Memorial Day 2020

memorial day 2020

There is exactly one occasion around here where we hang out Old Glory, and that’s Memorial Day weekend.

That’s not to say that people who put it up at other times are wrong; certainly not. If properly displayed the US flag can be flown year-round, at all times. Other examples of appropriate occasions to hang the flag would also be the 4th of July, Inauguration Day, Veterans/Armistice Day, Flag Day, the list goes on and you get my drift.

It’s a free country.

We choose to only fly the flag on this hallowed weekend, when we remember the dead.

This is not the weekend when you beat your chest and tell everyone what a great guy you are. This is not a weekend where it’s appropriate to use the sacrifice of 1.2 million Americans for political or commercial ends. Unfortunately, however, you see this too much; it is what it is.

That’s not to say you can’t have fun on this holiday weekend, because you can. Let me give an example.

In the now-distant past, when all of our WW2 veterans were middle aged, we held large family picnics on this weekend. Not on the day itself, but usually on the Saturday before. I remember my uncle Clyde, a tanker, the best. I also remember my Grandpa Magyar, an infantryman. We also had a cohort of Korea and Vietnam guys, they were young then, still in their twenties and thirties. These are with us today; but their ranks are thinning as well.

While it is true that us kids played, and everyone ate and enjoyed themselves, there was always a moment devoted for remembrance and a short prayer.

Does anyone still do this? I hope so.

Our fallen. We have a list, from the Civil War to present.

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The parade back then would be somber, a marching line of veterans, everyone headed to the cemetery for a short service by the VFW chaplain. One recollection I have of those days, the late 1970’s, was a Great War veteran. His sister wheeled him onto the porch every year in his high-collared uniform. He had no face.

Our dead. Our honored dead.

Fast forward to now. How to describe this year’s Memorial Day?

Nearly one hundred thousand dead of a terrible epidemic; well over a million struggling with the sickness.

There won’t be any large gatherings. At least, not if people use some common sense.

So I guess this Memorial Day will be spent here at home, remembering, with Old Glory hanging in the pleasant spring breeze.

I don’t think our passed-on ancestors would mind; they’d want us to stay safe and do the right thing.

“This we’ll defend.”

 

 

 

Mania

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Hey everybody. I’ve been laying low lately. But then again we all have. Mostly. Hopefully you all have been staying healthy and reasonably safe.

My latest writing jag has been so crazy that I have no idea when we started it. I think in March. Somewhere around the start of the Siege, but I’m not sure. Just now checked the earliest document in relation to the series, it’s dated March 11, 2020. Or at least that’s the last time it was modified.

So I’m close to right. I think.

For us, the Siege started on the 12th of March, that’s when all the schools were cancelled.

That’s when it all went to hell.

But that’s OK. It gave me an excuse to deep-dive into a fictional series; a joint effort with a friend and mentor.

I have a tentative release date, but it’s just that, tentative, so it wouldn’t do to put things out there and irritate people when the inevitable delays creep in. There’s a lot of moving pieces involved in this work, a lot of new stuff that pulled me out of my comfort zone and caused me to think about various stuff.

Like structure. World building. Show-don’t-tell. Pacing.

So here’s where I’m at; I’m closing in on the end game of my part of the rough draft. This has been a serious case of fugue-state writing; and now that I’m close to the end it’s moving very, very fast.

The writing, that is, as well as the narrative.

This is my first effort ever that spans in excess of one hundred thousand words; my novels usually wrap up somewhere north of eighty thousand, south of the mid-nineties.

It’s been a real marathon.

The hammering of the keys has dulled out some pretty dark, lousy days.

This is the longest, most ambitious project that I have taken part in to date.

Now that the end of the beginning is in sight, I already miss it.

Whew.

***

Note: The rough draft, the end of the beginning, is complete. 111,034 words. 7800 in one day, yesterday. I am burned.

 

 

Sinkhole

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Hello, all. It is with great pleasure that I can post a writing sample today from me and Australian author John Birmingham‘s tentative shared universe; it’s a dreadful place where the Black Death, or a modern version thereof, stalks among us once again. This piece has no name, just a number. It is called 4 (5); “Sinkhole” works better.

Here goes! A joint effort and sample, JL/JB.

Sinkhole.

