River Ghost

The beginnings of a short story or maybe something more…

Chapter One
“Jack!” The whisper-shout came out of the hydrangea bush. “Jack!” The back door of the house opened and a shadow slid out, shutting the door and floating down the steps silently. It came straight to where Marty hunkered under the bush.
“Come on!” Jack said, skirting past the hiding Marty and walking swiftly down the gravel drive. The small river town was asleep except for the pair of teens who cut through yards, crossed the main street, and galloped down the slope to the Ohio River. It was dark on the bank.
With the river’s rippling current and the distance from the houses, the boys gave up their stealth mode and giggled with anticipation. They collapsed onto the grass, proud of their escape.
“Did you bring it?” Marty asked. Jack pulled the contraband from his jeans pocket and held it up in the faint moonlight. Marty gazed at the doobie in awe. Jack dug a lighter out of his pocket and lit the joint. He inhaled deeply and passed it to Marty. The tip glowed brightly and Marty felt the smoke swirl into his lungs and into his head.
A while later, the joint smoked to a nub, Jack stood up and walked to the river’s edge, Marty thought, to relieve himself. He stood there for a long time.
“Marty!” he yelled, waving back at his friend. “C’mere. I think there’s a car in there!” Marty lurched up and went to stand by Jack.
“Where?” he asked, but peering into the water, he needed no answer.. Down in the depths of the rippling current, he could see twin headlight beams glowing. “How the hell—”
“We need to get someone!” Jack turned and with Marty following, started for the road, but he stopped abruptly.
Directly in front of the boys stood a tall man, dressed in a dark shirt and pants. His clothes and hair were plastered to him. He was as wet as if he had just walked out of the river.
“Hey, mister. Is that your car?” The man silently turned and walked down the bank, seeming to disappear in the rising, pre-dawn mist.

Chapter Two
Cheryl Ann Ryder, FBI agent, drove south on U.S. 23. She was doing ten miles over the speed limit, but she knew none of the staties would stop her in the dark agency sedan with government plates. She was still angry at this deadend assignment and reliving the conversation with her boss.
The local yokels in Brown County had pulled a car from the river. Nothing unusual about that. But, the car may or may not have human remains in it. And it was old. At least fifteen years, they said.
“Jeff, they don’t even know if there are remains? Bones? Something?” Cheryl asked.
“Well, Farmer thought at first there was,” Jeff slid the file across his desk to her, “but he said later, back at the lab, they couldn’t find any.”
“They lost human remains?”
“They never were sure they were human,” Jeff said, “so go down there and take a look. Make a report.”
“Why me?”
“Because you’re from the area.” Cheryl snorted.
“Not really! Just because I lived near the river in northeastern Ohio when I was a kid does not make me an expert on the southern Ohio hillbilly wannabes.”
“Your prejudice is showing.”
“And do think the local cop is going to be happy to see a woman agent?”
“It’s the twenty-first century, Cheryl. I don’t think he’ll care.”
So that was how she got to be driving south into rural, rural southern Ohio to the river town of Braydon. Cheryl thought over the details of the case and glanced at the folder on the passenger seat. She liked to do things the old-fashioned way so had printed out the reposrts and pictures. A 2005 Caddy, bleached a nearly colorless gray by the water and what washed downstream from the mills and mines of her hometown.

Timeless Poetry

The archaeological dig of poetry
Sifting down through the layers,
Words, just words first
That fitted together become phrases
Welded in place like gold and
Lapis lazuli
Forming lines that dance
And howl
Like Bastet caught in the rain.
Forming mind pictures
Hieroglyphs of metaphors
Forming rhymes
Chants that conjure the Old Gods
Stanzas, arms outstretched,
That must be unwrapped
Walking into the corners of memory.

Poems are tombs opened
To reveal their priceless secrets,
The shared treasure of language.


I have friends who encourage me to float (you know, relaxation therapy) to achieve calmness. Yeah, I try, I really do. But my last float experience was productive: it produced a poem!!! Perhaps I should buy a book of six and get that novel done.


I try to concentrate
On nothing.

Floating on a salt sea,
Warm in the dark,
Wrapped in the safe arms of Neptune’s nymphs.
I feel a hint of danger!
Eight arms maybe instead of two?

