Monday, September 28, 2015

A poem from "Undying"

If I Had Known
By Stephen B. Bagley

If I had known the casual mention
of your name would hurt no more
and I could smile at the good memories...

If I had foreseen enough time
would erase the pain and sorrow
of words meant to lay waste to me...

If I had realized I would be better
without your selfish, demanding love
and your need for all things right now...

If I had known all these things
I wouldn’t have buried you
and your lover under the new garage


(From the forthcoming book Undying by Stephen B. Bagley and Gail Henderson​. All rights reserved.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Playground Rules

I'm offended that you're offended by the offensive thing I said in response to the offensive thing you said when I said something you were offended by.

And you're a stinky head, too.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Survives

It's amazing how lies become the accepted truth. The spin overpowers the truth, and even intelligent people will parrot it because they won't take the effort to find out.


Napoleon: the short man who was so upset about his shortness that he decided to conquer Europe to prove he was as great as anyone else? Not true. He was 5'7" tall, which was 2 inches taller than the average height. His enemy, England, put out the short story. Cartoons and editorials by English papers continued it. And it stuck.

The Crusades: horrible wars caused by Christianity. Certainly that was the press put out by the kings, princes, knights, and popes, but in their war talks, they discuss spices and land and gold and jewels. No reputable historian discusses Christianity as a primary factor these days, because it's plain from historical records that greed motivated this thrust into the Holy Lands. But Christianity made such a better story than saying, "We want their money."

Manifest destiny: Those horrible Indians will be better on reservations. We want their land, and we deserve it. It's our destiny. Thank you, newspapers, and Horace Greely. "Go west, young man! Don't worry about all those people you will kill on the way."

Slavery: "We have to have slaves so that our crops can be sold at competitive prices. We have a way of life to maintain. They're savages. We're their kindly masters." The newspapers and novels and movies portrayed slaves as being grateful, and masters as being kind and benevolent. For a long time, the American people bought the story. Some still do.

Environmentalism: crazy people who rather let other people starve to protect a snail darter. They also hate jobs, eat bark, live in huts, and smoke pot. You wonder how they ever get anything done.

WMDs: ...

The list goes on and on and on. The oldest human profession is actually that of an liar ... leaders who lie for the sake of money and power. Why must we continue to be so gullible?

A friend of mine recently said something that has stuck with me: "The lie is all that matters. It's all that survives."

I hope not. Dear God, I hope not.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Politicians and other shysters like to divide us into camps: Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, etc. It's easier to point a finger and to place blame and to say it's someone else's fault. But we are all Americans. We are interconnected. What we do reverberates throughout our society. There is no "them." There is only "us." Never trust anyone who attempts to tell you otherwise.

Yes, I have a political party affiliation, but first and foremost, I am an American. You are, too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Attack of the Badgers

My house was clean yesterday. Completely clean. Today it looks like an army of angry badgers battled the peaceful but strong beavers for control of my living room. How did that happen? I don't remember being messy. And why is there a pair of my socks on the lamp? Who used all these cups? Why are the trashcans overflowing? Where did this laundry come from? Why am I asking you? Unless ... maybe you're responsible. If so, do the right thing and come and clean up your mess.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Any time you maliciously or offhandedly group -- you say, "All whites or blacks or gays or Christians or atheists or whoever" -- the odds are that the rest of your statement will be wrong for a large number of the people in the group you are maligning.

Unless, of course, I'm doing the grouping. And then it's completely correct.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why My Diets Fail

I just ate a handful of Raisinets. Maybe two. Heading for three, and four will follow soon.

Someone needs to stop me before I eat any more. But no one can get here in time. Woohoo! I mean, dang it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

If Wishes Were Wisdom

There are some things that don't need to be said.

Sure wish I'd learn how to not say them.

Friday, September 11, 2015



Sometimes I must be still.
Letting worry slowly subside.

Sometimes I have to sit in twilight.
Listening to the swelling silence.

Sometimes I need to not need.
Floating in the quiet darkness.

Sometimes I drift along with the wind.
Watching the clouds move across the dimming sky.

Sometimes I am simply here.
Basking in the joys of life.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Let us pray.

Power Who moves the universe
Who makes the mountains speak
and the skies sing hosanna
and the waves give praise

To Thee we offer thanks
for these quicksilver moments
brief and infinitely precious
in which we live our lives

We sparkle but briefly
against the unbound night
motes of lights bright
before fading into shadow

In these fleeting moments,
we weep in sorrow
dance and laugh in joy
passionately love

So we give many thanks
and ask You to bestow
Thy endless blessings
and unbounded mercy

In Thy Myriad Names
We ask, always giving
You our devoted praise
and unending glory

And we all say amen.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


There are stories we shouldn't tell.
      Wise men know this.
There are lies we shouldn't hear.
     Wise women learned this.
There are hearts we shouldn't break.
     Angels weep when they see this.
There are souls we shouldn't touch.
     Demons smirk at this.

Walk down there;
-- the hallway grows dark.
Stop over there;
-- the shadows watch.
Rest yourself there;
-- the earth takes you.

Some knowledge burns the bearer.
      You were warned.
Some secrets can only harm.
     You didn't listen.
Some love brings only ruin.
     Everyone warned you.
Some tears can't be avoided.
     Into every life, they fall.

I wanted to save you;
-- the clock ticks like thunder.
I wanted to spare you;
-- why were you willfully deaf?
I watch only to witness;
-- you chose your fate.

We choose our destruction;
-- this is the wisdom I know --
so I leave you to yours.

Copyright 2015 Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


     It's a nice day here. The sun is shining, but a cool wind is sweeping through town. The summer wanes, but still has teeth. Fall approaches. I find myself thinking about time.
      The odds are good that I have lived more of my life than I have left in front of me. I feel pressured by that. I still have so many things I want to accomplish. Books to write, places to see, people to meet.
      We lose people along the way. Loved ones fall to accidents or disease, and while we believe in life beyond, we miss them here. Eventually our past sorrows travel with us, a dark companion to remind us that everything ends.
      People live longer these days. We take vitamins and supplements, exercise and eat healthy. We try to stay active and live longer. In the back of our minds, we think that maybe scientists will offer a better drug next month or next year and we'll be as we once were -- young.
      Everything falls. Even the pyramids lose a bit of their substance each year. Wind and sun and rain will eventually reduce all that we've built. Every mountain peak will become a prairie given enough time. Our greatest fame will be forgotten or the subject of dusty books. Even infamy fades. Time makes footnotes of everything.
      So while the sun is shining, meet me for lunch. Let's laugh and enjoy this fleeting moment. And when the night falls as it will no matter what, hold my hand tightly and gaze out over the horizon to the endless sea.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Where YOU can buy MY books!

