This is a story of sibling rivalry. Kane and Abel Orr, twins born to parents Mildred and Bernard. The Orr's were a family of wealth and power in Spokane. They weren't political, but they bought and paid for many politicians in the town and state. Rumor has it their hands were in the federal arena as well.
The Orr's were ruthless, successful and expected much from their boys. It led to a hostile home environment, pitting brother against brother. You would think this would stop the parents from allowing the fights in the home, but they really did believe in survival of the fittest.
Kane was all for it, Abel didn't want it. He just wanted the love of his mom and dad. He didn't want to hate his brother, but things Kind did to him were horrific. And did anything to prevent Able from climbing the ladder of success, well, he couldn't help but hate him. The odd thing was Abel didn't even care about the family business, or that sort of success.
For crying out loud they were twins. Why didn't they have this spoken bond between them? Perhaps they did at birth, but I guess the only people who could break that kind of link would be parents. Keep that in mind as you read their tale. Mom and Pop are the real monsters.
Kane grew up and became a plastic surgeon. He loved pretty people and he wanted all the people to be pretty. In his shallow mind the ugly are useless. If you're ugly AND fat well you were the scum of society.
He hated fat people more than ugly and that's how he ended up specializing in liposuction. He enlisted a top advertising agency who met with psychiatrists to come up with commercials and other advertising mediums that would put subliminal messages into the minds of the obese.
It was diabolical and he was triumphant. He was the most sought out doctor. Cough cough.
Growing up, Abel sought comfort in baking. He longed for sweets and became a master pastry chef. The sweet concoctions fed his soul and he would give them as gifts to win people's affections.
Of course, this food addiction resulted in him becoming overweight. The weight put more distance between his brother and him. Kane was disgusted.
Abel ran his bakery, called The Muffin Man. He started it with his own money. His parents wanted nothing to do with it, or him. It's located on Drury Lane.
Drury Lane is the ultimate back alley where there were alley cats and other nefarious activities. Even though it was in a hideous location he was successful. His muffins were good, but in my opinion they weren't good enough to call yourself The Muffin Man.
His breads and pastries were world class. But the back alley folks didn't really care for those things. They wanted the working man goodie. A really good muffin.
After weeks of getting flack from the toothless regular Stan, he decided to focus on making the best muffins in the world. He would show everyone.
Day and night Abel would experiment with different recipes and ingredients. He also joined a gym and after about a year he lost 100 pounds and mastered the perfect blueberry muffin.
Stan the toothless hobo, the cat lady of Spokane and a few tourists who lost their way endorsed this claim of world's greatest muffin. Now he just needed to showcase it so people would know about it and his back alley bakery.
His mother called him that afternoon to tell him Kane would be keynote speaker at the much anticipated event of the year, "Toast of Spokane". It was the EVENT of all events. It showcases the best of the best in town.
All the movers and shakers would be there. She was just rubbing it in because, well, she's a bitch. If I weren't any wiser on this story, and I know everything about this story, because it's mine, bwahahahahahaha, I would think she was the wicked stepmother and Abel was Cinderella. But no, it's not that story.
There was no way Abel. could get a booth at this event. It was too late, and since his parents were on the board, they wouldn't allow it anyway. They were repulsed that he was a baker and a back alley one at that.
It was the day of the event and the local as well as national paparazzi were in attendance because the Orr's paid them. The photographers could care less about a little old town in eastern Washington.
Abel borrowed a cart from his friend who sold hot dogs in front of the bank building downtown at lunchtime. He loaded his muffins and parked the cart right in front of the entrance just mere feet from the red carpet.
Because he arrived early he was able top pass out muffins to the spectators who wanted to get a good spot on the red carpet to see the who's-who of the evening.
The aroma of his muffins were intoxicating. There was quite a breeze so the mouth watering aroma wafted through out the blocks. He was the Pied Piper of the sweet tooth crowd.
Within an hour there were crowds of people surrounding his cart. They were all clamoring for a taste of his heavenly concoction. This went on for quite some time. It went on so long that nobody stood at the red carpet watching the VIP's make their grand entrances.
Kane was pissed. His monumental arrival was upstaged by a muffin. Not just any muffin, his brother's muffin. He vowed revenge, but kept a smirk on his face for the cameras.