Not in all of his days had Bob Parker seen so many damn flies. Looked as if his dump truck was gonna get swallowed by a great black wave of them, a living storm, as he drove into the glen outside of Bayonet Point, Florida. Nothing for it, but. The Pasco County Health Board was desperate for places to bury the dead and someone had pointed out this clearing in Forest Acres.

This part of Florida was famous for sinkholes; the yawning chasm that Bob backed up to had opened just a few weeks earlier. Before all this other business with the virus and stuff. It’d been huge, but the damn thing was nearly full of bodies already. In a few more loads the county people would have to find somewhere else. Still, that wasn’t his problem. Some poor bastard standing with a facemask backed him up. This guy was standing right next to the lip and all he had for protection was an an old bandana wrapped around his face. Bob was glad to be sealed up inside. He didn’t even have the air on.

Bob paid extra close attention to his hand signals. Last thing he wanted was to get his truck stuck in a pit full of corpses. The stench was overpowering on this sunny spring day. He thought for a second about spinning his wheels; his mind shut down. He made a face and gagged.

The guy by the pit halted him. Gave him a thumbs up. Bob worked the dump bed controls, the massive hydraulics whined as the cylinder pushed the bed upright. The tailgate popped open, the lumpy, oozing, farting and stiffening load dumped out into the hole. Bob heard the man by the pit call out.

“Truck’s empty.”

Bob called back. “All right! Coming down.” The hydraulics whined again, after a few moments the lift bed clicked back into place. With some haste, Bob pulled out of the lime-green field and went back into town for another load.

There was a problem, of course, but neither Bob nor the civil servants working for the Health Board could be expected to know all the facts about karst topography and the formation of sinkholes. Florida was basically a limestone finger, jutting out of North America into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Limestone dissolves when exposed to water. It decays into a series of interconnected caves, sinkholes and ridges known as karst topography. Lots of wells had been drilled into the limestone for drinking water and millions of folks depended upon these wells.

Wells that were directly connected to the sinkholes throughout the state.

A few days after Bob Parker made his runs, Elmer George, a retiree from New York who had sealed himself off in his house, opened his kitchen tap.

A stream of brownish water gurgled out.

“Jesus, Lord God!” He gagged. “But does that stink!”

He let the tap run in hopes that the pipes would clear out. The pipes gurgled and belched and quit running.

What the hell, he thought. He figured something must have clogged the sink faucet. He knew there was a small filter in there. He’d had to have a plumber clean it out once after doing a pretty poor job of tending to it himself. Elmer opened the window for the stench and shuffled at double time up to the hallway closet where he kept a small handyman’s toolbox. He’d be damned if he was paying some toilet engineer three hundred bucks to come out and do this again. Elmer pulled out a set of slip-joint pliers and returned to the kitchen. He unthreaded the filter from the faucet with care and set it aside.

Then he turned on the water.

A massive blob of something flew into the sink, along with a splash of the foul brown water. Elmer swore and turned off the sink with haste. He examined the gob, the blockage.

It was a wad of scalp and human hair.

Shadows of Annihilation, a review

annihilation

BLUF: The best of the Black Chamber series.

Everyone knows that I dig S.M. Stirling’s work. I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything he has produced, and most of it is amazing.

Of course I jumped on it when I originally read the premise of his new trilogy; a Great War alternate history combined with his writing. A sure-fire recipe for success, really.

So why did it take me two whole months after release to read and review “Shadows of Annihilation?

Well, I’m not going to launch into stupid excuses or mealy-mouthed explanations. I’ll just say I’ve been subject to some heavy stressors; this does not make me unique in this year of our Lord 2020. In fact, I’d say that most of us have been mildly freaked out lately.

It’s been weird; I haven’t been able to read or watch TV.

I have been able to write or work.

So an Australian friend pointed out what should have been obvious: treat reading like work. So I did, and I am pleased to say that it’s time to do this review.

Well, what didn’t I like about this book?

Not much. It was fun.

What did I like?

A lot. I’ll touch upon a few things.

Stirling did a lot of research in this book; he beats me like a stepchild in that regard. But he doesn’t get as far into the weeds as Michener; that can get old. No, the cake is fairly well leavened. Just enough.

The pacing was excellent; I didn’t have a feeling of dead spots or places where I had to struggle through. The book did what it should. It hooked the reader at the beginning and accelerated through to the end.

Have I mentioned that Stirling books never fail to make me hungry? They always do. He describes food in loving detail; this book reminded me in places of a favorite of mine, Conquistador. There were so many delicious sounding, utterly exotic dishes named. I could only hope to try one-quarter of them.