Blackbirds First Flight 
Anthology - Enjoy chilling poems and dark tales in this collection from Stephen B. Bagley, Kent Bass, Wendy Blanton, Gail Henderson, Jean Schara, & Tamara Siler Jones.
Buy on Amazon
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By Stephen B. Bagley
Poetry - Enjoy more than 50 sensual & moving poems, including the award winning "Non-Communion," "Torrent," & "Endless."
Buy on Amazon
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Floozy & Other Stories
By Stephen B. Bagley
Humor - Laugh at these hilarious tales from the author's decidedly different life.
Buy on Amazon
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Buy on Lulu

Murder by Dewey Decimal
By Stephen B. Bagley
Mystery - Who killed the librarian? Who's next to die and why? 1st in Measurements of Murder series.
Buy on Amazon
Buy on Barnes & Noble
Buy on Lulu

Murder by the Acre (Second Edition)
By Stephen B. Bagley
Mystery - Who killed the ladies man? Bernard, Lisa & the chief are back! New expanded edition. 2nd in Measurements of Murder series.
Buy on Lulu
Buy on Amazon

Murder by the Acre (First Edition)
By Stephen B. Bagley
Mystery - Who killed the ladies man? Bernard, Lisa & the chief are back! 2nd in Measurements of Murder series.
Buy on Amazon
Buy on Barnes & Noble

Tales from Bethlehem
By Stephen B. Bagley
Inspirational - Have you ever wondered about everyone else in Bethlehem on the night of the Nativity? These charming and touching Tales will tell you their stories.
Buy on Amazon
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Buy on Lulu

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Kindle Short Stories

I have several short stories up on Amazon for the Kindle devices and app. (More are coming.) Here is info about each story and the link to purchase. Enjoy!

Duel in the Sky
In a futuristic sports dome, wind duelists battle for the ultimate prize: their lives. Includes bonus story, "Garage."

Grave Matters
Justina Grave, Knight of the Trivarutham, tangles with new, more powerful revenants and their bloodthirsty master, and discovers an unsettling truth about their origins.
The first Justina Grave Mystery.

Grave Concerns
A blood shaman invades Tulsa, and Justina Grave, Knight of the Trivarutham, is standing in his way.
The second Justina Grave Mystery.

An Unattended Death
Who left Aaron Brody out in the woods to die of a drug overdose? What does his dealer girlfriend know? And why does Daniel Bias, radio advertising salesman, stick his nose in where it doesn't belong? Daniel's investigation leads him to places he has never gone before, including the infamous Stuttering Rooster, the best gentleman's club in western Oklahoma. If Daniel's smart mouth doesn't get him killed, his questions might.
The first Daniel Bias mystery.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Creativity Unbound

People often ask me how I come up my ideas. At first, I thought that was the question, and my answer would vary depending on the project. But in the poetry classes I taught at the local college, I had several students explain they didn't want to know about the particular idea behind a story or poetry; no, they wanted to know how I generated the number of poems, stories, plays, blog posts, and so on, that I do. While some of that creativity is simply a function of my personality and life, I also use various techniques to unbind my creativity.

These techniques can apply to any endeavor, artistic or otherwise. Creativity is valued in today’s society. Industry leaders claim that creativity is one of the traits they seek in their employees. Of course, I’ve noticed that industry has a tendency to stifle that creativity when it conflicts with established procedures. The tech industry has many stories of a maverick who had to leave an established company to make his own, better way.

Creativity is also valued in our personal lives. We applaud creative parents and teachers. We appreciate new solutions to our daily problems. By inviting creativity into our lives, we can enhance our relationships, jobs, life.

Here are a few techniques that I have used and found effective in enhancing creativity. You can find many more if you search the Net. Remember that the best technique is what works for you.

1. Feed. Not your stomach, although it’s difficult to be creative when you’re starving. I mean feed your mind. Sometimes our problem is that we’ve starved our intellect. We’re empty of creativity because we haven’t been absorbing it. How do we feed?
- Read books or articles about the problem we’re trying to solve or the subject we’re researching.
- Talk to several people about the problem. Preferably enthusiastic people who believe a solution is possible. If it’s a writing problem, talk to writers. If it’s a parenting problem, talk to other good parents. Avoid people who only want to sympathize. You need people who believe you can find a solution.
- Use the Net, although be cautious in this as it contains as much bad information as good.

2. Breathe. Naturally we all do this, but I’m talking about conscious breathing. Yes, a quiet five minutes where you empty your mind and just pay attention to your breathing. I use this often. I find the brief break allows me to return to my work refreshed and ready to go. Yes, it’s meditation of sorts. I don’t use a mantra, but perhaps one would work for you.

3. Brainstorm. Take 10 minutes and write down every thought as fast as you can. No editing. Try to  your thoughts toward solving your problem, be it how to get character A to location B while getting Character C to meet Character D at location E or how to get your children dressed to school in a timely fashion.
- Brainstorm with other people. Make sure they know the rules, which is to NOT EDIT any suggestion however off-the-wall. Set a time limit and go! You’re going for quantity, not quality. You can throw out the unworkable later. You need the forest now so you can find the perfect tree later.

4. Jumble. Throw different things together to see if they fit or can contrast in certain ways. Let’s say you’re writing a poem. You have a photo of a sailing ship. You’d like the poem to talk about relationships. Maybe a marriage. Maybe a floundering marriage. I used this to write my poem "Uncharted."

5. What if? Imagine approaching the problem with unlimited resources. What would be your solution then? A friend of mine who was experiencing a business problem was sharing her troubles with me. I asked her what would she do if she had unlimited resources. How would she solve her problems then? She said, half-joking, “I’d hire a team and they would fix it.” So I suggested she find a way to do just that. She didn’t have the money, but she did have a husband and brother and several friends who were willing to be her team for a pizza dinner. They solved her problem.

I use this in when writing fiction. I write mostly mysteries. I imagine how my characters would solve the crime if they had unlimited resources. Then I would work backwards. For instance, maybe a super lab with DNA equipment would solve the crime. Well, they don’t have that, what can they use instead? Their circumstances dictate what they will use to catch the bad guy.

6. Use a clock. This is my favorite technique. It’s called timed writing. It works like this. You take a clock, you set it for ten minutes, and then you write. You write as fast as you can about anything that comes to mind. The important thing is to write every single second. Don’t edit, don’t back up, don’t correct, don’t explain, you’re just throwing words on paper. They can be on your project, but most times they won’t be. All you’re doing is popping the cork, breaking the dam, starting the avalanche, striking the match, shooting the starter pistol, kicking the ball, and so on. The point is to get your creativity pass your editor.
*** Important note: If you can’t figure out something to write, write something positive. For instance, write “I’m a good writer. I’m a good person. I tell the truth. I care for the poor. I love my family and friends. I’m reliable. I’m creative.” And so on. Repeat these positive affirmations until you veer off. And then follow where you go. NEVER write anything negative. Lots of studies have shown that the more you write or repeat something, the more true it becomes. Because your editor is being shut down, you are open to suggestions. Make those suggestions good. This is a direct way to reach your subconscious. So remember, be positive. And if those positive things aren’t true yet, they will be. It’s the power of positive confession. Have faith in your future.

7.  Play some tunes. This is really a variation on the timed writing, but in this case, the time is marked by music. I have a playlist for every book I write. You might try music that reminds you of the locations in your book or short story. Or fast music to rev your energy level up. Or classical if you’re writing a historical novel or concentrating on a difficult subject. NOTE: Do not use lyrics in your story or poems. Songs are protected in peculiar ways, and using as little as one line has got an author in trouble. Besides, if the song only inspires you to think about the lyrics, you’re not trying hard enough. Lyrics are what the songwriter thought. We want your thoughts.

8. Write naked. I don’t mean nude ... not necessarily. But what I mean is for you to bare your soul. Write that which makes you uncomfortable, angry, or sad. Write the forbidden things. Write the forbidden words. You don’t have to show these to anyone -- in fact, I would suggest you not doing so -- but getting them on paper will get the ideas flowing.

