I am chewing on sandpaper. Instead I look at the place settings with all of the plates and glasses turned upside down. Yet another worthless attempt to keep the dust at bay. Three of the settings used to belong to my wife and two children. Now their chairs sit empty, I miss them. For four year now those seats have sat empty. Four years since they sat at this table with me but I know they are better off back east with my parents. That was one of the hardest decisions to make, one that caused several arguments between me and my wife.

“Just come with us,” she would scream, or “How could you be so stupid?” That was usually followed by her breaking down into tears.

During those times I could only hold her. “It will be okay,” was all I could say. I guess at the time I actually believed in what I was saying.

At first we all figured the drought wouldn’t last, that we could tough it out, or that things would get better. That was the reason I stayed. I wanted to ensure that when all of this ended my family had a place to come back to. It was amazing how quickly days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and so on. Unfortunately no one could have foreseen that instead of getting better, things would slowly get worse.

The Red Cross came in at the beginning handing out masks, followed by other charities with food and water. Even the government stepped in and tried to do what they could by giving out canned food and some supplies. But none of those resources lasted long. As the drought got worse and conditions deteriorated, the help disappeared little by little until we were on our own.

Then people began to get sick. Dust pneumonia is what they called it. The pneumonia mostly affected the very young and the very old, at least at first, but no one was truly safe from the effects. How could they be with all the dust? God only knew what else people inhaled on daily. This caused an alarming number of deaths. That wasn’t the only reason people died. Other diseases ran rampant. Without having proper medical care, a simple infection could quickly kill.

I shake the thoughts from my head and grab the shovel that I keep by the front door. I shimmy through a window onto my front porch and look around. I can’t remember the last time I could tell where my yard stopped and the road began. Now everything is buried under several fine layers of sand and dirt. Not that it matters. No one has had a running car for at least three years now. The dust finally managed to choke the life out of all of them. Now they just litter the sides of the roads, half buried, like tombstones long forgotten. This pretty much ensures that mine and anyone else’s escape is impossible. I proceed to shovel a good foot of sand from my front porch. Finally I am able to open my front door and return inside.

As I move into my living room I crank-start a record player. Picking a random record without looking, I blow off the dust and put it on the turntable. Music begins to fill the darkness. I sit down in my old recliner and light an oil lamp. I watch as the flame of the lamp dances in the darkness, almost as if it is listening to the music as well. I remember when all I had to do was flip a switch and I had light. How we took that kind of simple thing for granted! Electricity was a luxury that the storms also stole from us. As if the dust wasn’t bad enough, choking every living thing; the static electricity that came with the dry, unforgiving air wreaked havoc on every electronic device. All the things we were sure we could not live without now just sit in our houses like vintage decorations from a better time. All televisions, computers, game systems, and cell phones are nothing more than empty shells.

I am lucky. Because of my job I occasionally get to travel to locations that still have electronics. I am what people call a ghost. The ghosts are those of us who make the long journeys to neighboring states that weren’t affected as badly as Kansas. Since most forms of transportation no longer work, getting the many needed supplies is a very long and difficult task. We don’t just go for supplies; we carry mail between the community and the outside world. When we can, we also gather information for the community. It’s amazing how simple news, or a letter from a loved one, cheers everyone up.

It is always amazing how what used to be a three-hour drive now takes weeks. It is extremely hard to navigate without roads, especially at night when we do most of our traveling. It is far too dangerous to travel during the day in the beating sun and searing heat. Then there is always a chance of a dust storm. Because of this the ghosts are well respected among the population. Not only do we make it possible to survive, but each time we leave for a supply run there is a very real chance we will not return. There are several versions of how we got our name. Some people say it is because we look like ghosts walking out in the dust storms. Others say it is because each time we go out we are already dead and it is our ghosts that come back. Either way, the risk outweighs the necessity, and with the risk always comes reward. I make a run every few weeks. It gives me a chance to speak to my wife and children. A few times a year they come and see me. Those times are tough. I want to just leave with them, just walk away from all of this. I never have, regardless of how much I wanted to. I know there are so many people counting on my return. It is always a hard decision, but my wife and kids understand and respected my dedication.

As the next song on the record begins to play, I hear a low rumble of thunder far off in the distance. As I get up and look out the window I see dark clouds forming. Perhaps a storm is blowing in, probably not. The sounds of thunder are not uncommon. Every few months you hear it, you will see some dark clouds moving in and everyone gets their hopes up. People swear they can feel the moisture in the air, the change in the winds. Some even said they can smell and taste the rain. Maybe this time the sky will open up and drench us with the rain we so desperately need. It hasn’t rained since 2019 but maybe, just maybe, this storm will be different. Maybe it will end this nightmare.

Briefly my attention is brought back to the music in the background as the next song begins to play. For a moment I hum to the melody. It is a familiar song, one i haven’t heard in years. That is when I realize what song it is. I instantly begin to laugh and think, “How messed up is that?” Kansas, “Dust in the Wind.”

 

A Library for Every Kid

S.R. Thompson

 

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR COMMUNITY

CJ EXTRA

SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016 – THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

—————Libraries Now Draw Thousands—————

Branch libraries celebrate 24th anniversary with special guest appearances and interviews

By Lulu Lane

Special to The Capital-Journal

 

There’s a reason patrons of all ages can feel a party atmosphere around the branch library buildings all over Topeka. Key historical players of the pre-Bond Vote days recently took time to share their part in how branch libraries, across Topeka, came to be rather than one city and county main library.

April 10-16, 2016, is National Library Week this year and the 24th anniversary of one of the most transformational votes in the history of Topeka and Shawnee County. As a result, the theme of this year’s Library Week is “Libraries Transform”. In the spirit of that theme, this reporter will be bringing to our readership, in the next few days, daily interviews from historical personalities to celebrate a turning point in the history of libraries, politics, philanthropy, and public service in our great corner of the state.

 

 

COLLINS PARK—-April 10, 2016

[Central Topeka, neat bungalow, in Collins Park area. Jane Wallabee was presiding mayor during the years between 1988-1996 when the Library Bond Issue first came up]

Q. Would you, please, describe the days in the mayor’s office, leading up to the Bond Issue vote?

Wallabee: To describe those days, few words are needed. Exciting! Heady! Creative!

The “old boy, backroom” organization of running city politics was weakening; and I stepped into office with a background in legislating  and networking that scanned from Lawrence and Kansas City, eastward, to Salina in the west and Emporia and Wichita to the south. Investors were interested in the Capital City. The city council and I would come together and truly listen and dream.

Q. What was your vision?

Wallabee: It was one of our biggest visions to make a “corridor”, if you will, through the center of town—spanning from Washburn University as one anchor (with the new university president, Larry Farnsworth, seemingly cooperative and dreaming with us) all the way to 10th Street, with the Main library as the other anchor. We envisioned a row of electric lanterns down the whole length and central 10-block green space—after we cleared it of residents, of course.  We planned to work with developers from Lawrence and Kansas City to build commercial and residential lofts, as part of it, all around Washburn University.

Q. You did not have any opposition to your plans?

Wallabee: We expected some “push-back” but were unprepared for those who stood in the way with their ideals—Joseph’s Bike Shop, of course, but the residents themselves who had come to love the Morton and Central Neighborhoods.

Q. But the Bond Issue Vote did not go as expected, correct?

Wallabee: Mostly, we were shocked at the Bond Issue Vote. Who would have imagined the “will of the people” saying, “No”, to the bigger library and choosing, instead, smaller branches. Well, that vote changed everything. Even though developers were not happy and curtailed some of their plans, we saw a different dream—and it’s made all the difference.

 

POTWIN—-April 11, 2016

[Central Topeka, Victorian three-story “painted lady”, in the Potwin area where circle parks intersect brick streets in an 8 block area since 1888 with a population, then, of 600. Dr. James Putnam was presiding Library Board President and oversaw the Library Bond Issue. Although shaky and frail with a wavering, soft voice, Dr. Putnam, nonetheless, granted this interview. He was flanked by Edna, his wife of 57 years, and his oldest son, Edmond.]

Q. Would you, please, Dr. Putnam, describe the inner working of the Library Board before the Bond Issue Vote?

Putnam: We, as the Library Board, were a conspiratorial group.

Q. Really?

Putnam: Oh! Please, don’t be too shocked! Most boards have an agenda, as did the city council and mayor’s office.

Q. What was your vision for the library?

Putnam: We envisioned an expanded and larger library. Yes, an ostentatious “Anchor” of that blasted corridor—and before the Bond Issue Vote, we had already begun soliciting architectural bids and ideas of how our “showcase” of a library would look. We were confident that the citizens of our fair city would want a rotunda with beautiful murals, an art gallery, cafeteria, expanded stacks to accommodate the books and music we just had no room to put on shelves—plus computers were the wave of the future.

Q. That seems like quite an aggressive agenda. Could you elaborate, please?

Putnam: We needed expansion to bring all this to fruition; and that, of course, requires money. A bond vote seemed the necessary and prudent next step. It would have been better—even now I believe that—but…[Dr. Putnam stopped, unable to go further. When he looked up, his eyes held tears. His wife and son closed ranks, moved protectively closer on either side of him. He shakily lifted his left hand, and with effort, said…] No…not in the way you think. I would have been seen as the one who “carried this off,” you see. I yearned for that.

Q. You wanted to be seen to be a visionary leader?

Putnam: Again, please, don’t be shocked. To be told, “No”, by the people who voted, pierced me and caused my stroke that I’ve yet to fully recover from. It was deeply disappointing, but my eyes were opened, and continue to be, in what transpired afterward. I say it would have been better—but only for the short term. What was given to us, and I had months to think about this in the recovery from my stroke, was best. Someone, as it turned out, was better.

 

LAKE SHERWOOD—-April 12, 2016

[Modern home, overlooking Lake Sherwood. Susan Albright is a slim redhead with graying highlights. She sits in a wing-back chair and tucks her legs up and under her, resting her chin on her right hand.]

Q. How long have you been a Friend of the Library—or Libraries—as you are known now?

Albright: Well, I’d say, 30 years, probably closer to 35. Where does the time go? It seems hard to imagine that I could have been a Friend of the Libraries all these years.

Q. What kind of things have you done as a Friend?

Albright: I’ve done most of the jobs surrounding The Annual Library Book Sale that takes place in the fall. It’s a major fundraiser—always will be, I suppose. I’ve crunched calculator buttons, written prices on paper pads, circulated to keep books neat, boxed books, loaded books, inspected books.

Q. It was one of those inspection and Annual Book Sale times that led to the Great Discovery, right?

Albright: Ah, yes! I was on that squad of volunteers the year it happened.

Q. Tell me more.

Albright: I mean, really, all of us were trained. We’ve all sprained our brains—then, and over the years—to explain how we missed it. Some of my dear friends felt so guilty, or miffed, that they’d been derelict in their duty, that they just couldn’t volunteer anymore.

Q. But not you?

Albright: Me? I see an overarching Presence or Hand that orchestrated events.

Q. Will you tell us what transpired?

Albright: None of us even remembers seeing THE Volume. It’s just a nondescript book with some fascinating illustrations and larger-than-ordinary font. The binding is fairly sturdy; but of course, it had to be. No one would have guessed, to look at it, that it held the answer not only to what to do about an aging library that needed upgrading and remodeling—hence, the Bond Issue Vote—but what to do about our whole country. Yes, as I’m sure you know, the way was circuitous but so profound~~as most miracles are. I mean, it was a kid, just a little boy, who made the discovery; and that changed everything.

 

OAKLAND—-April 13, 2016

[Ranch-style, tidy home in Oakland area, often called, “Little Mexico”, from the immigrants who poured in from south of the border to take advantage of the Santa Fe Apprentice School that enrolled hundreds to become railmen in 1946. Alicia Hernandez, a short, stout lady in her 70’s, was one of the leading opponents to the Bond Issue. She gestures excitedly with as she speaks.]

Q. You were involved in the Library Bond Issue before the discovery of The Volume?

Hernandez: Si, Senorita.

Q. What was the atmosphere and why were you against it?

Hernandez: Madre de Dios! Not fair, not at all! Always the western half, always, who have tried to get us on the north and eastern ends of the city to support their agendas! The issue with The Bond—to have a library improvement—on the surface, seemed so reasonable; but I ask you, where is the library?  Si! On the south side of the bridge! It is completely far, out of reach, from all the ninos y ninas of the whole north, the east, the Oakland area, not to mention the southeast. How were the whole grupo de ninos to get to the library? What was the sense of that when so many of us worked?!!

Q. Your solution was branch libraries?

Hernandez: Si! Small but within walking distance—for every nino. In fact, that became our slogan: “A Biblioteca, a Library, for EVERY Child!” We were up in arms, willing to go to battle, to the voting booths, to make our voices heard. As it was, gracias a Dios! He had clemencia (mercy) on us all, especially the ninos!

 

CENTRAL CITY—-April 14-15, 2016

[Central Topeka, 2-story house with shutters and painted picket fence with front trellis, approximately 6 blocks from the Main Public Library. Zane Thomas was a young boy—and central figure—when the historic Library Bond Issue was being decided. He sits in the living room of his parents’ modest, remodeled, turn-of-the-century home, having come from Kansas City for this interview. His mother, Sheryl, 66 years old with graying brunette hair, pulled back into a ponytail, joins him; and together, they reminisce about the library’s history of the last 24 years and the part they played in it.]

Q. Thank you, Zane, for journeying to meet with us today for this interview. Please, tell us a little about yourself and, as you remember, your part in this historic library event.

Zane: You are most welcome. I live in the Kansas City area and work for the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Kansas City, KS. My supervisors know about these events and my involvement with them and have given me flex-time for interviews, as they come up. Topeka is my hometown, and I grew up in this neighborhood from the time I was 3 years old. Because my parents home-schooled us [Zane looks across to his mother, who returns his smile], we were often in the library and checked out, literally, boxes of books at a time. I was a voracious reader, wasn’t I, Mom?

Sheryl: Yes, Zane was very bright and precocious. I remember him at 3 years old, wailing in this room, “Who? Who? Who will teach me to read?!” By the time he was 5, he had taught himself to read—a rather amazing and easy-to-teach child and home-school student. He always had a book in his hand and just seemed to love them, more than about anything.

Zane: One of the BIG events of our school year was the Annual Library Book Sale; and I’d save up for it. It was in the fall of 1989 that we decided to become Friends of the Library which meant we could go early to the sale on a Friday night instead of waiting until Saturday morning. That was a BIG deal for a 7 year old kid. I, of course, made a beeline for the kids’ section, with my parents and about 50 more kids and parents right behind me, when they opened the doors. At first, it was crowded; and after awhile of looking, I had my stack of books.

But then, a funny thing happened. I remember that the crowd had disappeared, and I was standing at one of the tables where the books had been fairly picked over and cleared; and well, there it was, just lying there—The Volume, as it came to be called. I thought to myself, “Wow! Look at this!” I opened it. It seemed ancient but inviting, like opening a door to another world; and it made my stack pale in comparison. I liked the print—large—and the illustrations were, honestly, heart-catching. Again, all I could think was, “Wow! This is for me!” Mom came over at that moment; and do you remember, Mom, what you said?

Sheryl: Oh, yes! I asked you, “What do you have there, Zane?” And you showed me, and I was amazed at your discovery. The price was nominal, by today’s standards—a mere $5. I knew that was the amount you had saved for this sale, and I knew you had to decide—your stack of other books or this one.

Zane: That’s right! In my mind I had already decided, but you made me take time to look through the stack and compare them with The Volume, to really be sure. I took my time, weighed my choices, and “budget” [Zane laughs at this point] and made the choice that changed everything. I picked up the large book and soon paid for it.

Sheryl: But that’s not the end of the story, is it?

Zane, grins: No, not by a long shot. It was hard for me to get to sleep that night; but even though I tossed and turned with excitement—remember, I love books!—I was up early poring over the pages of that tome. I couldn’t believe my good fortune in owning this “treasure”. It was easy for me to read, and I was in love with the illustrations. They seemed almost to be connected and like a puzzle; which, as it turned out, they really were! They led me to the back cover where the last illustration was. Of course, as you know, there’s an ancient-looking, arched door in it. I was imaginative; and the more I looked, the more I was drawn to the keyhole. So, I bent down over the book and looked in. Whoa! Something was in there! I just knew I needed to get inside. I kept searching and running my hands over that book. What I needed, thought my 7 year old self, was some way to unlock that door!

Sherl: Zane’s father and I were amazed, over the days and weeks, with the quality of The Book and how much delight Zane got out of it. There did, indeed, seem to be something inside the keyhole; but while we were curious, Zane was on a doggedly determined mission. And, then, one day…Zane?

Zane: On that particular day, I was running my hands along the spine of The Volume, almost caressing or petting it, and yearning for it to give up its secret. Then, my index finger felt a small bump; which turned out to be a button. I pushed on it—-once, twice, three times—-and “boink!”, the top third of the spine of The Book opened up to reveal a tiny key! Well, I was intrigued and excited, picked up the key, and flipped the back cover open to the “Garden Door” illustration. Oh yeah! I was also calling my folks. “Mom! Dad! Come and see!”

Sheryl: We were absolutely floored! This seemed like some kind of fairy tale. Zane’s eyes were the size of saucers, and his excitement was contagious. He looked at us as he plunged the little key into the lock; which, indeed, opened the garden gate door in the illustration! We were all stunned.