This book didn’t have implausible scenes. I thought book two, “Theater of Spies,” had too many of those. Now, I can suspend disbelief as well as the next fellow, but I do like a spoonful of realism with my science fiction. I thought Mr. Stirling did a nice job with the concluding chapter of this series.

Finally, Stirling did a really nice job of fleshing out his characters. The antagonist Horst wasn’t just some SS recast, he was a flawed man doing his best for his people and country, just like our protagonist, Luz and her girlfriend, Ciara.

This series is worth checking out. If you haven’t read the last book, do so.

It’ll make you wish that TR, instead of the most-unimpressive Taft, had gotten another shot at the presidency. But hey, unimpressive presidents happen.

Not everyone can be a Roosevelt.

Read Stirling’s latest and shake your head at what could have been.

A good yarn

m1916

OK, what’s with the photo of the German WW1 M16 helmet?

Pretty easy, it has a lot to do with what I’d like to talk about today.

No, not random war relics.

Yeah. Today’s piece is about a very strange thing I’ve had, and how advice from a friend and mentor helped me overcome an obstacle.

The problem has been with reading. Whoa, an author who has trouble picking up a book?

Yes. You see, I’ve been meaning to review “Shadows of Annihilation,” the new book by S.M. Stirling, on this site for a couple of weeks. Actually, longer than that; his book came out about when the Siege started. One would think that the better part of two months in solitude would have made me burn through books. The opposite has been true.

I have been able to maintain my writing, I am busy with a collaboration right now. It’s going pretty good.

But what’s with the helmet?

Well, that has to do with the very strange weirdness in regard to my reading, and why I should be very interested in reading Mr. Stirling’s work. I’d like to illustrate exactly how messed up this reading block has been.

First, long time readers know that I’m a very big fan of S.M. Stirling. When he releases something new, I don’t mess around. I read it. I devour it. Almost always, I enjoy it. So it’s super freaky that I didn’t immediately take care of his latest.

Second, I take my obligations to this site and my readers seriously. I know that you all have been lurking out there, looking for new stuff. Like me, you are probably hemmed up in your home; I have a duty to entertain you. It’s important not only to read Mr. Stirling’s book, but to review it for this website as well.

Finally, a fictional series set in the Great War is rare; this is an interest of mine and even if I wasn’t a huge fan of Stirling I’d still read his “Black Chamber” series for the World War I alternate history theme. After all, I’ve written one of those myself (hopefully for expansion into a trilogy), and I hope to release it this fall.

So it is with a glad heart, readers, that I can now report to you that I started “Shadows of Annihilation,” and so far it’s pretty damn good. What got me to sit down and read, as opposed to sitting and staring (BTW, I can’t watch TV either)?

A conversation with a friend in Australia. He suggested that I need to start treating reading as an obligation of the author’s trade; this was novel to me. Reading as work. It has always been for pleasure, or as an escape. But I found that if I treated it like writing, as a job, that I was able to do so.

And you know what? After the first fifteen minutes I started to enjoy myself; the book so far is pretty good. The Great War deserves more attention than it’s gotten, it has shaped our modern world. Kudos on Mr. Stirling for writing about it.

So tonight, I broke the dam.

Soon, a review.

Lilacs

airport 04:15

The above photo was taken a few days ago when I absolutely had to venture out to recover a close relative from a small, but usually bustling, airport. It was an experience that bordered on the surreal; we had to drive four hours (one way) to recover her because no other airports closer by had any flights coming in!

It was dead, dead, dead. On the trip there we were able to drive through a fairly large city at “rush hour,” construction zones included, with no delay whatsoever. It seemed at many times that our passenger car was the only one on Route 70, one of the US’s major east-west highways. All I could do was shake my head. There were plenty of semis (lorries), but vehicles such as mine were few and far between.

I see a lot on the news (when I bother to look) about protests, etc., but the majority of the people I know and live around are taking the lockdown seriously. Also, Route 70 and the airport really told the tale. It’s hard to describe how empty it all was; we waited at the airport for a while and we had <zero> trouble getting a prime parking spot. When my relative got off the plane, we asked her how many people she had shared the flight with.

The answer was five.

Five. How in the world can the airlines stay afloat like this? The travel agencies (like the one that refuses to pay me back for my very poorly timed Australia trip)? Anyone, really, but the grocery stores?

