The “I” of Life’s Storm

 

Preface: For the past twelve years, I’ve called four social network communities home… have befriended countless bloggers who’ve frequently expressed their dissatisfaction with life… two of them at the point of wanting to end their own lives. In both instances, we, their friends/followers, had hopefully, permanently, comment box counseled them into changing their minds; persuaded them to choose life. Even so, I’ve oft wondered about the (not so) strong silent types, who’ve never blogged their cries for help.

If you are someone who is suicidal, know that help is always available. Crisis Center telephone numbers, worldwide, can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.

I’m also presenting the following, hopefully helpful, “real feel” fiction. Written in the more gender neutral, first person singular, this might facilitate everyone seeing life through my protagonist’s eyes?

Of course it’d be far too easy to misconstrue the “I” word to be referring to me, so let me emphasize that it’s my main character who is suicidal. That said…

Let our (your?) story begin…

Part One

Preface: My warmest wishes and welcome to all on this brand new day. I’ve committed my story to this word document in the weeks leading up to my demise. So sorry my tripping down memory lane must start off on a rocky road but trust me, there’ll be several unexpected detours before story’s end. That said…

Throughout most of my life, I was assaulted in various ways. Childhood’s playground bullies mercilessly, verbally punched me out. Adolescent skin problems “punched” me in the face. Adulthood’s workplace time clocks punched me out, too, by enslaving me; emotionally shackling me to non-union, non-living wage, life sucking, dead end jobs; my labors being absolutely alien to my more creative talents.

Not the best way to get into a “I love life”, “let’s party hearty” mood, eh?

Indeed, each post-workday “happy hour” involved crying in my beer. Misery loves company they say? Don’t count on it! In fact, many a time I drank alone; sometimes to excess. Although I had escaped alcoholism, chronic depression did set in. Eventually, a suicidal death seemed to be the perfect gift for the person who, at first glance, seemed to have nothing.

It had been on the day just prior to what might’ve been my last day on Earth, when I got the opportunity to take a second glance. It had been my own mother, who had, unknowingly, come to my rescue.

On that pleasantly sunny, summery, late August afternoon, she had phoned me; asked me to stop by the old homestead to help my father complete some much needed, routine household maintenance. Needless to say, I’d do anything to help my folks. And I’d be totally competent, too, since my handyman dad had successfully taught me all he knew.

Fortunately, it had taken several hours to complete these mundane tasks, for it was while we chatted, at times even reminisced, where something far more meaningful had occurred; my realization that I could never abandon my aged and ailing folks. Suicide averted postponed.

However, it was many years after my folks had passed away when I began to suspect that helping them had been my only purpose in life; discovered that my having been selfless to a fault was at fault; had played a significant role in creating my self-destructive state of mind.

You see, while being their caregiver, I had neglected to take care of myself; had let life’s parade truly pass me by. Family, friends and old co-worker contacts were long gone. Worst of all, I hadn’t paid enough attention to a potential soul mate; thereby squandering my last chance for love, marriage and parenthood?

Topping my list of worsts, this time around, there could be no eleventh hour communing with my parents to snap me out of my deep blue funk. Or could there?

Part Two

On yet another pleasantly sunny, summery, late August afternoon, I found myself, once more, plotting my own death. However, it was while tying up many of life’s loose ends (in particular, loading up the recycling bin for the very last time), when I just happened to pick up a still unread, three-month-old newspaper. Despite the fine layer of dust, a front-page story headline instantly grabbed my attention.

The reportage focused on a suicidal person who had had an “exit Earth” MO eerily similar to mine; that troubled soul winding up a paraplegic who retained just enough awareness to realize the old reality had been far better than that new, bedridden alternate reality.

Stunningly, that story had not ended there. That newspaper had a very specific dateline; none other than the anniversary of my late mother’s birth! In jaw dropping disbelief I realized that, once again, my mom, even in death, had, somehow, found a way to save my life.

