Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Places I'd Rather Be"

Places I'd Rather Be 
By Stephen B. Bagley

On a beach --

No, on a beach with white sand --

Wait, on a beach with white sand and the only sound the ocean --

Hey, on a beach with white sand and the only sound the ocean and a tall cold fruity umbrellaed drink in my hand --

Yes, on a beach with white sand and the only sound the ocean and a tall cold fruity umbrellaed drink in my hand as I lounge in the shade beneath palm trees and you walk toward me, smiling, the sun glistening on your wet skin as you rise out of the waves ...

In your arms.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From the forthcoming book "Eternal." Thank you for reading.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Weary

Do you ever feel inexpressibly weary of this world's stupidity? Or really just the stupidity of man? No, I'm not throwing in the towel on us yet, but I remain astonished and dismayed by the utter and complete disregard for true science and true faith that is rampant these days. We have set ourselves up as little gods, and the reckoning will be terrible. God really doesn't have to do anything for us to destroy us in an apocalypse; we'll do it all on our own.

We'll blame Him, of course. We always do when bad things happen, even though many of these disasters are the result of our bad planning and bad decisions, but we won't take the blame for not installing tornado shelters, for not moving populations away from earthquake and tsunami zones, for not following safety standards in food and buildings, by not addressing inequities in food and wealth so that children don't starve to death, for letting hate-filled demagogues win our political offices, for not stewarding our environmental resources so that we can be sure our children's children's children will still have farmland and forests.... You can easily add to this list of disasters. They're all our decisions. It's easier, cheaper, faster to make bad decisions now. After all, we can always blame God later on.

I think the biggest tribute to God's love and mercy is that He hasn't swept us off this earth already. If I were God, I know...as I watch the news about North Korea, Charlottesville, Burkina Faso, Wisconsin...I know I would be sorely tempted.

And this is why I rarely watch the news, Alice. Now you know.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A religious ramble

A good friend of mine has said that she has reached the age where she doesn't have to associate with people she doesn't like or simply doesn't enjoy. I understand this. I think time and self-respect do the same for most of us. However, it does mean when I don't hear from her in a while, I wonder if I'm in that group now. :)

The danger in this may be if you're basing your choices on skin color or race or other superficial qualities. There's much to be said for going outside what you usually enjoy. We grow in that way. She isn't basing her choices on that so don't think I'm taking a potshot at her. In fact, in many ways, I've done that, too, in my life, but I try to ensure I'm including a diversity of friends in who I'm keeping.

One subset that I've been dropping is people who blame the world and circumstances for their problems instead of realizing their decisions have consequences. I want to point out a common error in so-called Christian thinking--the Bible never says God will rescue you from the troubles caused by what you did on this earth; He promises to be with you throughout and will welcome you into His care after your life is over, but He's not a genie granting your every little wish.

I call such thinking "The Gumball God." We put in a prayer, and we expect a blessing as easy and simple as that. Just like putting a quarter into a gumball machine, out pops our blessing. We're busy in attempting to make God into something we can control or at least understand. We keep trying to put Infinite into the Finite and are frustrated when God just doesn't fit.

One of my ways of looking at God is He is the ultimate artist. He made this beautiful world filled with mountains, oceans, forests, humans, animals, and so much more. Like any artist, He doesn't like it when people destroy His art. A good way to make decisions might be to ask yourself if what you're doing is making His art more beautiful or if it is marring His work. It's how I try to live my life. I fail often, but it's what I aim for.

Yes, I've wandered all over the place in this. Hope you enjoyed the ramble.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

I'm a tree

My diabetes nurse has this chart where she logs your weight and then figures out how tall you should be. Apparently, I should be a Redwood.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Diet,
Our relationship is in terrible trouble. You're bland and boring, and I can't stop cheating on you with Little Debbie.
Worried,
Me

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My inner voice

My diabetes education nurse says we all have an "inner fatty" who talks to us. Mine talks all the time, and I must say he has many tasty ideas.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Seriously

Autocorrect is a terrible nuisance. The other day I tried to order "salad" and autocorrect changed it to "four tacos and an order of nachos." They really need to get that drive-in microphone fixed.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Doctor's orders

Well, my doctor told me that I cannot host dinners for six people. Unless, of course, the other five people are actually there eating their share of the food. Spoilsport.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Problem

So sad. I saw my coffee cup by my desk and I thought maybe there was coffee left in it because I usually take it to the sink when I finish the cup so I raised it up and it was empty.... Sigh. It's actually too late to be drinking coffee if I want to sleep--and I do despite what you may have heard--but I thought a swallow or two wouldn't hurt. But it was empty. Then I thought I would share this because the world is facing real problems and so am I. I should probably do a Facebook post, too....

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Good Advice

It's hard to find a friend who is intelligent, handsome, funny, charming, humble, and kind...so y'all shouldn't misplace me. Who knows when you'd be lucky enough to find someone like me again?

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Wish someone would try

Listen, you can't buy my love, really you can't...but you sure can buy a whole lot of liking from me

Friday, August 04, 2017

Wednesday Night Writers Discuss Aging Characters

"What I want to know is why every older person in a book either has to be filled with wisdom or is decrepit," Faraway said. "What's wrong with having a mature person who is just like the other characters in the book -- messed up and passionate."

Divine looked startled. "Passionate?"

Faraway frowned at her. "Don't tell me that you believe old people don't have sex."

"I believe they do, but I try not to think about it," Aromance muttered. She shuddered.

"America is aging," Faraway said, glaring at Aromance. "The Baby Boomers are going to be in their sixties and seventies soon. They won't be content to wither away quietly. Books should reflect that, and they don't. Instead, books feature young people. TV shows feature young people. Movies feature young people. Listen, kiddies, I don't worship in the cult of youth. I never met a teenager yet that could carry on a decent conversation about anything important."

"The blueberry muffins I brought have fiber added," Cookbookins said. "And we each get two. TWO. No more, no less." She held up two fingers.

"Did you say two?" Realer asked, with a smirk. He waggled three fingers at her.

"I think fiction will change to accommodate an older audience," Begenre said. "I've recently read several mysteries that feature sleuths in their sixties and seventies. I think fiction overall will reflect an active maturity as we see more vital people in real life who are in their sixties and seventies. Remember, it's only been in the past few decades that medicine has allowed people to live longer and healthier lives."

"TV is to blame," Eongo said.

The others sighed.

"Even I can see that TV isn't the greatest evil on earth," Divine said. "And I write letters protesting that degenerate MTV all the time."

"No, listen to me," Eongo said. "Advertisers want to buy advertising on programs that target young people because young people spend more on disposable items."

"Like bling," Faraway said.

"Exactly," Eongo said. "So networks and television studies make shows that feature young people because those are the ones that make the most advertising revenue. Remember what happened to Murder She Wrote when it was placed opposite of Friends?"

"I saw those shows on NetFlix, I think," Teenwriter said, uncertainly. "Don't any of you watch Game of Thrones?"

"That was more of an audience decision," Begenre said. "More people wanted to watch Friends than Murder She Wrote. You can't blame the networks for that. They're only giving the public what they want."

"I can blame them and do," Eongo said. "They create the demand for the shows. They only show us programs with young people so people are influenced by those shows to want more shows with young people. They create the demand for youth-oriented shows and so they produce youth-oriented shows and that creates more demand for other youth-oriented shows. It's a vicious circle."

"If the choice is between older people and hot young people like Matthew Perry, the hot young people are always going to be the audience's choice," Aromance said.

"Angela Lansbury was just as hot as Courtney Cox," Eongo declared.

Realer spewed muffin across the room as he coughed. Begenre thumped him on the back.

"Seriously, do any of you watch Netflix?" Teenwriter asked. 'And who is Matthew Perry?"

"Just because you wasted a good muffin doesn't mean you get another one," Cookbookins said.

"That's my point," Eongo said, pointing at Realer. "We've been conditioned to think youth people are desirable. What's wrong with showing older people who are desirable?"

"I'm not sure that has anything to do with fiction," Begenre said. "I think it has to do with babies."

"Babies?" Eongo asked.