This new and unpleasant world borders on the creepy. And I know it is potentially fatal and economically ruinous.

So I choose to avoid the news and do stuff that’s physically active and fun. Here’s a photo of a personal favorite of mine. Lilacs.

lilacs

This is a surprisingly good photo from my cheap Samsung, it shows the first buds on the old lilac bush in the yard.

How old is the bush? I don’t know. Let me tell you about me and lilacs.

First, the bush in our yard actually came from my Great-Grandparent’s farm, the Magyars. My mom took it when they died and planted it in our yard. The bush keeps getting bigger, it has nearly died via loose goats on several occasions.

I love my lilac bush. Every year its fragrance tells of the coming spring, of new life bursting forth from the seemingly dead late winter earth. Its smell is one of my indelible touchstones of home, the lilacs of far Ohio when I was marooned overseas. Tour after tour the lilac stood, it welcomed me when I retired, it witnessed the birth of our children.

And who knows what else. As I said, it came from the Magyar’s old place. I barely knew those people, but I remember them as kind. People of the earth.

Strangely enough, both of them, Imogene and Joszef, lived through the Spanish Flu of 1918. So if they were still around, this would be old hat.

The thought comforts me, oddly enough, and I feel connected to them through that old lilac.

The one the goats tried to kill, but they failed.

So in this year of the plague, at least I can still walk outside and smell the bloom of the lilacs.

The smell of home.

The Siege Part IV: Apocalypse Workout

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The above image was from today’s morning activities, preparing my yard and gardens for the coming growing season. Yes, that is my shadow. Guess I should have paid more attention in my high school photography class.

You have to forgive the shaggy appearance of stuff, that’s what I did this morning, brought a winter’s worth of hibernation back under control.

That’s what I want to talk about today, how to keep your body moving and exercising in times of stress. This helps your mental outlook and keeps you back away from the ledge.

Lord knows we all have stressors right now. There are acute problems, dwelling on them doesn’t do any good. So I’ve chosen to get outside and do physical labor. It’s amazing how much you can work up a sweat by simply tilling up a garden; a side benefit is the vegetables you’ll eat later on.

And this year we need the vegetables in the garden.

Check out this article, front and center in Yahoo news this morning, the 4th of April, 2020.

dumbass

What drooling idiot, I wonder, leaked this information to the press? Headlines like this create a self-fulfilling prophecy; ie news of a shortage spurs people into buying all they can before it’s gone. Look, we have enough problems as-is without this kind of thing. As I stated in my earlier piece “Victory Gardens” our logistic chain is going to be severely tested by this disease.

In short, planting a garden is not only good for the system as a whole and your stomach, it is a necessary physical outlet.

Let me tell you, if you’ve never done it, breaking sod and conditioning the soil on a new garden is an excellent whole-body workout. There is a reason most of our ancestors were rail-thin and tough as roots. Subsistence agriculture, because that’s what we’re talking about, is hard. Physically demanding, even when done on a very small scale.

But that’s OK. We need both the exercise and the food. If you have any land at all, now is the time to put in a garden. Seriously, for the reasons I have listed above.

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OK, why have I posted this picture of my truck loaded down with hay?

Exercise. You gotta take it where you can find it, and getting feed for livestock is currently authorized under the emergency regulations. Lemme tell you, great exercise.

Here are some of the exercises inherent in gardening or small-scale farming.

  1. Weeding. Squats, hand strengthening.
  2. Hoeing. Workout for the shoulders.
  3. Tilling. Upper body and thighs, excellent.
  4. Mowing. Walking, upper body.
  5. Haying. Each bale 40-60lbs/20-30kg. Think about it.
  6. Feeding and watering. Lifting. Back and shoulders.
  7. Raking. Shoulders and back.
  8. Sowing. Squats.

And I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting.

So if you are down in the dumps like me, force yourself to get out there and work. There is also a mental aspect to it, and as we still have the internet there are loads of helpful resources with gardening.

But I live in a flat, you say. Well, do you have any house plants? You can actually grow potatoes and tomatoes in an apartment, seriously, and peppers… the list goes on. Google it, there are a million resources. There are also those who say that plants help your mood; there could be some truth to this.

Exercise and mental engagement now equals a better operating position later.

Set yourself up for success.