Knowing I always did my best thinking while traipsing through wilderness settings, in the weeks ahead, I set forth on many sunrise, Sunday nature walks. With autumn rapidly approaching, I eventually revisited my favorite park; where a recent springtime windstorm had toppled a centuries old oak tree.

While seated on a nearby bench, listening to the white noise of a babbling stream and the off in the distance church bells ringing, I marveled at the persistence of life. In barely two Earthly seasons, this once mighty, towering oak’s still viable root system had transformed that massive stump into a densely leaved shrub. If a mindless tree wanted to live why shouldn’t I?

Turned out someone else shared similar feelings.

Part Three

“That oak just won’t give up,” the approaching, cheerful sounding voice first stated and then asked, “OK if I join you?” Looking up, I replied with my smile and vertical nod. We quickly exchanged introductions and other pleasantries; eventually conversing as if we’d been lifelong friends.

Was it just my imagination or was love at first sight, maybe even love eternal, in the air? Were my feelings mutual or destined to be unrequited; nothing but wishful thinking? Well, it didn’t take long to find out. One year later, with that surviving oak’s lush foliage providing Mother Nature’s backdrop, we were exchanging our out-of-doors “I dos.”

Within that short span of time, my spouse’s circle of friends had become my own; two of them proving to be valuable literary contacts; folks who could and did transform my ages old writing career fantasy into my new reality. Indeed, this freelancer’s essays were getting published, regularly, in a slew of e-mags and in print periodicals.

Before we celebrated our third wedding anniversary we had, twice, become parents. What a joy it has been to eyewitness our own combined, microscopic DNA manifesting itself in macroscopic ways; allowing us to observe all the developmental stages of our children’s lives; their imaginative, carefree, pre-school playtime; their scholastic and extracurricular successes; their career triumphs; their seeking and finding soul mates, falling in love, marrying and starting families of their own.

On yet another pleasantly sunny, summery, late August afternoon (now decades later), I realized how the thinning calendar was analogous to autumn rapidly closing in on my own life.

Part Four

While gazing out our bedroom window, with the sun sinking beneath the horizon, I considered how we all start out restricted to the confines of the womb and our eventual cribs; how (if all is well) our first baby steps, in time, become steady enough to take us wherever we choose to go. Naturally, life’s circle inevitably winds up closing in on itself. First we’re limited to sticking around in our hometowns. Next we stop venturing past our neighborhoods and yards. Towards the end we become shut-ins rarely leaving our hospital / hospice guard railed beds; those, which so closely resemble our days of yore barred cribs. At the very end our remains/cremains wind up in our tombs. As for our souls? Well, what we believe or choose not to believe is left up to each individual.

And, indeed, with old age asserting itself, my final days were now closing in. Just as with newborns, my sleeping hours were beginning to far outnumber my wakeful moments. At that juncture I could no longer be seated at my computer keyboard. I’d have little choice but to merely envision how my final moments of life would be playing out.

I did ask my spouse to read my story after I had died; to comment on, and edit these final paragraphs wherever necessary; i.e., to tell you all how close my predictions (which now follow) were to the actual occurrences.

Spouse’s Commentary: In all honesty, I did read my beloved’s fine essay well in advance. It was my heartfelt intent to ensure my spouse’s final moments would meet (perhaps even exceed) as many expectations as possible. True it’d be impossible for any mere mortal to confirm every element but, my being a spiritual person, I harbor no doubts. That having been said, let’s continue.

Concluding Part Five

Just as my physician had surmised, with only the minimal administration of meds, my natural death’s final moments were now playing out as an eyes-wide-open, relatively pain-free, peaceable cessation of life; where my loving spouse, children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, colleagues and other well-wishers had all assembled to see me off. We fondly reminisced and even managed to crack a few jokes.

Indeed, from my having so selflessly “been there to the very end” for both of my parents, all of that good karma had now come back to me; more than a thousandfold.