9. Keep a journal. Jot down your thoughts. Don’t worry about publication or that it’s useful. Stick pictures and postcards and recipes and cut-out articles in there. Wise sayings, funny quotes, strange photos, bits of your dreams, anything that interests you is the only theme. When you feel blocked, flip through it. All that material will spark your creativity.

10. Do something new. Doesn’t have to be big. Walk a new path in the park. Try a new dish in a restaurant. Go into a new shop. Read a different genre. Go to a movie you wouldn’t ordinarily go to. Wear a hat -- if you don’t. Newness makes your creativity pay attention.

11. Use your chores to motivate you. I hate dusting. When I get stuck on a problem, I dust. I find my subconscious kicks in gear to keep me from having to dust. People always know I’m having trouble when my house is spotless. Pick a chore that requires not much equipment so that you can easily stop when you have your solution.

12. Turn off your TV. Turn off your TV. Turn off your TV. What’s on TV is rarely new. It’s rarely creative. And many studies have shown watching TV induces a passive state. Your pulse slows. It’s like a trance. This doesn’t mean there aren’t good shows worth watching. There are. But be very selective. Remember that old computer programmer adage: garbage in, garbage out.

13. Take a brief break. Sometimes we need to recharge. We need a bit of distance to see clearly. So take a quick walk. Make a cup of tea or coffee. Let your mind wander. It might just stumble on the solution. But don't break too long. Taking a break is a way to help you solve your problem, not ignore it.

Creativity can enhance your life in many ways. So go out there and unbind your creativity and show the world a better way.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. 

Friday, September 04, 2015


Yes, I'm becoming more liberal. Didn't think I would, but this last year has changed me in ways I didn't expect. I haven't changed in my belief that a government shouldn't spend more than it takes in and believe keeping a budget (both citizens and government) is the best way for our economy to improve, but I'm becoming very particular and vocal about what the government should be spending its money on.

First, bring our troops home. I'm tired of them dying. I'm sick of it. Whatever the various reasons are, they're not enough. Yes, that will save us some money, but frankly, I just want them home. A friend of mine's son died in Iraq. He died bravely and proudly, but I don't know when she will be able to go on with her life. Enough. I want our soldiers safe. I want them home. It's a nest of vipers over there, and we can't put our hands in without being bitten. Let's stop putting our hands in.

Second, education. We're falling behind the rest of the world in producing doctors, engineers, nurses, software designers, etc. Put our money into scholarships for students in those fields. Recapture our technological edge.

Third, buy American. Our government needs to buy American. I don't care if costs more. Buying paper, supplies, computers, cars, trucks, guns, ammo, uniforms, food, etc., from foreign firms only keeps our money flowing overseas. Spend our money here.

Fourth, stop giving money to foreign governments. Don't stop food for children or malaria nets or supplies for digging wells, but stop sending money overseas to prop up dictators. No more.

Fifth, make sure our children get good lunches and if necessary good breakfasts in their schools. Ketchup is not a vegetable. Anyone who says it is deserves to drown in a vat of it.

Sixth, fix our roads and bridges. Rebuild America before we rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan and whatever other county busy blowing itself up. Remember when America build the Interstates? We can do it again.

Seventh, strip all our Congressmen -- past and present -- of their benefits. They get what the poorest Americans get. Or they can buy their own. And hey, let's cut those salaries in half.

Eighth, our libraries and museums need money. Let's spend some on them. Make sure people have access to information they need.

Ninth, tax the living crap out of oil and pharmaceutical companies. They sell gas and drugs cheaper overseas than they do to us. Enough. Either treat Americans right or be taxed until we can't tax you anymore.

Tenth, do not allow -- ever again -- someone to bring a stupid "Their religious display offends me when I look" or "I don't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance" case to court again. We spend millions on these types of cases. Enough is enough. If the display offends you, don't look. You don't want to say the Pledge, then sit there and be quiet.

Eleventh, legalize marijuana. Yeah, I didn't think I would ever say that, either, but enough is enough. We're spending millions to enforce laws against it, and all we've done is crowd our courts and prisons. Let the tobacco companies have it -- and tax them.

Twelfth, speaking of tobacco companies, stop giving them farm subsidies. Bad enough that they lied about the hazards of smoking of years, bad enough we made a deal with them that in no way pays back all the government money spent to care for people with various cancers, but let's stop giving them money to grow a plant that kills people.

Enough for now. You can catch your breath. Sorry if I offended anyone, but if I did, perhaps you should consider that you're too easily offended.

Oh wait, one more thing. No more economic sanctions on foreign countries. I want us to flood them with our products, movies, magazines, computers, etc. We live an amazing life in America. We want them to want to be us. We want them to want what we have. And we want them to pay for it.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Only Way

I wish I knew an easier way to do whatever you want to do: write a book, run a marathon, rekindle your relationship with your spouse, achieve your dream ... but the only way I know is by work.

Working unceasing and giving up that which doesn't advance your goals.

Life is about choices, and each choice we make closes the door on another choice.

It's regrettable, it's hard, it makes me want to howl at times, but in the end, you have to believe that the sacrifice is worth it -- even if you fail.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Sword & Arm

From Sword and Arm

"So I'm not what you expected," Serika said. She tossed back her drink. "Am I darker than you thought?"

"No," Nathaniel said. "Darker than I hoped."


"Yes." He nodded. "It's a failing of mine. Even though we continue to live down to the lowest expectations, I keep hoping for something more."

She laughed, a brittle sound as cold as the ice in her drink. "Oh, this is rich! Who would have thought the Sword and the Arm could be so ... childish?"

He gave a slight shrug. "Everyone has their faults. Even you."

"Not nice of you to notice," Serika said, her fangs extending. "I suppose you'll try to kill me now."

"No," he said.

She widened her eyes. "Surely not mercy for me."

"No, no mercy for one such as you who has mercilessly preyed upon mankind," he said. He turned away.

"I don't ..." She stopped and looked at the drink. "You ..." The glass fell from her hand and shattered on the floor. "Poison ... you ..."

He didn't look back as her skin blackened and burned. She died with a curse on her lips.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Missing the Bat

Gospel singer and songwriter Gloria Gaither tells a story of her son Benji when he was young. He was four, I think, and they were having a party at the park. Benji was playing ball with his grandpa, and as Gloria walked toward her son, she saw him furiously throw down his plastic bat and scream, "You're missing my bat, Grandpa!" That's how the whole day went for Benji, she said. Nothing went right for him. Finally the day was over, and as she watched her exhausted son sleep, she thought about how we aren't very different from Benji. We stand there
with our needs out and scream at the world, "You're missing our needs!"

Bear with me. Every path leads to a destination.

It's been a long, hard year for me so far. Health difficulties, job anxiety, and money problems have occupied my time and mind. And this time around, writing hasn't stepped in to save me. Used to be, I could count on my myriad fantasy worlds to divert me, to fill my imagination so full that darkness couldn't even creep in around the edges. But I'm empty now. Just me in a huge echoing place that stretches to the dark horizons. Creepy.