Zane: I didn’t know what I was looking at, but it seemed like a huge golf ball had just landed in my life. As most people know by now—and who knows how it fit in that cover!—we had just discovered a treasure, a scarlet ruby…sparkling, brilliant, perfect. Yes, as it’s called by Topekans, A Gem of Great Price, to the tune of 65 million dollars! Mom, you remember the legalities of the whole thing better than I do…

Sherl: Well, we were all shocked, and my husband wanted to make sure about this whole thing; so he retained a lawyer; and after researching and investigating by Corbin, Jesson, and Edwards, it was determined that Zane was the true discoverer, and owner, of quite a bit of wealth. At that point, contesting by the library and the city of Topeka came up, and the whole thing—Volume with treasure—went to court until Zane and, of course, the judge, solved it.

Zane: What was aggravating to me, as a 10 year old kid (because this process was taking years), was that these big adults (not my parents, who had talked with me beforehand, but the lawyers and the court system and those associated with the library board and the city) took my beloved Book, key, illustrations, treasure, and just hijacked the whole thing! I was so frustrated! I hadn’t even read it all yet! All I wanted was my Library Sale book! So I asked to see the judge and, thankfully, he not only granted an interview but put me in the courtroom to tell what I wanted—so farseeing and merciful. Again, all I wanted was my book! Yes, the gem was neat, and I understood (as best as a 10 year old could) about the amazing wealth; but it was The Book with the words, illustrations, binding that my heart was drawn to. The Ruby, I figured, could easily belong to everyone; and that’s what I said I wanted.

Q: And so what was decided?

Zane: Judge Simmons decided that it was my Book, including the key and the treasure—all were mine. I paid for it, fair and square. Of course, loud cries rose in the courtroom until the gavel was pounded; and I was allowed to continue. I said I wanted to share The Ruby; and so, it was to be sold and all the proceeds—except lawyers’ fees—were to be given to the library with the stipulation that every kid in Shawnee County could have a library near enough to their home to walk to. I figured that that’s why I had such a wonderful life. I lived close enough to the library with all its books and resources. Really, better than money. I also figured that if these adults didn’t want to do it, then, I’d just rescind the gift.

Q. How did the Bond Issue Vote come into play?

Zane: I didn’t know anything about the Bond issue or Branch Libraries or any of that, but word spread fast, with the news outlets taking it up; and because of that momentous day, the citizens of Shawnee County realized that they were looking at a “Gift Horse” (or “Gem-In-The-Book”) in the mouth, voted against the Bond Issue, and wrote a historic number of letters to the Topeka Capital-Journal to accept the gift to the library. I wanted “A Library For Every Kid” just like the slogan that picked up more and more momentum. And the rest is history—for Topeka but also for me. I got to keep The book and the key; and I have gone into law, as a result.

Q. And there have been no regrets, no need for the money?

Sheryl: We, as Zane’s parents felt it has all turned out as it was supposed to. We did not urge Zane to keep the wealth or give it away. It was his to do as he wanted. We feel, along with a great many Topekans, that he made a wise-beyond-his-years decision. What price do you put on wisdom?

Zane: Again, I’ve had a wonderful life, near a library, and been able to study and work hard and get the scholarships I’ve needed. With “A Library For Every Kid” in this and other cities, there’s a whole wealth for my generation and those that come after.

EASTSIDE—April 16, 2016

.

Q. Mr. Miller, could you give a little background about your growing up and the “Library For Every Kid” campaign, please?

Miller: “A Library For Every Kid!” And one of those kids was me! I grew up dirt poor and on the East side. My mama worked two or three jobs just to keep the six of us fed. She was a bulwark, made us attend the little Baptist Church down the street~~and grades? Oh, my! You’d better keep them up, and there better not be a peep from the schools of any misconduct. She kept a tight rein on us all~~all the way through—with everyone going to college; but she was not always around. Still, three older sisters substituted and rules and boundaries persisted and were always there. The only reprieve and escape was the Branch Library that was plunked down in our neighborhood right after the Bond Issue failed, with easy access and full of inviting activities, books—eventually computers—music, teaching videos. It changed my whole life!

Q. How so?

Miller: Well, every young man—or, at least, this young man—is looking for his destiny and his place in the world. The Branch, as we called it, just blossomed me. It was the “OK” place to be. Mama approved, and she knew every one of the librarians that staffed the place on a first name basis. The whole library crew were always keeping an eye on us who came through the doors—not only protecting but guiding and suggesting resources for reports, activities to keep boredom away, and casting visions of what we could become if we “stepped right this way”. They helped me fill out applications for summer jobs and scholarships, just helping and being interested. It all just drew me and launched me!

Q. Into politics?

Miller: Well, into life—public service, historical perspective, cultural relevance, national and international news, and even etiquette and manners.

Q. Etiquette?

Miller: Yes, one of the first books I picked up was on manners. The lessons in it, that I learned in that little space of a library, were all about the fact that there were rules in society. Just to say the right, considerate, and timely words; the right fork to pick up; the right way to introduce folks; and much more—could open doors. I still use what I learned back then as a young boy at The Branch.

Q. So, one of the branch libraries was your springboard?

Miller: Absolutely! I wouldn’t be where I am today without “A Library for Every Kid”, a library for me. No way did mama have the time or vehicle—nor any of us have one—to cart us over to where the Main Library is located at 10th and Washburn. And even if Zane Thomas had not found The Volume and the Bond Issue had passed, it still wouldn’t have worked for me and a whole lot of the kids I grew up with. Not even if they had had bookmobiles, with all the emissions, by the way. I needed The Branch right there, under my nose, in my neighborhood—a safe place, a small enough place where a kid like me couldn’t get away with things but be helped, open for me to step into any time—morning, afternoon, and evening—and step into my destiny.

Q. Like right here, right now?

Miller: Yes. I just wouldn’t be where I am now, serving Topekans and Kansans, nor running for office, if not for how things worked out for our neighborhood to have The Branch—and I’ve talked with many people who feel the same way all over this town. “A Library for Every Kid” has just spread, and Americans are seeing the good of that idea and stepping forward. It’s just become a groundswell and whole tidal wave of transformation.

Q. Have you ever met Zane Thomas, the boy who gave a treasure for “Libraries For Every Kid”?

Miller: Yes, again, and indeed. A fine young man and my age. . I might be running for office; but he’s the inspiration although he doesn’t, and won’t, take the credit. I suppose that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from him, and others like him. Humility. Just see the need, take courage, and go get the job done quietly in a sacrificial way for the littlest, the least of us all. I hope to continue to take that to Washington with me. There’s a whole lot of ways to look at things and meet needs. Who would have dreamed that we kids each needed a library or that a rubythe printed in a rare book would have yielded such riches of good for our country!

Lulu Lane is a freelance writer from Littleville, KS. She can be reached at 785-123-4567

 

The Jesse Owens Effect

Ian Hall

 

Phoenix, Arizona, Monday, Oct 2^nd^ 1936

Owens Will Speak In Landon Drive (NYT)

 

“People of Phoenix! I give you…” The words hushed the already expectant crowd. “…the fastest man on Earth…” Kansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon was under no misconception; he knew who the people had really come to see. “…my friend, and fellow American; Jesse Owens!”

As Landon turned to watch Jesse walk on stage, he caught my gaze and winked; his thanks to me, Michael Holt, the man who had rescued his once-faltering campaign.

The last words were lost as the crowd tried to raise the roof off the blue sky above. Landon grinned at the reaction, caught up in the euphoria of the moment.

As the athlete passed me, I shook his outstretched hand and muttered short words of encouragement, clutching my left over the handshake to further emphasize its influence. I looked past his shoulder, at the bobbing heads of the jubilant crowd. Many in the front cheered louder, seeing the Negro athlete shake hands with me, the faceless white man from Topeka, Kansas, the secret choreographer of every facet of the dance.

As I shook his hand, our message was hammered into their minds. Each movement had been rehearsed, each inflection timed to perfection. As the lean man reached the center of the stage, Alf met him, duplicating my own gesture. Then he raised their hands aloft, their fingers clenched together.

Despite my wish of anonymity, I stepped naturally forward, looking out onto the crowd; a kaleidoscope of colors and ethnicities all with one voice, one aim, to shake the hand of the fastest man on the planet; the man who had taken four gold medals from Adolf Hitler’s Olympic Games, just months before. For a moment, all thought of color or race had vanished from this little corner of America.

As the crowd cheered, I pounded my hands together, hoping to milk the moment as long as we could. I’d been Alf Landon’s Press Secretary for just three months, and the Jesse Owens phenomenon was easily my biggest contribution to the campaign that had once trailed Roosevelt by twenty points; Michael Holt’s biggest coup.

As Jesse neared the microphone, the audience respectfully hushed.

“Thank you Phoenix!” His simple words started the crowd off again. He waved them quiet, and slowly they responded. “I come to you today…”

I watched the scene, detached slightly, wondering how many points we’d gain in the polls because of tonight. The football stadium must have held twenty thousand locals, waving American flags, hand-written placards, or the small billboards we had stuck in the grass on the road outside. ‘Go Jesse’ was common, and many referred to his early Buckeye Bullet Ohio State days. The people had lined the route to the stadium, crowding the cars to a slow walking pace; then filed inside to hear the athlete speak. I stood in anticipation myself, even though I’d heard the speech so many times before.

I sensed Jesse reaching one of his highlights.

“Hitler didn’t snub me…”

I silently counted to four with Jesse.

“It was our president who snubbed me.” Jesse delivered right on the money. The crowd booed Roosevelt’s now-famous gaffe, and I could see Owens counting to ten, just as we’d practiced. I could see the beginnings of a smile as he leaned forward into the microphone, ready to deliver his next line, enjoying the moment. He raised his voice, ignoring the crowd still crooning over his slur. “The President didn’t even send me a telegram!”

Bam. An arrow right into their hearts. The crowd erupted even further. As we knew they would, as they had done in every city we’d taken the show to.

I recalled my own words, spoken just a month before. “We should make Jesse Owens your running mate.”

“He’s too young, Michael,” Alf had replied. “Besides, my running mate’s already been chosen; Frank Knox is a good man.”

I shook my head, grinning from ear to ear. “We don’t need to actually make him your VP, but the polls are with us, Governor. We just need your names linked together. Every time the American people see your name with Owens’ they’ll remember Roosevelt’s overt racism.”

The tactic worked to everyone’s delight, except that of poor Frank Knox, the actual VP, who knew his name’s underplaying was a price he had to pay to get to the White House.

This morning, Landon/Owens billboards had lined the route. Now they were tucked under ten thousand arms, or waving in the air, souvenirs of the day, and a huge leap for name recognition. We’d done fourteen capitals, thirty to go, and we’d pulled back Roosevelt’s twenty point lead down to nine. A whopping twenty-five percent of our budget was now being spent printing Landon/Owens material.

Owens and his message had almost single-handedly unseated the incumbent President Roosevelt.

I waited for the next bomb to go off.

“I enjoyed the Olympic Games,” Jesse said, a smile never far from his lips. “There was every color in the crowd, but they cheered my name. There was no color on the track; there was no color in the sweat. Jesse Owens, a poor boy from Oakville, Alabama, shook the hands of the Kings of Europe.” He waved a warning finger in the air. “Now don’t you listen to the lies about Mr. Hitler. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, none of us athletes were… but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with my President, either! My own President!”

I joined Jesse on his slow count to ten. He’d proven a natural speaker, but inclined to rush. It had taken many practice runs to get him to slow down.

“The White House said he was ‘Too busy’!” His shout was slightly distorted in the large black speakers to either side, but it didn’t matter. The words and sentiment had gotten through. The knock-out blow had been delivered.

I could see the newspaper headlines the next day.

We shook hands with the people of Phoenix, signed autographs then drove quickly to the railway station. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, built for the American Olympics just four years previously, would be our focus tomorrow.

As we drove through the quiet evening streets, Jesse talked softly to his wife, Minnie, his high school sweetheart. I sighed at the convenience of us all sleeping on the train. Even in 1936, taking a Negro to an American hotel could still be an abrasive task.

I recalled the turning point, when Jesse Owens had shaken hands with Alf on a rally in Brooklyn, New York. Our languishing campaign jumped two full points in a single day. Alf, so reluctant to travel anywhere, suddenly had the courage to grasp the advantage. From an underwhelming speaker, he turned aggressive overnight. Since that time, every newspaper story and radio broadcast that mentioned Jesse Owens’ name chipped away at Roosevelt’s once prodigious lead.

 

New York, Sunday Oct 21^st^ 1936

Can Owens Hand Gold to Landon? (NYT)

 

The New York Times headline sold out the papers on the street within three hours. Not to be outdone, The Washington Post replied with its own ‘golden’ rhetoric the next day.

 

Is Jesse Owens the Midas Touch? (Washington Post)

 

I’d never taken much note of inter-newspaper rivalry, but when they fought for six days straight I couldn’t believe the figures. Papers all over the country made up their own version, driving our message into the hearts of the people of America.

 

Roosevelt Reeling Under Owens’ Attacks (*][*Philadelphia Inquirer)

 

That night, in Yankee Stadium, Alf Landon stood with his running mate, Frank Knox, in front of thirty-six thousand cheering fans. If it hadn’t been for Jesse Owens standing in the wings waiting on his entrance, I doubt he’d have gotten ten.

Landon’s words carried clear in the evening air. “We have a president who, by lack of courage, or by lack of moral fortitude, has taken credit when these men of color ruled the world in their athletic fields. Yet, in their own country, he has ignored them, heaping praise on just a specific few who share his own color. This is not an America in which I wish to be part of. These men conquered the world! They are America’s heroes!”

I had tried to get the other two Negro gold medal winners to join Jesse on stage, but they were staunch Democrats. In the end it didn’t matter, we had the prize. We had the only name people remembered.

“Ladies and gentlemen of New York, I give you the fastest man on planet Earth!”

For once Jesse looked nervous. The crowd was huge, the noise ear-hammering, and the stands nearer than usual. He stammered out his first few words then, thankfully, calmed down. “Hitler didn’t snub me… it was my own President Roosevelt who snubbed me.”

Oh, I soared high on the strength of that applause, the cheers of his name, the jeering at their president; I caught a few slurs that I couldn’t have repeated to my own mother. I counted the beat with Jesse, but it seemed he had it under control; he gave them extra time, waiting until the crowd fell silent. “The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

Bam… the practiced arrow to the center of its intended target.

 

Tuesday, November 3^rd^ 1936

Election Poised on a Razor Edge (KC Star)

 

On the evening of the election, we waited in the Topeka Capitol Building. I paced furiously between the desk and the door. Alf and Frank shared a brandy. Few words were spoken.

The phone rang, jerking the whole room to attention. The voice at the other end was distorted, but I caught “Delaware” and the result. I thanked the sender and took a breath. “It looks like we lost Delaware.”

“By how much?”

“Three points or so. They’re still counting in some of the outlying districts.”

For the slightest of moments I doubted myself. Then we won Rhode Island, a Democrat stronghold. And Michigan. And North Carolina.

By five o’clock that morning, we had all consumed all of the brandy and shouted for more. We had taken thirty-one states. We didn’t dare say the obvious.

The addition of Jesse Owens had tipped the scale; Alf Landon had won the 1936 presidential contest. Don’t get me wrong, it hadn’t been a complete landslide; but he had toppled Roosevelt, the incumbent President, and got himself into the White House.

 

August 1^st^ 1938

German Troops Deploy to Czech Border (Washington Post)

 

Frank Knox slammed his fist hard on the table. To my surprise, Landon didn’t budge one fraction. Knox’s voice was low and steady. “This is just a ploy, Alf. Hitler wants the Sudetenland. It’s the first domino; a prelude to war. He’s been preparing this for years.”

Landon, never one to argue openly, looked at his clasped fingers for a moment. “I think Mr. Chamberlain has it all under control; we don’t need to get involved.”

Knox wasn’t going to be brushed aside so easily. “Then don’t get involved, Mr. President, but send me! Send a statement without making an official play. We don’t need to fight over there again, not if we deal with this now. The French are being pussy-cats, and Chamberlain hasn’t got a spine. We all know that. He’s been fawning over Herr Hitler for years.”

Veins stuck out on Frank’s neck. He’d been in France in 1918, at the thick end.

The two shared a long stare then Alf lowered his head. “Fair enough, Frank. Go to Czechoslovakia.”

Over the last week I had watched a similar contest in the Oval Office, and it seemed Knox, the bulldog, had at last gotten his way.

Knox turned to me. “Michael, get it arranged. I want to speak to Chamberlain, Daladier in France, but first get me an audience with Milan Hodža. I fly tomorrow morning.”

Not exactly an easy task, getting audiences with three Prime Ministers, but as a nation we had considerable clout. The leaders in Europe were at their wits end; they welcomed a new player on the scene.

We arrived in Prague two days later, and Frank immediately spoke live on Czech radio with Hodža.

I cringed when Frank went off-topic. Landon would tear a strip off him when we got home, but it didn’t matter. The words were out of the bag.

“We will stand firm with the people of Czechoslovakia,” Knox said. “We will not let Herr Hitler bully Europe into submission!”

The European newspapers took the ‘bully’ comment and ran wild with it.

 

Bully’ Hitler Steps Away From Showdown (London Times)

With his speeches repeated in France and England, Knox returned home as a hero, the champion of America, forging an uneasy peace between Czechoslovakia and a frustrated German army.

 

Frank Knox, the Hammer of Democracy (Washington Post)

Trust one American newspaper to take it one level further. It didn’t matter. We’d stopped a war.

 

September 1^st^ 1939

Japan Prepares to Strike into Indochina (NYT)

 

“Why do we get our news from the damned papers?” Landon gave each of us accusatory looks, his eyes sweeping slowly round the room.

“With respect, Mr. President,” I began. I had the power; I had the shoulders to take the weight of the challenge. “We have said for weeks that you should speak against the Japanese show of force.”

Our eyes locked for a second, then Landon relaxed. “Yes, Michael, I do recall that.”