Well, Abel's muffins were not only the talk of the evening, they were the talk of the month. Everyone found their way to Drury Lane to buy his ambrosia. The lines were long and the upstanding folks of of the town we're forced to mingle with the back alley transients.
It was good for each other to see how the other lived. Good things would come of it, all because of The Muffin Man.
Every day he sold out. You couldn't order them in advance. You had to stand in line and the maximum amount you could order were six. It was outrageous, but people abided by the rules just to get their hands on the perfect muffin.
As time went by there were people who tried without fail to copy his muffins. Nobody came close. It was the secret ingredient of the millennium.
Abel was not the toast of the town if you will, further infuriating his brother Kane. Even his parents made their way down to the filthy alley to visit the bakery. Kane vowed revenge the night of the muffin debut, and now he would make good on his promise.
He wasn't sure where to start. His brother was now fit, handsome, successful AND created the hottest item in town. He should have been grateful because the rise of the muffin meant the rise of his clients for his liposuction practice. I mean c'mon he even had a new and popular procedure called the muffin top removal.
People could not stop eating them. They would pay not only for the daily muffin, but to keep thin in the meantime. Everyone had appearances to keep, but nobody, I do mean nobody could say no to the muffins.
Kane decided to have Abel followed just to see what his day to day life was like. He needed to prey on his weakness. But as of now he didn't know what it was.
Abel arrived at the bakery at three in the morning Monday through Saturday to start the muffins and have them out of the oven by opening time. He didn't make any other pastry anymore. Only muffins. He was getting rich and people would stand in lines waiting for a bite of excellence.
After closing he went to the gym. Next was the farmers market to get fresh vegetables for dinner. He was home by five. He ate dinner at six. From what the private investigator, (who I will now refer to as Dick), could figure out he would read or watch television until nine, then lights out.
Dick reported this to his boss, but Kane was adamant he continue. Since he paid well the spy did it. He watched him all week. Same thing, different day. Until Saturday night...
Abel headed out at nine. It didn't seem like that big of a deal. I mean the guy worked all week, why not let out some steam on Saturday night?
The investigator followed him not into back alleys. Not into clubs or restaurants, but he made his way to the medical part of town.
He followed him to the parking lot of a mega complex consisting of all types of medical practices. It was after hours and the building was closed.
Dick kept still and watched as Abel swiped a card to open the door of the main building. Of course the spy followed him. He also had a security card because it was his boss, Kane's building.
He trailed Abel without him knowing. Able took the elevator and Dick took the stairs. At each level he checked to see what floor the elevator was on.
Kane's office was on the eleventh floor and somehow he anticipated him going there. But he didn't. Abel got off on the ninth floor. When he got off, he met with the janitor who led him to a big room at the end of a hall.
Dick was peeking, and wasn't sure what was happening. Kane's main office as I said earlier was on the eleventh floor, but he did run the floors nine through twelve.
He watched as the janitor opened the door. Abel gave him a wad of cash then went inside. He hid for a long time, then Abel came out with a huge cart. He rolled it to the service elevator and wheeled it out to his work van in the back.
"What in the heck is going on here?", Dick thought. He didn't know was was on the cart. He wasn't sure what was in the room, but he was going to find out. Good thing he ate one of the muffins while on surveillance. It gave him the extra sugar boost to keep his energy up. Only he didn't need it because he didn't use the stairs this time. He took the elevator.
He made his way back to the ninth floor and found the janitor eating a muffin. The janitor was jarred to see someone in the building. He started to yell out to the guy for trespassing but stopped when he saw the hired hand pull a gun.
Dick told him to open the door at the end of the hall and he wouldn't get hurt. Well, the janitor obliged and almost choked to death on his muffin, which is kind of funny because it tasted heavenly. He didn't want to find out if he would go to heaven or hell from the treat so he did what the gunman said.
When he opened the door Dick looked around. It was a room with medical supplies. He put the gun back in the janitor's face and asked what he gave Abel.
Well, the janitor's face turned white. He was shaking. He didn't want to tell, but he didn't want to die. He chose self-preservation and told him this is where Dr. Kane's waste was stored until it was picked up by Abel who worked for medical waste management.
The private investigator dropped his jaw. He realized what was happening and threw up. The janitor knew the excess fat from liposuction was not a pretty thing, but you couldn't smell it here, or even see it. He didn't know why this man was gagging and puking, and acting the way he was acting.