Can't really blame writing for this. Writing has always been dependent on my ego. No, seriously, it is. Somewhere there is -- or was -- a voice inside me that said I could write as good as anyone else if I tried and worked at it. I don't know where that voice has gone. I can't hear it anymore. I think it tired of the responsibility. And without that certainty, that stubborn knowledge that I could do whatever I started out to do come hell or high water, I'm stalled.

I doubt now. I doubt everything now.

It could be I'm just tired. I don't get enough sleep. I don't seem able to get enough sleep. Or maybe it's only depression, the black dog, sapping my energy, stealing my willpower, pushing my face into the mud.

I wish I could get angry. I wish I had something to push against. A defeatable evil that I could righteously hurl myself against. I told my friend Gail today that I go around in a state of exhausted outrage.

I should be angry about health care, medical bills, dangerous additives in our food, the sorry stage of our justice system, and the fact that 32,000 people -- most of them children -- starve to death each day. I should be furious because capitalism has become another name for unbridled greed and because our elected officials whom we elected to protect our interests take bribes, gifts, trips, stocks, bonds, donations, and more from lobbyists who would sacrifice their mothers on the altar of their special interests.

Instead, I'm tired. I don't want to watch the news. Can't listen to NPR or FOX anymore. If I could retreat from the world, I would. I'd shut my door, take up my tent, go to the mountains, ship to a deserted island, and never return. The thing is, wherever I go, I'll still be taking me along.


It's the next day. I've read this back over, wondering if the whole point is simply a long drawn-out boring whine: "Life isn't treating me right. No one loves me. Poor, pitiful me." Whine, whine, whine. Whining isn't attractive in children and is downright annoying in adults.
I didn't sleep well last night. A flare of the IBD. Woohoo. In all the uncertainty in my life, I can always count on my stomach to punish me. I'm just not sure what I'm being punished for.
Somewhere inside me ... sometimes I feel that there is something inside me that wants out. It's fighting for freedom. It's trying to claw its way into the light. It's tearing away vast chucks of me, and I'm bleeding everywhere. Whatever it is, it's frantic. It's gasping for breath. It wants to leap into the sky, but it's held back, wings crippled, head forced down. But it's fighting for that glimpse of blue, that vastness which lies beyond what we're allowed to see.

Does this make any sense?

I've toyed with deleting the whole post. I've done that many times before: Wrote things I thought were too revealing so I delete or save for my private journal. It seems pointless to share a struggle with people who have their own burdens to bear. Why should they divert resources from their battles to aid me in mine?

We're funny creatures, though. Peculiar creatures. Halfway between the angels and the apes. Tangled in the webs of our problems, trashing around, occasionally throwing out a hand to pull ourselves up or to catch another before he or she falls into the depths. Lord only knows why we do it, why we sacrifice ourselves for others. It's in our nature -- the angel in us.


It's the next evening now. I haven't made up my mind to post this or not. Of course, if you're reading it, then you know the answer. If you're not reading it, only I know there was ever any question about posting it.

The thing about drifting is you're still going some place. Maybe slowly. Maybe too slowly to be defined as movement by anyone watching. Maybe too slowly to be felt even by you, but you're going somewhere. Every path leads to a destination.

Ah, but the rub is, the crux of the matter, the core of your personal life apple is this: Where you end up, can you live with it? Can you survive it? Is it where you wanted to go? If you had known where your path would lead, would you have followed it?

The easy thing is to not decide. To drift. To pretend drifting isn't a decision. To abdicate your responsibility for your life. But in the end, you will have to live with your decision to not decide. Every decision leads to a destination, that's more correct.

And life is happening whether or not we are ready for it or not. I'm glad to know you and to have you along with me on this journey. And someday we will rise to see light dawning across the indigo sky.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Write Your Own

I don't have anything witty or funny to say. Please fill this space with your witty comment. Why should I have to do all the work?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ghosts, Part 10

The town of Clement was different once, you know. We had businesses, homes, even our own post office. But businesses failed, people moved away, and we lost our post office to Shumark City. Tornadoes, fires, and time itself leveled most of what was left.

But back then, Clement had a thriving Main Street. And more than enough men to form Cotting's "posse." Larry and Ronald collected about twenty men, none of them armed with more than pocket knives. Cotting made sure there were no weapons besides his and the officers. Cotting wanted no one to steal his shot.

You probably find Cotting's eagerness to kill Simon strange. No bad blood existed between them. Cotting had only seen Simon with the Watts family around town a few times, and the two men had never met. But Cotting, you see, had been itching for a chance to kill another man ever since he killed his brother.

That murder happened like this. Devene Cotting had been jealous of his older brother Levi almost from the time Devene could walk. His parents doted on Levi and treated Cotting like the accident he was. Levi got the new clothes, Devene got the hand-me-downs. Levi received A's and B's in school while Devene struggled for every C. Levi had blue eyes, tousled blond hair, and a lean body made even stronger by football and track. Devene had muddy brown eyes, a tangle of black hair, and a body made by excessive sweets and second helpings of everything. Levi gave Devene plenty to be jealous of.

Until one day, when Devene was 13 and Levin was 15, they walked home from school on the old Crimsom Creek bridge, Levi a few steps ahead of his younger brother. It was report card day, and Levi was bragging about his straight A's while Devene walked behind and hated Levi with a purity only seen in madmen. Levi stopped and looked down at the river.

"What's he doing?" Levi said, not really asking his brother because he didn't care what his brother thought one way or another. He didn't hate Devene. He simply held him in contempt.

Levi had seen Terrance Mason on the side of the river. Mason held a black box and was turning in circles. They could hear that Mason was speaking, but they couldn't make out the words. Levi moved closer to the edge.

And suddenly it was all so clear to Devene Cotting what he should do. He stepped forward and pushed. Devene marveled at the simplicity of it.

Levi fell, screaming until he hit the water. He disappeared under the surface. Devene watched calmly as his brother struggled for a few moments, but Levi had apparently broke something in his fall. He vanished under the water finally and didn't come back up.

Devene watched the whole time. Movement caught his eye. Mason had walked to the edge of the river and looked up at Devene. Only then did Devene get scared. What did Mason see?

Mason looked out over the river and back at Devene. Mason waved to the boy. Mason walked away from the river back up a trail, carrying a black box under his arm.

Over the years, Cotting had decided Mason hadn't seen anything, although he didn't know how the barman had missed what happened. But what was Mason doing with that box, anyway? Probably something perverted, Cotting thought, and if Mason had seen anything, he certainly gave no sign of it.

And that was the end of Levi Cotting. Devene had thought his parents would turn to him, their only remaining child, but instead grief hardened their hearts. He would never measure up to Levi, and they let him know plenty about it until they were killed in car wreck outside Weatherford when Devene was twenty-three. With their money, he lived a good life and finally got the mayor, a beer drinking buddy, to appoint him as chief of police, a job where he got some respect and some authority.

Over the years as his boring life ground him down, Cotting had relived Levi's death many times. As he thought about it, Cotting realised something important, something essential had been missing in the murder. Finally one night while nursing a beer at Mason's Bar and Grill, he realized what it was. He hadn't got to see the fear in Levi's face. Levi hadn't suffered enough. It had been too quick.