"Throughout history, men have wanted younger wives because they could produce more babies," Begenre said. "If you believe in evolution, then we have a biological need to reproduce, and so we orient toward young people because they can have more babies than an older person can."

Divine frowned at the mention of evolution.

"Then you saying fiction will continue to feature young people," Faraway said. "That's unacceptable."

"I agree," Divine said. "We are more than biology." She looked at Begenre. "Much more. Fiction doesn't just reflect reality; it can also shape reality. As writers, we have a responsibility to write books that uplift the readers and change their values in a positive way. To claim that you're only giving the public what it wants is to cater to the lowest common denominator. It's using your writing gift simply to profit yourself and not others. Great fiction challenges the reader. It helps them grow."

"It's like chocolate-dipped pineapple chunks," Cookbookins said, shaking the crumbs of a muffin off her dress.

The others looked at her.

"See, I was dipping strawberries in chocolate for my niece's wedding reception," Cookbookins said. "But I didn't have enough strawberries because the store was out. So I looked around my kitchen and saw several cans of pineapple chunks. I drained the chunks and then dipped them in chocolate." She smiled at the group.

A pause.

"I don't quite follow you," Begenre said slowly. "How does that relate?"

Cookbookins sighed. "Isn't it obvious? I wrote in my newspaper column about using pineapple for dipping, and several of my readers wrote in to tell me that they had tried it and liked it, too. I wrote about it yesterday. Doesn't anyone read my column?"

"I haven't had a chance," Faraway said. "But I will as soon as I go home."

"I don't take the paper," Begenre muttered.

"My point is that by writing what I did, I influenced my readers to do the same," Cookbookins said. "So I -- how did you put it? -- shaped reality."

"Ah," Begenre said. "I get it."

"That actually made sense," Realer said with wonder.

"And it related to what we were talking about," Aromance said.

"Of course, it did," Cookbookins said. "I always make sense. You just don't understand me."

"We'll try to do better," Realer said. He exchanged bemused glances with the others.

"Since we can shape reality, we need to careful to portray mature characters in an active and interesting fashion," Faraway said. "Old age is not the same as useless and uninteresting."

And on that note, we were out of time.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Whispers

Whispers
By Stephen B. Bagley

He whispered as he held her:
This could get messy --
this thing between us.
We could lose everything
for a stolen moment.

Stolen from this empty world
that breaks everything
eventually. We will break
too, you know.

A cross word, a sideways glance,
a silence at the wrong instant.
I'll be cold, you'll be hot,
timing is everything and all 
clocks wind down.

We shouldn't. It's not wise.
It's beyond stupid. We're 
risking battered hearts.
We might not survive.

So we walk away now.
We forget. We go back.
We do the smart thing.
The smartest thing.

She whispered:
I'm sure you're right
but if it's so,
why then am I
still in your arms?

He didn't reply
and held her close
as the moon sailed toward
the shores of morning.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From the forthcoming Many Rivers Harbor book Eternal.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Bit of an update

I've been looking for authors who might be a good fit for a professional writing group that I lead. I thought I had found one, but fortunately before I asked her, I discovered that she didn't support other authors. She said she needed readers, not authors, and she wouldn't read other authors' posts nor buy their books because she was focusing on her own career.

I have no patience with that. Like I said, I hadn't yet mentioned the writing group to her, so no harm, no foul.

The minimum an author can do is cheer on fellow authors. People who do not...I do not respect them and will not waste my time helping them when they do not help other people.

That professional writing group is meant for authors helping other authors, authors supporting other authors, authors contributing to other authors, and authors sharing knowledge with other authors. She did not belong, and it is no loss to us...but it might be one for her.
***
I've not been pursuing my creative goals the way I would like to. Lately, I've been focusing on my health. I'm determined to regain my strength and endurance if that's possible, and I believe it is. Right now, simply walking a fair distance leaves me exhausted. It's slowly getting better, but oh so slowly. I have to keep reminding myself that it took years of neglect--and bad genetics--to get me in this shape. Fixing the problems isn't going to happen overnight. As for the genetics, there's research that shows exercise, proper diet, and healthy lifestyle can cause bad genes to stop expressing themselves and trigger good genes. So...it's possible. Just going to take some time. A friend likes to say, "You're not in a dash; you're in a marathon." True.

But with my energies focused on my health, I find my imagination mostly focuses on sleep. I've always struggled with getting enough sleep--my brain is a busy monster--so I imagine what it would feel like to get eight hours uninterrupted sleep and wake refreshed and ready to go. Like when I was 20 and didn't think about bouncing out of bed.

I've been wondering I need a new bed. I see a lot of commercials talking about various beds, so many so that I can't figure out what would best. It's something I'm going to research over the next few months. Input would be appreciated.

Anyway, this is me signing off. Hope you have a great night.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Modern Life

It's good advice to dance like no one is watching you. Because they're not. They looking at their iPhones. Unless you dance like fire ants have invaded your undies and then they're pointing their phones at you so that they can post the video online. #IHateModernLife #DoNotAskHowIKnow

Monday, July 31, 2017

"A Lazy Day" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Recently, Poem-A-Day featured this lovely poem by one of my favorite poets.

"A Lazy Day"
By Paul Laurence Dunbar

The trees bend down along the stream,
Where anchored swings my tiny boat.
The day is one to drowse and dream
And list the thrush’s throttling note.
When music from his bosom bleeds
Among the river’s rustling reeds.

No ripple stirs the placid pool,
When my adventurous line is cast,
A truce to sport, while clear and cool,
The mirrored clouds slide softly past.
The sky gives back a blue divine,
And all the world’s wide wealth is mine.

A pickerel leaps, a bow of light,
The minnows shine from side to side.
The first faint breeze comes up the tide—
I pause with half uplifted oar,
While night drifts down to claim the shore.

(Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in 1872, in Dayton, Ohio. His collections of poetry include Lyrics of Love and Laughter (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903) and Poems of Cabin and Field (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899). “A Lazy Day” was published in Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1905). He died in 1906. You can subscribe to poem-a-day at Poem-A-Day.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Observation

So a friend of mine was carrying a little bag at lunch, and I made a joking remark about how lovely his alligator purse was.

"It's not a purse," he said. "It's a tactical bag."

"Oh," I said, admiring the marketing geniuses who had come up with a way to sell traditionally feminine things to men. "It must be a handy way to carry your tactical lipstick and tactical perfume."

Which is why I finished the meal alone.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Fitness Coach,
Yes, I know exercise is good for us. In fact, there are few things I enjoy more than a good, brisk nap.
Me

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Inuit poem

I love this poem. It's quoted at the end of the movie Never Cry Wolf.

I think over again my small adventures,
My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big,
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach;
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing,
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

- Anonymous (Inuit, 19th century)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Observation

Wedding ceremonies are always so happy. It's the years afterward where people seem to run into trouble. At least at the ceremony, you get cake.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Observation

So many of my friends have beards now, and I don't think it looks good on the women at all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Observation

Saw a t-shirt the other day that read: "Been there, done that."
Mine would say: "Been there, done that, didn't learn, did it again, still didn't learn, repeated it a few more times because I have all the vast intelligence of gravel, Lord help me."
Not as pithy, though.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Friend,
Whenever I'm burdened with sorrow, you're beside me.
Whenever I struggle with life, you're beside me.
Whenever I'm hurting, you're beside me.
I think it's time we faced the truth: you're a troublemaker.
Cut it out.
Regards,
Me

Friday, July 21, 2017

I Want a New Drug

What I really want is the meds that the hosts on the shopping channels must be using. I just saw a woman shout with joy over a new mop. No kidding.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Observation

At night, when I'm in bed and the house is quiet and I close my eyes...I can't hear anything and I can't see anything. What? You were expecting wisdom at 1:12 a.m.?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

First Pomodoro

And we're off! I'm using a Pomodoro timer to time this writing. And what is Pomodoro? It's a time management technique where you work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and then resume. Because it's so late, I will only go 25 minutes.

I've read a lot about Pomodoro. It sounds simple, but apparently a lot of creative people have found that it keeps their "muse" from becoming fatigued. I hate to use "muse" like that, but it's a shorthand expression that's too convenient. Thus does expediency encourage sloppy whimsy.