He found his backbone and asked Dick what the hell is going on here and to please show identification. It was a ballsey move seeing he still had a gun in his face. The P.I. was enraged. He was fuming at this dumb man who didn't know what was happening.
He spat at the confused janitor, "The Muffin Man is using human fat for his muffins. That's the secret ingredient! Oh My God!"
He wiped his mouth and freaked out because he ate one not less than an hour ago and, damn, it was delicious.
He looked at the janitor and asked, "How in the world he thought a reputable company would come only on Saturday nights and deal strictly in cash?"
The janitor just smiled. He wasn't stupid. Then he got shot in the head. It turns out the muffins are heavenly, because St. Peter was eating one at the pearly gates where the janitor stood in line to get in to the promised land.
Well now that Dick became a hired assassin he had to leave town. Thankfully his boss Kane gave him a lot of money and a car. He got the hell outta Dodge. He never looked back. He also never told Kane about the muffins. It seemed sinful to take those delectable edibles away.
But since the janitor died, Able couldn't get the secret sauce. So he took a month's vacation in Bali until a new janitor was hired. He knew with is money both from the bakery, and now from his parents he would have no trouble re-opening.
Money from his parents you ask? No, they didn't die, but since he was now the more successful and famous brother they gave him loads of money.
Off he went to Bali, but his brother was steaming. Not only did he get taken by his private investigator, there was a murder in his building and now his part of town was considered the poor part of town.
He flew to Bali to surprise his brother. Abel was on a pier fishing when Kane snuck up behind him. He clobbered him over the head with a rolling pin and pushed him into the sea to drown. He chuckled at the irony of a rolling pin doing in his baking brother.
He looked down in the water with a satisfied grin and then a great white shark jumped up and swallowed him. Now Kane and Able were both gone.
Bless their souls.
The disappearance of The Muffin Man made him infamous. He became an icon. His bakery turned into a shrine and people sill come around to pay their respects and grieve the loss of their beloved muffin.
You can hear them sing, "Do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man? Do you know the muffin man who lives on Drury Lane?"
When you are done reading the story please take a moment to check out the kind photographers who allowed me to use their photos for the story. All of them strangers yet they were generous with their outstanding photos which really help the story come alive. Just click on their names and it will take you to their work.
Photo courtesy of Nathan Fish
“You do anything long enough to escape the habit of living until the escape becomes the habit.” – David Ryan
Sugar and spice and everything nice—that’s what little girls are made of. There’s a snag with this anatomy and physiology theory. The problem arises when a sweetheart with a sweet tooth and a double-X chromosome falls into a pit of despair, clinging to the last link on the DNA chain while screaming, pleading, and begging for the “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” gene. I know of such a woman.
The October morning sunshine illuminated the beauty of the perfect autumn day. The trees were at their peak in color, and the weather was crisp and invigorating. For Isabella, this was the most wonderful time of the year. She whistled and hummed while dressing with care. After squeezing into her girdle, she chose her prettiest dress—a black A-line frock trimmed with orange. She looked like a reversed pumpkin, but the dress represented Halloween and her yearly guilt free shopping spree. After a slow twirl in front of the mirror, she was ready to go. If she could kick up her heels in celebration, she would, but her knees bothered her because they could not adequately bear her weight. Instead, she fantasized about the long, lean aisles filled with candy in super-sized packages at the warehouse store outside of town. This brought a smile to her face and a lightness to her heart. Unfortunately, her light heart slowed down every time she had an affair with her first and only love—chocolate.
The drive to the store was perfect. Isabella reveled in the beauty of her town. The treelined streets were ablaze with color. Some homes had been decorated with pumpkins, bales of hay, and scarecrows, while the residents of other houses had decided to go the haunted-house route, decorating with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and witches. Isabella had decorated her home like a graveyard, with headstones sporting funny sayings revealing the cause of death of the entombed. Her favorite was the classic “rest in peace.” It wasn’t a scary thought; it was soothing. Peaceful rest eluded her.
Spider webs were strewn all around her porch, and a gigantic black spider hovered above the door. She considered the black widow her guardian angel of sorts. All of these sights reminded her of her fantasy becoming reality. She could go on her annual shopping trip and stock up on as much chocolate as she wanted without judgement or question. Halloween represented treats, and with this trick of buying in bulk, nobody knew of her illicit affair.