He had stuffed that terrible thought to the back of his mind, but it had lurked there ever since. Now was his chance. He was finally going to get to kill someone the right way. For the first time in a long time, Police Chief Devene Cotting felt alive.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ghosts, Part 9

In the woods, Simon Simple continued to run. Not that he thought anyone was chasing him yet. He just enjoyed running in his newly granted grace. No shamble, no clumsy run that made him look like a flailing chicken. Instead, a clean, direct stride with no wasted movement. He felt like he was flying.

Davey hung to him. The boy had stopped crying and buried his head against Simon Simple. Simon thought the little fellow was about to go to sleep, which would not be a bad thing all things considered, particularly when Simon considered the terrors the night would hold.

As he ran, he began to think. To consider all the possibilities that his previously limited intelligence had denied him. To think about his life and how -- by being his companions -- the Shining Ones had influenced him.

He altered his direction at an ancient oak tree and carried Davey away from the gnarled woods behind the Watts house into a true forest. Trees that had lived at least two hundred years or more. A green canopy overhead. Shaggy moss. The trees grew taller the further he went, and the air filled with mist.

In a small clearing circled by bone white stones, three Shining Ones waited. Simon stopped, catching his breath. He checked Davey; the sleeping boy didn't stir. Simon stepped in the circle. He placed the little boy on a long stone. Davey shifted and opened his eyes, and seeing Simon, smiled a sleepy smile before drifting off again.

"I've had time to think," Simon said, still watching Davey.

Yes? The Shining Ones glanced at each other and waited.

"What if I kept running?" Simon asked softly. "What if I didn't stop until Davey was several states away? Would he be safe then?"

Perhaps, the first Shining One said. Is that your decision? If the Shining Ones had been humans, they would have held their breath.

"Will I lose my ... intelligence if I do?" Simon asked.

The second Shining One shook her head. What gifts have been granted would remain. You could live a good life. Perhaps marry and have children of your own. You could be happy. She paused. We would not condemn you for choosing happiness over pain and death, dear Simon.

Simon looked at her. "If you hadn't made me so smart," Simon said, "I'd choose that. I'd have a good life. Davey would have a good life." He smiled sadly. "But I can see plainly there would be a cost to my decision."

Yes, she said.

"What would happen to Nate and Bettie?"

They would be lost, the second one said.

"And Mattie? Jacob?" He stopped as his mind put together things he remembered but had previous lacked the ability to understand. Those nights Mattie had slipped out and returned early in the morning. Her strange comments at times to the children. Things she whispered under her breath. Her fits of temper and the remorse afterwards. He looked at the Shining Ones with stricken eyes. "Mattie! I didn't realize ..."

Do not judge her harshly, the third Shining One said. She is young and lonely. She is only seeking comfort. She doesn't understand what she has carried into her home. All humans make decisions that impact their future. None of them know the consequences of their simplest choices until time passes.

Simon closed his eyes. "If I choose to be happy, if I choose to take Davey to safety, everyone else suffers."

It is not all your burden, the first Shining One said. They have choices, also. No one future is set. But a handful of futures are more likely if you choose your happiness. In those handful, the children and their parents are irrevocably lost.

"So I must sacrifice myself to save them," Simon said. "This new world, my new future, the limitless possibilities ... I have to give it up."

It always comes to sacrifice, Simon, the third Shining One said. We do not know why humans have to purchase wisdom with pain. Nor life with sacrifice. But that is the way of this world. Simon, you don't have to choose this path.

Simon looked at him bleakly. "Yes, I do. Nate, Bettie ... Mattie, Jacob, they're my family." He half-smiled. "Surely they're worth whatever I have to pay, but before I do this, I require a promise."

If it is within our power, we will grant it, the second Shining One said. The first one looked at her, but did not speak.

"Protect Davey," Simon said.

We will try -- she started to say.

"No," Simon interrupted. "Promise to keep him safe. For me. Let that be my price."

We cannot promise-- the third one started.

We will protect him, the first one said. As we have said, so will it be.

The other two Shining Ones looked at him briefly and then repeated his words. As we have said, so will it be.

"Thank you," Simon said. He took a deep breath. "Now, what do I do next?"

First, we must tell -- now that you've made your decision -- that more lives hang in the balance than you might have realized, the first one said. The fallen ones have chosen this town to wage a conflict. If we fail, the evil unleashed here will spread. It will eat away the morality of thousands and create a nightmare where unspeakable horrors will be the norm. The first one stepped forward. We cannot allow that to occur. We must stand here or there will be nowhere left for anyone to stand.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ghosts, Part 8

You’re probably wondering about the box, aren’t you? What it is? Where it came from? Who sent it? What’s inside? Well, you’ll learn if you listen long enough. I will tell you this: Humanity has always had a strange relationship with boxes.

Remember Pandora? The myth shows up in many ancient cultures around the world. The details change, but there’s always a box. A box that shouldn’t be opened. Think about all those treasure chests that pirates supposedly hid and guarded with deadly man-traps. We have boxes everywhere. Coffers. Safety deposit boxes.


A few years back, a University of Oklahoma researcher did a test with boxes. He placed three boxes on a table. One box was round, one was a triangle, and one was rectangular. He sent people in and asked them to open the boxes. Everyone of them opened the rectangular box first.

Then he put a lock on the rectangular box and sent in new people. Even though they could see that box plainly couldn’t be opened, they all tried the lock first. He put the lock on the other boxes, and still his subjects choose the rectangular box. He didn’t draw any conclusions from that, and maybe there aren’t any to draw, but I should mention all the boxes were black. You see, his subjects always chose the one that most looked like the Curious Box the Watts kids found in the woods.

One other thing about boxes. We can’t leave them alone. We always want to open them no matter the consequences. I lay you odds if one morning a black box appeared before any human -- and if he or she was told that opening the box would destroy the world -- the world would be aflame before lunch. You can count on it.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ghosts, Part 7

Terrance Mason watched from behind the bar as Ronald sauntered in, looked around, and walked over to Larry.

“How many you had, Larry?” Ronald asked. “Can you still walk?”

“Get stuffed,” Larry said with no real malice.

“Cotting wants us to gather up a search party,” Ronald said, picking up one of the empties on Larry’s table. Only three so far. “That Watts idiot took their boy and ran off into the woods. We gotta find him.”

Larry’s dead father attempted to get Larry’s attention, but his son studiously ignored the ghost.

“Come on,” Ronald said. “The chief knows you’re drinking. If you don’t show up, he’s gonna fire you.”

Larry apparently considered unemployment for a moment. Larry sighed and stood up. “We need to go by my house and let me get cleaned up,” Larry said. He looked over to Mason. “Put this on my tab.”

“Sure thing, Larry,” Mason said. Not that he really kept track. It didn’t matter how much Larry owed Mason just as long as Larry kept drinking. In fact, Mason had been the one to show up with a twelve-pack after Lisajean left. Mason had also been the one who had given the salesman Lisajean’s address when the man stopped by for a quick drink. He liked to think of himself as Larry’s personal demonic angel.

Mason watched Larry leave the bar. Larry seemed fairly steady, but that was normal for a drunk of Larry’s experience.

Mason pulled himself a draught of Black Dog Lager. He raised the glass in a mock salute to Rod Sr. who stared at the barman with frustrated hate.

Rod Sr. faded out. Mason looked around at the handful of men in the bar. Not as many as he might have hoped, but they would do. He reached beneath the bar and bought out a black box, much smaller than the Curious Box in the forest, but large enough for what Mason had in mind.