A few of my author friends work by schedules. I've always admired that. I find my mind wanders a lot. I suspect I have ADHD, but I've lived with it this long. I prefer to think it's simply my brain being busy. I hate that it decides to be busy at night so consistently. I would like more sleep. I have been taking naps sometimes, but I can never seem to time them correctly. Either I sleep too long and wake up feeling terrible or not enough and receive no benefit. Naps require skill.

Even as a kid, I wasn't a napper. I wanted to be up and looking around. A lot of things needed my attention. Sleep? Who needs sleep?

Well, I do. And most of America does. According to the experts, despite our time-saving machines and routines, we're getting less sleep than any prior generation. I wonder if it has to with all the screens we look at: TV, computers, tablets, iPads, phones, etc. I wonder this even as I look at a screen as I type this.

Supposedly, the blue light of our screens disrupts our sleep patterns. According to Scientific American: "The light from our devices is “short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength." You can adjust your screen to emit more red light at night. They say it helps.

Anyway, I was determined to try out writing in 25 minutes intervals today. Time got away from me, as it often does, but I decided I would put in at least one 25 minute writing period before heading off to toss and turn.

Now, I'm thinking about all the power strip and clock and TV lights in my room. I might start covering them up. They seem bright when I wake up in the middle of the night. I wonder if anyone has ever studied the effect they have on sleep. I know they use more electrical power than we think. Many studies have shown that standby devices consume significant amounts of electricity. Same studies say we should have everything on power strips so we can turn them off at night. I would, but they have clocks on them. I might have to figure out a way to power the clocks separately from the other devices. Funny thing though, my power strips also have bright lights on them.

We live in a world of light these days. So much so that many people have never seen the Milky Way. Or rarely do. Even in my small town, there's enough light to obscure many of the stars. One of my friends is an amateur astronomer, and he drives out into the country and uses special filters on his telescope to attempt to compensate for the artificial light flooding the sky. I know professional astronomers have attempted to get cities to use special lights and shields so that the light is aimed at the ground instead of the sky. They have only had limited success. It would be great if every town and city did so, but that takes money and municipalities have plenty of other issues that need money and attention.

Well, my time is up. I will be using Pomodoro more, if only to give it a proper evaluation. For tonight, I'm ending this here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Magic

My hairstylist has decided that she now wants to be known as my magician. And I must say that she dyes my scalp better than anyone else.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Fitness Coach,
With complete sincerity in  your voice, you just told me that someday I would enjoy these punishing workouts. Listen, a man who can lie like that should go into politics. You're a natural for Congress!
Me

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Fitness Coach,
I read your health plan for me: "Exercise daily. Eat right. Get enough sleep." Humph. I didn't know I would be doing all the work.
Disgustedly,
Me

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Limit of Logic

My therapist: Any problem can be solved if you apply logic to it.
Me: There's this woman that...
My therapist: Oh, no, I didn't mean you can apply logic to women.
Me: Hm. Ooookay.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Awkward

So I went to dinner with a couple who had just returned from their honeymoon (his second marriage and her third) and they went to an island, which sounded wonderful...white beaches, palm trees, great service, the emerald ocean.

And I said, "Show me your pictures."

The wife glanced at her husband and said, "You wouldn't be interested."

"No, I love vacation photos," I said, which is true. I am a great armchair traveler.

The husband shrugged, messed with his phone, and then handed it to me.

I put on my glasses and looked at the first photo. Then I took my glasses off and handed the phone back as my face and ears began to glow Rudolph red while they laughed.

It turns out that my friends are closet nudists.

I've had some awkward moments in my life, but I do think that is a particularly notable one.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Revulsion

I'm reading this news story, and I come to last word of this sentence: "His admission about his New Zealand citizenship opened the possibility that the Commonwealth could pursue him to pay back years in salary and allowances, but Mr Ludlam said he was confident that would not eventuate." Eventuate? EVENTUATE? What in the name of Strunk and White is that?

Oh, I know it's a word. A word which I will never use and which arouses in me a true sense of revulsion.... Imagine, by the way, Hannibal Lector saying what I just said. That's the voice I used in my head.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Insomnia,
I always try to be a gracious host. I figure if someone makes to my house through the warning signs over the moat past the dogs under the razor wire, then they should be welcomed if only to lull them into a false sense of security before I send their sorry hides packing. However, you are here and should leave. Remember what Ben Franklin supposedly said about house guests: "Fish and visitors smell after three days." You're reeking like a Congressman's promise now.
Disregards,
Me

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Unsent Letter

Dear Naps,
I need to apologize to you. As a child, I fought you terribly. You were my sworn enemy, and I vowed I would utterly defeat you when I was older. Well, I'm older now. As it turns out, you're awesome. I was wrong and welcome you now. Just thought you should know. Hope you will forgive me.
Regards,
Me

Monday, July 10, 2017

A good thing

I did a good thing. I stepped outside briefly, and three mosquitoes landed on me. I did the noble thing and helped them back into the karmic circle of life so that they can be reborn as a higher life-form on their journey to Nirvana...or I squashed them. Take your pick.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Of course

Of course, there are lot of people with anxiety disorders these days. It just makes sense. Have you watched the news lately? Just the morning report is enough to give the Pope the shudders.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Truth

A friend was telling me how good her five mile run made her feel, and so I asked if it was as good as hot peach cobbler topped with vanilla bean ice cream.

There was a long pause, and then she said, "No. And I hate you."

Friday, July 07, 2017

Child proof

I had to open a new bottle of meds tonight, and it had one of those child proof lids.... Apparently, I'm a child. But I'm a child with a hammer. I think Houdini himself couldn't have got into it.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Bon chance mon ami!

My therapist is actually leaving the therapy field. It's so sad. His other patients must have been really tough on him. Why, sometimes he would weep during our sessions after a hard day of talking to them. Poor guy, I hope he's happy as a long haul trucker.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Roly-poly

Have you heard of the elephants graveyard? Where the elephants all supposedly went to die? Apparently my entry way is the roly-poly graveyard. Where are they coming from and why are they coming here to die? I give them a respectful burial as long as you define "respectful" as being being sucked up by a vacuum, which I think most of us do.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Happy July 4th!

Yes, we have problems as a nation -- and what nation since the dawn of time has not? -- but I'm proud to be an American, blessed to live in this diverse and amazing nation, humbled by the sacrifices of those who have given their lives to keep us free, and excited when looking forward to our future. The naysayers and political pundits like to highlight our shortcomings, conveniently ignoring our past and continuing accomplishments. We truly have changed the face of the world, and although we have made grievous mistakes, we have also been an unrelenting force for freedom and liberty. God has blessed us immensely, and may He continue to do so! Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, July 03, 2017

Future needs

I think a robot car would be nice. I could nap or watch movies. People get upset when I do those things now while driving.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Pastoral visits

I have always found a great way to see my pastor is to be in some totally innocent, but seemingly compromising situation that I can never adequately explain. Although I really think he's used to me now. At least he doesn't toss holy water on me anymore. Which was quite refreshing at times.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Scene from the End of One Story

"Scene from the End of One Story"
By Stephen B. Bagley

...This is how one story ended...

Eve walked into Milligan's with her friend Bette, and as always, her eyes searched the restaurant for his shoulders and that ratty leather jacket and his soft worn hat that felt like velvet when she touched it. For seven weeks, she had searched all their places. The coffee shop, the bookstore, the library, the pier, the Seafood Shack. But Jeremy had disappeared from her life.

She didn't know how to live without him, but she was trying to learn how. She took a gym class, went out to movies with Bette and her other friends, and focused on work, turning out reports with an efficiency that even her boss noticed. A couple of guys--Kevin from Sales and Joel from Receivables--asked her out, and she said yes. Nice enough dates, and she had enjoyed them. Kevin even made her laugh, and Joel was sweet. But she kissed them good night at the door.

Bette threaded her way through the crowd, looking for a table. Eve followed, wondering when she would stop feeling that pit in her stomach when she didn't see him. She stumbled and caught herself on the edge of a table. The men seated at it smiled at her. She apologized, backed away, turned toward Bette, and saw Jeremy.