“We could embargo oil.” Hector Williams, the Secretary of State, had pushed such a measure before. “A stranglehold would bring them to their knees.”

“That would just attract their anger towards us.” Landon shook his head. Frank Knox stood behind, saying nothing, knowing that Landon had repeated his own words. “We need the Japanese to focus their energy on China, not look over here.”

“But, sir,” Williams persisted. “That makes it look like we’re openly aiding them against China.”

“Who do you want to go to war with, Hector?” Landon asked, staring down the Secretary of State. “China? With six million men? Or Japan? With one of the best navies in the world?”

Williams backed down, knowing he was on the ropes. “Point taken, Mr. President.”

“What can we do, Frank?” Landon asked.

Knox, an advocate of preparedness, had his answer ready. “We send the Pacific Fleet on a good-will tour to Singapore. Make a big deal of it. We have enough battleships sitting idle in Pearl Harbor to do a dozen tours. In the meantime, we tell Hirohito that we’ll still supply oil to the Japanese nation. We just make sure he gets the idea that Indochina is one step too far.”

Landon looked at me. “Michael, you heard the man; get the speech ready.”

I smiled, nodded my head. It had already been written, and was sitting on my desk. Frank had already endorsed it. It made the headlines of every major newspaper in the world.

 

September 12^th^ 1939

President Landon Forces Japan to Think Again (Los Angeles Times)

 

September 13^th^ 1939

Landon Puts the Brakes on Japan (The Times)

 

November 8^th^ 1940

Landon Will Have a Second Term (NYT)

 

It was hardly a fight. With our diplomacy quelling a war with Japan, Landon won in forty-one states. The bright democrat, Harry Truman from Missouri, never really got in a punch. The Jesse Owens card could never be played again, but I did suggest that in September Owens be appointed a sporting ambassador, raising awareness of the importance of physical fitness in all schools. We didn’t directly replay the Owens card, but we sure got his name back in the papers at election time. America doesn’t forget easily. It wasn’t my best moment, but it helped get the result.

 

December 7^th^ 1941

President Landon visits Philippines (Los Angeles Times)

 

We all knew it was more than a photo opportunity. Japan had again flexed their military muscles against the Chinese, and with their fleet gathering in the Yellow Sea, we needed some kind of military presence in the area. I didn’t like the flight, the stop-off in Hawaii, the sweltering heat of summer on the islands, but I did see the point in having our main battleships paraded in the harbor. We organized a party on board the USS Arizona for General Douglas MacArthur and the high staff of the Japanese Embassy; a show of strength for our war-crazy friends.

 

September 1^st^ 1943

Germany Invades Poland. Poles Crumble (The Times)

 

We all knew it had to happen sometime, but in September 1943, Germany eventually invaded Poland; we knew Hitler had not worked for ten years to posture in his own backyard. I took some credit for managing to subdue his rage for over four years. Outfought and outgunned, Poland fell in twenty days. As a Government, we were too late to act and, for once, far too slow to react. When Stalin invaded the Poles from the east, we braced ourselves for world war. Yet for almost a year, a moment in time, the two behemoths stared at each other over a line on a map. For a whole Russian winter, Hitler waited, assuring Stalin that old treaties still stood.

 

June 6^th^ 1944

Germany and Japan Invade Russia, the Bear Reels (Washington Post)

 

With Britain and France poised on the Maginot Line against Nazi incursion, the German powder keg blew surprisingly eastwards. On June 6th 1944, Blitzkrieg, the new name for mechanized war, thrust into Russia.

As one, the Japanese attacked from their territories in northern China.

The United States Government had faced the Japanese down over Indochina, and had promised sanctions when they threatened the British colony of Singapore.

But when their eyes turned towards Russia, we stayed mostly silent. Frank Knox had always thought of Stalin as the ultimate enemy, and few of our allies held any empathy for the Russian dictator; it was widely known he’d imprisoned and executed millions of his own subjects.

On the Japanese front, few Americans knew where Manchuria was. To be honest, I had to look it up just to make sure. In a matter of days Stalin faced the might of Germany and Japan; a pincer movement of the highest degree.

The rest of the world looked on as the three mighty nations warred for four years, throwing millions of lives into the meat grinder. We could hardly call it a world war, but in truth, with Russia’s size, it did encompass ten time zones.

 

November 7^th^ 1944

A Democrat in the White House (NYT)

 

Overshadowed by the war, Alf Landon drifted into the history books as the 33rd president of the United States of America, succeeded by the man he’d beaten four years previously; the bright Democrat senator from Missouri, Harry Truman.

Alf returned to Topeka, Kansas, stretched his farm, and rode horses for the rest of his life. As president, he would always be remembered as the ‘world statesman’.

 

November 11^th^ 1948

Peace in Our Time’ (London Times)

 

Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Britain, announced Peace in our Time, as hostilities between the three world powers stumbled to a halt.

On November 11th, 1948, an uneasy truce was called in the Russian steppes, neither of the three combatants willing or able to fight through another Russian winter. The troops stood over ground held, warmed their hands over fires in the snow, and the leaders spoke of peace.

  The three countries, once military giants, now staggered against each other like exhausted boxers in a bloody three-way bout, punch-drunk, bruised and broken, and a threat to no one.

Alf Landon, the unknown Governor of Kansas, and Jesse Owens, the Buckeye Bullet, had indeed changed the world.

My part? Michael Holt?

I get a footnote in history; that’s all Press Secretaries ever get.

 

Happiness Is a Cold Pistol

Paul Swearingen

 

Sherry leaned back on the bench in the bus kiosk and sighed. It had been a long, rough week at the office, and now all she wanted to do was to get home and see what her two boys had cooked up for supper. They might be little pains at times, but she’d taught them to read between the lines in recipes, and nearly all of their meals were quite tasty.

At least she didn’t have to worry about negotiating Topeka traffic on a Friday. Maybe in that respect having the muffler fall off her car as she was on her way to work this morning was a godsend, but on the other hand being told “Sure! We can have that ready for you by five this afternoon” and then getting a phone call at 4:30 and hearing “Oh, your car is one of those models which we have to special order mufflers and tail pipes for from Kansas City. But we can have it for you Monday with no problem.”

The muffler problem seemed to be the climax of what had been a less-than-stellar week. On Monday, one of their longest-running IT services customers suddenly filed for bankruptcy with no warning. The next day, the office next door caught fire – something about a short in a copier – and they had to evacuate the building for a couple of hours. Then on Thursday her husband had come down with something at work the day before, and she’d kept him home for a day, coughing and hacking. She’d taken the bus to get home yesterday, too. At least it had been warmer then.

They’d had to cut back on Christmas shopping this year, too. The boys seemed to understand, although the youngest had a rather painful look on his face as he turned away from Sherry and his father after they’d explained that with the downturn in business they had barely enough income to get them through the rest of this year, much less blow money on a load of Christmas presents. They’d just have to come up with something else instead.

The chilly breeze rustled through the dead leaves of the tree a few feet away, and she pulled her coat around her more tightly and wrapped her fingers around the cold handle of the .38 revolver she always carried with her in her coat pocket. Another woman carrying a large purse walked up to the bus kiosk, eyed her, and then elected to stand outside, the wind flipping her light-brown hair occasionally.

Sherry glanced around again, checked the time on her cell phone, and then leaned back and closed her eyes. Another eight minutes until the bus was due. Even if she dozed off, she’d still hear the air brakes and wake right up. Or maybe this woman standing next to the sign would nudge her? Hardly. You didn’t just casually approach strangers in Topeka and nudge them, as friendly as most people here were. They still liked their space, no matter what.

Somehow, she knew that she wasn’t really somewhere back east, hiking through a skiff of snow along a ridge. But the background sound of the traffic transformed into the sound of the wind, and the sun on her face warmed her slightly. She was all alone, but she knew that she was safe.

The sun in her face became brighter and brighter, and she blinked and covered her eyes with her left hand to shelter it from the blazing light from reflections of the sun in dozens of windows from the building across the street. The wind and noise seemed to increase, however, and she almost didn’t hear the strangled sound as a small, dark man pulled at the strap of the waiting woman’s purse.

Sherry pulled her hand away from her eyes, took in the scene in a split second, and then said one word as she stood, took three steps forward, and pulled her pistol and pointed it at the man, cocking the hammer in the same motion. “No!”

His eyes opened wide, and he collapsed at her feet. “Please. Don’t shoot me.” His eyes turned upward, and he stretched a hand towards her as if to pluck a bullet out of the air before it could reach him.

Suddenly, the woman whose purse he’d tried to snatch kicked him in the side – once, twice, three times. He screamed, rolled over, and limped away, holding tightly to his side, looked back once and then ducked his head and moving away even more quickly.

Sherry stared at the disappearing man and then at the woman’s sharply-pointed pumps. He would be lucky to get away with bruised ribs, she thought.

“You could have shot him, you know.” The woman glared at her through tightly-compressed lips.

Sherry uncocked the revolver, shook her head, and slid the pistol back into her pocket. She met the woman’s glare and then glanced down the street. You’re welcome, she thought, little man who may not realize that he had just received the most significant Christmas present of anyone in Topeka. And she knew that if she’d shot him there would have been repercussions that could have stretched for years. No, happiness was definitely a cold pistol, not a warm one.

 

Psychic Shift

Annabelle Corrick

 

The act of creation … a double-minded transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both emotion and thought is disturbed.”

—Arthur Koestler, Act of Creation

 

Callie and Pam set out for their first-ever hike on the kind of gorgeous spring day that all moderately well-to-do children in the Midwest in the 1950s took for granted as to be enjoyed. But for Josh Brindsly, even though he walked in the most expensive shoes money could buy from Gucci, not to mention his grey cashmere sweater and wool-blend slacks; the beauty of the day hardly mattered. It was to be his last.

He had not enjoyed any day for too long a time. The years of psychoanalysis had only proven that his demons would not go away. He had tried his best to destroy himself with alcohol and drugs, but his parents had intervened. They had sent him to the middle of nowhere—to the pricey “Psychiatric Center of the World” in Topeka, Kansas so that he would be cured. They were willing to shell out big bucks for as long as it took, paying the Menninger Clinic as well as their own security apparatus to make sure he stayed for however long it would take.

*****

“Let’s head west on Sixth Street,” Callie suggested excitedly. Her slender, agile frame skipped ahead while her heavier friend trudged to keep up. They both lived on Seventh Street, just one cross street apart.

“Sure, okay,” Pam agreed. They carried satchels with necessary getaway items including water and goodies to share on their adventurous journey.

Callie wore jeans along with tennis shoes recently purchased for her summer lessons at Hughes Courts. Her T-shirt, however, had been handed down from older siblings. Even with some natural shrinkage, it hung as loosely on her slight frame as a Halloween sheet. Her blondish hair looked disheveled, the barrette her mom had employed long since gone AWOL.

Pam wore saddle shoes good for everything including school and hopscotch. Her pedal pushers and matching blouse, handmade for the eldest, looked overly frilly on her large-boned frame. Only a few wiry, dark locks dangled off from her braided pigtails.

Neither girl looked appropriately dressed and groomed for each other or for the pristine grounds to the right.

“Let’s explore over there,” Pam waved northward. They had continued walking west. “I like the looks of this side street. It’s an entrance to something.” They turned into the grounds, staring at the low-clipped grass and finely-shaped spirea bushes bordered with rows of pink tulips, yellow daffodils, and orange marigolds. The air hung thick with the aroma of spring pollens. The bushes had already sprouted white buds.

“Wow! Looks real neat,” Callie exclaimed. Across to the south ranged blocks of small houses where crabgrass and weeds sprang randomly here and there. Both girls had seen the plain State Hospital grounds to the east where neighborhood boys gathered to play baseball and football, but neither they nor the boys had ever ventured onto the more secluded Menninger Foundation’s premises. Nor had much knowledge of the place ever entered the minds of these fifth graders.

“Look over there at that path.” Pam pointed right where a swath of white gravel curved eastward. They walked deeper into the grounds. The background chorus of buzzing insects and chirping birds ratcheted up a couple of decibels, seeming to mute their words.

“Hey, weird,” Callie called out. “It stops at that big hedge.” The girls stared at the distant sight—evergreen bushes rising above their heads contrasting with the lighter spirea leaves and brightly-colored flowers. They crept along the path until they heard a whistled tune. Pam pulled Callie off the path, finding a decorative boulder to hide behind. A caretaker emerged from a side path and strode by, unaware of the rapt attention he had evoked.

“Okay, he’s gone,” Callie whispered into her friend’s ear.

“So why not talk out loud?” Pam jabbed her friend while they resumed their stealthy progress.

“Because this is a place where we’re not supposed to be,” Callie giggled. “But I love it. I know there’s something behind that hedge. What? What will we find?”

*****

Josh Brindsly heaved the shoulders of his angular, tall frame. Why didn’t the public go for his perfect looks? Why did his agent say his perfection was too much—too sharply refined for today’s leading male roles? Nowadays, moviegoers preferred rough and tough-looking guys like Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton, and Marlon Brando. What was with all this anti-hero stuff anyway? Everything had gotten so confused. Only ten years ago he would have been the next Robert Taylor. Why not now? Taylor himself was hardly extinct. He had starred not so long ago in Ivanhoe and Quo Vadis. Josh knew his own acting expressions were as good or better. Why was his agent so dismissive?

Probably because it wasn’t just his lack of ruggedness. One day his agent was so good as to explain that he had no distinguishing feature such as Gary Cooper’s extra height, Paul Newman’s intense blue eyes, or Cary Grant’s ageless charm. That deficiency contributed to his lack of something very necessary but difficult to define: charisma. Hence, the bit parts and character roles. If he had been acting for his livelihood, being so relegated wouldn’t matter very much. But he had another problem besides his looks and personality—a family drenched in dough.

The caretaker came wandering in through the narrow gate at the northeast edge of the meditation garden. He was carrying clippers and snip, snip, snipping at the yew bushes that formed the high hedge. Caretaker, my you-know-what, Brindsly thought. Another spy, he’d known the first time he’d encountered Amos months ago.

“Hey there, Mr. Josh,” Amos bellowed. “Top a the mornin’ to ya.”

“Oh yes, yeah sure,” Josh said curtly and turned away. Ordinarily he could take the caretaker’s corny joviality. Now he barely hid his irritation, having to wait until the meddler left. Of course Amos would stick around as long as Josh seemed depressed, so he turned back and forced a broad grin to say: “And a top a the lovely mornin’ to you, too. You’ve done a grand job on this hedge.” Now get the heck out of here so I can get the heck rid of this day and all future ones.

Amos smiled back, the sun reflecting off his naturally-gleaming teeth. He nodded his head abashedly and moved off, out of the meditation garden. Josh sighed in relief. He wasn’t really dodging a snake in the grass. He wasn’t paranoid—just realistic about his circumstances. A vision of the amiable Amos with fangs and venom was too absurd a thought to consider. It was just the irksome proximity of his various overseers—including Amos the caretaker out here and Beulah the housekeeper inside. He was rarely totally alone in this place, by odd happenstance. State Hospital patients meandered off all the time, but here there was little chance of that—at least not for him.

After walking restlessly around in the garden, Josh stopped and sat down on a concrete bench. He fingered the ring on his right hand, the ring that hid a cyanide pill beneath an emerald-stone top. He had smuggled it in, and no one was the wiser. At first he thought he would never use it. He’d felt hopeful, but then the psychoanalytic process had taken him back—back to the supposed roots of all his growing branches of despair. How could he have any hope now? Those roots were too entrenched. They had grown the wretched tree of his miserable life. The real truth was that he had had to become an actor. He simply looked too good to be anything else. His mother had wanted it for him. His father had not …

Josh buried his head in his hands, rubbing his fingers into his scalp. Those early sessions with Dr. Brunouer had felt so comforting, but then they had gotten more intense. The acting conundrum was only a symptom of so many underlying things. He’d revealed more and more of himself during the descent into his past, transferring too much of himself to his therapist. He’d given and given to Dr. Alfred Brunouer who had finally become like some porous, spongy wall swallowing him up and enclosing him so he couldn’t get out. All of those too-many things that were done to him and by him could never be undone. He felt so hounded and boxed in.

But soon he would escape. He reached for the ring, and then his reflection stared back at him from the pond—that perfect face. The image he had to live with and be reconciled with although it couldn’t be accepted, much less loved enough by the public or by anyone else. He raised himself from the bench and stepped towards the pond. Perhaps it would be easier to join his reflection and drown it all out that way—literally.

*****

Callie and Pam left the path. On their hands and knees they explored the perimeter of the curving hedge, looking for a break in it. Blades of grass bent down, and insects jumped out of their way. About a third of the way around, they found a gap. Callie started to peek her head through, but just then Pam’s left saddle shoe hit a stick that cracked and sent her falling against Callie. They both careened over. Callie’s face slid against the hedge and into some jagged edges of it. They rolled away. Pam saw her friend’s bloodied face and gasped, “First aid kit!”

“Shh, shh. I might have heard some crunching gravel, maybe.”

“Crunching?” Pam hissed, trying to whisper too. “So, what’s in there?”

“Dunno.” Callie felt her face. “You’re right. I need first aid.” She brushed away a trickle of blood that ran down her cheek from her forehead.

Pam rummaged through her bag, brought out a disinfectant cloth, cleansed the scratch and bandaged it. “This hedge is a bear to get through.” At least the branches weren’t hiding stickers, she noticed. But they were thick and tough. “We’re not really supposed to be hiking out of our neighborhood anyway. Are you sure we’re covered by your mom’s party group and my little brother’s baseball game? What if they get through early or something?”

Callie leaned back on her elbows. “Not much chance. They’ll be tied up all afternoon. Why else do we have water and snacks in our bags?”