As a stray tear of joy streamed down my nine decades, wrinkled cheek, I could taste its saltiness on my lips. With a sense of awe, I gazed upon the vast sea of familiar faces; both earthbound and those who now awaited to welcome me in the great beyond. As my spouse leaned in for our “till we meet again” farewell embrace and kiss; our last exchanged dialogue involved the three best words two deeply caring souls have ever expressed to each other:

“I Love You!”

While inhaling Earth’s sweet oxygen for the very last time, I could feel my facial muscles forming my wide grin. I did experience one final, unexpected sensation; my shudder of horror as exhaled my very last words:

“Oh, the truly marvelous, joyous life I had, twice, nearly thrown away!”

 

 

Crisis Center telephone numbers, worldwide, can be found by CLICKING HERE.

 

 

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Meet Mr. Greedy, Mr. Grimy & Mr. Groper (99 Word Blog #075)

 

Once upon a time King Grump conferred with his royal advisors… Misters Greedy, Grimy and Groper.

Mr. Greedy advised Grump to continue wallowing in dirty money generated by his dirty corporations.

Mr. Grimy counseled Grump to continue dirtying up his kingdom with the dirty, pollutant byproducts generated by his dirty corporations.

Mr. Groper recommended Grump indulge in some “playtime”, too… keep on being a dirty old man, who degrades and objectifies every woman, whose life (and body) he touches.

Eventually, this greedy, grimy, groping, male chauvinist King irreparably mucked up his entire empire’s economy, ecology and society.

The End!

 

Meet Gangbangers Truncheon and Puma

 

Once upon a time there were two gangbanger hoodlums whose street names were Truncheon and Puma. Actually… both were corrupt, wretched, wicked little boys, who were each vying for absolute power… for total domination of their respective home turf. They were also surreptitiously plotting to overthrow each other.

To that end Truncheon… as his very name suggests… was relying heavily on his swaggering, overbearing, temperamental MO… one where he’d hammer in his wildly unpopular, multifaceted POV… thoughtlessly pummel his nation’s economy, ecology and society while, simultaneously, exhibiting his zero tolerance for dissent.

Indeed, he flat out demanded unconditional love from each and every, average Jane and Joe citizen who he attempted to dominate. In the process all he actually accomplished was wringing out every ounce of hope from anyone who could still think for themselves.

Naturally, these disgruntled and depressed gals and guys fully realized that Truncheon was leading everyone off a cliff… that his rule could only result in a stagnant and retrograde society… perhaps even leading up to an apocalyptic end to said society.

But alas… the knowledgeable were amongst a dying breed.

Additionally, decades worth of Truncheon’s likeminded, predecessor gang leaders and propagandists had laid in the devious, devastating, cancerous, perhaps irreversible groundwork… thereby making any lasting, civilized change everyone could believe in next to impossible to achieve… let alone maintain.

Thereby ensuring Truncheon his absolute power… which corrupts absolutely.

On the other hand, Puma… as his very name suggests… was far more catlike… deviously relying on brains over brawn, stealthy, manipulative, sneaky little shit tactics. He did so, even to the point of sucking up to Truncheon, who ignorantntly, simplistically and erroneously believed Puma to be his staunch ally.

Needless to say… nothing could’ve been further from the truth!

You see… Puma fully realized he could affect a no-shots-fired coup d’état… oust gang leader Truncheon and then casually waltz in to usurp his turf. To accomplish that feat, all Puma had to do was bide his time… sit back and laugh his ass off while watching harebrained Truncheon’s do-it-yourself self-destruction of his nation’s individuals and infrastructure.

The End

Snow Days (Chapter 3)

 

A few houses up Carl and Cathy’s street resided their school’s head custodian, Phil Anders, who was also home on this snow day. His philosophy of life could best be summed up as “Make love AND war!”

As for the “love” element to that phrase, according to the neighborhood grapevine, he and his live-in gal pal were “friends with benefits” decades before that phrase would become popularized. There was even some clever wordplay, which had morphed his name to the nickname, “Philanderer Phil”.