He didn't see her. He stood by a table talking to two other men. The crowd closed between them, and she lost sight of him. For a moment, she paused, feeling her heart beating hard. Then she pushed forward, leaving Bette behind, weaving her way forcefully toward her last chance.

"Jeremy," she said.

He turned and saw her. He started to smile, but it faded away.

"Eve," he said. "How are you?"

"Fine," she said. But that wasn't what she meant to say. She meant to say she was falling to pieces, her heart broke, her life in shambles, but the words wouldn't come.

"Where's Ben?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said. "Back with his wife, I guess. We're not together."

Jeremy nodded. "Sorry to hear that."

"I broke up with him," Eve said, wanting him to understand. "I sent him away. I remembered what you said. 'If he cheats on his wife, why wouldn't he cheat on you?' I should have listened."

"He cheated on you," Jeremy asked with a flash of anger in his voice.

Surely that meant something, she thought. "No, but I realized he would. I realized the love of his life was him." She laughed.

Jeremy took a deep breath. "Well, I'm sorry to hear things didn't work out. It's good to see you. I've got to go. I'm leaving New York in a couple of days. I have a lot of packing still to do. Got a job in Boston."

"Oh," she said. "Boston. Good. Good. Is it one you wanted?"

"It's a job," he said. "I've always liked Boston." He grinned. "Great clam chowder."

She laughed to keep from crying out. He's moved on, she thought. He's moving away.

"It's good to see you," he said. "You look...beautiful." He smiled. "Well, take care. Tell your parents I said hi."

"I will," she said. "You take care. Enjoy that chowder."

And he walked away while she stood in a crowd of strangers and she realized that would be her life--to always be alone in a crowd.

"No!" she said. She took three quick steps and grabbed his arm. "Jeremy, wait."

He turned back, his face surprised. "What?"

She couldn't find the words.

"What, Eve?" he asked again. "I need to go."

"Okay," she said. "Can we talk outside? Just for a minute."

He looked down at the floor. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Don't you think we've hurt each other enough? I can't take any more."

She swallowed. "Just for a minute. I need to tell you a few things. It won't take long."

He took a deep breath. "For a minute."

They found a bench in the tiny park across the street.

"Well," Jeremy said. "What do you want from me, Eve?"

"Nothing," she said, but her heart called her a liar. "I needed to apologize."

"No," he said. "No. I don't want to do this."

"Please," she said. "I just wanted to know how sorry I was. How I would give anything to go back and fix things."

"Eve, we're--"

"I know you're not in love with me anymore," she said. "I know we can't go back. And that you don't want to. You've moved on. Good. I'm glad. I want you to be happy." She could feel the tears behind her eyes threatening to overflow. "I wanted you to know I will always want the best for you."

He looked away.

She wiped her eyes. Time to go. Time to walk away. Time to let him walk away. Time to face the bleakness ahead. She needed a few moments to gather her strength.

He stood and took a couple steps away. She wanted to weep, but she didn't. This was the result of her decisions. She had made them, and she would live with them. She had enough courage to do that.

She rose. "I'd better let you go. I'm sorry if I hurt you."

He turned, his face shadowed. "I'm at a place in my life--"

"You don't have to explain," she said. "I understand." She shook her head and wiped her eyes. "We had something lovely, and I broke it. I didn't mean to. But I guess that doesn't mean a thing. I wanted you to know I miss you. Oh how I do."

"Let me finish," he said. "I'm at a place in my life where there are more good-byes than hellos. More people lost than found."

She watched him, almost afraid to breathe.

"Comes with getting older," he said with a short laugh. "You can't imagine how...lost I've felt without you. How empty. But then I saw you with him, and I was angry. It was better to be angry than empty. But now...."

He was silent for longer than she could bear, but she bore it anyway. Please God please, she prayed. Another chance and I won't blow it. Please oh please.


"Too many goodbyes," he said finally. "Not enough hellos. I don't want that for my life. I don't want to tell you goodbye." He looked at her. "Hello. How are you? I missed you. I missed you."

She sobbed and launched herself into his eager arms.

...This is how one story ended and a new one began...

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thanks for reading.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Excerpt: "Thoughts at a Picnic"

(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back)

By Stephen B. Bagley

Bittersweet is that moment when you slap down on an annoying fly on the picnic table and gleefully crush it on your palm and then you realize its guts are on your hand and it probably just finished chowing down on a poop platter thoughtfully provided by the 127 feral cats who haunt the park. So you wipe your hand on your napkin, wishing you had hand sanitizer even though you watched an exposé on Channel 4 showing how sanitizer could easily ignite and you shouldn’t use it near a fireplace or an open flame so it might not be safe since you’re sitting four feet away from the barbeque where they are sacrificing wieners to the flames.

You look back at the table and realize there’s that green-reddish smear from when you crushed Mr. Fly and you don’t want to see that so you move your plate to cover the remains, but the thought of it being there bothers you, and for a moment you think about that Poe story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” where the murderer has hidden his victim under the floorboards of his house, but then he thinks he hears “the beating of his hideous heart!”

Hardly a nice thing to remember on a nice day like this with the sun shining and your friends laughing beside you, and you blame Mr. Simmons who told that story to your seventh grade English class and gave you nightmares because he did it so convincingly and kept looking at the students with such a mad look that it’s no surprise that he was arrested for public nudity at a zoo and went to prison for five years and the poor flamingoes never recovered and went around looking shell-shocked and losing pink feathers everywhere.

You look back at your plate, which now you can’t do without thinking of the corpse it’s concealing, and pick up your fork to have some of that potato salad that Kathy brought and your mind flashes back to that report Channel 4 did about food-born pathogens and how they lurk in every picnic food which should never sit out for more than a few minutes, otherwise they become something so lethal that they could wipe out entire civilizations, which might be what happened to the people who built Stonehenge. You can imagine them gathering for a rock-raising picnic, and a few hours later, they’re all gasping their last breath like that fly you crushed. But the fly’s death was so fast it probably didn’t have time for a last breath; one moment it’s on the table looking at the feast spread before it, thinking happy thoughts, and then it’s not thinking anything. This makes you feel better because, after all, you gave it a quick, happy death, which is not such a terrible thing, and many people might want such a parting from this life, although how they’d find a giant picnic table is anyone’s guess.

Still, you put the fork back down and pick up your ham sandwich—WITH THE FLY CRUSHING HAND! A hand that’s probably contaminated with the bacteria and viruses that the fly picked up when it dined on the poop of a cat which had escaped from a secret lab conducting research into bio-weapons and this...this innocent picnic is how the zombie apocalypse starts!

With mounting panic, you realize you’re sure thinking about poop at lot at this picnic and now you’re afraid you will always associate picnic with poop and you frantically start thinking of better things that happen at picnics: laughing, games of Frisbee® and softball, splashing in pools, playing games of tag with the grand-children, and once at a college picnic years ago a curvy blonde fellow journalist let you find her in the woods for a bit of friendly necking—wait, that’s not an appropriate thought for now.

You carefully take a bite of the sandwich avoiding the side that touched your palm, and it’s good. Ham, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, mustard, thick wheat bread.... Of course, if you were serious about your low carb diet, you wouldn’t be eating the bread at all. According to the carb commandos, grains are poison, POISON, and maybe that’s what actually wiped out the Stonehenge builders. Between raising multi-ton rocks, they were happily eating bread, French fries, ice cream, white rice, tacos, peach cobbler, potato salad.... Happy, heavy people who one day were felled by heart attacks, diabetes, and dreaded lard-bottom disease. All in all, there are worse ways to go if one has to go.

Which makes you think of an article you read recently in a science magazine about those people who think they don’t have to go and plan to upload their brains into a supercomputer so they can live forever, ignoring the fact that the original person would go ahead and age and die, leaving behind some monstrous thing that only faintly resembled a human, like a Congressman.