 

 

 

 

The Siege Part III: The Productive Hours

dawn

Alright, maybe I should get an iPhone if I want truly awesome pictures, but I think you get the general idea; a pretty farm that I pass during my morning walk.

Mens sana in corpore sano.” That’s Latin for “a sound mind in a sound body.” Something I figured out a while ago, and that the military has known since Roman times, is that a key ingredient to staying sane is to get some exercise by any means necessary.

This is especially true right now with The Great Global Lockdown.

I am not going to talk about the lockdown. Everybody knows about it.

I will only say that I’m fortunate to be authorized to walk outdoors, and I can do it without violating the law or endangering myself or others. The village I live in is deserted.

But I digress.

Would like to talk today about my writing habits while in project mode; how I do stuff to make books and stories happen.

The first thing I do when I get up is walk the dog and drink some coffee. I use this time to think through scenes I plan on writing; it is important to have your outline or something open in your computer, notebook, or whatever. Why? Because if you have a good idea for a scene, you need to jot it down on the spot.

When I fail to do this, the idea is gone. All it takes is a sentence; for example: “Chapter 3 (2). John packs his bags for the trip. He thinks about the war.” That’s it; that’s all I need. I can come back to this later and remember what I meant to write there.

It seems that a lot of the work I do looks like goofing off, and let’s be honest, it is. But then again, it’s not. Confused? Allow me to explain.

Here’s my take on goofing off or taking a nap.

People like stories, it’s how they relax. Goofing off, if you will. The stuff I write is fiction; it’s not meant to be something that people labor at or work hard to understand. How can I get my readers to relax and get into the story if I’m not having fun myself? If I’m not enjoying the process?

I think this answers my own question. If I’m killing myself to write, then I write garbage.

So I slack. I make sure that I go for a walk, preferably at dawn. I walk at a fairly brisk pace, I make sure to get my heart rate up a little and to sweat some. Not like some crazy fast walk, but a pace that allows me to think random thoughts as opposed to concentrating on pushing my body.

Does this make sense? Because my walks feed into my writing; a lot of the time I’m still thinking about the book as I cruise along. Obviously I can’t really jot down notes as I’m walking, but it doesn’t really matter. I deal more with organizational things than creative stuff as I exercise.

When I get home I take care of some chores, and after that is when I sit down, re-check email and write web posts.

In a normal world, my family would be gone for their daily activities, and I could sit down alone in the living room and begin to type.

As it is, my family is here and everyone prefers to use the MacBook that I use to write with. So how do we make that work?

We are settling on a system where we have time slots. For example: Today. I say that I need to do one web post and have a chapter banged out by 1500. Three in the afternoon seems like random time slot, but it’s actually not. It corresponds to the time when my Australian friends and collaborators are waking up; I like to have stuff on their desktop when they drink their tea and get ready for the day.

So, I have two slots for the computer during the day. One is from about 0800-1000, then around 1200-1500.

This is how it’s shaking out during the Siege.

Why is there a two-hour gap in there? Two reasons. One is to allow others access to the MacBook. The other is so that I can take a nap.

A nap? Really?

Yes. Here’s why.

A lot of time I don’t sleep during my nap, I put my mind in neutral and tell myself stories. I’ve been doing this since I was a child. Sometimes it pays off and gives me an answer to a difficult scene or a dilemma in a book; what is important is to never force this type of thing. It’s like trying hard to remember someone’s name. The harder you think, the less the recall. So I don’t try. I put my mind in neutral and accept whatever happens.

So once again, it looks like I’m goofing off. But I’m actually not.

Here is the payoff- consistent 2000-3000 word days under stress and bad circumstances, sustained. Craziest day ever was December 2016 when I wrote Immolation. Ten-thousand words. It was as if I vomited out the story, I couldn’t stop. But that’s only happened to me once, thank God.

People are built to be burst workers. It’s how our hunter-gatherer ancestors operated. Work like hell on one goal, eat the slain animal, lay around with full bellies. Lazily contemplate where the next BBQ is coming from. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Of course, most of you hold jobs, so my technique would have to be considerably modified to adapt to your unique situation.

I guess the big thing for me when writing is to have a goal, a quota, but make it playtime. Serious playtime, if that makes sense.

When deployed and in combat, long before I took up the pen, I used to spend any free time I had sitting in some random spot, preferably alone and chain-smoking. I’d create some pleasant story, and every day I’d add onto it. It took me away from miserable Firebase X.