As for the “war” element, this guy harbored “I’m as mad as hell” anger management issues that, a decade later, could’ve easily inspired actor Peter Finch’s portrayal of TV anchorman, Howard Beale in the big screen flick, “Network.”

Indeed, he could’ve spun a sphygmomanometer into perpetual motion and blown his top skyward with such a force, his shiny cranial bone fragments could’ve easily reached escape velocity to create safety issues for 60s era NASA astronauts orbiting the Earth in their Gemini space capsules.

Physically, Phil was a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger (minus the accent) and the Incredible Hulk (minus the green). Were it not for his receding hairline, under dim lighting conditions he could’ve even triggered a few bogus Sasquatch sightings, too. As for battling the winter elements, with such a burly physique, he was a natural.

He was always loaded for bear (loaded on beer, too) and ready to engage any DPW’s snowplow driver who had the gall to “home deliver”… from the roadways to his lower driveway… the mega-tonnage of oft thigh-deep snow and icy sludge.

When in his full-blown wild-man mode, he was not only the maestro of middle digit sign language, but he also had a knack for providing the neighborhood youngsters a liberal education… expanding their vocabulary with words never heard in the Bible… well, at least not his choice, four letter synonyms. His protégés even developed an appreciation for poetry once they heard how well he could form crude couplets involving the words truck, trucking, trucker… well… you get the idea.

On this particular snow day, he even introduced his captive audience to his precision snow shovel hurl event… targeting… you guessed it… the moving DPW truck! With a bit more training, a bit less beer and proper self-promotion, he could’ve created a whole new Winter Olympics event.

Carl could already smell that approaching plow truck’s diesel, hear the telltale Doppler shift effect of its roaring engine and the scraping sounds of blade applied to asphalt when… reverie broken… he returned to the here and now snowstorm… just in time to hear the sounds and catch a whiff of the actual thing.

Gazing up the street through the whiteout conditions, he was just in time to spot the DPW snowplow rounding the bend. Carl could only imagine how Phil would’ve reacted for that madman had passed on decades ago.

Mere moments later, the driver had blocked his driveway with a ton of hefty, heavy, slushy, snow “boulders”. Though sufficiently PO’d to morph into Phil’s persona, he suppressed the urge to reintroduce his snow shovel hurl. He was forced to concede that this was the one and only efficient and cost effective snow removal method available.

So there Carl stood… momentarily leaning on his shovel… figuratively and literally snowed under by the new task at hand. Armed with only his muscles and shovel, for the second time that day, he was again slaving away to clear his lower driveway.

He did chuckle a bit as he caught himself muttering some of the very same profane couplets ol’ Phil had taught him in his younger days.

After a half hour had passed, it was mission accomplished. Even better, the snowfall had eased up a bit, too. Carl was finally heading back for the warmth of his home. Turning the key in the lock, just prior to turning the doorknob, he did linger a moment to take one last look up the street… set his gaze upon the house once occupied by his unforgettable neighbor.

Through the upward wafting frozen clouds of Carl’s exhaled, condensing breath, he offered his thanks to Phil for all those fun, fond memories. And just in case that wild man had, instead, wound up taking the “down escalator” ride, Carl sent those same thanks hellward, too.

 

Snow Days (Chapter 2)

 

The flash of rare winter lightning and subsequent rumble of thunder, as well as a sudden onrush of cold air had briefly snapped Carl back to the present-day snowstorm. A fierce wind gust had also blown his down jacket’s hood backward. Hurriedly refastening the Velcro, he resumed his seemingly endless, snow shoveling routine. As he battled the winter elements, his reverie returned and zeroed in on a long ago snow day of his youth… and, regrettably, that included a childish battle with his dear sister Cathy.

On that particular day, their bickering had gone way beyond the typical sibling rivalry. Adding to the tensions were Carl’s unscrupulous business practices. His devious MO was to sell to her his transistor radio’s used (nearly dead) 9V batteries.