“Come over here, boys,” Mason said expansively. “I’ve got something to show you.”

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ghosts, Part 6

The useless men at Clement mostly hung around at Mason's Bar and Grill, although the grill hadn't been lit in years. Mason stacked boxes of beer and liquor on it. On most nights, about 15 to 20 men would shuffle into the bar, play some pool, throw a round or two of darts, tell a few dirty jokes, and do their dead level best to drink themselves senseless with Mason's delighted help.

The bar opened in the early afternoon, but only the real serious drunks showed up that early. Like Teddy Aimes who came back from military service with memories he couldn't live with, Lonny Dewey who started drinking when he was 12 and wouldn't stop until he died when his liver finally gave out, and on the the day I'm talking about, Officer Larry Tweans who hadn't been right since his wife left him for a flooring salesman three years ago.

Larry had built his life about his lovely wife, Lisajean. They had dated in high school, the football quarterback and the blond bouncy head cheerleader. A cliche couple, it seemed. When they married, Larry thought his life was set. He'd work at his father's furniture store until his father retired when he'd take over, Lisajean would raise two or three beautiful children but keep her looks, and they would live in a large house over on Oak Street where the kids and then the grandkids would play.

Larry, as it turned out, should have spent less time on the football field and more time talking to Lisajean. 'Cause Lisajean had no intention of settling for Clement when she could travel and do more exciting things than what Larry had envisioned for her. After a year of being married to dependable ol' Larry, she was ripe for the picking when that salesman showed up and told her his cousin Jack ran a TV station in Oklahoma City and he'd love to introduce Lisajean to Jack as well as introduce her to a better life than she had in Clement.

She left a note detailing Larry's failings. He kept it in his front pocket. He went on a three-day drunk. That was so much better than being sober he started planning his weekends around getting plastered. His father and mother tried to intervene, particularly after a terrible Monday morning when Larry showed up at their furniture store still drunk and threw up on a large three-piece micro-suede sectional couch. Larry quit the next day. The Wednesday following, two men already on the run from the FBI robbed his parents' store and shot his father twice. His father died, the men were never caught, Larry's older brother Rod Jr. took over the store, and Larry decided to become a policeman.

He stayed sober for the year and half necessary for him to take a few law enforcement classes at the vo-tech at Sumark City. He applied for the part-time position at Clement to get a few months of actual work experience. His half-formed plan was to get a job with the Oklahoma City PD as a traffic cop, and soon after stop Lisajean's car for speeding. He was hazy on what would happen after that, but it either involved him discovering a few ounces of cocaine in the trunk of her car or her declaring her undying love upon seeing him.

Possibly his plan might have worked out for him. At least it might have moved him out of Clement. Might have let him discover something else in his life other than bitterness.

It might have happened as he planned, but one night, his dead father started appearing to him. First in his dreams and then when he was awake. His father haunted him all the time now. In fact, Larry's father Rod Sr. was sitting in the chair next to him and would be until Larry drank him away.

Larry knew -- in that way you know things in dreams -- that his father wanted to talk to him. So far Larry hadn't let him. Larry was afraid. Not so much of his father's ghost, but what his father wanted to tell him.

Larry knew like he knew gravity that his father's words would get him killed.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ghosts, Part 5

If there are always heroes, there are also always villains. Now those people who choose evil for its sake alone are rare and easy to recognize. They do a lot of damage, and you put them down like a mad dog. You don’t torture them, no. You kill them as quickly and as merciful as you can, but you do kill them.

But most aren’t like that. Most people who do evil -- sometimes terrible things -- they always have reasons, justifications, excuses. Police Chief Devene Cotting of our fair town of Clement, for instance, always found the law was a bit too confining. Law requires evidence, law requires work, and law requires you protect everyone, not just the skin color you like.

Clement was larger back then and could afford Cotting and two part-time deputies. Nowadays the county sheriff handles our town if we need him, but mostly we don’t. Too few of us left to do much stealing or carrying on or anything else. See, the life went out of our town forty years ago, and Clement never recovered. Sometimes I think a big fire would be the best thing. Finally put Clement out of its misery.

Anyway, back then, Cotting ran Clement like it was his private whore. A big brute of a man, he strutted around Clement and really thought he was God’s gift to the world when he wasn’t worth a good gob of spit.

Unfortunately, after Nate and Bettie finished telling their poison tale to Jacob and Mattie, and after Jacob and Mattie had searched desperately for Simon Simple and Davey, Cotting was who they called on that phone over there. See, the Watts couldn’t afford a phone, so Jacob ran the half-mile down here to call the police. Back then, old man Fisher owned the store.

Even then, Jacob didn’t tell Cotting the terrible things that Nate and Bettie had said Simon had done to Davey. Jacob still hoped they were wrong, but he was already losing faith in Simon. He was starting to fall. Not his fault. Every father wants their children protected. Every father suffers and blames themselves when their children are hurt. No, it wasn’t his fault at first. The best thing evil does is take good impulses and turn them inside out and upside down. The difference between a saint giving his life for others and a fanatic taking the life of others is razor thin.

Cotting hung up the phone at his two room police station. “Ronald, get your ass in here! That idiot up at the Watts place run away with their boy.” He spit a wad of chewing tobacco at the trash can and missed, the brown wad joining the pile on the floor. “God only knows what he’s doing to him. They should have put him away years ago.”

Officer Ronald Wellans wandered into the room. Cotting regarded him with contempt. Ronald was lazy and slow, but he didn’t give Cotting any lip.

“Where’s Larry?” Cotting asked.

“He called in sick,” Wellans said, leaning against the doorway.

“Drunk, you mean,” Cotting said. “You go over to his house and get him out of bed. Gather up some people and head up to the Watts place. That idiot doesn’t have the brains to go far.”

Wellans yawned.

“GO!” Cotting yelled, his round face getting red.

Wellans sighed and went.

Cotting circled around his desk and opened the gun case. He took down his deer rifle. He looked through the scope. If he got lucky, he might bag himself an idiot today. He couldn’t stop himself from grinning as he thought about it. He had only killed one other person in his life, and that had been his miserable brother. This promised to be even more fun. He headed toward his truck, whistling a little tune.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ghosts, Part 4

You're back. Well, it's your funeral. Heh heh. But remember this: there is always hope and there are always, always, always heroes.

You recall when I was telling you about the Watts family, I mentioned the father Jacob; the mother, Mattie; the three children: ten-year-old Nate, nine-year-old Bettie, seven-year-old Davey; and one other, Mattie’s brother Simon Simple.

Of course, that wasn’t his name. Well, Simon was his first name, but he got “Simple” because he was. He was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his throat. Lack of oxygen damaged his brain. He couldn’t talk and had trouble walking. The doctors would have put him in a home, but his parents took their baby boy home and raised him with as much love as they could manage among all those other children. Simon had one gift; the best gift, his mother used to say, and that was he could love better than anyone you’ve ever known. When one of his brothers or sisters got hurt, he’d wrap them in his clumsy embrace and coo to them. It was silly and makes no sense, but he made them feel better.