“In case we get lost or decide to run away for good? Or get scratched and delayed by a hedge that might eat us if we don’t leave soon?”

*****

Josh Brindsly was just about to join his reflection in the pond when he heard rustling sounds at the hedge and pulled back. It wasn’t Amos returning or anyone else. No, it sounded like something inside the hedge. He glanced there but saw nothing. It wasn’t like the sound of birds scuttling in the branches. He’d heard that often enough. Maybe some small animals, but the cleanliness of the grounds and buildings discouraged them. He hadn’t seen a rabbit in all the time he’d been in residence. Eerie the way he saw birds but nothing much else. Nary a squirrel, even. Maybe he hadn’t paid enough attention to the wildlife. He shrugged, thinking about how the trees had recently been treated to avoid disease and how the building rooflines looked well sealed.

He cocked his head, listening for those extra sounds. A racket of insects and birds oppressed his ears. When had he noticed how crickets and locusts buzzed up the air with noise, syncopated by chirping birds?

Josh dragged himself back to the stone bench, burying his head in his hands again. He had suffered two distractions from his prime mission of the day—the mission concerning his life. It should already be over, but it wasn’t. Just as he had felt the final seconds ticking away, the momentum had stopped. But not really. He assured himself that his resolve only strengthened with each delay. That was all it was—a brief pause in the progress towards the action to stop the aching pain of his life.

He must hurry. Already at least five minutes had elapsed since he had dealt with Amos. Experience told him another spy could appear soon. Josh gripped the ring on his right hand with his left hand. He only needed two seconds. He drew in his breath. He needed just these next two seconds.

*****

Back on their hands and knees, Callie and Pam continued testing the hedge inch by inch. They finally found a more promising gap between two of the bushes. “I’ll pull these back and then get through after you,” the heftier of the two whispered.

“Okay,” Callie echoed the hushed tone. “Let’s go.”

Pam held the branches aside. Callie tumbled through, followed by her friend. The branches snapped away against Pam, hurtling her into Callie. They rolled down a slope through a bed of pansies. Pollen filled their noses. They sneezed loudly, leaping to their feet. Josh Brindsly whirled around in startled surprise, his arms swinging with him. His hand that had just pulled off the ring lost its grip. The ring flew away and plopped into the pond. Josh stared in amazement at the disturbed water and then, in greater astonishment, at the two urchins in their strange attire—like mismatched peasants lost from a pilgrimage.

Callie stood staring back, wide-eyed. She wanted to apologize for the intrusion. She had never seen such an elegant man. Pam tugged at her, but Callie stayed rooted while trying to speak. Time hung suspended as if the moment would always be there in the future with their gazes intersecting—bringing them together even though they stood apart.

When Josh turned from the pond, the interruption; with the ring gone, had stunned him. Now his gaze stayed with the girl who was trying to talk. He felt the interchange even though no words came.

But the ring. The pond. He had his mission. Or did he? That urgency had faded, leaving one thread from his past to pose the question: could he find the ring? When he lunged towards the pond, the surface glimmered smoothly and opaquely. He lurched back at the girls, the thread of his past snapping.

Pam gasped and pulled Callie harder. They turned and ran up the incline towards the hedge, as impulsively as they had come. The larger girl stumbled through the gap with the ragamuffin diving in behind her. Josh stood stock still, staring after them. Then he gazed back and forth, at the empty space where they had been and at the pond. A frog croaked and leapt out from under a peony bush into the pond. Josh continued gazing at the water, now momentarily disturbed again. He couldn’t see where the ring had gone. It was probably lodged under silt by now. A dragonfly swooped down and nipped at the surface.

Josh walked back to the bench, but he didn’t bury his head in his hands. He didn’t stay sitting but stood back up, spurred by an emotion—something his semi-autistic psyche wasn’t supposed to feel. The errant girls had struck a nerve. They seemed almost as amazed to see him as he was to see them. Even so, one of them had tried to talk to him.

They had also struck something else. He laughed out loud, the unfamiliar muscle reflex starting in his gut and rumbling up through his whole being, up through his chest and his throat and through his mouth. He felt the muscles around his lips stretch almost painfully, but a sense of release soared on up into his brain. His head reeled at the odd thought that for the first time in ages he didn’t feel despondent. In fact, he was practically doubled over with laughter.

He had a funny bone? What was that? Where was that?

While turning away from the pool, he was not thinking about the ring or of joining his image in the pond. He rushed to the narrow gate that the girls hadn’t found, jogged around to the other side of the encircling hedge, and saw them running down the path towards the main road; their giggles floating through the air like rippling bubbles of joy.

He hesitated to run after them, wondering who they were. Children from nearby? Little angels from heaven? Conduits of the Holy Spirit? It didn’t matter. Whether human or divine, they weren’t the kind of intruders he despised. The girl who tried to talk to him, the look in her eyes—she seemed to adore him. Like he’d wished audiences would do when viewing him on the silver screen, instead of barely noticing him in his bit roles. He felt suddenly important and effectively handsome.

Continuing to watch the children scramble away, Josh determined that he wouldn’t try to catch them out. He couldn’t anyway. He heard heavy footsteps on the gravel path. Amos was approaching. The clock tower chimed, signaling his next session.

The steady footsteps came up to him. “Mr. Josh, c’mon, now. Time to go in and all,” Amos implored.

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Suppose?”

“Tell me, Amos.” Josh focused on the caretaker after a silent moment. “Have you ever heard of a spontaneous cure?”

“Spontaneous?”

“Yes, you know. Sudden. Happening all at once.”

The caretaker thought while his eyes opened large, showing orbs of white around the dark brown. “Oh no, sir. I haven’t,” he replied with a shake of his head. “Not here. Nope, never was one of those that I heard tell of. Was supposed to be with them shock treatments. But never was that I knows of.”

Josh smiled broadly. “Well, I’ve just had one.”

Amos rocked back on his heels. “What? How?”

Josh kicked a stray chunk of dirt off the main path, skipped ahead and then turned back. “It took something totally unexpected, incongruous, hilarious, and immediate—like Arthur Koestler’s planes of creativity.”

“Who?” Amos veered away.

“He’s an author, a novelist and psychological theorist. Wrote about intersecting planes. I read Darkness at Noon for a class. That led me to his book, Act of Creation. I feel as if—as if I’ve just experienced something like that. Two very different planes of consciousness intersected and made something new—a synthesis, a new consciousness for me.”

“Huh?”

“But listen. I’ll go see Dr. Brunouer. I know what I’ll talk to him about this time—how I’ll never be the same.”

Amos nodded in amazement. “Umm, umm. Good luck with that.”

“Yes, I’ll need it.”

Re-approaching Josh, Amos eyed him closely. “But it’s true. You sure don’t seem the same now, Mr. Josh. You sure don’t. Unh, uh. You’d never really talk to me no matter how I’d go at you. Now here you are, a-talkin’ a blue streak.”

“For sure I’m not the same.” Josh looked up at a trio of white clouds floating through the vast blue while an inspiration struck him. “And you know what? I’m going to give up acting! It’s not where I fit in, anyway. I’m still fairly young at thirty-one. Koestler’s theory was there for me all along, but I never realized it. I’ll study medicine and psychiatry—take up where Freud really left off.” Josh gazed skyward again where the blue expanse prevailed against clouds gone wispy. Even if he couldn’t impress Hollywood gatekeepers or audiences viewing a screen, he could impact people directly. He just had.

“Umm, umm. You sure do got ideas, now,” Amos murmured.

Josh slung his arm over the caretaker’s shoulders while they ambled back towards the building. “I do. I’m going to make darn sure psychiatry won’t ever be the same!”

 

Tunnels

Leah Sewell

 

I was done. I told my husband I didn’t love him anymore. I sent that spear screaming straight through the kitchen ceiling into his heart. Our marriage splashed the tiles, making a mess I was too weary to clean. I took off my apron and left out the back door, wobbling like a marionette down tricky stairs.

I went into the garden, what was left of the garden from last fall. The merciless birds ate the berries. I’d tied old discs to stakes to ward them off. It was a fruitless chore. In spring’s wane light, the discs turned and strobed gold and blue. I held one up like a mirror but my face gave no indication. If there had been a mountain anywhere in sight, I would’ve climbed it then and there. I would’ve climbed it to the top and looked around, wiser for the view. Seeing the bigger picture.

But this was caraway Kansas in a small, kept neighborhood with rain still hugging the curbs from last night’s storm, leaves traveling the street’s moat to the sewers. Deep inside the sewers, foxes made dens on old brick ledges, waiting for the watery tumult to subside. The only thing left up in the sky was a smear and a waft of ozone.

Down at the end of the block was the empty Topeka State Hospital, its patina peaks and turrets rising over the sleepy neighborhood like a child’s dream of the old world, of a castle, of a world inside of doors with intricate carpets and relationships. I walked to it, my legs mobilized as if pulled by string.

I knew better than a child. This thing was a psychologist’s fantasy taken shape in handsome blonde brick and sheen of stone, but inside was a horror of porcelain, pain, and bodies still in shock, wandering these decades after death. How romantic. My husband and I – before he was a husband and I his wife – crept in one night, drunk on love, and embraced on the floor of the broken ballroom. The dust was thick with lives. It furrowed into our pores, sifted on tongues that we slid in each other’s mouths, high on this, reckless on this.

I found it utterly unfamiliar; a total stranger. The building squatted among the oaks, smug and stupid. Its finery an insult to its history. A liar, a boaster, a pretty facade concealing a black, black soul.

I stood in front of its face, studying and struggling to decipher what I ever saw in those shattered panes, peeling balustrade, stains, cracks, and sediment. Its porch arms flew open, asking for a crushing embrace.  

They say it was a wrecking ball that did the final blow. No. It was me. I shook the cobwebs off my heart and the sluggish beat went back to its original fervor. I was a wreck of anger. I poured all the hurt and stones into a vortex, casting off that heavy debris. They say that people came from all points once the waves of dust announced its fall. It was me. Strings pulled my limbs. Wind pulled my fists into hammers made of air and magnets. That’s how the asylum fell.

It was inside me all along, the tornado he once tried to quell. Here and there across the city floats down a tile. A shard. The past in a bit of brick. And a layer of dust the foxes notice, pricking their snouts at the scent.

When I went missing, no one thought to look in the tunnels, the only remaining corridors of the buildings now gone. They raked the river and searched the skinny patches of wood behind the mini malls and fast food joints. They rustled the homeless from their pockets beneath the viaduct. They fingered my husband but found nothing incriminating. He was capable of harm but not culpable for this. Not in the eyes of the police.

I saw the lid to the tunnel cocked off, leaving a hole for my body to slip through and a hold for lowering myself into it. No one saw me go down or heard me call hoarsely for help when I lost my way under the flat plane where the asylum used to be. Someone must have slid the lid back over the opening.

I saw only black but knew the former inmates roamed here too like restless Minotaur, huffing breath against my neck as they passed on some mission. It wasn’t until I died eons later, slumped invisible against the flaking concrete wall, that I finally found my way free.

The websites call me the Wailing Woman. They think I was mad and died at the asylum. I was mad, that much is true. In some ways, I still am. The former inmates regard me with distrust and keep their distance. But I didn’t die at the asylum. Most of me died at the house down the street. The last of me, in a tunnel underground.

 

Love and Friendship

Lissa Staley

 

Login successful 4/14/2026 Discussion Board Population=2

ENGLISH LIT 499-SELF-GUIDED DISCUSSION BOARD

TOPIC: EMMA BY JANE AUSTEN, BRITISH LITERATURE

 

ThomasG: I did not find this story of youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance to be my particular cup of tea.

KateM: DUDE. If you copy and paste from Wikipedia, use quotation marks and a citation.

KateM: Also referring to tea doesn’t make your answer more British.

KateM: How am I supposed to receive the benefits of a quality public secondary education online if my peer group is completely lacking?

KateM: Are you even going to reply?

ThomasG: Pardon me. The book is an archaic 211 years old. The concerns and difficulties of genteel women in 1815 Britain are no longer relevant in Kansas in 2026.

ThomasG: And in case you haven’t figured it out, the anti-plagiarism software only checks whole sentences, not phrases.

KateM: Again with the Wikipedia. Did you even read this book?

KateM: Seriously. Did you?

KateM: Did you casually swipe through the pages on the ebook for the completion credit while actually watching a vid?

ThomasG: I read it. Duh. Although it was weeks ago and no one has ever posted in this discussion board before.

ThomasG: And the Kate Beckinsale film isn’t bad.

ThomasG: These English credits fulfill my graduation requirements with less hassle than any course with a virtual lab or—heaven forbid—groupwork.

ThomasG: The reading and quizzes are no trouble, but requiring 20 posts on a discussion board that no human will ever read is already trying my patience.

ThomasG: Are you still there?

KateM: I’m human. YOU are trying MY patience.

KateM: You quote from Wikipedia and you don’t like people.

KateM: And yet here we are discussing British literature in our limited free time.

KateM: It’s quite odd.

ThomasG: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Was Jane Austen describing you here? Or would even Austen deign to find you likeable?

KateM: Quoting the author isn’t proof of anything resembling comprehension. And personal attack is unnecessary.

KateM: I’m sure Jane Austen would find me to be a delight.

ThomasG: Austen liked EMMA. She’s baseless and tasteless.

ThomasG: Okay, pop quiz time. Which of these characteristics best describes you:

a.handsome b. clever c. rich d. spoiled e. headstrong f. self-satisfied

ThomasG: Just seethe silently if your answer is “all of the above.”

KateM: …

KateM: That wasn’t silent seething. I was just speechless. Didn’t you learn anything from this book?

ThomasG: This book is irrelevant in our modern world. It tells me that career-wise a man can be a lawyer, doctor, businessman, or vicar.

ThomasG: We both know that our illustrious online public school isn’t the path to any of those professions, not any more.

KateM: At least a private tutor isn’t such an anachronism in 2026. Plenty of rich kids have them.

ThomasG: What idiot put this book on the assigned reading list?

ThomasG: This book firmly reminds us that we are in the working classes, the people who are almost invisible in Austen’s world.

KateM: Some “idiot” with enough money and influence to buy a cozy seat in an air conditioned office instead of spending the day on hands and knees in the dirt, turning a field of pumpkins.

ThomasG: Our lives don’t matter in the narrative, except in how we support the privileged elite.

ThomasG: So why do you or I even need to complete secondary education to take our place among the laboring class?

KateM: Rant much? I can barely keep up.

KateM: And you know even the entry level jobs require a diploma now.

ThomasG: Honest discussion isn’t ranting. And the truth about the dismantled public education system hurts.

ThomasG: The diploma isn’t an accomplishment or a rite of passage, it’s just one more way to oppress and control us.

KateM: Harsh!

ThomasG: What community service did you do during daylight today?

KateM: Point taken. At least the screen on my school issued tablet looks great in the dark, since that’s the only time I log in.

ThomasG: Are you avoiding the question? Or are you too rich and spoiled to have a service assignment?

KateM: Ouch! I didn’t realize we had moved into true confession time.

KateM: And, no, I pay for public school technology fees with my community service hours just like everyone else.

ThomasG: And did you improve yourself and become a better person?

KateM: Only by listening to 5 hours of podcasts while I harvested mixed greens and lettuce.

ThomasG: Good thing you’re young, since that sounds backbreaking.

KateM: What about you?

ThomasG: I pollinated apples by hand, 2 hours on foot and 3 hours off a bucket truck.

KateM: Ha! You’re quite the sex machine. And such stamina!

ThomasG: I prefer “fertilization specialist”.

ThomasG: And not to redirect you away from flirting with me too much, but back to the book we are supposedly discussing here. What about relationships?

ThomasG: The romantic take-away of Emma is that your true love is most likely twice your age and already your brother-in-law.

ThomasG: How was anyone supposed to meet anyone else in Austen’s novels if they didn’t already know them?

KateM: Much like my life, where the only people my age that I see are down the agriculture row from me, or across the aisle of the transport bus.

KateM: And conversation is discouraged, always. How is anyone supposed to meet anyone else in Topeka if they don’t already know them?

ThomasG: You can meet people at dances. Austen is all about first impressions at country assemblies, you know.

KateM: That’s Pride and Prejudice, not Emma. How many Austen books have you read?

ThomasG: All of them. You can check the discussion boards.

ThomasG: I believe that you and I are the only students in public online school in Kansas to read a book by Jane Austen in the last 5 years.

KateM: What makes us so special?

ThomasG: With hundreds of public domain books to choose from, students choose shorter books and more modern language. They take the easy way out.

KateM: I like that we’re both eschewing easy with Austen.

ThomasG: Nice. The readability score of this conversation just skyrocketed. A few more astonishing word choices and we could earn bonus points.

KateM: Demonstrating a proficient vocabulary is the least of my personal concerns.

ThomasG: So, what character deficiency are you trying to remedy by choosing Emma? Do you look like her AND act like her?

KateM: I call phishing on that question. If you’re going to compare me to Emma, then let me ask a personal question.

KateM: Are you actually 37 years old like George Knightly?

ThomasG: As poorly-monitored as this educational discussion board is, I assume they still screen for that.

ThomasG: They may not appear to hold us responsible for what we type here, but I’m betting they don’t want to be held responsible for what we type here either.

ThomasG: The great migration to self-directed online-only education is all about the plausible deniability of everyone involved. Emma isn’t the only intentionally clueless one.

KateM: This is the best literature discussion I’ve ever had.

KateM: I can’t believe I’m going to type this, but I wish we could meet in person.

ThomasG: You need to get out more.

ThomasG: You assume I’m not willing to meet?

ThomasG: Or you assume we aren’t in the same town?

KateM: What?!? Yes, I assumed both.