Photo courtesy of The Commons Flickr
The horrific parking situation didn’t bother her today because her mood was untroubled. She even parked in the furthest spot to get in a little exercise—another annual event. For a couple of reasons, she took a deep, long breath when she arrived at the door: one, because she wanted to savor the moment, and two, because she needed to catch her breath from the long trek to the store. She flashed her membership card along with a sneaky grin at the greeter then headed for the candy aisle. If she wasn’t out of shape and self-conscious, she would’ve skipped.
When she arrived at the back of the store, she gasped in horror, forcing her heart into rapid palpations. The candy wasn’t there. They rearranged the store. Again, she took deep breaths to regain her composure, and then, to soothe herself, she decided to look at the crisis in a different way. This wasn’t a problem but a thrill that would only add to the anticipation. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Right? In her case, absence would make the heart grow stronger. When she regained her composure, she resumed her quest to find her lover’s new home.
Time stopped while she searched the store for candy. After ten minutes of frantic searching and avoiding the crowds in front of the sample booths, she found it. She started singing “Amazing Grace” and about how it had saved a wretch like her, because right next to the produce was her idea of heaven: candy bars … lots and lots of candy bars. There were many to choose from, and there were at least thirty bars to a box. She took her time shopping and allowed her king-sized Tootsie-Roll fingers to trace the brand names of the candy. Each kind meant something to her. They were all special.
After she delighted in smelling each type, she began the process of choosing her mates. Where to begin? Mounds, Reese’s, M&M’s, Hershey Bars, Almond Joys, Kit Kat bars—because they needed a break—all held a place in her heart, as well as her stomach. Tenderness radiated through her spirit every time she chose a box and placed it in the cart with care. They were all coming home with her. Every last one of them would be devoured with lust.
After foreplay, she headed for the checkout counter. Had she been in town, this might have bothered her, but because she only came to this warehouse store once a year at Halloween, she didn’t give buying this much candy a second thought. Nobody knew her. It’s kind of like when you go to the edge of town to check into a sleazy motel offering hourly rates, even for the VIP room. It was seedy, skanky, and added to the thrill because she was out in broad daylight indulging her vice while remaining anonymous.
She placed her membership card on top of the first boxes of candy while she unloaded the rest. This would speed up the checkout process. The shame began to infiltrate her even though she loved the freedom and liberation of shopping unrecognized. Getting home safe and fast with her care package was the most important thing to her. When she placed the last of the boxes on the conveyor belt and walked to the register, she looked into the eyes of Katie, a young girl who lived on her street.
“Ms. Gamble! Hi! It’s nice to see you. I just started working here last week!”
Isabella stared in shock at the bubbly, tall, skinny redhead who had grown up. She’s not five anymore. How did this happen? What’s going on? Sweat seeped from her forehead and above her upper lip. She licked her lips nervously, tasting the sweat. It was salty, not sweet. Is this how the saying pouring salt in a wound had come about? For the second time in the store—the third time if you counted the long hike from the car to the entrance—her heart went into tachycardia. She knew this term because last week it was the word of the day on dictionary.com. The ironic thing was that the day after learning tachycardia, the next word of the day was “thanatopsis,” for which the definition is a view or contemplation of death. Isabella was now afflicted with two T-word ailments. She now had to dig up some dignity and grace to get through this transaction.
“Katie, is that you all grown up? I can’t believe you’re old enough to have a job. It’s lovely to see you.” She shoved her Visa at Katie to get the ball rolling.
“Ms. Gamble, you sure have a lot of candy here. Are you going to be the cool lady on the block who gives out the big candy bars? My little brother and his friends will be stoked. I think it’s cool for you to spend all this money for Halloween. Most people don’t even pass out candy anymore. All the porch lights are turned off. You’re going to make a lot of kids happy.”
She talked fast and nonstop. It took a minute for her words to strike a blow.
“No! No that’s not ...” She stopped when she saw the confusion and fear on Katie’s face as her voice rose and teetered on the brink of hysteria. “Oh, Katie, you found me out! Let’s keep this a secret so I can surprise the trick-or-treaters. It’s more fun when they aren’t expecting it. Don’t you think?” Her legs trembled. Katie’s smile returned, and then, as she handed her the receipt, she said, “Your secret’s safe with me, Ms. Gamble.”