In the little country school he went to, the other kids made fun of him, and eventually he became Simon Simple. He didn’t care what they said; he just laughed along with them and eventually the name stuck. No one thought much of it, certainly not him. But if those kids or his parents or those doctors could have seen into his mind, they would have been shocked. Because since he was born, the Shining Ones had been his constant companions, and in the gentle paradise that he spent his life in, he was never alone. They patiently taught him secret songs and hidden languages, and with great regret, prepared him for the Trial to come. It didn’t matter what the outside world saw; in his inner world, Simon lived the life of a prince of the sky.

Older than Mattie by three years, he attached to her when she was born, and to the best of his ability, he tried to take care of her. When she married and moved away, he was sad to the point of not eating. When his mother came down ill, the family asked Mattie and Nate to take him. They willing did, and to their credit, even during their hard financial times, they never thought of sending him back. He was a good companion to the children – not so much that he took care of them, but because they tried to take care of him, they didn’t do dangerous things that children sometimes do.

On that hot summer morning, Simon had been attempting to weed the poor garden. Simon had grown up large and strong, still clumsy, but capable of more than anyone would expect. He was trying to figure out if a particular plant was a weed or an onion when a Shining One came to him, and in a voice full of love said, Simon, our love, it’s time.

For a moment he stood there, the outside world snapping into focus for the first time in his life. He looked at the Shining One and smiled, his face full of courage and willing obedience. Then he ran toward the woods, with every stride his clumsy steps becoming steady and straight. Behind him, the Shining One watched and wept as Simon Simple raced to his destiny.

In the woods, Bettie brought the box up to Davey and said, “Open it, Davey. There’s a surprise inside.”

Davey stretched out his little hand, but innocence has its own wisdom, and he paused. Once Nate had hid a frog in his hand and threw it at Davey. Davey liked frogs, but it had still been scary at first. He shook his head.

Nate’s hands tightened on his shoulders. Davey tried to shrug him off, but Nate’s grip became stronger.

“Open it, Davey,” Nate commanded harshly.

“No!” Davey said and began to struggle.

Bettie caught Davey’s hand and brought it to the box.

Davey began to cry. “No, Bettie, no!”

Bettie laughed. She pulled harder, and his hand touched the box.

Davey screamed. He could feel the Curious Box moving under his hand, like a surface made of oily snakes.

“Open it!” Nate forced Davey to his knees.

Bettie shuddered as the creature in her drank in his delicious fear, sweeter than honey, and fiery like pepper.

Davey screamed again. He felt himself going numb, his mind trying to protect him, trying to close his eyes, trying to protect his little boy spirit from things that shatter the strongest adults.

The Curious Box started to open; inky blackness flowed toward Davey.

And then Simon Simple, running like an Olympian, swept Davey up into his big, strong arms and kept running, his passage scattering Bettie and Nate like chaff in a strong wind, the Curious Box closing with an angry snap and tumbling across the rocky ground.

Simon Simple disappeared in the woods before Nate and Bettie could recover.

“So he’s the one,” Bettie said as she picked up the Curious Box and carried it easily under her arm.

“He will be no trouble,” Nate said. “They chose badly.”

Bettie smiled widely at him. “No, no trouble. Particularly not after we tell her the naughty, naughty thing we caught the imbecile doing to our precious little brother.”

Nate laughed. He reached over and took her hand.

They walked toward the house, where Jacob slept and Mattie did the washing, and where worse things were to come.

You see, there are always heroes. Even simple ones.

That’s all for tonight. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe not. It’s up to you. Remember, too, that people always have choices. Always.

Copyright 2015by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ghosts, Part 3

Let me drag up a chair. Standing up all day is hard on my back. Not that I have all that many customers anymore. Not now that the town of Clement is mostly dead, and folks zoom right past on Highway 17 since it opened ten years back. But I stay busy one way or another. People can always find things to do if they don't give into idleness.

Like the Watts children on that hot summer day. They had been busy, having already played cowboys and Indians -- Nate playing the cowboy, of course, with Bettie taking the role of a fierce Indian warrior and little Davey being an Indian prince -- and knights and knaves with Nate as Knight Nate, Bettie as Knight Rose, and Davey as Prince Peter. Nate and Bettie argued fiercely about her knighthood, but Bettie had no intention of standing around and just being rescued when clearly the fun was in swinging a stick (standing in for a sword) and vanquishing evil.

As his two older siblings bickered, seven-year-old Davey wandered off. Quite content to splash in the tepid water and catch what bugs and frogs he could find, he followed the stream farther into the woods. He found a large puddle and started floating twigs, leaves, and just about anything else he could find.

Bettie ran up to him. "Davey, you're not supposed to wander off," she scolded.

"Yeah, Davey," Nate said. "Bears might get you."

"Ain't none," Davey said, dropping a large rock into the puddle.

"Are to!" Nate said.

"Are not!" Bettie said, always willing to argue with Nate. "Bears live in the woods."

"We're in the woods!" Nate said.

"Not here, dofus!" Bettie said scornfully. "Alaska and Canada and Norway. Places like that." She actually wasn't sure if Norway had bears, but she thought she remembered her teacher saying Norway was cold, and if it was cold, it should have furry things.

"Don't call me that!" Nate hollered and swung his stick at her.

"Dofus, dofus, dofus!" Bettie ran across the creek, dodging her brother's stick and hurrying to pick up hers.

Little Davey ignored them. He watched the large puddle and wondered why it started to bubble. He didn't know enough to be afraid. Who would?

Nate and Bettie battled it out. Nate had a longer reach, but Bettie had a longer stick so it was an even fight.

As Davey watched, a box floated up out of the puddle, the water parting and sliding off its black sides until it was fully exposed. Davey gave a little laugh of surprise.

"Davey, what you got?" Bettie asked. "Stop it, Nate! I'm not playing anymore." She walked over to her little brother.

"I wasn't playing," Nate said, continuing to swing at the dragon in his imagination.

"Where did you get that?" Bettie asked Davey.

"Puddle," Davey said, pointing.

"No, you didn't," Bettie said, looking doubtfully at the puddle. The box was clearly bigger than the puddle.

"Did," Davey said.

"What is it?" Bettie said.

"It's a box!" Nate said. "Even a dofus knows that."

"You would know," Bettie said, still staring at the box. Made out of a black wood that barely showed the grain, the box had no decoration. Just plain straight black sides that fitted together perfectly and a lid held shut by a black metal latch. She stretched out her hand and touched the box. She jerked her hand back. "It's cold!"

"Let me feel!" Nate demanded and pushed her aside. He put his hand on it. "It is not. You're dreamin' things again."

Bettie pushed him back. "Am not."

"Open it!" Nate said. "There might be money in it."

"No," Bettie said. "People don't keep money in black boxes. Don't you know anything?" She felt uneasy as she stared at the box. "This is curious." She was proud of having remembered that word. "It's a curious box."

"Yes, the Curious Box!" Nate said. "And it's ours."

"No, it's not," Bettie said.

"Finders, keepers," Nate said.

"Finders, keepers," Davey echoed.

"Where did it come from?" Bettie said, looking around the woods.

"Someone must have dropped it," Nate said. "Let me see." He tried to open the latch, but it wouldn't give. "It must be locked."

"It doesn't belong to us," Bettie said. "Leave it alone."

"I bet I could get it open," Nate said, looking for a rock.

"No!" Bettie said, having made her mind up. "We'll leave it here where we found it."

"I'm going to open it," Nate said.