KateM: Sorry? I just clicked your profile and see we are both in Topeka.

KateM: Can you get to the downtown farmer’s market on Saturday?

ThomasG: 8 am at the cider press?

ThomasG: How will I know it’s you?

ThomasG: Will you be attractively posed like Harriet in Emma’s watercolor painting?

KateM: I’ll be the clever, headstrong girl with the obvious character deficiencies.

ThomasG: Obviously.

 

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Login successful 4/28/2026 Discussion Board Population=2

ENGLISH LIT 499-SELF-GUIDED DISCUSSION BOARD

TOPIC: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN, BRITISH LITERATURE

 

ThomasG: I appreciate that the status-conscious friend, Mr. Darcy, is disdainful of local society, as he reflects my own views.

KateM: Let me counter your generic pasted text from Wikipedia with this relevant quote from the novel: “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”

ThomasG: If we lived in Austen’s time we probably would never have met. And I can’t imagine you mortified.

KateM: We still haven’t met, in real life, so you only get to imagine me.

KateM: Not that you care, obviously, but I waited for you that day.

KateM: …

KateM: Did I speak the unspeakable??

ThomasG: “You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged.”

KateM: Deflection using Darcy. Well played.

KateM: Although the wound to my pride still smarts a bit. Being stood up is the worse cliché from old teen movies.

KateM: I see now that I was caught up in the fantasy of human connection.

KateM: I lost myself to the romantic fictions and the stories of the past.

KateM: For me, the far better educational outcome is to focus on my reality. I should stop trying to exceed the low expectations set for me.

KateM: Wanting more than a diploma and endless hours of manual labor is a waste of energy because it’s not my fate.

KateM: So thank you for disappointing me, it’s just what I needed.

KateM: Are you there?

ThomasG: One sec.

ThomasG: “This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed!”

KateM: AAANND I set you up to throw that Darcy quote in my face. Great.

KateM: Your faults aren’t heavy. My future feels extra bleak today.

KateM: I’m not sure I could withstand Darcy’s pride and insolence.

ThomasG: Darcy would pen a lengthy letter explaining his motives and actions.

ThomasG: I’ll stick with typing out the words “I’m sorry.”

ThomasG: “Further apology would be absurd.”

KateM: Stop quoting Darcy!

KateM: Moving on….

ThomasG: I’ve been thinking…If we lived 10 years ago we might not have met then either.

ThomasG: Did you know that Topeka High used to have two thousand students?

KateM: Yeah. And now it sits empty, with a very public legal battle, hallways full of bats, and an aura of despair.

ThomasG: The bats are just a rumor. Or they might be roosting above the lockers. I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

ThomasG: My cousin went there. He told me that before it shut down, everyone already had computers issued by the school, just like now, but they showed up at the school building every day and used their laptops all together in class.

KateM: My mom dropped out of T-High her junior year to help her family. She finished later, online at night.

KateM: She doesn’t understand how what we are forced to do now is any different than what she felt forced to do 20 years ago.

ThomasG: My grandad is always reminiscing about his own high school years. He knows how bad this is.

ThomasG: It’s strange how it changed so fast. From the one-room schoolhouse of his grandparents to the no-room schoolhouse of his grandchildren. I think public education jumped the shark and this is all we’re left with here at the end.

KateM: What do we really miss though? I’ve read books and seen vids from the early 2000’s. What do they have in those physical buildings that you want?

ThomasG: Crowded hallways. Passing periods. Parking lots.

KateM: You’re nostalgic for loitering?

KateM: Really?

KateM: What do you think is the biggest drawback with online virtual public school? That’s what I struggle with when I talk to my mom. She hated high school. She thinks I have it better now.

ThomasG: My grandad talks about prom as a rite of passage.

ThomasG: But online school is one symptom of a bigger issue. The American Dream got all jacked up.

ThomasG: Grandad wants me to have milestones I can look forward to instead of what he calls a “bleak and meaningless future of underemployment doing mind numbing labor.”

KateM: So you want to go to prom?

ThomasG: No! Even my dad only went to prom to make a political statement, with his gay friend as his date.

KateM: So, nobody really cares about dancing?

ThomasG: My grandad wants me to…well he wants an alternate universe where I look forward to prom as a culmination of my years of schooling, where we’ve loiter around all day together with our high school friends, without community service assignments or the overuse of technology, before embarking on our successful futures.

ThomasG: Grandad phrases it more nicely when he’s ranting about it.

KateM: This is perfect! Let’s go to prom together, okay?

KateM: I’m asking you, because of course I’m a feminist, and because I don’t want to assume you’ll ask me. Promposals went out of style long before the current economic depression.

ThomasG: What prom?

ThomasG: Online virtual schools don’t have dances.

KateM: But that patio in front of Topeka High doesn’t look too scary.

KateM: I wouldn’t go inside the old high school, of course. That building should clearly be condemned.

ThomasG: You want to meet someone you met online while trespassing alone at a condemned building?

ThomasG: This seems unwise.

KateM: No, we won’t be alone.

KateM: I want a lot of people I’ve only met online to meet on the courtyard for our senior prom.

KateM: I want to see them at their best. We’ll all get dressed up a bit. Maybe stay out all night.

KateM: Your grandad is right. We need something to look forward to.

ThomasG: You might be crazy.

KateM: Is that a yes? I’d feel better if I knew I had a date to the prom before I go to all of the bother to create it out of thin air.

ThomasG: My hesitation is this: I don’t know the etiquette for this situation, but it seems that a gentleman wouldn’t let a lady plan and execute her own prom alone.

KateM: Excellent! If you’ll help, then we can be the Kansas Virtual School student government prom committee, Topeka Chapter.

KateM: I’ve been reading the school handbook and the legislature left the structure of extracurricular activities intact even though they stripped the funding. That’s how the football teams are still sanctioned.

ThomasG: Why would you read the school handbook?

ThomasG: Dare I ask?

KateM: I was researching the possibility of a book club.

KateM: This prom idea is so much more fun!

ThomasG: Are you sure I can’t talk you into a book club?

KateM: :P

KateM: That’s just a bit of extra emoticon nostalgia for you and your grandad.

 

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Login successful 5/20/2026 Discussion Board Population=2

ENGLISH LIT 499-SELF-GUIDED DISCUSSION BOARD

TOPIC: PERSUASION BY JANE AUSTEN, BRITISH LITERATURE

 

ThomasG: Much like our modern situation, Persuasion marks a break with Austen’s previous works, both in the more biting, even irritable satire directed at some of the novel’s characters and in the regretful, resigned outlook of its otherwise admirable heroine, Anne Elliot, who gives me, as the reader, much to ponder in regards to my own romantic endeavors.

KateM: I’ve missed your Wikipedia quotes.

ThomasG: The energy and appeal of the Royal Navy symbolizes for Anne the possibility of a more outgoing, engaged, and fulfilling life, so please don’t tell me your next big idea is for us to join the military.

KateM: My current community service hours are fulfilling enough. How are you holding up?

ThomasG: I hold in my mind the memory of your bright blue skirt, of spinning you around and catching you in my arms.

KateM: That skirt is very twirly and gauzy. Completely impractical for agricultural work. I love it.

ThomasG: I’m sorry we got arrested before I had a chance to kiss you.

KateM: Me too.

KateM: In other news, I wrote your name in as the cosponsor of our new book club.

KateM: They may call repeating our senior year a punishment, but at least we have literature discussions to look forward to together, since we aren’t graduating this summer after all.

ThomasG: And after that?

KateM: I’m assuming you aren’t phishing for information about my feelings, and instead want to discuss our unique position within society to lead our generation to greatness. I think the answers are obvious, though.

ThomasG: Second annual prom?

KateM: You betcha. But next time with less misdemeanor citations and more parents and guardians as chaperones.

KateM: It turns out the online virtual school handbook has some provisions for events, which I found while I was filling out the forms for book club.

ThomasG: Information which would have been useful a month ago, back when we were naïve, and trespassing seemed like an innocent endeavor.

ThomasG: What are we going to discuss in book club after Austen? We are halfway through her six novels already.

KateM: The form required a community volunteer adult to sponsor the club or we can’t hold in person meetings. He might want some input into selections also.

ThomasG: He?

KateM: Your grandad. He and I hit it off at the police station after prom.

ThomasG: …

ThomasG: This is me being speechless.

KateM: In Persuasion, Austen says: “My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’

‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.”

KateM: Between talking to your grandad and reading the handbook, my mind is swimming in ideas right now. Good company really is the best.

ThomasG: I’m glad Grandad is clever and well-informed, or we would both have trespassing fines to work off.

KateM: This extra year of school would be much less appealing if your grandad hadn’t talked the judge into keeping this incident off our criminal record.

KateM: I mean, no point in getting a diploma, if I have a prior conviction to block higher education or job advancement.

ThomasG: You sound like you have plans to work the system. I thought we were rebels, in this together.

ThomasG: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.”

KateM: That Captain Wentworth quote was a bit forced there, don’t you think?

ThomasG: Do you like my grandad more than you like me? Tell me the truth.

KateM: He’s a wise man. I like talking to him.

KateM: Did you know the original online school plan was a desperate measure to avoid shutting down the schools altogether? No one ever talks about that. But that was before the stock market fraud and the collapse.  

ThomasG: I remember my 3rd grade teacher in a classroom with artwork covering the walls, a gerbil habitat, a school musical. Who could have known those were the good old days?

ThomasG: That was the year my science fair project oozed out of my backpack on the bus.

KateM: I preferred 2nd grade, myself. Our classroom had a reading corner with beanbag chairs. It was basically my idea of heaven.

KateM: Your grandad is convinced that the online school plan would have been okay in the short term.

KateM: What wasn’t okay was when the community service opportunities were privatized.

KateM: And then the Ag lobbyists convinced the legislature to double and then triple the requirements to increase food production.

ThomasG: You sound just like grandad. How often are the two of you talking, anyway?

KateM: And while I like eating food, I don’t like growing it.

ThomasG: Plus, as I’m sure my grandad has pointed out in your apparently frequent conversations on this topic, subverting child labor laws isn’t particularly on the up and up.

KateM: Jealous much?

KateM: I don’t think it has to be this way.

KateM: The economy is picking up in other states. I’ve seen the news trickling out of Illinois and Oklahoma. Their students never left the classrooms.

KateM: Supplementing Kansas agricultural work with student labor can’t continue forever.

ThomasG: That’s not going to be easy to undo.

ThomasG: The State Board of Education testimony to the legislature doesn’t even admit that the current system is anything less than successful.

ThomasG: And, of course, those guys in power already had their prom, and their kids are all studying with private tutors in rich cliques. Why would they change things for us now?

KateM: Because we’ll make them, of course.

ThomasG: You and me?

KateM. And your grandad. And anyone else we can convince that this is important.

ThomasG: No one who had ever seen KateM in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.

KateM: Hey! Wrong book! That’s the opening line of Northanger Abbey.

ThomasG: Someone needs to learn to take a compliment more gracefully.

ThomasG: Hey, I think I just chose our first book club book.

KateM: Both points are duly noted. The second annual prom committee may be a bit less focused on dressing up and dancing, and a bit more focused on some of the other things we are lacking from the public high school experience.

ThomasG: But will you wear the blue twirly skirt again?

KateM: With sneakers. I’ve learned my lesson about trying to run in heels.

ThomasG: Okay, I’m in. Although I’m prioritizing our prom night kiss next time, in case we get arrested.

ThomasG: Obviously.

KateM: Obviously.

KateM: :P

 

Dance with the Devil

Aimee L. Gross

 

“Miss Andrews, do you consider yourself a patriot?”

Odd first question during a job interview, Vivian thought. But it is wartime. “Of course I am. I do.”

A man who’d said he was from Menninger’s phoned and asked her to come for the interview. She’d carefully put on her last pair of decent stockings, hoping she might luck into some sort of secretarial job. Working at the insurance company for her uncle was practically volunteering; he paid her next to nothing. She could save more if she had a better job, then she and Jack could get married as soon as he came home from the war. Fingers crossed, she had been ushered into a private office at Menninger’s at the appointed time and faced three men.

The fiercest one sat behind a massive mahogany desk. When he pointed at an empty chair, Vivian sat. The other two stood on either side of her. She couldn’t help sneaking looks at them out of the corners of her eyes. Though not in uniform, they stood at parade rest, hands clasped.

The man nodded at her answer to his initial inquiry, and looked down at a file spread open in front of him. “You and your two girlfriends frequently have lunch at the Early Bird Café.” He didn’t make it sound like a question.

“Yes, we like to go there. We all work downtown. I suppose if I worked out here, I wouldn’t be able to go so far away at lunch, would I?”

He held up a hand, and she closed her lips on her next question. Which was: What kind of a job am I interviewing for, for Heaven’s sake? Also, what was in that file, and how could it matter where she ate her lunch?

“A sergeant from the air base has recently begun speaking with you and your friends at lunch, whenever he’s at the café. Would you say he has … taken a particular shine to you?”

“If you mean Sergeant Dawson, he talks to all of us. Lots of men from the base do. And I have a boyfriend,” Vivian said with a touch of frost.

“Yes.” The man tapped the papers on his desk. “Jack Kerrigan. Stationed in England at present.”

Vivian gripped her handbag and leaned forward. “Look, Mr.—?”

“Humphrey.”

“Mr. Humphrey, can you please tell me what this is all about?”

And he had.

*****

“You don’t understand, I have to go to the dance tonight.” Vivian yanked the handles of the shopping bag over her elbow as she swayed with the motion of the bus. The bag held a new dress and stockings, courtesy of the Menninger Clinic.

Beverly Ryan frowned. “All the way out to Lake Shawnee? Nobody has gasoline but Julia’s daddy, and when has he ever let her have the car? He might have to go deliver a baby or stitch somebody up. Anyway, what’s so bad about a Saturday night at my house listening to Gene Autry?”

“It’s not that. I just … made a promise to somebody that I’d be there.” Vivian tried to avoid Beverly’s sharp look.

“If you’re going out there to two-time your sweetheart with Sgt. Handsome-is-as-handsome-does—”

“No! You know I love Jack! But I have to go tonight. Are you going to help me or not?”

Beverly sniffed. “This is our stop. Maybe Dr. Detrick would drive us out there and pick us up after.”

“Can you ask him? He likes you. But you don’t have to come along if you really don’t want to.”

“I’ll only be going to keep an eye on you, Viv. Because you are acting crazy!”

Vivian clapped a hand on her hat as she stepped down to the brick sidewalk and into a brisk wind. Crazy was certainly how she felt, and more so with each passing hour.

 

*****

The band at the pavilion played for a packed dance floor. Vivian tapped her foot to I Got A Gal In Kalamazoo, and searched the crowd for Sgt. Paul ‘Hollywood’ Dawson. “Stick to him,” the OSS man at Menninger’s had instructed her. “All you need to do is watch carefully, who he talks to, what he does. Be our eyes and ears, Miss Andrews. You have a reputation for being observant. And, most important, do not intervene no matter what.” How am I supposed to see anything if he doesn’t even show?

Julia Detrick bounced along to the rhythm beside her. “Look at those handsome boys! Doing our patriotic duty shouldn’t be so much fun.”

Vivian smiled, barely listening to her. Dr. Detrick had proved only too happy to drive them all to the dance. Julia seemed to have sweet-talked her daddy into chauffeuring her to the lake before Beverly and Vivian asked for a lift. He cautioned them not to fall for any of ‘that flyboy fancy talk’ about being generous with affection since the fellows were headed into danger. “Remember, they’ll tell you anything!” he had said when the trio finally climbed out of his car.

The doctor’s parting lecture brought hoots from several soldiers nearby. One of the men called out, “We’re not flyboys, Daddy, don’t worry. This is the NONCOM party!” and hoisted a mug of beer. Vivian had felt as though every eye in the crowd traveled over her as they made their way through the gate into the gaily-lit stone pavilion. Wolf whistles accompanied them, from left and right. Her face burned at the memory.

At the end of Kalamazoo, Beverly returned from the dance floor, breathless and limping. Her partner offered to get her a beer, but she declined and waved him away. She leaned on the wall next to Vivian to rub her foot. “I’ve never seen such huge clod-hoppers. If he can’t maneuver those feet to dance, how can he march without tripping?”

When Vivian didn’t respond, Beverly straightened. “So, is he here?”

“Who do you mean?”

“Oh, please. I’m not the one who ‘promised someone’ to come tonight. I’m not standing there in a new dress and with new stockings, too. Did you think I wouldn’t notice? And, I don’t have a beau an ocean away fighting for our country, either.”

Julia’s eyes flew wide. “Who did you promise, Viv? Spill the beans!”

Hollywood Dawson stepped in front of them before Vivian could think of an answer. “All my favorite Topeka girls! Who’s going to get the first dance, ladies?”

Beverly gripped Vivian’s elbow and propelled her forward. “Reverse alphabetical order tonight.”

The sergeant flashed his killer smile and offered his arm. “Let’s dance, darlin’.”

He’s been so sweet. Could he be a traitor? OSS might be wrong about him, Vivian thought. He held her gently and guided her across the floor to the strains of Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree. For a haunting moment, the crooner at the microphone sounded just like Jack’s warm tenor. Oh, Jack, I’m doing my part for America. You’d understand, wouldn’t you?

The sergeant reached up to smooth her curls back from her ear and brought his lips close to whisper, “Ah, Miss Andrews. You look especially beautiful tonight. Blue is definitely your color.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. I can’t call you Sarge or Hollywood like the guys do, shall I just call you Paul?”

She felt his smile against her cheek. “They pinned that one on me when I got here. It’s what I get, coming from Pasadena. Paul will do, though you can call me anything you like.” His arm snugged around her waist. “Vivian.”