This habit translated into writing novels during my early retirement.

This. This is how I cope with the Siege.

If you want to write, give the screwing-off technique a try.

To sum it up;

  1. Start the day with some exercise.
  2. Set a realistic goal.
  3. Carve out personal space and time.
  4. Sit down and execute.
  5. Recognize where your time sinks and distractions are; plan around them.
  6. Tell others your goals. This guilts you into completion.
  7. Play and screw around! You need it.

There. This is how I do things.

Now it’s time to write.

 

 

 

Writing Sample; new universe!

eggs

I’ve recently had the pleasure of being asked by John Birmingham to participate in a new apocalypse series. The writing started immediately. Here is a context and spoiler-free sample; all I’ll say is that this is a world where everything has gone wrong.

A world where a life isn’t worth a dozen eggs.

Sample, Jason Lambright

Cathy Elliot looked at the mud in her chicken pen with loathing. The sorry so-and-so had been in her pen again, another one of her prized Australorps was gone. The black hen she called Happy. All that remained was a few feathers and those damn size eleven sneaker prints in the chicken shit and mud. At this rate she wouldn’t have a damn chicken left at the end of the month.

Her lips set in a thin, colorless line as she collected eggs from the remaining hens. Her rooster, Wyoming, scratched and strutted obliviously at her feet. She addressed him.

“Where the hell were you when that so-and-so took Happy, you stupid little rascal?”

He cocked his head and looked up at her. Then he pecked at the ground. Her remaining hens clucked and pecked, one of them shat upon the ground. Cathy shook her head. She felt herself grow nauseous and hot, she wanted to scream.

She didn’t, because no-one would hear. Cathy lived all by herself at the end of a country lane. The nearest village held a few hundred souls, from time to time she would sell eggs to friends. Two dollars per dozen. Even with the emergency, the Crud, she hadn’t raised her rates. Her customers were her friends, she wouldn’t dream of cheating them.

Lately though, she had felt uneasy walking to town with her bag. People were shut up indoors with fear, she had felt the eyes on her as she walked by. Dogs barking made her jump, and she knew her eggs were growing more valuable by the day. The local stores hadn’t had any for a week, her real organic and free range eggs weren’t a luxury anymore. They were a necessity.

And some sorry fellow, no woman had a size eleven shoe, was stealing and probably killing her friends. Her lovely fat hens. She was down to twelve, plus Wyoming the rooster. She had the black Australorps. There were Easter Eggers, too, they were her green and blue egg layers. A few Red Stars pecked about, and a Rock was the boss lady. Finally there were the meek Orpingtons, her best mamas when she felt like allowing them to brood. She loved the little peeps that would emerge from the shells, it was always a surprise what sort of mutt chicken would grow from the pairing of Wyoming with some random hen.

Her chickens were her work and her companions.

And now some jerk was taking them, one by one.

She had dealt with a lot in her day. A faithless, drunken husband who met an early end. Her late mother’s Alzheimer’s. Foxes and weasels, human and otherwise. Hawks. Disease. Cathy had faced them all, and here she stood. She closed the gate of the pen and walked into her tumbledown old Victorian, eggs in the basket. She ascended the porch steps and opened the door, a brilliant ray of sunlight shone through the tall windows onto the hardwood floor. Her cat Meows stood to greet her and rubbed against her legs. She shuffled to the kitchen; she placed the precious eggs on the chipped and stained countertop. She reached into a bag of kibble, grabbed a handful and put it into Mr. Meows’ bowl.

He purred and nudged her hand aside.

“Well, you’d think I’d never’a fed you, Mr. Meows.”

As usual, he said nothing.

She reached up and brushed a gray lock from her face. She jutted her jaw forward and thought. That son of a gun, she thought. I’ll fix him.

Cathy opened the door to the basement with a creak. She reached into the maw of the staircase and put her hand in the tricky spot where the switch was. She flipped it on. An ancient incandescent light bulb flared to life. She walked down the steps and turned to the left, toward her father’s old workspace.

Even after all these years, she still missed him. The smell of wood dust on his clothes, mixed in with cigarette smoke. The cigarettes that had killed him, when the Germans couldn’t. She hummed a little tune as she took the keys from her pocket and selected a small brass one for the metal cabinet in the corner.