Floating in a salt sea,
Flavored with the blood of pirates,
Seasoned with rum and gunpowder.
Tears of mermaids,
Garlanded with kelp and shells,
Tinted blue by
The ink of squids.

Floating in a salt sea,
Blue lights dance behind my closed lids,
Their glow the last glimmer of Titanic
As she sinks, settling, her stern disappears.
Heroes were forged that day.

I try to concentrate
On naught.
My thoughts go to nothing…
Then everything!
Maybe it’s the salt!

She was trapped in a dark, hot place, pressed tight by bindings circling her. And it stank! Her last clear memory was abruptly waking up as she was grabbed and thrust into this place. She wiggled, trying to find an opening in the darkness. Frustrated, she let out a piteous scream.
“Billy?” He looked up from his exam to find Ms. Beck standing next to him. “What do you have in your pocket?”
“Er—nothing?” The tenth grader lied badly.
“Well, Billy, the nothing seems to be wiggling and making noises.” The teacher led him out into the hallway where Mr. Morgan stood, arms crossed, waiting.
“Billy?” Mr. Morgan, ex-football coach and assistant principal, held out his hand. Billy shrugged, dug in his pocket, and deposited a squirming, mewling gray and white kitten. Mr. Morgan did not miss a beat. “Son, it’s exam week. You can’t bring cats to school. I’ll call your mom to come get it. Go take your exam.”
The kitten curled against the thumping heart of the big man as she was carried away. She thought about her last meal with Mommacat. It was so long ago and she was so very hungry. She suddenly, painfully missed Mommacat and her brothers and a sad meow erupted from her. “It’s O.K.,” the man rumbled. “We’ll get you home.”
“No, ma’am, you can’t bring the rest of them up here.” Mr. Morgan said indignantly. “We’re a school, not the Scratching Post.” He hung up and looked at the little kitten curled in a tight, fearful ball on his desk.
“What am I going to do with you now?” Suddenly, he got up and called to Eloise, the secretary, to find him a copy paper box.
Forty minutes left in the exam period. I checked the clock and surveyed the room. The students were writing. Action in the hallway caught my eye. Mike Morgan was standing outside my door, sort of bobbing and weaving. He definitely wanted to get my attention, but he was trying his damnedest not to disrupt my exam. I got up, one eye on the unaware students, and edged to the door.
“Do you need one of them, Mr. Morgan?”
“No, I wanted to ask you—they said you’d know—“ I was baffled by his hesitancy. Finally, he blurted out: “What do you feed a kitten?” It was the last thing I expected to come out of my assistant principal’s mouth.
“Kitten food.”
“Where can I get some close by?”
“Thanks.” Without further explanation, he strode off down the hall, swinging a white bath towel.
The exam bell finally ended; it was my last one of the year. I stood in the hall, wishing my exiting students good luck on their next test. As the bell rang and the students sprinted to their next test room, my curiosity got the best of me. I pulled my classroom door shut and headed to the office.
Mike was coming in the auditorium side door as I turned the corner. The man carried three grocery bags near bursting with kitten food—cans, boxes, bags of treats!
“How many kittens are we feeding?” I fell in step beside him.
“One. Do you think I got enough?”
“For about six months!”
The kitten was hungry still, but she snuggled in the sweet smelling towels in her box. This was better, much better, than the pocket. But Mommacat still wasn’t here and she would feel so much better if she could get her ears licked. Suddenly, the towel she was curled under moved, and someone was looking at her. She stared back solemnly.
“She’s just a baby!” The person gently gathered her up. She froze, as Mommacat taught her. The person cuddled her and the little gray and white kitten smelled…other cats…boys, like her brothers, but different
“What are you going to do with her?”
“I guess I’ll give her back to Billy.” Both pictured what could happen to a kitten between school and home, even with the nicest of kids. The person began scratching the kitten’s chin, rubbing her chin, rubbing her ears. A rumble started deep in the tiny white chest, and the kitten snuggled against this person who was now her person.
“I’ll take her.”
I was in my classroom, packing up for the day. The kitten, grown bold was sneaking around my classroom, running back to her towel-lined den whenever she was frightened. She had mouthed some of the canned food, watered down into a gruel, and I made a mental note to stop by PetSmart and buy some powered Catmilk.
It hadn’t taken long for word to get out. Tracy and Julie, fellow teachers, sat watching the kitten’s antics.
“She’s awfully young,” Julie observed.
“What will the Tabby Brothers think?” asked Tracy. “Are you ready for another kitten? What will you name her?” At that moment, I knew the kitten’s name.
“Yes, we’re all ready for Hillary Kitten.”