OSS believed Paul was the one sending information to the Nazis, data about planes and munitions, troop destinations. Beetle-browed Mr. Humphrey said she could help her country, and help Jack, by finding out how the information flowed from the middle of the USA to its overseas destination. There must be a secret network of spies, right in Topeka.

Paul steered her back to her friends with the last notes of the song. Julia sprang forward with a giggle and Paul whirled her away onto the crowded floor. A pair of earnest soldiers approached and asked Vivian and Beverly to dance.

“We’ll sit this one out, thanks.” Vivian fanned herself. “It’s so warm tonight.”

The men turned away, and Vivian heard one say, “Hollywood gets all the good-looking ones. It ain’t fair.”

Vivian tried to track Julia’s yellow chiffon dress across the dance floor. Paul Dawson hadn’t talked to anyone besides the three of them, as far as she had seen so far. And why was Beverly acting so hostile … was she jealous of Paul’s attention?

Vivian didn’t look her way, but said mildly, “You haven’t asked me about my interview at Menninger’s.”

Beverly appeared to be watching the dancers also. “How did it go? Did they offer you a job?”

“I haven’t heard anything yet. I thought the interview went well, but you never know.”

“That’s right, there’s no way of knowing what some people are thinking.” Beverly rose on her toes as Paul and Julia eased away from the edge of the dance floor and joined others at the refreshment table.

“Are you thirsty?” Beverly asked, and without waiting for an answer, she set off toward the opposite side of the room. Vivian dogged her every step.

As soon as he caught sight of them, Paul brightened. “Next on my dance card!” he cried, as he spun Beverly away.

“Paul’s such a dream boat. I don’t blame you for liking him, Viv. Beverly says she likes him, too, but I really think he likes you best of all.” Julia took a sip of Coca-cola. “I mean, what Jack doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”

“Julia Detrick, what is wrong with you? I love my Jack with all my heart.” Vivian hunted for Beverly’s magenta dress on the dance floor. There, by the bandstand. Paul leaned in toward the bass player and spoke to him, holding Beverly at arm’s length. Vivian couldn’t stifle a small gasp as she watched Paul reach into his pocket and extract something small. He slipped this into the bass player’s pants pocket, and looked quickly over his shoulder before he plucked a small brown paper sack from beneath the sheet music stand.

“I can’t believe it,” Vivian murmured. And Beverly was right there, so she must be in on it. Sure enough, Paul turned back to Beverly and stepped close. Beverly opened her clutch and Paul tucked the parcel into it before he drew her back onto the dance floor. I’m going to have to rat out my best friend—as a spy. She squeezed her eyes shut, afraid she might start bawling.

“I’m sorry, Vivian. You know I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Do you have a headache? I have some of Daddy’s special medicine.”

Vivian looked at Julia’s open palm. She held out a small pink tin labeled ‘Pyramidon’ in darker pink script. “I never heard of it. Is it aspirin?”

“No, it’s better. Daddy orders it special from Europe. This one is for Sgt. Dawson, but he said to hold onto it for now. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you had one. He gets headaches, too. He says nothing works as good as this does, but they don’t have it at the base.”

“Why doesn’t Pau—Sgt. Dawson come get this from your dad at his office?”

“He does, silly. That’s how I met him, and then he started talking to us at the Early Bird. But he can’t leave the base whenever he wants to. So when he needs more after office hours, Daddy has me bring it to him. Like tonight.” Julia wrinkled her nose. “Are you all right, Vivian? Because you look awfully pale. Here, do take one.” She finished in a whisper, “It’s good for the cramps, too.”

“How does your dad get this from Europe, with the war on?” Vivian picked up the slender tin.

“Uncle Joseph still lives in Switzerland. He sends it.”

“Well, thanks. I’ll take one and give the rest to the sergeant next time we dance.” After I check it for some kind of coded message, that is. Could Dr. Detrick be a Fifth Columnist? A sleeper agent for Abwehr, like the OSS men had told her about?

Julia accepted an invitation to dance from a dark-eyed soldier with a southern accent. She offered her soda to Vivian, who took it on the pretense of needing something to wash down the tablet of Pyramidon she had said she would take. A few steps brought her to the deck of the pavilion, overlooking the moonlit lake. She set the tumbler of soda on the stone railing, and pried open the tin.

By the light of the full moon, she lifted the creamy paper folded over the contents, and counted twenty small round discs. They look just like aspirin tablets. The tin even has a Bayer company logo. She tipped the tablets out into her hand, and examined the paper and the inside surfaces of the tin. No messages. She still felt the tin of pills had to be related to the spy ring somehow. Carefully, she replaced the tablets and paper as she had found them, and tucked the tin in her purse.

She picked up the soda and made her way back inside. Paul and Beverly met her as soon as she cleared the doorway.

He grinned wide. “Where’d you get off to? I’ve got something for you.” He dropped Beverly’s hand and said, “Show her.”

Beverly did not appear as pleased to see her as Paul had been. “Scoot over to the corner. I don’t want to get caught.”

This is a nightmare. What am I supposed to do? Vivian allowed herself to be danced over to a corner with a tall potted fern. They huddled behind it and Beverly opened her clutch.

“Hold out your drink,” Paul instructed. He pulled the brown paper bag out, and twisted the top off a half-pint of amber liquid.

“It’s booze!” Vivian cried in relief. Paul and Beverly shushed her.

“It’s bourbon. Not rotgut either.” Paul tipped a generous slosh into her Coca-cola.

“But there’s scads of beer—” Vivian said.

“Kraut stuff.” He took a quick pull before he capped the bottle and tucked it in Beverly’s purse again.

“Where’d you get it?” Vivian stalled. Beverly gave her a sidelong look.

“Doll, musicians always have some liquor on the bandstand. Helps lubricate them to play the tunes and supplements their income. I was a horn player before the army. Drink up and let’s dance.”

Vivian only choked a little after she swallowed a mouthful. Paul took the cup from her, and held it to her lips until she took another swig that made her eyes water. He handed the spiked cola to Beverly. As Paul led Vivian onto the dance floor she looked back to see a sullen Beverly grimace at the tumbler and set it on the refreshment table.

They swung along to Jeepers Creepers. Vivian grew dizzy and sick to her stomach. She hardly ever drank hard liquor. Unless this was something worse? Drugged, maybe? The paper seal had already been broken on the bottle.

She lost track of where they were among the dancing couples, and squinted, puzzled, when Paul paused behind the bandleader and said something Vivian couldn’t hear.

Moments later, the band struck up Intermezzo, and Paul drew her tight against him. What a smooth operator, I’ll bet he was asking for slow dances.

Vision blurring, she let her head drop onto his shoulder. Nice, broad shoulder, strong arms but tender somehow. She drifted along to the next song, I Only Have Eyes For You.

“That’s it, sweetheart,” she barely heard him murmur.

The next thing she knew, she was outside the pavilion gates. She clung to a pillar while Beverly argued with Paul about—what? She tried to follow the words.

“I’ll see to it she gets home okay,” Paul said. “I guess she can’t hold her liquor, that’s all. She’ll be all right.”

“You have to get back to the base, don’t you? I’ll get a cab. You’ve done enough as far as—”

Julia interrupted from somewhere nearby. “Daddy will be here any minute.”

Paul spoke again, sounding irritated. “Now, Beverly honey, don’t be that way. Jealousy is unbecoming.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. Go away and let me take care of my friend.”

Atta girl, Beverly. I knew you couldn’t be in cahoots with spies. Well, I hoped you weren’t. Vivian smiled muzzily at her friend.

“No skin off my nose. It’s what I get for trying to show local rubes a good time. Give me the tin, Julia.”

“Vivian has it,” Julia said. “I gave her one of the tablets, I hope that’s all right.”

“Vivian has it where?” Paul growled. He made a grab for her purse, and somewhere in her foggy brain, instinct sparked. She gripped the pillar and smacked her knee into his crotch with a satisfying thwock. He folded in front of her, bleating a curse.

Vivian closed her eyes and slid down the pillar, out cold.

*****

When she woke, she found herself tucked into bed in a blindingly bright room. Her mouth tasted vile. A nurse in starched whites hung a clipboard on the end of the bed. It sounded as loud as if she had hit the metal bed frame with a sledge hammer.

“Where am I?” Vivian rasped.

“Menninger Hospital, hon. How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been turned inside out. What happened?”

“You had your stomach pumped. You’ll feel better in a while.”

The nurse opened the door to leave. As she exited, Mr. Humphrey and Beverly walked in.

Mr. Humphrey’s face came close to cracking into a smile. “Miss Andrews, back among the conscious. If you’ve had time to worry, we have told your employer and family that you are on your way to visit your beau, newly reassigned to a base in Virginia. Accompanied by your friend Beverly Ryan, as chaperone. Which will be the case in a few days.”

“You’re bringing Jack stateside? Wonderful! And you got Sgt. Dawson? Did you catch the rest of them? Julia didn’t know anything, it was her father—”

“They’ve figured all that out.” Beverly crossed the room to sit on the bed. “Why didn’t you tell me what they asked you to do?”

Vivian pointed. “He told me not to. When I came out here for my fake job interview. I guess you’ve figured out, too: this place is no mental institution—they’re after spies.”

Mr. Humphrey cleared his throat. “Strictly speaking, Menninger’s does still provide care for mental patients. But there are people here whose skills are important in wartime. Their work as the central office of OSS is an adjunct to the original purpose of Menninger’s.”

“What was the deal with the Pyramidon? Was there a hidden message in the tin?”

“No, but you were on target suspecting a role in espionage. Abwehr uses invisible ink and Pyramidon is an essential ingredient. The message can only be revealed with a special reagent we are still trying to duplicate. Dr. Detrick has been supplying Pyramidon to heartland Fifth Columnists. He and Sgt. Dawson are in custody, along with some of the musicians from the Lake Shawnee dance. Information was being passed on sheet music using the invisible ink. This band travels extensively in the US. From base to base, in fact. We are learning a great deal about the breadth of the spy network.”

“I always liked Dr. Detrick,” Beverly said quietly. “He seemed like a good man.”

“Perhaps. The doctor tells us he has a brother in Switzerland who was sending the Pyramidon.”

Vivian nodded. “Uncle Joseph, Julia said.”

“Yes. Their parents were living in Austria, under occupation. Both sons were coerced into espionage, told it was the only way to keep their parents alive. That may be considered at his trial.”

“But now will the Nazis hurt his parents?” Beverly asked.

“Intelligence we’ve obtained indicates both parents have died, but the brothers were never told.”

Vivian frowned. “And Julia? She’s kind of a flibbertigibbet. She can’t have understood what her father was asking her to do.”

“She was, as you say, unaware of her father’s true activity. He took pains to protect her. Sgt. Dawson’s interest in you three distressed him, and the doctor has been cooperative since exposed.”

Beverly took Vivian’s hand. “But was Sgt. Dawson trying to get rid of Vivian? Is that why he slipped her a mickey? Did he know she was onto him?”

“We believe his motives were more…basic in her case, Miss Ryan. He claims he was unaware the liquor had been adulterated. While not yet confirmed, we suspect the drug was intended to eliminate Dawson. We chose you to observe him instead of one of our operatives, in hopes we wouldn’t tip him off. But it seems the organization had already decided he was a liability, taking too many risks.”

“And Dawson hasn’t got any noble reason to betray his country.” Beverly jerked up her chin. “He’s just in it for whatever gives him the biggest payoff. Rotten. Kudos to you, Viv, for helping catch him.”

“Thank goodness this is all over.” Vivian sighed as she ran a hand through her tangled hair. Beverly pulled a comb from her pocketbook and held it out.

“About that,” Mr. Humphrey said. “You two impressed the team here. I’ve put forward the idea of having you assist OSS with another matter, while you are at the Virginia base. If you are amenable to that?”

Vivian met Beverly’s gaze and half-smiled at what she saw there. “Tell us more, Mr. Humphrey.”

 

Afterword

 

Fiction writing is one way of reframing our past and present to express ourselves and our desires for our community. We all envision a different Topeka. Each day, choices are made which change the narrative – our community’s future pivots on individual actions, election results, and every possible diversion point in between.

 

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has published four community-written novels since 2012. In those projects, each author contributed a chapter to advance the story. The writers were challenged to build on the chapters before and leave possibilities open for the chapters that would follow. Working together to edit and publish a cohesive novel was a learning experience for everyone involved.

 

For the 2016 Community Novel Project, we offered writers a greater opportunity to collaborate on the writing, workshopping, revising and editing of the work, supported by skills-based workshops throughout the year. The writers themselves determined the theme and parameters for the anthology, provided feedback to each other on story elements, and copy-edited the manuscript.

 

At the January 2016 organizational meeting, writers brainstormed over a dozen thematic possibilities. We asked them focus on identifying a project that would work cohesively in an anthology and reflect positively on our community, and to consider the marketability of the theme to our readers. As a group, we chose to create a collection of alternative history or speculative fiction stories set in the Topeka region. We asked interested writers to imagine “What If?” stories. What if something in the past happened differently than it did in real life, leading to a different present? What if you looked at things happening right now and speculated on what the future could hold? What if a big change pivoted on a small moment?

 

Eighteen writers crafted wonderfully diverse stories, and then revised their work based on feedback from their peers. By engaging a community of writers in content creation, publishing, and marketing through a hands-on collaborative project, we model techniques that each writer can use in their own personal writing career.

 

Join us to read, write and publish at tscpl.org/novel.

 

Lissa Staley and Miranda Ericsson

August 2016

Project Organizers

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library

 

 

Author Biographies and Interviews

 

Annette Hope Billings

As Mercy Would Have It

 

 

 

The story of the 1964 murder of Topekan Gladys Johnson, which sparked Annette Hope Billings’ As Mercy Would Have It, has held a place in her memory since she was seven years old. Though most known for her poetry, the author also enjoys the challenges of story development in short stories, novels and plays. A nurse for four decades, she retired early to pursue writing on a full-time basis.

Her award-winning collection of poetry, A Net Full of Hope, was published in 2015 and is available in e-book and paperback on Amazon at: tinyurl.com/anfohbook. She is due to release a chapbook of affirmations, Descants for a Daughter, this summer.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

A murder of a child is not something I’d usually consider writing about, but I’ve always had a clear memory of the distress in my home and community when a young African-American girl was murdered in 1964. I was only seven at the time, but my memory of it is that of a much older child. I am a grandmother and the idea of incorporating a loving grandmother in a story based on that event felt good. I was also inspired to not let the murder of the child be the end of her in my story.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

The best advice I’ve received is often given to writers, but I certainly rings true for me. It is “write what you know.” I think we often underestimate the value and power of our lived experiences. The best writing comes when a writer realizes they harbor a gold mine unlike anyone else’s gold mine.

 

How do you make time for writing? Do you write on a schedule, or write for a certain amount of time each day, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

 

I am immensely blessed to not have an 8 to 5 job syphoning off time and energy from my writing. I try to write every day, but there are many marketing/scheduling items that I have to devote time to also. Even as a full-time writer, I still feel I have more ideas than I have time to write about. I consider this a blessing as writer’s block is a foreign term to me (knock on wood!). I believe I have particularly faithful muses who have waited patiently for me.

 

What is your most memorable moment from this year’s Community Novel Project?

 

I think it was the moment I realized I was actually making my story better the more I edited it! It made what remained a much better read. I liked being able to “let go” of words-- even those I had labored hardest to write. In that moment I realized what it means to honor the story more than any particular word, sentence, or even paragraph.

 

Annabelle Corrick

Psychic Shift

 

 

 

Annabelle Corrick usually writes contemporary fiction, with occasional lapses into light verse. Her stories often involve a “what-if” element. In “Psychic Shift,” the inciting incident actually occurred, the take-off point being the identity of and the effect of the encounter on the young man in the meditation garden. Recent publications include stories and poems in Well Versed, The Poet’s Art, and Kansas Voices.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

My participation in the Community Novel Project evolved from attending the Fiction Writing Basics Workshop on February 23. Its focus was on short story writing, my primary mode of late.

 

What was your inspiration for your story?

 

One of the workshop exercises used the Menninger Foundation as a famous Topeka/NE Kansas name to spur ideas for a “what if”/ speculative story. I recalled a childhood experience hiking onto the Menninger grounds with a friend and surprising a lone patient in a meditation garden. What he looked like and his amazed expression has stayed with me. I wondered about the extent of the impact on him and what it might have been if he were suicidal. I knew three persons associated with the Clinic who had been. I recalled my realization that psychotherapeutic treatments didn’t work for everyone because those three didn’t survive it. What if the intersection of one troubled patient with two happily carefree, errant children caused the most positive outcome and a new direction for psychiatric care? Recalling the expression on the patient’s face led me to pursue that twist of fate. He was handsome in a very refined and perfect way, hence the speculation that he might have been an actor trying to succeed at a time when more rugged types were in vogue.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

My writing (playwriting) teachers at K-State said, “If you want to be a writer, write.” So did Epictetus back in the first century, but they never cited him. The Fiction Writing Basics Workshop focusing on short story writing also included this advice. If you’re already following it naturally, then you’re on the right track. It’s probably no coincidence, though, that Epictetus had to be a Stoic philosopher. Would he be surprised that he’s not in spellchecker?

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

Work schedules for creative writing are a lot like outlines and synopses—highly recommended necessary tools that cannot always be easily followed due to pesky variables.