By now, everyone else is finished or finishing their plate of food and either getting seconds or thirds or deciding they’d better stop, and you have barely touched your food, which might make them think you’re on your second or third place when you’ve barely eaten enough to keep a fly alive...that fly again. Sigh. Now you’re regretting you killed the thing. Maybe you should have shooed it away, thus not incurring a Karmic debt. But you don’t believe in reincarnation anyway since you’re Baptist, and if it were true, then you’d only be releasing the soul trapped in the fly to move up into a better body, like maybe a boil weevil or a rodent. Unless it had been a bad fly, and then it would drop down in worth and become a telemarketer.

They’re cutting the watermelon now. You like watermelon and can easily make yourself sick eating too much given half a chance, but watermelon is basically sugar water held together by a fibrous matrix and loaded with carbs. You mentally add watermelon to the diet of the Stonehenge builders while taking a plate—a small plate—of the melon, vowing to yourself that you will walk several miles and burn off that sugar before it has time to damage your body even though you insisted the picnic was close to a parking lot because you didn’t want to walk.

The watermelon has seeds—the best ones do, in your opinion—and one of the black seeds moves! It’s another FLY! But you wave it off and examine the melon flesh closely, like you could see germs, and take your life into your teeth and hungrily devour the fruit.

It’s the end of the picnic, and it would hardly look right for you keep eating, so you regretfully drop your plate and cup in the trash, and stop at Delicias Mexican Restaurant on the way home for chips, dip, and a platter of enchiladas.

(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without explicit permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

If Only

Over the years, I've written a lot of poetry, so much so that sometimes I forget a poem and rediscover it after several years in my journal. I found this one the other day. I changed a few words, but overall, I left it as it was. Funny thing is that I don't even remember who--if anyone--I was writing about.

If Only
By Stephen B. Bagley

If only I could stop loving you
my life would be better now
in more ways than I can imagine.

If only I could forget
the taste of your lips,
your face as you slept,
those blue, happy eyes,
the silly way you smiled,
I wouldn't feel so empty now.

If only I could stop hurting
when I recall those days
of loving and laughing
and yes even fighting,
crying, and arguing--
I wouldn't run from love now.

If only I knew you, too,
had regrets when you
think of me--if ever
you do--and missed
me and our flawed love,
I could finally begin to heal.

If only you read these words
I'd know you'd finally know
I still carry the memory of us
and it's breaking my back
because you lack the courage
to share this heavy burden.

In more ways than I can imagine
my life would better now
if only I could stop loving you.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Enjoy "Blackbirds Third Flight"

Blackbirds Third Flight is available at 
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BooksAMillion, Lulu, 
& other online retailers!

Enjoy these dark fantasies: 
➧ A dead girl asks one final question. 
➧ A young man rides a forbidden dragon. 
➧ With claw and fang, Malone will fight. 
➧ Justina Grave battles a dangerous witch. 
➧ A father faces his family's terrible secret. 
➧ The end of the world begins in a backyard. 
➧ A predator prowls on Halloween night. 
➧ Thunder Mountain will kill the careless. 
➧ Learn the final truth of the Tooth Fairy. 
➧ A wolf reveals the face of the true beast. 
     And much more in this anthology of thrilling tales and poetry from Kathy Akins, Stephen B. Bagley, Wendy Blanton, Michael Canton, D.E. Chandler, Erin Cochran, Gail Henderson, Mariana Llanos, Jean Schara, and Heath Stallcup.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Excerpt from "Murder by the Mile"

Excerpt from Murder by the Mile

The Many Mile Marathon Chairperson Dolores Hyatt had been working in the huge race tent when runners began to share the news about what was happening on Watts Ridge. She had been horrified as the details emerged, but she kept the volunteers focused on processing the racers and making sure they all received their t-shirts and giveaways.

“Dee,” Abby Lange hissed at her. “It’s him!”

Dolores looked up from her clipboard. Michael stood in the entrance scanning the tables. Strangely enough, he was dressed in his jogging suit even though she knew her soon-to-be-ex-husband hadn’t run in the race. Or had someone else checked him in?

She saw when his gaze locked onto her. She tried to control her rapid breathing as he strode over to her.

“We need to talk,” he said flatly. “Now.” The anger in his voice made her flinch.

For a moment, her body nearly betrayed her. She had always done what her husband said, had always taken his anger as her due, and had hid the bruises to protect him. But she would never do that again.

“You need to talk to my attorney,” she said, proud that her voice didn’t 
quiver. “Call Harold Hast –” 

“I know who it is,” Michael cut in. “I read the papers you had served to me today.”

“I guess the server couldn’t find you yesterday,” Dolores said. “Call Harold.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Michael yelled. “Now, come with me!”

People looked at them. Abby rose and came to stand behind Dolores. 

Dolores looked down, feeling the old familiar shame flood her. Only Abby’s hand on her shoulder kept her in her chair.

“Michael, you should go,” Abby said. 

“Stay out of this,” Michael snarled. “If you know what’s good for you.”

“She does,” Abby’s husband Mack said from behind the real estate agent. Mack, a construction foreman, stared down at Michael. “And if you think you’re going to beat my wife like you beat yours, you got another think coming.” Mack brought his face down to an inch from Michael’s. “Why don’t you just go before I make you go?”

For a moment, Dolores thought Michael was going to throw himself at the much larger man, but he mastered himself.

“This isn’t over,” Michael told Dolores.

“Call Harold Hastings,” she said, not trusting herself to look up. “I won’t talk to you.”

“You will.” Michael turned and left the tent.

“He’s so mad,” Dolores said, sick with fear.

“It’s okay,” Abby said. “It’s okay now. He can’t hurt you now.”

“He’d better not try,” Mack said. “I’ll snap him like a twig.”

“Mack, that’s enough,” Abby said. “Dee, are you all right?”

Dolores nodded. “He wasn’t supposed to be here.”

“Mack, take her clipboard,” Abby commanded. “Dee and I are going to take a break.”

“But I don’t know what to do,” Mack said.

Abby glanced at him. “You’ll learn.” She handed the clipboard to Mack. “Dee and I will be right back.”

Abby led Dee over to the refreshment table where she got them both a cup of black coffee. “We can sit in my car,” Abby said. “It’s right over here.”

In the car, Dolores cried for a good ten minutes while Abby held her hand.

Finally, Dolores pulled herself back together. “I’m sorry, Abs.”

“Sweetie, I’m always here for you,” Abby said. "You were very brave in there."

Dolores shook her head. 

“You know what I think?" Abby said. "I think it’s so sad that a nice man like Cyrus Fowler is dead while Michael Hyatt isn’t.”

“Don’t say that,” Dolores said. But she secretly agreed, and for a moment, wondered how to do it.

(Excerpt from the forthcoming mystery novel Murder by the Mile. Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

This is the day

Psalms 118:21-24
(New King James Version)

Verse 21 
I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
Verse 22 
The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
Verse 23 
This was the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
Verse 24 
This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lost & Found

Lost & Found
By Stephen B. Bagley

I was lost in my town
living in back alleys
of lost youth and wasted time
until you found me

I wandered aimlessly
from one love to another
all just sad and empty
until you found me

Blind to important things
my light taken by ashes
with sorrow as my friend
until you found me

until you found me
I didn't know
how a real kiss (sweet and sharp)
tasted like cherries

until you found me
I didn't know
how true passion (sweat and shouts)
burned in delicious fire

until you found me
I didn't know
how I had not been
truly alive

Until you found me.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From the forthcoming book Eternal. Thank you for reading.)

Friday, June 09, 2017

Passion

Passion
By Stephen B. Bagley

If I could, I would seduce you
into poetry. I would run
feathery words over the bare
shoulders of your muse, touch gently
the moist secret places of your
metaphors, delicately brush
your lips with similes and plunge
rhythm and rhyme into your soul.

I would take you past the threshold
where passion and structure meet, where
one image means the difference
between indifference and glory.
If I could, I would do these things
and do them long and do them well
until when you heard poetry,
you would gasp, don’t stop oh don’t stop.

Excerpt from Undying by Stephen B. Bagley & Gail Henderson. 
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. 


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Excerpt 8 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 8 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley

Regina Kimmons knew Jacob Sloane wanted her. She could tell. The way he looked at her. The way his eyes not only undressed her but threw her on the red leather couch in his neo-Spartan office and made her scream glories until she was hoarse. How his hand would rest on her shoulder, just a brotherly pat, a touch of friendship, but his long, slender fingers would linger as if they longed to press themselves deep into her flesh until they left dark violet marks of his passion.