In the Enemy’s Hall

The great fire pit threw lurching, shadowy figures on the stone walls of the hall, gape-mouth, gleeful imps intent on mayhem. Robert, bravest in battle, fought back a shiver as he glanced toward the head table where Kilgard and his lairds sat, laughing, drinking, happy with themselves at their latest murderous spree. Robert shifted his harp and tugged at his tunic as he approached the main table in the mead hall.
He stopped suddenly seeing her sitting at Kilgard’s table. Her blond hair was unbound, and long, it caught the firelight in golden wonder. It was held back by a circlet with a single lavender gem. Her riding tunic and boots were replaced by a gown of the finest material, but even dressed as an archer, he had thought her beautiful. Had they only met for the first time yesterday?
Standing in the woods outside the hill fort, she could have killed him, bow drawn, arrow nocked ready to pin him to the ground, and sword at her side to finish him. But she had stared down the shaft at him a moment, a moment where he felt like a buck about to become venison. Then she had smiled and he fell deeply, forever, in love.
“Be careful, jester.” One of the other minstrels hissed. “You’ll lose your eyes, staring so at Kilgard’s sister.”
Sister! Oh, he truly was damned!
Robert’s attention returned to the Viking. He shifted the harp again, his right hand itching to drag his hidden sword from the pack on his back and make an ending to this marauder who had set his next invasion on Robert’s lands and his people. If only the room knew who he really was, it would be his end. But such an end! For he would take the evil Kilgard and as many of his men as he could with him into the Netherworld.
Robert sprang into the circle formed by the tables in the mead hall. He twanged on his harp and danced a few steps, looking at the faces of Kilgard and his men, lit by the great fireplace. Lolly, the minstrel, as he was known here, strolled up to one of the Saxons and played the opening chords of a ballad. The drunken warrior paused a moment confused, then guffawed. Lolly picked up the man’s tankard and tipped it back, getting a roar of laughter from the hall. Lolly danced away. If only the Saxons knew who he really was: not a fool or bard, but an Irish laird who had come here to assess their number and perhaps, find a way to thwart their attack on his lands and people.
“You are brave, fool!” roared Kilgard.
“Aye, your grace. I be known as Lolly the Bold.”
“Come, fool. What are you here for?” Kilgard roared drunkenly.
Robert scraped his best bow. “I am here, m’lord, here to sing you an Irish ballad or three!” Kilgard spit dismissively into the rushes.
“Lays from that land of worthless shepherds and drunken lairds.” He laughed. “Lays of unending rain and sorrow?” Robert thought those words quite poetic for this barbarian. He set them to mind, a song needing written later.
“Songs of the hill folk, your grace, and the wee magical ones.” He bowed.
Kilgard waved an arm graciously. “Sit and partake of my bounty. I will summon you when we are ready for such winsome dirges.” Kilgard gestured to the far table.

From the Eye of Ra*

Dogs tremble and whine during storms.
Cats growl defiantly at the heavens,
Or sit contemplating, examining the lightning and rain out the window,
Or sleep, curled unconcerned.
Cats exist on a higher plain, unworried.
Unruffled by mortal concerns.
Cats spend time in deep contemplation, savoring smells, exploring the breeze.

Cats created Zen, mindfulness, and yoga.
Cats could levitate like a sideshow swami
If they chose.

They command deep relaxation
All muscles loose, laying on their back, forepaws crossed.
Eyes closed into the veriest slit.
Tails twitching slowly in time to an inner bell.

Cats are in the moment always.
Their mantra, a purring rumble, repeated:
Calm, calm, for I am
And always was
A god.

*Bastet: Egyptian Cat god. Sometimes known as the Eye of Ra,

After Sunset

Dancing around the fire in the gloaming.
This seems like almost
An ancestral memory.
Probably one of those Scots-Irish ones
O’Flaherty and MacDonald.

As dusk falls
And perhaps a veil of mist
Arises from the creek.
The air cools and quiets,
Until there comes the hoo-hoot of an owl.

Settling down
Deepening to twilight.
The stars appear, a few at a time
Before the moon rises
In silvery brilliance.

There is peace.