 

Jamie Crispin

Test Year

 

 

 

Jamie Crispin certainly has a way of viewing society. A self-proclaimed feminist with a master’s in sociology, her writings tend to point out society’s quirks with a dystopian twist. Her interests include traveling between parallel worlds, running after her toddler son and listening to podcasts. On most days, you can find her patiently awaiting the second season of FireFly. Test Year is her first short story.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

I decided to participate in the Community Novel Project so I could start “walking the talk”. It has been a dream of mine for years to write a book. But there was one issue. I didn’t know where to start. I feel there is no better way to add life into an intention then to take action. So, I told my novice self I had to start somewhere and that somewhere was the Community Novel Project (CNP). The CNP created a safe, nurturing and explorative environment for my writing experience. The workshops provided me with information I could apply immediately. The deadlines helped me stay on track. And the support of the CNP staff was truly inspiring. Now, I feel I can officially call myself an author – even if I just wrote one short story!

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

I live on the same block as Randolph School. I have seen it in every season, in all weather and throughout many events. The building is an inspiring backdrop and I have many storylines about Randolph School. I paired that location with my love of dystopic fiction and found that the story found me, in the end.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?

 

Easy – I learned that short stories may not be my genre. But for me, it was all about finding success through the completion of this process. The Community Novel Project pushed me outside of my comfort zone, which I realized had to happen so I could grow. In the end, I am so proud of my final product even if it is not perfect. I would not have been able to achieve these results without the peer editing, deadlines and informative workshops. Now, I feel I can apply this knowledge and confidence on a larger scale. So, if you are reading this and considering participating next year then DO IT! Every minute, every edit and each draft was completely worth the effort. Without a doubt, I am a better writer from this experience.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

I attended the workshop on editing with Morgan Chilson and found it not only enlightening, but extremely useful. The speaker said, “Sometimes, you have to kill your babies!” Of course, in this context, “babies” are parts of the story we hold especially dear to our hearts. I found when I was struggling with editing that it was due to a personal connection to a specific line, character or concept. If I stepped away from my work and saw it through the reader’s eyes instead, then I was able to make better judgment calls during the revisions. In the end, many of my “babies” were cut during the editing process. It was a difficult lesson, but I did manage to produce a stronger and more cohesive story. It is the best advice I can give to others. Don’t let your brilliance blind you.

 

Aimee L. Gross

Dance with the Devil

 

 

 

Aimee L. Gross savors all varieties of storytelling, but a ‘What If’ story might be her favorite—to read and to write. The library anthology gave her a chance to pursue both an interest in Topeka history and WW II espionage tales. All the details in “Dance with the Devil” are founded in truth, including an obscure pain-killer used by Nazi spies. The only twist is the revelation that Menninger’s was the antecedent of today’s CIA—a fabrication and the speculative aspect of the short story. That is, unless an SUV full of men in black turns up at her door after publication…

Her debut YA Fantasy, If Crows Know Best, termed “a sure hit” by Kirkus Reviews, is available on Amazon.com in e-book and paperback formats.

 

[_What was the inspiration for writing your story?  _]

 

As I wandered about on Facebook one day, I read a post about Topeka history. It included a link to letters written by a WW II soldier stationed at Topeka Army Air Base (Forbes Field), describing dances at Lake Shawnee for the servicemen, and other aspects of local life at the time. This sparked the idea for my story, but I had not saved the link, and mysteriously could never find it again no matter what I used for search criteria.

 

What is your most memorable moment from this year’s CNP?

 

The moment when I realized I was never going to be able to find the ‘Letters Home’ link that inspired my story, and had to rely solely on my memory!

 

What have you learned about writing fiction?

 

Professor Tom Averill gave a superb presentation about short fiction techniques. This was invaluable, as I write novels these days and needed a refresher on plot structure, narrative arc and character development on a short story scale. As a bonus, I discovered I also like writing a non-epic tale!

 

 

 

 

What’s the most important writing advice ever received?

 

“Find your tribe” has carried through the longest for me, in art and in writing. We are fortunate to live in a community which invests so much in growing local talent and helping writers find each other. Critique groups and author association opportunities abound, plus the annual Community Novel Project and NaNoWriMo brings us together in creativity. My advice to anyone who aspires to write is, find some folks who are writing and join them! “A writer is someone who wrote today,” so invest time in learning the craft and tell your story.

 

Ian Hall

The Jesse Owens Effect

 

 

 

Ian Hall is Scottish, born in Edinburgh, and spent the first 41 years of his life there. He now lives in Topeka, Kansas, with his wife Karla, and many gallons of homemade wine bubbling as he writes. His biggest literary achievement to date is a traditionally published novel; “Opportunities: Jamie Leith in Darien.” He is an award-winning writer and has published over 20 novels and 10 non-fiction titles on Amazon.com. He does not feel confined by genres, having equal success in Historical Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror and Detective Crime. He admits to watching far too much football (soccer), plays golf when he gets the time, and plays guitar and sings in a folk/rock band. He would love to have enough money to tour the world’s archeological sites until too old to walk. He loves to write, and enjoys literary challenges of all kinds.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

I found various articles online that said President Roosevelt never shook Jesse Owens’ hand. That was enough to spark my ire. I was determined that in my version of history he’d never win the election of 1936.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project? What have you learned about self-publishing from participating in this project?

 

I love writing, but sometimes my projects get too time-consuming. I loved the time structure and schedule of the idea, and learned from it.

 

What is your writing background? What do you usually write?

 

I am not confined by genre. My last four projects were, a history of Winston Churchill’s Secret Armies, a Sci-Fi Adventure collaboration, a British Slang Dictionary and a modern conspiracy novel. Since writing in the Library project, I have started my own Alternative History’ WW2 series, set in Edinburgh, Scotland; Avenging Steel.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received?

Write what you know. Write what you are passionate about. Both these elements will show in the final writings.

 

How do you make time for writing? Do you write on a schedule, or write for a certain amount of time each day, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

 

Each day, I write until 11.00am (with Mike Oldfield playing to take away the street noise). I often wake up with the day’s writing already in my head, (sometimes a whole book), I just have to download it.

 

Reaona Hemmingway

Underground Ark

 

 

 

 

Reaona Hemmingway resides in Topeka, Kansas where she is an active member of the Kansas Authors Club and KS Writers, Inc. During the month of November, she participates in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which writers challenge themselves to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. In 2009, her 2007 NaNoWriMo, Baseball Card Hero, was published and received honorable mention in the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award contest. Her published work also includes September 11, Mariah, Prairie Angel, Collateral Bride, Home for Christmas, and Tillie’s Marbles & Other Stories.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

The challenge of meeting a deadline helps keep me focused on getting a writing project completed. I also enjoy working with the other writers. The Community Novel provides a social network authors need to grow and enhance their talents.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

The novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2013 is about two brothers who discover a plot to genetically control the population a hundred years in the future. In choosing a story for this year’s Community Novel project, I decided to write Underground Ark as a prequel to the novel. In the short story, a worldwide disaster creates the events that lead to the genetic plot a hundred years later.

 

What is your writing background? What do you usually write?

 

I began writing poetry in fourth grade, took creative writing in high school, and minored in Creative Writing in college. While studying creative writing, I switched from writing poetry to fiction. In 2006, I started participating in NaNoWriMo. My first published novel was my 2007 NaNoWriMo novel, Baseball Card Hero. The first full length novel I wrote was Mariah, which was published in 2010. I now have five novels and two short story collections published.

 

How do you make time for writing? Do you write on a schedule, or write for a certain amount of time each day, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

 

My writing routine has changed quite a bit over the years. In 2013, I went from living alone to moving in with my mom to help her out. I’ve gone from writing every day to looking forward to weekends when I escape to my house and binge out on getting as much writing done as possible in two days.

 

Duane L. Herrmann

Proclaim the New Name

 

 

 

 

Duane L. Herrmann hasn’t let dyslexia, ADD, or PTSD stop him, though detours are common. It took more than a day, or a year, but he finally achieved some success. He is stubborn, he persevered and he is now an award-winning, internationally published author-historian-poet with publications in a dozen countries and books in libraries on three continents. Not bad for a farm boy who couldn’t read and still has trouble spelling! His story here is based on ground-breaking research he’s done into the early history of the Bahá’í Faith in Kansas -the second oldest Bahá’í community west of Egypt. His research has caused others to revise their histories.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

I had heard about it in past years but this year the format was more interesting to me and a challenge. My work is scattered around the world, very little has been published locally. This would change that.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

I want to share some of the history of Topeka that I’ve learned over the years, and this was a new and exciting way to do that. I’ve never combined history and fiction before. Felicity is based on the real-life wife of Leonard Hilty, the first Bahá’í to live in Topeka, but her actions as a fictionalized character are her own. Everything is true up to the trip to Chicago. The other characters in the story and their actions are actual, though conversations are imagined.

 

What real-life alternate or speculative twist for Topeka do you anticipate or fear?

 

Is this asking if I’m afraid of or for the future? No. I’m not.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received?

 

Write what you know, and if you don’t know much—go learn!!

 

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

I don’t do other things - like watch TV. I don’t use a cell phone, so I’m not constantly looking at that or being interrupted by others. The absence of both those activities gives me a Great Deal of time! I do not write on a schedule. I write when the words come – even if I have to pull them out of the air.  It’s about focus and what other things/activities you give up. It’s about what is important.

 

Miranda Ericsson Kendall

The Printed Word

 

 

 

 

Miranda Ericsson Kendall has been building her personal library since she was a little girl. She’s worked for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library for five years, and leading programs that engage and support writers in her community is one of her favorite parts of the job. She majored in creative writing at Washburn University in Topeka, and her work has been published in Inscape, Argo, Homewords, XYZ and TK Business magazines, as well as in two prior Community Novel Projects. She hopes that someday you’ll read her work—whether you like to swipe a screen or turn a page.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

Participating as a project leader is an amazing experience, and I am happy working behind the scenes to support writers and help facilitate a successful project. It was hard to make the personal time to write for this project among other priorities, and I still don’t feel done with my revisions—but I’m so glad that I did it. Once again I’ve been reminded that if I want to be a writer, I have to prioritize writing. And if I really want to write, I can make it happen!

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

A couple of years ago I saw an article that speculated the eventual downfall of print books in favor of eBooks. I was already reading eBooks by that time, and I was surprised that I liked them. Being a fan of speculative fiction, though, I have a healthy distrust of technology dependence, and I imagined a scenario where everything was digitized, and then lost, completely. I wrote down this sentence in my notebook: “Ark of books—a librarian fills her house with books so that she can share them after the fall.” When the collaborating writers of this year’s Community Novel Project chose speculative fiction or alternative history set in Topeka, I had the perfect opportunity to work with the idea. I’ve read up on library trends, so I know that digital libraries are on the rise. And sadly, funding shortages in the state of Kansas are very real, so it wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario where the library reduces the budget by eliminating print—though I feel confident that our community loves print books enough that the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library will never go completely bookless!

 

What is your writing background? What do you usually write?

 

I see myself as a poet, primarily, because when I sit down to explore an idea, it usually forms into a poem on the page. I love writing short fiction, too, and I journal or at least jot down ideas and thoughts every day. I consider myself blessed beyond belief to be able to work with and support writers in my community as part of my job at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, and I’m super proud that I’ve completed two novels through NaNoWriMo programming at the library. Someday I might even revise them and submit them for publication—or publish them myself!

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

Poet Laureate of Kansas Eric McHenry said in a talk at the library a few years back that when writers submit work for publication, they’re “always up against what the editor had for breakfast.” He reminded us that judging creative writing is absolutely subjective, and many fine writers are rejected for publication every day. His advice: “persist and believe.” On the same note, Sylvia Plath wrote: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” These are two poets who know what they’re talking about. If you want to be a writer, you’ll have days when you feel like you can do nothing but track mud across the page. You’ll have to be able to keep writing anyway, and persist, knowing that you have something valuable to share. Your words count! Write them down and share them with the world.

 

C R Kennedy

Cleansing Waters

 

 

 

C R Kennedy is a graduate of Kansas State University where she majored in finance and accounting. Her passion for creativity and the Hollywood silver screen sparked her career drive to write vintage and modern-day romance, suspense, espionage and mystery stories. She is a member of Kansas Writers Inc. and Phantom Gavel Publishing. C R has several works in progress and available fiction can be found at crkennedyink.com. She also recently launched a fun and fresh blog about mid-century modern culture at AVintageChick.com.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

I love the idea of a local group of writers collaborating on a project that revolves around their community. Brainstorming together, critiquing each other, supporting each other…it’s fun and makes us all better at our craft.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

I don’t make it a secret that I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood. Since I’ve lived in Topeka I’ve often heard about celebrities and movie stars spending time at Menninger’s Hospital. I thought it would be fun to blend those two ideas and toss an innocent young girl into the mix.

 

What is your writing background? What do you usually write?

 

I enjoyed writing in high school and college but never considered it as a career choice. About seven years ago I started playing with a story idea. Since then I have written many stories, poems, and nonfiction pieces. I enjoy suspense, romance, espionage, and mysteries in fiction. I also write a blog about mid-century modern culture.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

Don’t give up if you’re passionate about writing and believe it is your chosen path. My very first writer’s workshop session was on a Saturday afternoon. I thought my submission was wonderful, but the group ripped it apart. I took it personally and considered giving up on my story. The next morning my priest gave a homily about never giving up. I took it as a sign, kept writing, and have never contemplated giving up since.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

My days are sometimes random and chaotic, so I write whenever I can. But I’ve also learned not to force creativity. I find something else constructive, like cleaning the house or gardening, to do until the creative juices start to flow.

 

Diana Marsh

What Fate Ordains

 

 

 

 

Diana Marsh grew up wanting to be an astronaut, until the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy and the realization of how much math is required to be an astronaut shot that plan to bits. Instead of going to the moon, she writes fiction predominantly set in the late 1800s – with an urban fantasy plot stealing her attention here and there – and blogs about Sherlock Holmes. This is her 5th year participating in the Community Novel Project, having previously contributed chapters to Capitol City Capers, Speakeasy, Superimposed, and Time Harbor.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

This is my fifth year contributing to the Project, and the reasons I keep coming back are the wonderful people I get to work with and the challenge that comes with collaborating with other writers. The Topeka writing community is lucky to have a library that is so supportive of its efforts and is willing to provide them opportunities like the Community Novel to showcase their work, learn more about their craft and the business of it, and add something interesting to their list of credits.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

The inspiration for “What Fate Ordains” is two-fold, technically. I am a big fan of pod-fiction – podcasts that specialize in audio drama, like “Wormwood,” “We’re Alive,” and “The Message.” I am a sucker for a good audio drama. There is a podcast called “The Truth” that dramatizes short fiction, and their pilot episode was a story called “Moon Graffiti,” inspired by the speech prepared for Richard Nixon in the event that Apollo 11 ended in tragedy. Their story explored the crash from the point of view of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, stuck on the moon until their oxygen ran out. I’d never heard of the existence of this speech before – proof that maybe I live under a rock or something – and was compelled to look it up after I’d listened to the episode.  The speech, and the story, poked around in my brain until the theme of this year’s Community Novel finally gave me an opportunity to play around with my take on the idea.

 

What is your writing background? What do you usually write?

 

I am primarily a mystery writer. Even when I try to write urban fantasy or romance, it ends up being mystery. The last few years, I’ve leaned heavily towards Victorian Era fiction – I’m currently working on a series of Sherlock Holmes pastiches featuring a female Holmes as well as a steampunk/alternate history novel set predominantly in 1880s Kansas. I’ve also written urban fantasy and dipped my toes in the romantic comedy end of the pool.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

I took a creative writing course in college where one of our textbooks was Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and the most memorable piece of advice I took away from that book was that it’s okay to write terrible first drafts – that’s not the direct quote, but I’m keeping it clean here. I didn’t really take that advice to heart, though, until much later, when I discovered National Novel Writing Month. It’s impossible to play perfectionist when you only have 30 days to try to crank out 50,000 words. You pretty much have to allow yourself to write garbage, with the understanding that coming back to fix it is the job you undertake after you’ve finished the thing.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

I try to spend a little time each day writing something, even if lately that’s just a blog post or a quick piece of related fiction. It’s important to get into a daily writing habit (something else NaNoWriMo taught me) if for no other reason than it helps you get past this idea of only being able to write when inspiration strikes. Writing boils down to the simple equation of butt in chair + words on the page.

 

Betsy McGuire

Foreword

 

 

Betsy McGuire has lived in Topeka more or less all her life, reading all the time. When she retired it all started to come back out. Her first novel, “In Raiment of Needlework,” is in revision; she is in the middle of the next, “Reluctance,” a Jane Austen pastiche. She has also written ghost stories. In her leisure time she proofreads restaurant menus and public signage. She speaks three languages and can repair holes in wool sweaters.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

I like copy editing for the Community Novel because it’s a way I can give back. I spell. Other people have good hearing or nimble fingers or artistic vision, but I can find an extra letter in a word or a misplaced punctuation mark. Not a lot of entertainment value, but you’d miss me if I were gone.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

I try to write every day in the morning, but my health has made exercise the top priority. When I can’t think, I sew. It helps me understand my characters.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received?

 

Write the crap. It’s supposed to be bad. Don’t worry about the quality until the story is written down. Why revise that scene when you may cut it anyway? Get to the end, and then go back to the beginning.

 

What have you learned about self-publishing from participating in this project?

 

I learned enough about self-publishing this year to believe that I can almost do it myself now- but that I need an editor to look before I do. Overall I feel I’ve gone up a step, you might say.

 

 

Roxanna Namey

Shake, Rattle and Roll

 

 

 

 

Short story fiction is a favorite of Roxie Namey because the rapid character and story development is ideal for filling small amounts of available writing or reading time. When she is not being lazy, changing her hair or nails, painting, or crocheting, the majority of her writing efforts have been on short fiction pieces, mostly about and for family and friends.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction or self-publishing from participating in this project?