"No!" Bettie pushed Nate. He pushed back harder. Bettie gritted her teeth and jumped on him. The two wrestled with Bettie giving as good as she got and then some.

Davey picked up the box. Despite its size, he lifted it easily. Carrying it carefully before him, he started back down the stream.

"Davey, where you going?" Nate broke free of his sister and hurried after Davey.

"Momma," Davey said. He had a little boy's faith in his mother. She'd know what to do with it.

"Let's open it!" Nate said, reaching out to take the box.

"No," Davey said. "Momma."

Nate tried to take the box, but Davey was determined to hold on to it. Bettie ran up and pushed Nate away.

"Leave him alone," Bettie told Nate. "Let's take it to Momma."

"I wasn't saying we shouldn't," Nate said. "I just want to open it first."

"Here, Davey, let me carry it," Bettie said. Davey readily handed it over and walked on. She grunted.

"It's heavy," Bettie said.

"Heavy for a girl," Nate said. "Davey was carrying it easy."

"Dofus," Bettie said.

"STOP CALLING ME THAT!" Nate yelled.

"Dofus, dofus, dofus!" Bettie said.

"I'm gonna hit you!" Nate said.

"Dofus is as dofus does!" Bettie said.

Nate shoved her hard. Bettie fell back to the ground with a shriek. The Curious Box fell, and as easy as that, it opened. Both Bettie and Nate saw inside.

For a moment, Bettie felt like she was in a nightmare, that one where something was crushing her and she tried to scream and wake up, but that only left her with nothing to breathe and she heard her ribs crack and blood gushed up her throat and down her lungs and blackness took her eyes.

Nate felt hot and heavy, like he had a huge meal. But what he ate was still alive and eating its way out of his stomach and his skin began to tear and lurch as the worms gnawed their way out and he opened his mouth to scream and the shiny black worms flowed out his mouth as he fell.

The lid of The Curious Box shut then. Nate and Bettie stared at each other. Their bodies were untouched, but what stared out of their eyes was something oh so different from the children they had been. They both turned as one.

"Davey," Bettie said happily. "Come here."

"Come here and see what's in the box," Nate said cheerfully. "It's really neat."

And little sweet innocent Davey -- who always looked up to his siblings and trusted them only the way a child could -- stopped and looked at them. He made his way back toward where they stood.

Bettie leaned down over the box. She smiled at Davey, but her eyes were empty.

Nate put his cold, cold, hands on Davey's shoulders.

I have to stop here. I'm sorry. I don't know ... I don't know if I can tell you ... Listen, you should go. Go away. Don't come back tomorrow. If you come back tomorrow ... if you come back ... there's more to tell. There's more. And God help ya, I'll tell you. I'll tell you.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ghosts, Part 2

So you came back? Want to hear more, do ya? Look, you seem like a nice person. This isn't a story for a nice person. Maybe you shouldn't learn any more 'bout it. It's up to you. I'm giving you the choice.

I'm not saying you're afraid, mind you. After all, stories like these are as common as dirt in the Ozarks. Always some ghosts wandering here and there and raising unholy hell. But this story is different. I'll tell you the difference in a bit.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes, I remember. Now before you can understand the story, you need to know the people. The Watts family. Let's start with Jacob. Folks thought of him as a nice man when they thought of him. Nothing remarkable. He had pale blue eyes, a straight back, and a body hard from work. His father Ezrah was a drunk who fell into a pond and drown one night, but not before he gave Jacob the hard side of his hand too many times. Jacob's mother Laura died from the flu when Jacob was five, so Jacob fended for himself from then until his father finally died when he was 15. The next year he met Mattie.

Mattie was the sixth girl in a family of eleven who could only feed five well if that. Despite how poor her family was, Mattie always had a ready smile, and her green eyes and long black hair outshone her hand-me-down clothes. She helped her mother as best she could and knew how to milk the cows and shuck the corn and snap the peas. She had to leave school in the eighth grade to help the family, and every time she entered her family's overcrowded house, she had to fight down desperation.

Mattie and Jacob met at the old Arbor Creek Holiness church during a hellfire and brimstone revival when they were only 16 and 15 respectively. They married the next year, Jacob in a gray suit borrowed from his brother Sam, and Mattie in a wedding dress her cousin Ailene gave her. Their clothes didn't quite fit, but Jacob beamed and Mattie had tiny white flowers in her hair, and they were a right good lookin' couple. Everyone remarked on that.

They moved into Jacob's house up there on the hill. They fixed it up real pretty. Jacob and Mattie were young and worked hard and pinched every penny until it squealed. Maybe things would have gone differently for them if the babies hadn't started coming so fast, but they did. First, Bettie, then Nate, and finally little Davey, one right after the other. On Davey, something tore inside Mattie, and she nearly died. She spent five months in the Baptist Hospital and recovered, but she could never have any more children. And the medical bills ate them alive.

Jacob ran a few cattle on his place, raised a handful of chickens, and planted just about anything that would grow on his thirteen acres. He sold what the family didn't eat, and it had been enough until those bills started arriving. Mattie and him talked a long time about it, but finally he took a night job over at Sumark City working in a chicken plant. He'd work all night, come home, and do chores until he couldn't, then collapse.

Mattie took to sending the kids outside to play for hours so Jacob could sleep. She told them to stay in the yard and near the house, but summer heat drove them into the woods behind their house.

On a hot day in July when the sun blazed mercilessly and no wind stirred the browning grass, the children would go farther into those dark deep woods, and beside a trickle of water in a rocky creek, they found the Curious Box.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ghosts, Part 1

You'll keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you. Doesn't matter what you've seen or heard on that old dirt road across from the old Watts place.

It's better, in fact, if you don't go up there. Don't drive up there. Go around the hill and take Highway 17 even though it takes you miles out of your way. That's safer. You'll sleep better at night.

I know, I know. It's just an old house. Two-story farmhouse with more holes than wood left in its walls and a roof that allows the rain easy access as well as the birds if any birds dared to enter and they don't. A broken wooden fence that marks off the old yard, the yard the Watts children once played in until they didn't. Weeds up to your waist. And always the buzzing of two or three green flies.

From the road, during the spring when the black-eyed susan and Indian paintbrush are blooming, foolish tourists stop sometimes to take pictures. It's scenic, they say, having seen the house from the highway. But the photos they take never turn out right, and most people find they don't like the pictures. Some people make the mistake of staring at the photos too long, and they see things in those black windows, horrible things that aren't there when they look again.

We old-timers know about that house. We know what happened forty years ago. We know why it was boarded up. And we're afraid we know what lingers there in the ruins of the Watts family home.

Come close. Even though we're a half mile away, it's better to talk softly. Don't attract its attention. No, I don't know what exactly might hear us, but I don't want to find out. You don't want to find out.

Forty years ago, you see, the whole Watts family was destroyed. Jacob Watts, his wife Mattie, Jacob's brother Simon Simple, and the children, Bettie, Nathan, and little Davey. They were destroyed. Not just killed. Killing would have been a kindness. No, they were destroyed. The adults reduced to raving creatures; the children vanished with no sign of them ever found. Only one of the family survived. Just one. And he's mad. Oh, completely mad, they say.

It's late now. Time for me to close the store, but I'll tell you more if you come back tomorrow. I'll tell you how it began. What the children found and what happened next. No one knows the end of it, but I'll tell what I know tomorrow.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.