It had been quite by accident that he’d discovered how, after these dry cells had failed, they oftentimes (albeit briefly) came back to life. Ergo, whenever his sibling’s radio went dead, like a circling vulture, he’d swoop down and set up shop. Of course, that day’s snowstorm… one that had rendered the roads into town nearly impassible… made it far easier for him to close the sale. For Cathy, it all boiled down to either buying his shoddy wares or missing out on listening to her fave new Beatles songs.

In feeble defense of his compromised, faltering ethics, he did warn her she was buying used merchandise and, if lucky, she might get up to an hour’s worth of music out of her radio.

However, once her luck ran out… her battery conked out… her justifiable indignation boiled over, which powered her high decibel demands for a full refund… only to be met by her brother’s smug reminder, “Sorry, all sales are final!”

While present day Carl took a breather from his shoveling, he tempered his memories with a grown-up perspective. He realized that a well-timed parental intervention had made him the principled man he had become. He fully credited Mom and Dad’s stern lectures for successfully curing him of his crooked, conman conduct. Had they not?

Well… he could’ve easily morphed into a predatory lender or, perhaps, even some rank, high-ranking, power-tripping, eccentric, egocentric archconservative. Hell… he might’ve even metastasized into a “too big to fail”, global economy plundering, Wall Street bankster and/or tyrannical, egomaniacal, whining, crybaby, capricious, Constitution gutting, corrupt, corporately owned, unpresidential president.

Carl’s thoughts once again bridged the decades… back to that particular snow day of his youth… how he had looked over his left shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of his own Mom rolling her eyes and slowly, glumly shaking her head side to side.

With his now grown-up perspective, he could totally dig her reaction… even caught himself mimicking her same gestures.

He realized that there are still far too many spoiled rotten boys who never received that much needed, inter-generationally imparted wisdom… and, as such, too many of them were doomed, forever, to remaining little boys, hopelessly, helplessly trapped in adult bodies… that such infantile misbehavior / arrested development represents much of what is wrong in his homeland… indeed… the entire world.

Once again Carl resumed shoveling and remembering… picking up where he had left off…

By that time, young Cathy and Carl’s poor, sleep deprived Dad had realized that there could be no extra ZZZ’s for him. And adding to this already considerable racket, Mom would be revving up her vacuum cleaner; employing this “white noise” as a means to drown everyone out.

So desperate for some peace and quiet, both parents teamed up and used their best con job to convince their kids to go outside and play in the snow. Their logic… what better way to get them to “chill out”? Dad could barely contain his chuckling as he handed them both snow shovels and said, “Have fun kids.”

And once they were out-of-doors, it was only out of parental love that he had resisted the strong temptation to haul out some nails and oak 2 X 4s to hammer barricades across both front and back doors. Of course, the fact that his kids were now unknowingly and obediently clearing the sidewalks and five car length driveway for him could only help get them back into his good graces.

Their labors had also netted them a fringe benefit. The resultant snow piles were the stuff snow forts were made of. Once their opposing “military bases” had been completed, the snowball fights erupted; approaching levels of viciousness that only could’ve been an extension of their earlier indoor skirmish.

It probably would not have even shocked Carl had Cathy gotten one final usage out of all of those used batteries he had sold to her… by hiding them inside her snowball WMD… the sis vs. bro battle “powered” by dead batteries.

Well, eventually, the hostilities subsided. Not unlike Carl’s used batteries, yet another dwindling energy issue had occurred… as the morning had worn on, their sugar buzzes bad worn off.

Just about the time the siblings had gotten the rage out of their systems and declared peace, that’s when aggression of a different nature kicked in… courtesy of their nearby, madman neighbor, Phil Anders.

 

Chapter 3 to be posted tomorrow.

Snow Days (Chapter 1)

 

Once upon a time…

…lifelong Michigander Carl Schuster woke up to the telltale sounds of roaring, sustained, window rattling winds. Reluctantly leaving his cozy bed he could already feel the chill in the air as he traipsed over to the window to peer through the curtains. The predawn dimly lit sights of his frozen and drifted over neighborhood were certainly consistent to the howling gales he’d been hearing.