She sat at her desk and watched him over her filing. Once she sliced her finger on a piece of paper and pressed the welling cut to her mouth. She looked up and caught his eyes focusing on her lips before he turned away. She knew he wanted her. Now if only his inconvenient wife would die.

Often she found herself thinking of ways for Linda Kimmons to die. A car accident. A stroke. A strange strain of flu. A doctor's mistake. People died all the time; why couldn't she? She used to feel guilty about wanting Linda to die, but she had done it so often that it barely bothered her anymore. In fact, she wondered sometimes what she would do if Linda was in front of her at the top of the stairs. But then she would laugh at herself. She wasn't a killer. No man was worth that.

That's what she told herself.


(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Excerpt 7 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 7 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley 

Alex met Abby by one of the grossest ways possible: he threw up on her shoes. He had recently started on Gleeco, one of the latest, greatest cancer buster drugs. Since his tumor was wrapped around his spine, they couldn't operate without leaving him a cripple at worse or needing Depends at best. Perhaps he would be forced into surgery later, but for now, Dr. Jeremath wanted to try Gleeco.

Most people who were dosed with Gleeco experienced "intermediate episodes of nausea," a medical way of saying that the patient would spew vast amounts of stomach contents in truly Olympic fashion. Gleeco patients easily qualified in distance for the U.S. Puke Team. Alex had already endured a three-day bout following his last dose. This time he was smarter. He scheduled his chemo on a Thursday afternoon so that he would only miss a day and a half of work. Then he stopped eating on Wednesday. He figured nothing in, nothing out. Lying on his bathroom floor, he discovered that dry heaves were worse as he tried to throw up his stomach. He couldn't even keep down the anti-nausea pills. But the worse passed by Sunday night, and he crawled gratefully into his bed and slept deeply.

The next morning, Alex wore with a strange feeling of well-being. It took him a few minutes to realize that he was simply feeling the absence of being sick. He stretched and realized he was hungry and could even think about food without his head swimming. Still cautious, he made do with a bowl of cream of wheat, dry toast, and black coffee. Not exactly the approved cancer diet, but it was food he could face without his stomach wailing.

He showered and went to work. He thought about staying home, but paranoia honed fine by years of surviving the corporate environment urged him on. If you were gone too much -- even for legitimate reasons -- people started to get used to your absences. Projects got reassigned, files got moved. More than one woman had returned from maternity leave to find herself a glorified secretary. Men ended up as assistants or found themselves on under-funded projects that wouldn't survive the next budget. Alex already had a cubicle at the end of a hall. His next move would be outside the building.

His inbox was full, both on his desk and in his email. While picking up a folder, he caught a wisp of perfume. Probably from Rachel. She bathed herself and her cubicle liberally in her favorite scent of the month to the dismay of those close to her. Glenda said Rachel could be tracked through a sewer plant. Alex started to grin, and then it happened. A hot flood rose within him. He whirled in his chair, trying to make it to the restroom down the hall.

He made two steps into the hall, and then the wave hit him so hard that he fell to his knees. He lost his breakfast. More than lost, he expelled his breakfast, shot his breakfast, hurled his breakfast, exploded his breakfast into the far wall. He caught a brief glance of a pair of legs before he was too occupied to see anything but a blur.

After a few eon-long minutes, the spell passed. He slumped against his cubicle doorway, exhausted and horrified by what he had done. Was this going to be his life now? Alex thought he'd rather be dead.

Someone knelt beside him. "Here. Put this on your throat." A wet paper towel was pressed against his skin.

A woman with blue eyes looked steadily at him.

"You're in a bad way, guy," she said after a moment. "Well, let's just see what we can about that."

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Excerpt 6 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 6 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley

In his long life, Marcus Ryan had slept with a lot of people. Perhaps it was more correct to say he had sex with them because he rarely stayed the night so there was no sleeping. It was correct to say people, however, because he was equally intrigued by women and men. Their gender didn't matter as much as the chase did.

Naturally he had caught a few STDs, but fortunately nothing lethal and nothing that hadn't been cured with a healthy dose of antibiotics. He liked to say -- but only to those privy to his lifestyle -- that the Lord took care of drunks and fools and he didn't drink. Except he did drink. Not as much as he used to, of course. A man his age had to take everything in moderation. Even his excesses.

At 65, he held the dubious distinction of being the oldest employee at Gallant and Sons. He didn't look it. He didn't look older than 45. Well, 50. But careful application of moisturizer over the years and genetics had given him good skin that he had kept out of the sun. He had a full head of rich, black hair. He drove over to Glensdale twice a month to keep his hair color just so.

As for exercise, he had once worshiped at the gym and still went three times a week, but the workouts were slower and more difficult than when he was younger. He still caught the attention of the other people at the gym, and they would comment how good he looked, but he had a suspicion they were silently adding "for his age." Once a rude young man had even told him that he hoped to look as good as Marcus when he reached his age. Marcus only smiled and thanked the young man. On his way out, Marcus keyed the young man's black Ford truck. Twice.

He could have retired five years ago. Go cruising the islands with arm candy. Maybe finally make that trip to Paris he had often talked about. He had always been smart with money. He could live comfortably on his investments for the rest of his life. But he stayed at Gallant and Sons because he knew a secret. One that bound him to this company. At times he thought it was his greatest mistake. At other times, he thought it was the only thing he had in his life that was worth living for. Even if no one else could ever know.


(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thanks for reading.)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Excerpt 5 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 5 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley

Richard Gallant had owned the world until now. Always been that way. In school, he made all the teams, made the good grades, got the hot girls, drove the best cars, attended the right parties, he was cool. College was the same. Oh, the parties were wilder, the classes harder, the girls more numerous, the cars more expensive, but the Gallant's little heir deserved the best and he got it. He couldn't remember his life as being any other way.

Now, Gallant and Sons -- the investment firm that had been in his family since the 1800's and that had paid for all that college, all those cars, all those girls -- was going down with him at the helm.

His grandfather and his father had made mistakes. They bought high and sold low too many times. They waited too long to modernize and then made changes frantically, but they didn't wait long enough to see if changes would help before they changed priorities again.

Oh, success hadn't passed by Gallant and Sons completely; otherwise, it wouldn't have survived, but too much red ink stained its pages over the years. And even though the mistakes of his predecessors caused the decline, he would be the one who would be blamed. The Gallant would go down on his watch.

The choices on his desk: Close Gallant and Sons or sell it to Van de Meter and Horn. Either selection would make his father spin in his grave and his mother spit in his face.

He was beginning to think he didn't drink enough.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Excerpt 4 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 4 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley

Darrell hated them. He wanted them dead. He knew they laughed at him behind his back. He was the geek. The one with all the pens. The one with stains on his shirt. The one who could fall over his own feet. The one who dropped papers at meetings. The one that had actually passed gas at a company get-together. The one that the bosses would clap on the back at office parties and say good job even as they looked for someone -- anyone -- else for them to foist him off on. When he tried to talk to them, when he tried to explain how the flow of the R327 network was both compartmentalized and yet open and that it kept the hackers out but allowed interactivity as well as intra-activity, the same lame comments started. "Speak English, man." "Watch a lot of Star Trek, don't you?" "Over my head."

He hated them all, but he particularly hated Rachel because her cubicle was next to his. Had been for five years, but she still didn't say hi to him. She would barely nod when he passed, and if he spoke to her, her eyes would glaze immediately.

He had often thought of reporting her to the HR department for violating IT email policies. She used her computer as if she owned it and it was her personal entertainment box. She emailed her mom, her brother, twenty or so girlfriends, a few boyfriends, people she chatted with online and would never be in the same room together, school and college friends and possibly the whole population of her hometown and several small European countries. She sent them jokes and prayer and recipes. She sent them web site links and quotes and pictures. She sent them advice and gossip and opinions. Rachel was a mass media. And her online activity was in direct violation of the restricted personal use policy clearly outlined on page 46 of the Gallant and Sons Company Employee Handbook.