 

The workshops provided this year have been insightful. The speakers all had a multitude of advice to share from different perspectives. As a person who writes pretty much in solitude it is nice to hear how others go about producing their works.

 

[_What is your writing background?  _]

 

Before retiring most of my writing was for the government. Not as easy as one would think. I took a correspondence course in the late 1980s on writing literature for children and young adults. Since retiring, I have written stories in formats from very short to novel length. Writing short pieces has been my main interest. I can be quite lazy and am better at writing something short and then spending a lot of time rewriting.

 

What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

Write and then rewrite and then rewrite and then rewrite… Always read your work out loud. Get others to read and comment when possible. If you ask someone to review what you have written, give them a clue about what you would like from them in the way of feedback.

 

How do you make time for writing? Do you write on a schedule, or write for a certain amount of time each day, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

 

Most of my writing happens in my head. It seems I have an unlimited capacity for ideas which far exceeds any minor writing talent I might possess. Once I settle on one or two or three, I spend a lot of time just thinking about what I want to write. I have a couple in the “thinking process” which have been rumbling around for a couple of years. When an idea ripens, I sit and write the draft very fast. Then I think about it some more and rewrite. I repeat until I am happy with the results.

 

What is your most memorable moment from this year’s Community Novel Project?

 

Getting the feedback. Loved it! I may not have always agreed with the comments, but all of it was interesting and food for thought.

 

Vernon Neff

Black Blizzard

 

 

 

 

Vernon Neff was born and raised in Louisville, Ohio. Joining the Army straight out of high school he has had the honor of service and traveling the world for 13 years before landing in Topeka, Kansas where he still resides. He is married with four amazing children who all have supported him through all of his endeavors. Vernon is an artist and machinist, most well known locally for interactive art installations featured at the NOTO art walk and the 2015 interactive art exhibit “Fountains” at the Aaron Douglas Art Fair. Vernon has the privilege to be a part of the community novel with his piece, “Black Blizzard”, his first publication.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

I enjoyed the idea of getting to work in a group and see how other people would look at the same situations in different ways.

 

What real-life alternate or speculative twist for Topeka do you anticipate or fear?

 

I fear just the breakdown of society. There is so much tension between people now but what they don’t realize is that if anything major ever were to happen the only way we will make it is by working together.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? What writing advice would you share with other writers?

 

I have learned that even the most thought-out story in your head may not always make sense or resonate with someone else and that it is much harder to rearrange what you wrote to better help them understand your image. That being said, what I would share with other writers is: be flexible, write what you envision, and then take the feedback, knowing that it only makes your story that much more amazing in the end.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

When I need time to write I will find a way to make time, I usually write when I need to separate myself from the rest of the world. While I was deployed I wrote a lot, or when I am feeling overwhelmed. It has always been an amazing release.

 

What is your most memorable moment from this year’s Community Novel Project?

 

Being as this was my first year everything has been memorable and amazing. So much talent and knowledge to learn from.

 

Craig Paschang

Tovarishch O’Sullivan

 

 

 

Craig Paschang is a full-time attorney and an occasional author who lives in Topeka. He writes near-future science fiction and promises to publish a novel, someday.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

This year’s premise of collecting an anthology of speculative fiction was too tempting to resist! I also wanted to challenge myself to learn how to write short fiction, which most novelists seem to agree is the most difficult form of storytelling to execute successfully.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

I was inspired by the image of a Soviet flag flying from the Statehouse. That idea grew into an opportunity, without being partisan, to peek inside the building and discover what might motivate someone to participate in a system where putting Party and politics above all else becomes a way of life.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?

 

Feedback is so important! I haven’t circulated or workshopped any of my previous writing, and I’ve only trusted a few close friends as beta readers. Letting my story go out to a larger group for feedback was scary at first, but seeing the wide range of responses, insights, and reactions to things I never would have noticed on my own helped turn this story into one that I am proud to share.

 

What is your writing background?

 

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month for the last five years and the Community Novel Project for three. I write non-creatively for a living, so these semi-annual creative outlets help keep me sane!

 

What writing advice would you give to other writers?

 

Just write. Make time for it, and do it. If you’re excited about something, share it. If you’re not, put it in a drawer. But write. If you want to get better, read books on how to get better. Share what you’ve written with other writers. Agree with them, disagree with them, but share with them. And then write some more.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

Writer’s block is wanting not to write; you can always put something down on paper if you want to. A great way to make time to write is to plan an evening at a coffee shop or the library; bring a friend along to keep you accountable. Having already missed a deadline is also a great motivator, but I don’t recommend that one!

 

Marian Rakestraw

Native Son

 

 

 

Marian Rakestraw was born in South Dakota, but has spent the vast majority of her life living everywhere else. After arriving in Topeka, she joined NaNoWriMo and took up the isolating, nerve-frying, confidence-rattling task of writing fiction as a fun way to meet new people. It worked wonderfully. Since then she has churned out 50,000 words for four consecutive Novembers and contributed to the Community Novel Project on five occasions. She is going to finish revisions on her 2014 NaNo novel very soon. Honestly. Her husband is notably spectacular, and together they have two charming children, a zaftig dog, and a weirdly social cat.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel?

 

This project is a great example of how the library tries to build community. In this case, it brought me in contact with great writers and editors I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

I struggled to find a subject. I knew I wanted to use an alternate history angle rather than writing speculative fiction. I’m a good researcher, but lousy at writing about zombies. I tried and discarded a series of ideas before finally settling down and forcing myself to write a story. The mural of John Brown is so remarkable that it fed me the rest of the idea.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?

 

Writing short stories is hard! I’m usually a fairly concise writer, but stripping every nonessential idea and word from a story is insanely difficult. I have renewed respect for writers who can do it well.

 

What is your writing background? What do you usually write?

 

When left to my own devices I write Middle Grade fiction. Talking animals creep into my stories with alarming regularity. I love the freewheeling atmosphere of National Novel Writing Month and the permission it gives me to write absolutely anything that pops into my head. I’m also surprised by how often that unrestricted attitude results in words I keep in the final copy.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

Confession time. I don’t make time for writing unless I box myself into a corner. I love deadlines because they force me to produce. Truly, the butt in chair method is the only way I manage to turn the idea of writing into the act. Also, I’m easily distracted and will grasp on to anything that will save me from having to get the words out. Consequently, my current writing lair is in the unfinished back corner of the basement.

 

Leah Sewell

Tunnels

 

 

 

Leah Sewell is the Communications Editor for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, which basically means she’s an observer, collector and creator of library stories. She’s a veteran publisher and magazine editor who has brought her passion for all things literary and writerly to library marketing. Leah has an MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska, is a published poet and author, a graphic designer, and has a very healthy obsession with books, podcasts, art and from-scratch cooking. She lives in Topeka, Kansas with her two wily kids and a similarly unruly to-read pile.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

It’s a fantastic program at the library and I want to support the work that Lissa and Miranda are doing, because I work here too. And because I work here, I know that this program is basically famous among librarians internationally. Its model is being mimicked all over by other libraries. But, also, I love to write and sometimes need the accountability. The collaborative nature of the program requires that you get your stuff in, and that means you’re writing. It is yet another way to keep writing.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

When I first moved to Topeka – I’m originally from Chicago – I lived in the pleasant, quiet College Hill neighborhood and thought, mistakenly, that Topeka was pretty vanilla and plain. It struck me as a stereotypical quiet, conservative Midwestern town. Then, one day, my boyfriend at the time and I went for a ride on his vespa and he pulls onto this small, winding road, and out of nowhere appears a huge, beautiful, castle-like Austrian architectural building with turrets and a steep sloping roof, and it’s obviously abandoned. We dismounted and he told me its story. The Topeka State Hospital was one of my favorite places in Topeka because it was so very visually rich, but also just bursting with history and symbolism. It was a totally unique place and it lent Topeka as a whole an air of mystery and that feeling of its many secrets lurking below a surface. It broke my heart when they tore it down. When I was thinking of alternate or speculative fiction, I thought about Topeka’s history of demolition and the ghosts–those histories and memories–that get left behind.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?

 

I’ve learned that my perception of the differences between poetry and short stories is that there doesn’t need to be too much separation. I write very lyrically when I’m writing short fiction. I’m about 85% poet, so this is natural. But with my previous CNP participation, I was asked to write a chapter of a novel, and that came out more prosaic. With the short fiction medium, I felt freer to let more of my poet-self loose. I also learned that writing genre fiction is hard. Like, really hard. I’m still not sure I accomplished the genre part of it. I need to read more speculative fiction to sharpen my edge in the genre, to be sure.

 

Lissa Staley

Love and Friendship

 

 

 

 

Lissa Staley first came to Topeka in mid-2001 to “practice her job interviewing skills” and has worked a Book Evangelist and Librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library ever since. She spotted a book display advertising NaNoWrimo in fall 2003 and by December 1 she wrote her first 50,000 word novel. She writes a different first draft of a novel every November and motivates other writers as the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Topeka. She thrives on deadlines and only revises and publishes fiction as part of the Community Novel Project. She hopes library programming encourages you to write and publish your own lovely novel, preferably with a romantic happily ever after ending. Her children will both be students at a public high school in Topeka in 2026.  

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

As a librarian, I value instructive books and research articles for learning new things. That said, the Community Novel Project is different and awesome because I learn directly from experiences with other writers and from this hands-on example throughout the conception, planning, writing, feedback, editing and publishing process. We may feel like we could write a how-to-do-it book after we are done, but we gained the knowledge together by doing.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

An early draft of my story was set 50 years in the future and based generally on ideas about the economy and school budgets continuing to struggle, but when another writer submitted a story with a similar setting, I chose to rework my story for the near future instead.  Real life events made my story unexpectedly quite relevant, with the newspaper headline in the Topeka Capital Journal on June 1, 2016 --the day we sent our stories for peer feedback -- speculating “What could happen in a Kansas school finance showdown.” One fellow writer who had originally provided feedback that the end of physical public schools was unrealistic in my 10 year time frame later wrote me to take back the comment, given the dire emerging news stories that forecast even worse scenarios.

 

What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project? What have you learned about self-publishing from participating in this project?

 

My learning experiences from this project were all tied to the peer feedback. Having feedback from 3 fellow writers, plus my 90 year old Nana, gave me different suggestions and perspectives to consider. I loved their compliments – that felt great and validated the hard work that I put into developing my characters’ voices. I liked the critical and constructive feedback more than I thought I would. Instead of just proofreading for grammar on my next draft, I did some serious revision. I tried to address the overall comments as well as the specific places where readers reported they were pulled out of the story, or found the phrasing awkward, or suggested missing content, or even once instance where a beta reader wanted to “reach through the computer and smack [the character]”.

 

What real-life alternate or speculative twist for Topeka do you anticipate or fear?

 

Issues around school funding and social inequality weigh heavily on my mind. I hope we find better solutions for our kids and our community.

 

Paul Swearingen

Happiness is a Cold Pistol

 

 

 

Having written and published eleven young adult novels, you’d think that Paul Swearingen would have no trouble in dashing off a short story for this project. Not so! Short stories are just as difficult to craft as novels are. (The only thing more difficult is writing a query letter for a novel.)

 

Swearingen retired in 2009 after 34 years of teaching English, journalism, and Spanish, including nine years at Highland Park High School and eleven at Topeka High. He collects many things, including books, multi-band radios, Macintosh computers, cameras, radio station coffee mugs, vinyl records, historical books about Kansas, original artwork, and old rusty tools which he proudly displays in his workshop. In other words, his home is now a low-quality museum.

 

What is your writing background?

 

All of my novels are young adult, two post-apocalyptic.

 

What real-life alternate or speculative twist for Topeka do you anticipate or fear?

 

Another tornado, or my own house catching on fire.

 

What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received?

 

1. Set butt in chair. 2. Write, and don’t stop until you’ve completed enough to reach a goal.

 

How do you make time for writing?

 

Being retired, time is not a problem for me. I usually write in the afternoon, though.

 

S. R. Thompson

A Library for Every Kid

 

 

 

Once upon a time, S. R. Thompson saw the word “UBIQUITOUS” splashed across a huge billboard. After that, she was off on the high adventure of tracking down the meaning and use of this word—and all words. Her life consists of looking high and low, searching the highways and byways of experience, down one trail and up another for all kinds of words and their meanings, to string them together into stories and poems that showcase The One who is present, everywhere, at the same time.

 

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

 

Every day I have a different colored pen in my hand and am laying colored ink onto all kinds of paper products. The love of writing is a part of me. The Community Novel Project just seemed like high adventure, a fun project, and offered help from Miranda Ericsson and Lissa Staley—a perfect combination for learning more about story-writing and publishing.

 

What was the inspiration for writing your story?

 

Because our family has spent endless hours of enjoyment in the public library of Topeka and this was a Community Novel Project sponsored by the library, it seemed only natural to attempt to write a short story about a true event in the life of Topeka and the library. Also, the “twist” in my short story came one day, making the bed, as I glanced at the spine of a volume on a pile of books. I was inspired to write the story in the format of best-selling author, Brooks, in his book, World War Z, in which each interview added and heightened the story plot-line.

 

What have you learned about self-publishing in this project?

 

Much has changed over the decades in the publishing world. If a writer does not keep up with technology, it becomes almost impossible to publish.

 

What is your writing background?

 

I have written 2 (self-published) books: Conquering Holidays For Jesus Christ and How to Bible Study as well as Knock, Knock, Who’s At the Door (a birthday poetry book about dogs) and two fictional short stories for the Kansas Author’s Club writing contest—”A Proper Love” (Romance—First Place—1994) and “On The Wings of Kansas Winds” (Historical Fiction—Second Honorable Mention—1995). I will try my hand at just about any genre of writing. Currently, I am working on an alphabetical poetry book.

 

How do you make time for writing? Do you write on a schedule, or write for a certain amount of time each day, or do you only write when you feel inspired?

 

Writing, for me, is a combination of all of the above. However, writing starts my day—usually journaling—from about 5 a.m. until around 9 a.m.—and ends my day in the evening hours. It takes a love of words and life, discipline, hard work, being cognizant of schedules, and a measure of inspiration.

Also Available From Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library

Read more from the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library’s Community Novel Project at tscpl.org/novel.

 


Twisting Topeka

We each experience and envision our own version of Topeka. In these stories, 18 writers twist the past and future to explore alternate possibilities for our community. These stories will make you question what you know about the past and frighten you about what the future could hold. What if....? Read this collection from the 2016 Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Community Novel Project and don't miss the exclusive author interviews at the end of the book to discover memorable moments, inspiration behind the stories, writing process, and what real-life twists for Topeka the authors fear. ADVANCE PRAISE FOR TWISTING TOPEKA “A rich collection of talent and imagination. The diversity of the stories is stunning, but they share one thing in common--each one will make you think.” —R.L. Naquin, author of the Monster Haven series “An eclectic collection of stories that will be entertaining for fans of short form literature.” —James Young, author of Acts of War “TWISTING TOPEKA—time travel, tricks / turbulent & terrifying times / tunnels / tragedy, treasure, triumphs / trysts & twists—NOT your typical Topeka tales.” —L.J. Williams, author of The Crystal Egg “The 18 short stories in this book twist the past and warp the future, challenging the reader to imagine ‘what if?’” —Angel Edenburn, author of Night Blind “Welcome to a world where nothing is as it seems. The stories, characters, and prose flow from each story like interwoven chains. Authors turn Kansas history upside down and inside out, giving us alternate timelines and new spins on the ordinary. Fellow Topekans, watch out! History is about to get twisted.” —Romualdo R. Chavez, author of El Vampiro Contents include: 1.What Fate Ordains by Diana Marsh What if the Apollo moon landing ended differently? 2.Native Son by Marian Rakestraw What if John Steuart Curry had stayed to finish his Capitol murals? 3.The Printed Word by Miranda Ericsson Kendall What if the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library made the decision to go bookless in 2026? 4.Tovarishch O’Sullivan by Craig Paschang What if the Soviets had won the cold war by winning the hearts and minds of the people of America’s heartland? 5.Test Year by Jamie Crispin What if parallel worlds did exist? 6.Proclaim the New Name by Duane L. Herrmann What if you had to travel to Chicago to gain inspiration for action in Topeka? 7.Cleansing Waters by C.R. Kennedy What if a vivacious young woman showed compassion to a distraught stranger in the rock garden at Gage Park? 8.As Mercy Would Have It by Annette Hope Billings What if the death of a little girl did not mean the end of her life? 9.Underground Ark by Reaona Hemmingway What if a nuclear holocaust made the surface of Earth toxic, and a group of Kansans survived in a bunker underground? 10.Shake, Rattle and Roll by Roxanna Namey What if the earth shook? 11.Black Blizzard by Vernon Neff What if an extended drought turned a future Topeka into a perpetual twilight of dust and grit? 12.A Library for Every Kid by S. R. Thompson What if there was a library on almost every corner in Topeka and it didn’t cost the people of Shawnee County one red cent? 13.The Jesse Owens Effect by Ian Hall What if Alf Landon beat Teddy Roosevelt in the 1936 Presidential election? 14.Happiness is a Cold Pistol by Paul Swearingen What if she had decided to shoot? 15.Psychic Shift by Annabelle Corrick What if two errant children surprised a psychiatric patient into sanity? 16.Tunnels by Leah Sewell What if the Topeka State Hospital was destroyed? 17.Love and Friendship by Lissa Staley What if online public school was the only option for Kansas teens? 18.Dance with the Devil by Aimee L. Gross What if the WW II headquarters of the OSS was actually Menninger Clinic, recruiting locals to catch an enemy spy ring in Topeka?

  • ISBN: 9781370004997
  • Author: Lissa Staley
  • Published: 2016-09-22 23:05:31
  • Words: 58759
Twisting Topeka Twisting Topeka