Once again, Ma Nature was unleashing one of her early winter blizzards and she had already dumped tons of the white stuff in his neck of the woods. Awakening his Mac from its slumbers, a quick check of his favorite weather website confirmed what he had already suspected… most of the northern tiered states were under siege and the worst of this massive weather system was far from over. Waiting in the wings was the potential for winter thunder and lightning followed by a brief warm-up that could bring a wintery mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet. Last but not least, there was a massive polar vortex looming… one which would eventually send the mercury plummeting to subzero double digits.

Resetting his furnace thermostat upward, he could hear his ancient, Grayline gas fired furnace coming back to life. Switching on the kitchen radio, pre-tuned to the all news station, the talk jock was already in mid-delivery of one of his hi-octane, apocalyptic weather-on-the-eights reports and, in the process, doing his damnedest to stoke up the adrenaline levels of every susceptible listener in his captive audience.

True, this was a sizable storm, but to Carl, the somewhat jaded, veteran winter warrior, he couldn’t help but wonder what made that newsreader so hyper? Was his on-air demeanor a contractual obligation? Might a fast food drive-thru window screw-up have netted him regular coffee instead of decaf? Or maybe he had simply forgotten to refill his Xanax Rx?

Well, it didn’t take long for Carl to prepare and chow down his basic breakfast fare… a heapin’ helpin’ of stick to your ribs oatmeal, a couple of cups of energizing espresso and two slices of crispy toast layered thick with strawberry jam.

With his body now fueled up and the morning dishes cleaned up, he gazed out the window at the blustery near whiteout conditions and let out a long sigh. He realized there was little point in procrastinating further. Buckling up his boots and bundling up in a down parka he grabbed his snow shovel and left the comfort of his humble home to bravely trudge into the winter wonderland… to go head to head with what was sure to only be round one in this days long meteorological event.

It rapidly dawned on Carl that he was barely keeping up with the snowfall. Indeed, clearing this mess from his sidewalks and five-car length long driveway made him feel like he was fighting a losing battle. Undertaking such a repetitive, mindless task amidst a bone chilling, monotonous, white tableau, he suddenly started to feel his mind zoning out.

No… not quite to the point where he was channeling Stephen King’s flipped out character… the snowbound, Overlook Hotel sitter, Jack Torrance, who, in the film, “The Shining”, had repeatedly swung a hatchet to chop through a bathroom door, stick his head through the splinters and insanely, gleefully proclaim, “Heeeeres Johnny!”

Nope… nothing quite so surreal and melodramatic.

Instead, Carl was now flashing back to some vivid, real life recollections… fond bittersweet memories dating back to his elementary school days. Indeed, it had been on a similar, snowbound morn, when he and his young sister, Cathy, had been stationed in their respective bedrooms… each still snug in their beds, tuned into their pocket-sized, transistor radios… both listening, intently, to their pre-agreed upon different radio stations as two broadcasters were running down, county by county, the miles long list of school-closing notifications.

But, eventually, their patience had paid off. They’d no sooner heard their school’s name mentioned when their squeals of glee echoed throughout their home. Dad being a teacher in the same district, this meant he’d be home for the day, too.

By now, both the aroma of frying bacon and fresh brewed coffee were wafting through the air so there was little need for homemaker Mom to invite everyone to her pancake breakfast.

Once their morning meal was history, everyone quickly made their plans. Dad, who, just the night before, had been burning the midnight oil correcting and grading his student’s turned in papers, opted to roll back into bed to catch up on his sleep. Since there was no need to pack her children’s lunchboxes, Mom decided to pop some made-from-scratch sweet rolls into the oven.

Even though they could hardly wait for them to be baked, Cathy and Carl each wandered off into their own little worlds… initially, quietly, indulging themselves in their gender typical hobbies… Sis sticking to her sewing / knitting projects… Bro “engineering” his toy Lionel electric trains / constructing cool stuff with his Building Blocks and Erector Set. Since these kids were both quite capable of multitasking, this meant their nostrils would be flaring to detect the first telltale scent of cinnamon and ears would be geared towards hearing the oven’s timer going off.