Darrell didn't know why she hadn't got caught. What was IT doing? Did they notice the bandwidth being used whenever Rachel was at her computer? Were they blind? Or simply too stupid?

Darrell would turn her in, but he'd be asked how he knew what she did. He'd be fired as soon as they realized he was exploiting holes in their security ice to ghost her computer. He wasn't a good liar and couldn't think of a plausible story to explain his knowledge.

So he sat in his cubicle and hated them all, but mostly Rachel. Sometimes it was hard for him to focus as he sat there, listening to the faint sound of her voice on the phone to her mom, smelling the damned perfume she drenched herself in. The last year had been worse. He nearly quit every day, but he wasn't good at job searching. Actually he was good at job searching; he wasn't good at job getting. It had taken him nearly two and a half years to find this one, and he didn't want to go back to living with his mom again.

Two months ago, though, he had found something that made it better. Something that helped when he felt his hatred of them choke away his thoughts, when he wanted to scream in frustration and rage, when he wanted to run down the halls like a madman. He would reach into his briefcase and touch it. He would hold it, and he could feel cool and calm again.

Two months ago, Darrell started bringing a gun to work.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Excerpt 3 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 3 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley

Alex wasn't what she'd been looking for. Abby hadn't been looking for a guy at all. She had joined Gallant and Sons to build a resume. She needed to rise above the rank and file and she needed to do it yesterday.

She hadn't been able to finish college. She applied for grants and loans and worked two part-time jobs, but the money wasn't enough to pay for school and to take care of her younger brother and sister. So she quit school and worked days at the local Taco King and weekends at Gilbert's Git-N-Git-Going convenience store. In what time she had left, she tried to be mom and dad to her siblings. It wasn't enough, but after a rough two years, Davie was making better grades and Alissa had stopped crying over every disappointment as if her heart had broken.

It would have been easier if her parents had siblings or any close relatives, but their only living relative was a cousin who moldered in a nursing home and another cousin who lived halfway across the country. At eighteen, Abby became the head of their little family. A couple welfare workers had scared her by talking of taking Davie or maybe little Alissa, but Abby's fierce protectiveness and the fact the workers had too many children they had to rescue from abusive homes to worry about two orphans who were clean and well-fed. Occasionally someone would drop in and check on them, but the kids knew the drill.

Last year the insurance company finally settled the suit from her parents' accident. Enough money to allow her to quit the Get-N-Go and look around for a better job. One that might let her earn more money and be a way to an even better job.

Her official title was Customer satisfaction Representative. From 8:30 to 5:00, she took phone calls and answered questions from The Gallant's customers. Some of those calls she handled; others had to be bumped on up. It hadn't taken her long to realize that the number of calls dropped some each month as the Internet help system became more sophisticated. Soon management would look around to make cuts, and as the newest CSP, she had only job insecurity.

So during her breaks, she had taken to wandering the halls, trying to find a place that she could move to. She smiled and said hi and networked, networked, networked. She made copies and ran errands for other departments. She had a ton of "If I hear of anything, I'll buzz you immediately" and lots of "I wish they had hired you to do that job instead of (whoever)."

That's what she had been doing when Alex threw up on her shoes.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Excerpt 2 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 2 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley 

Vicki knew Richard wanted her. She could tell. The way he looked at her. The way his eyes not only undressed her but threw her on the red leather couch in his neo-Spartan office and made her scream glories until she was hoarse. How his hand would rest on her shoulder, just a brotherly pat, a touch of friendship, but his long, slender fingers would linger as if they longed to press themselves deep into her flesh until they left dark violet marks of his passion.

She had sat at her desk and watched him through the glass wall that divided his office from hers. Once she had sliced her finger on a piece of paper and pressed the welling cut to her mouth. She looked up and caught his eyes focusing on her lips before he looked away. She knew he wanted her.

But he never crossed the line. She waited for it. Had waited for it these past five years as his secretary. Waited for that thrilling moment when his desires overcame his restraint and courtesy. When he would ask her out or steal a kiss or run his hand down her back. The thought made her breathe harder. For a moment, she imagined that encounter and where it would lead. She knew what she wanted. She knew how to get there if only he would take the first step.

And she imagined the aftermath -- his delicious horror -- when she sued him for sexual harassment until he bled. When she threw him and his company down and took them for every dollar they had stolen from her father. Vicki remembered what Richard's father had done to hers. And the devil be her witness, she was going to make every member of the Gallant family pay.

Such a shame Richard seemed so nice. Was so handsome. Inhabited her dreams doing things she had only read in books. Was so nice to her. Listened to her. Took her seriously. Remembered to send flowers on her birthday and Executive Assistant's Day. Gave her generous bonuses for her excellent work. Work that had been excellent at first so that he would have no reason to suspect her motives and couldn't be used against her in court, but lately, she found herself working harder for ... for him.

Oh daddy, she thought. This isn't how this was supposed to go. But I will make them pay. I will. No matter what.

She took a deep breath. She looked around the office. She turned back to her work. The report needed to be on Richard's desk today. She didn't know why her eyes were watering.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thanks for reading.)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Excerpt 1 from "Red Hot Sinner Man"

Excerpt 1 from Red Hot Sinner Man
By Stephen B. Bagley

The first thing Alex learned about cancer was that it scared other people. Oh, they put on a brave face, they plied him with sympathy, they shook their heads regretfully and spouted things like, “We’ll be thinking about you” or “Keep a positive attitude” or “You’ll be in our prayers.” Then they would delicately ask if he smoked or if cancer ran in his family or did he eat too much red meat or had he worked somewhere where he could have been exposed to a terrible chemical that caused the tumor wrapped around his spine. They wanted to know why he had cancer so that they could avoid it or be relieved that they didn’t smoke or eat red meat or do whatever it was that made him sick. They were afraid of this death that worked in the cubicle next to them. After those few words of concern, those muted conversations, they began to avoid him. Nothing overt. Just conversation fading away when he walked up or sat down at the table in the break room. Dead silences that went on so long that he could hear every rustle of paper, every click of a pen, every cough as loud as the Methodist church bell at noon.

When he realized this, he withdrew. He went silent. He retreated into his cubicle and wished for a door. He felt ashamed, almost as if cancer was some sort of STD, like he was sick because he was unclean, a leper among the washed. He was a sick person among the healthy, and he didn’t blame them for being squeamish about him. Who wants to be reminded of their own mortality? Who wants to hear the ticking of the clock? Who wants to know they won’t live forever? That a disease can strike them down despite all the raw vegetables consumed and all the miles sweated? He had felt the way they felt before Mr. C entered his life. So he understood. He would be quiet. He would die politely. He would make it easy on them since he couldn’t make it easy on himself.

At least that was what he thought he would do at first. Then he met Abby, and everything changed.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Orwellian Scene

"An Orwellian Scene"
By Stephen B. Bagley

I once had a friend who was a survivalist. Let's call him Jacob, because that was his name. He stockpiled five years of food, a couple of months of water, guns and ammo, medical supplies, etc. Built a nice cabin in the woods with solar power and a windmill, although he still needed an electric line for all his power needs.

All through the Bush years, Jacob complained about how the government was trying to become a dictatorship. He foamed at the mouth when the Patriot Act was passed. He could actually recite the Act and give you point by point how it was taking away our civil liberties.

I thought perhaps he would calm down when Obama was elected, but no, he was even more up in arms. The National Health Plan, you see, would allow the government to embed nanobots into our brains and control us.

Then Trump got elected, and while I hoped Jacob would finally be reasonable, he was not. In fact, he claimed Trump was a tool of the Illuminati and would betray all those who elected him to further their goals of world domination.

Well, after that, I had no choice. I reported him to the Thought Police, and they picked him up yesterday. I will get a share of his goods after the officials take their percentage. It should be enough to bribe the Controllers so they will upgrade my nanobots to less painful ones.

I am proud and happy just as you are. We're not allowed to be anything else.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Live life well

Chilly, rainy day currently. We were forecast clear, sunny skies. No such luck. We needed the rain, of course, and it's not freezing, so the blooming and budding plants and trees are okay. Still, it's depressing. I enjoy such days in the fall, but in the spring, they feel sad.