She stuck the key in the lock and turned it, she smelled sweet and sharp 3-and-1 oil. Another of her father’s smells. Her eyes watered. Was it because she missed Happy, or because of her father’s ghost? She didn’t know. She reached in the cabinet and selected a long rifle with a dark walnut stock.

Cathy pulled the string hanging above the workbench, another light came on. She opened the rifle’s bolt by turning it counter-clockwise and to the rear. She laid it in the vise on the bench. She heard her father’s voice.

He crinkled his eyes, but he didn’t smile. “Cathy, there is no such thing as an unloaded gun. Always check.”

In the present, Cathy ran her finger along the open receiver and looked in the magazine and at the breech. No bullets.

Her father held up his finger. “Your rifle is a tool. If you don’t take care of it, it will fail you when you need it most.”

Cathy got an oily rag, she squirted some machine oil on it and rubbed the exposed metal parts down. She noted the words SPRINGFIELD ARMORY and 169117 on the receiver, and RIA 06-19 on the barrel. It was an old, old rifle. Her father had used it for deer, she didn’t know where he had gotten it. When she was done she reached into the cabinet and grabbed a brown cardboard box, it was falling apart.

The box was labeled .30 M1 BALL. Above, in her father’s handwriting was “.30/06.” Cathy read it and pronounced it like her dad. “Thirty-aught-six.” She selected five dull yellow bullets, they were not moldy, she checked. One by one she inserted them into the magazine. She thumbed them in with a series of clicks.

“Five should do it,” she murmured. She ran the bolt forward, flipped the lever on the back of the bolt to safe, and carried the doughboy’s old weapon upstairs. She propped it in a corner and made some dandelion tea.

And then she waited. The day lengthened, she sat by an open window, rising only to empty her bladder. As twilight approached, she fetched the Springfield. She grabbed a rolled-up mat and placed it on the dining room table, then she laid the dark rifle upon it. She peed one more time. Then she sat behind the rifle, got comfortable, and began her vigil.

She could see the coop very well as the evening shadows lengthened. She waited. It grew pitch black, but her eyes adjusted and she could see a bit. Her bladder began to fill again, but she stayed still. If you twitch, she told herself, the rabbits will see you. And she wanted this rabbit very, very much.

The hours passed. She really needed to pee, and she fought to keep hers eyes open. Would he come again tonight, or would he wait a week, his belly fat with poor Happy? The thought gave her a small surge of energy as the fury burned in her core. And then she saw it.

Movement. It was so dark she thought she imagined it at first, a shifting of shadows and a faint rustle. The distinct creek of her pen’s gate. The silhouette of a man who had no business in her chicken pen. The man who lined up with her rifle’s sights as it rested upon the mat.

She breathed in, moved the sights just so, and squeezed the trigger.

BAM. She cried out. Her thumb, laid over the comb of the stock, had smashed into her nose with the recoil. The .30/06 wasn’t a rabbit bullet. The noise was much louder than she expected, she hadn’t fired the old Springfield in decades. And finally, she wasn’t the only one making noise.

She was blinded by a bloom in her night vision, the rifle’s flash had lit up everything for a split second. Cathy’s aim was true.

She heard a choking out in the yard. Gagging. Flailing about, like a gutted steer. She put her hand to her mouth and bit it. I am my father’s daughter she thought, unbidden. She stifled a scream. The gurgling out in the grass continued.

Her father spoke to her once more, and then he was silent. “Can’t leave him to suffer, Cath.”

The smell of the ancient cordite burned her nose. She picked up the Springfield and racked the bolt back. The empty casing flew out of the chamber, she racked a fresh bullet in. Her vision had recovered somewhat, she saw a struggling form in front of the coop. He moaned and croaked.

Cathy shot him again.

This time he was quiet.

 

And that, readers, was it for now. Stay tuned for the latest news and developments, and I hope to get the entire work to you soon!

 

Jeep Gladiator: a review

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BLUF: Swiss-Army knife truck.

We have always ran Chevy trucks around here, for decades they have provided for our transportation, towing and hauling needs. We’ve never viewed trucks as anything other than work implements, to be tapped when needed. As a boy, my father had a ’59 Chevy truck, we used it for everything. When I was young I followed the tradition and ran an ’81 GMC until I got sick of fixing it, then I bought a new, full-sized Silverado while I was being boarded for medical retirement.

It was a great truck. Utterly reliable, tough, could tow anything, excellent vehicle. So why did I trade it in on this Jeep truck?