Mom barely had time to ice these still warm, delectable confections with thick, gooey, vanilla flavored frosting before her drooling young’uns began scarfing them down… and the accompanying sugar buzz was sure to fuel the fire of their juvenile squabbles.

Initially, they fought over who would get to eat the last cinnamon roll. Mom, ever the shrewd diplomat, quickly cut it half and then showed them she had already prepared a second batch, which was still rising and nearly ready to pop into the oven.

She shook her head side to side as she realized she had only negotiated an uneasy truce. On this particular morn… under these cooped up circumstances, she knew some of the childish battles to come would have the potential of going thermonuclear.

Carl certainly had seen that flash of light… but it was not from that long ago “atomic” blast. No… this had been the winter lightning and rumbling thunder, which had jolted him back to present-day reality…

 

Chapter 2 to be posted tomorrow.

Don’t Fear The Reaper

Preface

Although this fictional story can stand on it’s own two feet, to set the optimal mood, (time permitting) view the above video prior to reading onward.

Chapter One

Gavin yanks the 9-volt battery from his klaxon-like smoke detector, chuckling a bit while stepping down from his wooden, three-wrung, kitchen ladder. It’d been the lit 60+ candles atop his very own two layer, thickly chocolate frosted, devils-food birthday cake, which had set off that, at times, overly sensitive, perhaps malfunctioning device. His slight smile now crossfades into a deep frown as his sudden realization kicks in… namely… he feels his life is going up in smoke.

True, so far… as far as he knows… only the normal aging process is slowly but surely, unraveling his life. Yet, that’s but a small consolation considering there’s no escaping the inescapable truth… from the moment we’re born, the lifeless gray, grainy sands of time start relentlessly running downward… passing from the upper to lower chambers of the hourglass possessed by the ghoulish Grim Reaper.

Gavin can almost feel the swooshing draft of ice cold death as Mr. Reaper brandishes his scythe and “playfully” threatens to tap the top of his eventual victim’s noggin… can practically hear that ghoul’s unnerving, otherworldly guffaws accompanying his gruffly intoned, menacing, parting words, “Good-bye for now… but… I’ll see you soon!”

Chapter Two

Seven torn off calendar pages later… mere days following All Hallows’ Eve… several hours past dusk on this blustery night… we find Gavin arming his clock radio in order to wake up to music. Switching off the pale glowing lamp, standing tall before the curtain parted, raindrop beaded windowpanes, he beholds the fluttering maple and oak leaves scattering across the ground… hears the soft pine and cedar branches brushing against the window screens… witnesses the occasional breaks in the clouds permitting the sparkling starlight to shine through.

He shivers as he lets the curtains fall back into place. The sound of nine chimes emanate from the downstairs foyer’s grandfather clock. Slipping between the bed sheets, his body heat starts to ease the chill he feels all the way down to his bone marrow. Dozing off, his last conscious thoughts of the day still excessively obsess about his own mortality.

Gavin is heading off into the land of dreams but, considering his troubled state of mind, sweet dreams would be far from an apt description.

So… will this ONLY be a nightmare… or something more?

Chapter Three

Gavin soon winds up at the REM stage… tossing and turning while turning the tables on the horrifying Mr. Reaper. He’s actually relentlessly stalking his enemy. Perhaps recklessly so, he’s also gleefully firing up his alter-ego’s snarky, I refuse to be intimidated, devil-may-care attitude. His primary mission, on behalf of humanity, is to order the Grim Reaper to stand down… or die trying.

Even Gavin’s inside his head pep talk instructs and prods him onward…

What the Hell… why the F not? On the odd chance I might buy each of my fellow humans a few more years, would that not make my dangerous undertaking all the more worthwhile? Hey, at the very least, I might wind up making death far less scary for everyone.