Rainy days are generally depressing. Humans are--for the most part--creatures of sunlight. We're made to walk in the day and sleep in the night. We lived that way for thousands of years; only now are we up all hours. We may be losing undefined things by choosing our 24 hour day. Despite our desire to do more, live more, enjoy more, make more...we are doing less and feeling more frantic about it as the years--and our lives--speed by.

Sometimes, I think the greatest gift would be to slow down time, to live each hour as a day, to have enough time for walks in the park, enjoying the sun and wind while sitting on a stone bench, to feel the light on our faces like a benediction.

Time doesn't do that, though. Life goes on despite our attempts to hold on to each precious moment. Eventually, we live our lives in our memories. And then we don't. Other people take up the memories which become family stories and tales of times past until they are gone, too.

My point? Be happy now. Live in the present. Let all those "mores" care for themselves. Don't let your life not be lived. Walk in the sunshine now with me, even on rainy, cloudy days, and we will live life well.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Remember these

I will not take these for granted:

A beautiful spring day. I felt the sunshine on my face like a blessing.

My computer. It gives me problems sometimes, but it keeps plugging along, outdated as it is. It helps me write and be creative in ways I couldn't have imagined when I was a kid pounding away on a Smith-Corona.

A roof over my head. It's a modest house, it needs paint and some repairs, but many poor people would love to have it. Many people have nothing at all between them and the bitter winds and the burning sun.

Food on my table. Millions of men and women, millions of children struggle with starvation. Truly I live in a land of plenty.

My country. It isn't perfect, but it's the best that humanity has ever been able to produce. I'm not one to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We'll fix the problems. We'll continue to grow and change and get better. That's what we do.

My dear friends. A close second to my family in my affections. I appreciate the laughter and lunches and talks about life, politics, and everything else.

My precious family. In the end, they're the people I love the most and who count on me and on whom I depend. We've been together a long time, and God willing, have many more years to go.

My personal salvation. I don't preach to people. I'm not built that way. But it would be a mistake to assume that my silence meant that I didn't take my spiritual life seriously. I hope that people can see by my life and by how I live that there's something more to this life, that we aren't alone by any means, and that even the smallest of us matter in this vast universe. I know I fail in this daily, but the struggle makes life worthwhile.

Every now and then, I have to remind myself to not take these things for granted.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Scene from a Cemetary

Scene from a Cemetery

Yesterday I walked among the dead.

Not my dead.

Strangers in an old cemetery a few miles from my house.

Thought I might take photos...that the spring sun might illuminate a particular stone or give a halo to an old weathered angel.

Instead I carried my camera and walked among the rows of graves. Stopping to read a date or name. My feet crunched on old brown leaves. The few trees were mostly bare except for a row of bedraggled evergreens along one side of the cemetery.

And I thought about life and how it goes so fast. How we can't hold our dead no matter how much we try, no matter how much we cry, they slip away when we're not looking.

I thought about those who have left us and how I miss them. My grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles, cousins...my baby brother.... My mother was so sharp, so smart, she would see right through your soul, and my father loved to laugh and loved to make me laugh. All those losses. Is that why we're ready to go at the end of our lives? Do the losses pile on until our spirit is ready to fly, to escape the burdens of sorrow? Or maybe we're just ready to meet them again. Maybe we're tired of not being with them. Maybe we're tired of this earth.

I sat down in an old concrete bench beside an empty tree.

Across the rows, I saw a robin. A mockingbird called. I watched a lonely cloud make its way across the pale blue sky. And I felt the stillness settle into me, the quiet calm that I call peace for the lack of a better word. I stopped thinking for a while, stopping imagining, stopped remembering.

For a few moments, the horizon held me. That beckoning sky. The endless heavens beyond.

Then I took a deep breath of the cool wind. I smiled for no particular reason other than it felt better than not smiling. I stood, walked back to my car, and drove back to my life.

(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

Monday, April 03, 2017

Scene from a Writers Group

"Scene from a Writers Group"

I got involved in an interesting discussion with some other writers the other day -- WAIT! Don't go away. This discussion involved SEX! I thought that would peak your interest -- about SEX in books. I had struggled through a book recently that featured fairly explicit SEX and had wondered out-loud what made that book "literature" and not just plain porn. (Names changed to protect me.)

"Because the sex was integral to the story," said Writer Aromance. "It wasn't just thrown in to titillate. It revealed the characters."

"Yes, it revealed they liked sex," Writer Begenre said. "But doesn't everyone? Sex scenes are put in books to increase sales. And give lonely writers a thrill."

"Are there any more cookies?" asked Writer Cookbookins. "I only got one."

"I don't read books with explicit sex," Writer Divine said. "In fact, I'm quite happy to read about a sweet kiss and then a sunset."

"Today's readers want more than that," Aromance said. "They want to feel the characters' passion. They want to experience the hot, steamy moments, the indescribable sensations." Aromance panted, head rolling slightly, eyelids fluttering. "They want details. Oh yes! YES!!!"

The rest of the group moved their chairs away from Aromance.

"Isn't reading a sex scene the same as renting a porn movie?" Begenre said. "Just because they're not watching a sexual encounter with their eyes and instead 'watching' it in their minds, doesn't mean that it's not for the same purpose."

"Well, I don't read romances for that!" Aromance said, scooting over to join them again. "I want to read about true love, and sex just happens to be part of it. We need to turn the air-conditioning on."

"There were enough cookies for two apiece," Cookbookins said, looking around. "Someone had to have three."

"True love is more than just sex," Divine said. "It's a marriage of spirits, of souls reaching out to each other."

"Those souls come with various pieces of plumbing attached," Begenre said. "I think fading off into a sunset leaves the reader hanging."

"Some things are better left to the imagination," Divine said with a sniff. "It totally kills the romance when a writer starts describing ... er ... how the pipes fit into the joints."

"We're going to run that plumbing metaphor into the ground," Begenre said.

"I blame TV," Writer Eongo said. "People have become accustomed to seeing everything right before them. They don't exercise their minds. So they can't even imagine people having sex!"

"You know, I brought those cookies to share," Cookbookins said. "I think it's a shame that someone is so greedy that he or she deprived another writer of their cookie."

"Eongo has a point," Divine said. "What's wrong with letting the reader know that the characters have had sex, but not showing the sex? When two characters make love, that's one thing, but when we invite the reader along, that's an orgy."

"Not really an orgy," Begenre said. "Or least I don't think that's one. It's been a long time since my college days." The others looked at Begenre. "I heard about them back then," Begenre hastily added. "But I think a good case could be made for it being voyeurism."

"I love ocean ones," Farawa said dreamily.

The other writers regarded the elderly writer carefully.

"Not voyages, dear," Begenre told Farawa. "Voyeurism."

Farawa frowned. "I don't think I'm familiar with that. I do like to travel, though, so perhaps I'm a voyeur, too."

Divine's face turned red. Eongo choked back a laugh.

Begenre patted Farawa's hand. "I'll explain later, dear."

"I guess readers' tastes are just varied," Divine said. "Some people like to read inspirational, morally uplifting books while others prefer filth and gutter-life."

A long pause ensued.

"Hmm, I hate to agree," Aromance said. "But she's basically right. Readers' tastes vary. Some people like stuffy, boring, moralistic, and simple books while others like to read about a complicated, adult, intelligent world view that reflects contemporary life."

A longer pause.

Divine smiled too brightly. "Perhaps we should discuss this afterwards, dear."

"Oh, let's, sweetie," Aromance said, smiling just as brightly.

"I brought cookies because I thought that would be easier to divide," Cookbookins said. "When I brought pie last time, someone took nearly half of it."

"To return to the original question, I think intent has a lot to do with it," Begenre said. "If a writer is writing the sex scene and the whole point is to simply give the reader a sexual thrill, then maybe it strays into the ... let's not say porn, but the titillation arena. But if the scene is for character development and illumination, it's firmly in the literature arena."

The clock chimed nine, and that was all the time we had. They filed out, leaving Farawa and me. She gathered up her large purse and her notebooks. I smiled at her and asked, "How was that third cookie?"

She winked at me. "Delicious."

(Copyright 2017 Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)