Well, the Silverado was BIG. For years I’ve wanted something smaller, but I really didn’t like Chevy’s Colorado series trucks. I think for the steep prices they command they are just too delicate, really more a passenger vehicle than a truck.

Around here a truck is a truck. If it can’t be asked to tow or haul it is worthless. And oh by the way; it needs to go wherever we ask it without a lot of BS.

The Silverado was a capable off-road four wheel drive vehicle, but did I mention that it was BIG? Kind of unhandy on a narrow forest path, which I have used it on from time to time. Also, I don’t think in the near-decade that I owned it that I ever got anywhere close to using the 327/5.3L V8 engine to its capacity.

In short, the Silverado was too much truck. I knew it. But it’s little brother, the Colorado? Too much passenger car.

Then the new Jeep Gladiator caught my eye, there was one sitting on the lot of my local Jeep dealer.

I stopped in and I was screwed. I knew it. The vehicle I looked at was badass; it had literally everything I could ask for. However, its sticker price was way too high.

A salesperson ran over to greet me; I told him I liked the little Jeep truck, but the price was too much. I was prepared to walk. He knew it, and he held a trick up his sleeve.

Would I be interested, he asked, in a more basic model? Sure, I answered. He led me to the back of the lot, there sat a more-or-less base model Gladiator. I loved it.

Steel wheels. Crank windows and manual locks. Removable hard top. Standard HD Dana 44 axles with a 3.73 gear ratio. Fairly good gas mileage, thrifty V6 engine. 30 inch fording capability. All weather rubberized interior. Granny gear. 1600 lb/800 kg hauling capacity, 7000 odd pound towing capability. Ugly green color.

It was a war machine.

The dealership gave me a decent trade-in on the old Chevy, I handed in the keys and drove away in the Jeep.

I immediately put it to the test. I wanted to check out a prolific spring in the woods, so I turned off the pavement and crawled back to the spring in 4 high, there was no need for 4 low. The Jeep didn’t flinch, and I didn’t have the feeling I was driving a whale as I did so often with the Silverado off-road.

So flying colors on the whole off-road thing. But I expected no less from a Jeep. But how was it as a truck?

I threw 1500lbs of topsoil in the back and then drove it along a twisty, hilly road. Hell, it barely squatted and I couldn’t really tell it held nearly a ton in the bed. It was a tad heavy in the sharp corners, but that was it. It braked just fine, too. I proceeded to also haul the recycling and other stuff like animal feed, just to check its all-around utility. In the near future I plan on hauling bales of hay, I estimate that the little truck can comfortably hold 18 square bales. Pretty impressive.

Hauling success. I especially appreciated the very utilitarian tie-downs, and the automatic bed lights were cool.

To my pleasure and complete shock (I didn’t realize this when I bought it and drove away) the Jeep also has a backup-cam! This is my first truck ever to be so equipped, and I thought it was a very nice touch. Real luxury.

To date, the truck has done everything I have asked of it. Also, the layout of the cab and the four-door arrangement is very handy. My old Silverado had a backseat as well, but it used the “suicide doors” arrangement, this set-up is far superior.

The only thing I haven’t done with this truck is take a road trip to a national park, but I’d imagine this will happen eventually with the fam; when this lousy siege lifts, anyway.

OK; above is all the good stuff.

There are some bad things. When I lift the hood, it looks like a spacecraft in there. Good luck trying to do a field repair on this. Second, I had to buy a hitch mount and have it installed. A hitch should come factory standard on a truck. Finally, the truck could use a bedliner; the factory paint is already scratched to hell. Yes, a bedliner was an option, but I wanted to be cheap. Well, I’ll end up paying for it anyway. But I’m nitpicking, really.

To sum up: for what will hopefully be my last gas pickup truck- pretty awesome. This little guy does 99% of what I need; for the other 1% I can call a flatbed hauler. The Silverado was a great truck, the best I’ve ever owned. But it was always a sore point with me that I wasn’t using it to its potential; this Jeep is a lot closer to realistic for my needs. Plus in many respects the Jeep is more capable than the old grey Chevy, certainly off-road.

After a while owning it I have no regrets about trading in the Chevy.

The Jeep Gladiator. A practical mashup of the iconic Jeep and a medium-duty truck. If the situation allows and you’re in the market, take a look.

But if you look, you might buy. So be careful.