A snap of the twig, which Gavin has just stepped on, almost seems to trigger a flash of lightning and immediate crash of thunder. The near blinding afterimage and high decibel rumbling reverberations have hardly begun to die down when the Grim Reaper stops DEAD in his tracks… crouching a mere ten feet away. Gavin, taking that as his cue, knows it’s now or never. He hails his foe, thusly…

Pssst… hey Reaper! Yeah… I’m talkin’ to you! C’mon over… this’ll only take five minutes, tops. What do I want? Uh… well… since there’s no way to put this delicately, I’ll just blurt it out.

FOR GOD’S SAKE WILL YOU PLEASE BURY THAT GROTESQUE, SPOOKY PERSONA OF YOURS? YOU’RE CREEPING EVERYBODY OUT!

Seriously… an image makeover is long overdue, pal. Think earth tones! Deep-Six that depressing, dreary, black hooded robe and replace it with… oh… say… a hunter green hoodie and a pair of stain and wrinkle resistant, khaki hued, cotton slacks. In your bloody line of work, easy to launder would be a plus and, lest we forget, cotton is “the fabric of our lives™!” Oh… so sorry… I guess that’d be in poor taste since you don’t dig life.

Let’s move on now to that anachronistic hourglass. Seriously, who the hell, in the 21st Century would ever choose to lug around such a bulky low-tech timepiece? Can’t your cell tell you what time it is? Do you mean to tell me you’ve not developed and installed the necessary software on your devices to keep tabs on the timelines of the 7 billion plus Earthly souls?

As for that nasty ol’ scythe of yours… do you really need to brandish such a formidable blade? If you really must resort to intimidation by threatening physical violence, how about studying martial arts? With Karate chops, the bloodshed would be next to none. In time, you might even earn your black belt. After all, basic black IS your favorite color, right? Am I right?

Think about it, Mr. Reaper… you could pass yourself off as a hip, professional, tech savvy, debonair, far less overbearing dude. Look, if you don’t clean up your act soon, U.S. Homeland Security is bound to flag you… move you to the top of their Terrorist Watch list! And once you’re on it… you’re on it for life. Hey, don’t roll your eyes… life isn’t a four letter word… well… OK… on a technically it is… but not in the sense of life being profane.

Let’s now move on to the inner you. Long story short, you’re worrying me sick. Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, STAT! You’re nothing but dry, moldering bones; one has to wonder just what in tarnation is holding you together, anyway? Tar? Duct Tape? Superglue™? ‘The cadaverous look is dead, big guy! Even some catwalk models are starting to see the light… are going off their starvation diets! Key here is hydration and nutrition. At the very least, you’ll need to get in your daily eight, eight ounce glasses of H2O and triple your caloric intake.

Hey, ix-nay on those four-letter words, pal, I’m trying to maintain a family friendly nightmare!

Say what? You’re delighted that I’m worried sick? Rather than passing on my know-nothing knowhow I should just see the light and pass on? Screw the earth tones? You’re current image is exactly what you’re going for? You’re completely happy with THAT? OK, have it your way… as if that’s anything new, huh?

And away he goes… muttering obscenities… storming off into a dense billowing bank of dark, dank fog. Geesh, that guy sure has anger management issues! Hey! Did you see that? He just turned to whip me the finger! Look, he flipped me off again!

Well… there go five minutes of my life I can never get back! Of course… considering how PO’d I got him, I may be as good as dead already! Well, looks like I’ll just deep-six any of my future dealings with Mr. Reaper… well, at least until we meet again… in the end… in the end… in the end… in the end…

Epilogue

At daybreak, Gavin’s fitful sleep comes to an abrupt end as his clock radio awakens him to the sounds of a subdued cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s, Don’t Fear The Reaper… performed by the Harp Twins Camille and Kennerly.

As his mind momentarily zones out to the mesmerizing, melodic tones of their angelic harp playing, Gavin cannot help but wonder if he’s just awoken from a nightmarish dream… or was it something more?