Isabella left the store and started her long walk to the car. The sun was still shining, and the temperature was warm, but she was chilled to the bone. Her legs shook, and now her hands joined in. Her happy holiday was turning into a nightmare. She needed to pacify herself. Deep breaths … deep breaths. Katie said my secret was safe.
While she was unloading the candy, she brainstormed. If I set aside one box of candy for the trick-or-treaters, it will be alright. If Katie doesn’t say anything, then I hand out the lollipops as planned. Everyone will be happy. I will just turn my porch light off the second the candy bars are gone, if I even have to use them.
All the boxes were loaded into the car except for one—a box of Three Musketeers. It rode shotgun. Here, happiness returned as the problem was solved. She looked down at her precious cargo, unwrapped one, and took a bite. The instant the chocolate hit her bloodstream, her heart rate slowed. The tune she loved raced into her mind, and she sang it with glee: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Photo courtesy of Bill Ackerman
The bewitching hour arrived. It was Halloween night. Isabella filled her plastic bowl with the lollipops. In the corner, hidden under a towel, was the one box of candy bars she would hand out just in case. It was hard deciding which one to give away, and she was proud of her newfound strength when she finally made the decision. This might be a fun night after all. When the trick-or-treaters were done, she would settle in for a marathon of Top Chef: Just Desserts.
When it was still light out, the toddlers and preschoolers started trick-or-treating. Isabella oohed and aahed at the princesses, firemen, and kitty cats, all of whom were precious. They were all delighted to get lollipops. At dusk, the parade stopped for a while, and the transition from light to dark began. This is when the older trick-or-treaters came out. There was nothing to worry about, because she had plenty of lollipops left.
The doorbell rang, and she opened the door. “Trick or Treat!” She stumbled back from the volume of the chant. There must have been twenty kids shoving pillowcases at her. She filled them up and noticed other groups, each with a minimum of twelve kids. The neighborhood was being invaded by kids who were eager for their sugar fix. Vans pulled up and parked, and more kids spilled out before running from door to door. Isabella’s heart began to beat fast when she saw Katie, dressed as the devil, walk up with a big smile, a pitchfork, and a plastic pumpkin.
“Ms. Gamble, you inspired me. I went home after work the day I saw you. I told my mom how you were going to pass out the big candy bars, and I suggested she and the other neighbors do the same. We wanted to bring back the glory days of Halloween. Well, word got out, and all the kids are coming to our street. Isn’t that amazing?” She then held out her pumpkin.
The sweat began to bead again. She thought, Well, OK. I was prepared for this. She uncovered the big candy bars and put one in Katie’s pumpkin. Well, just like a dog can smell fear, the kids could smell candy. Children of all ages kept coming while chanting “Trick or treat!” and then hooting and hollering about the jackpot they’d received, which then brought even more kids to her house. Isabella was on autopilot; she passed out candy bar after candy bar and kept opening more boxes. The children were cheering and clapping. Once the wave of kids left, she turned off her porch light, hoping to keep the rest away. She went to her stash, and although she had suffered a big loss, there were still some left.
A few minutes later, her doorbell rang, and more trick-or-treaters were outside chanting the worst words she would ever hear in her life. Her porch light was on a sensor, and she had forgotten to turn off the main switch. Another dozen or so kids came up, and they celebrated and high-fived each other after getting the big candy bars. It was like Mardi Gras in the neighborhood! She looked like a zombie as she went for more boxes of candy and passed them out. The color drained from her face, her eyes went blank, and when she went to protest, no sound came from her mouth. After the last precious chocolate bar was handed out, she looked into her kitchen and noticed that all the boxes of her beloved sweets were gone. The frenzy began. The umbrella next to the front door came in handy as she smashed her porch light to smithereens. At first, the kids thought it was a show, but they soon realized that the lady with the big candy bars had gone mad, and they ran screaming down the road.
Now back inside her house, she panicked. There must be more candy bars here! I always have some stashed just in case! She ran to the bookcase where she kept one of those fake books that hold things inside. Where is it? She began to check every book methodically. She grabbed Eat, Pray, Love and threw it on the ground, and then she pushed past Dr. Phil’s The Ultimate Weight Solutions book, which was right next to the South Beach Diet. She shoved When Food is Love and The 7 habits of Highly Effective People to the ground. Then, with one big sweep of her arm, she wiped out an entire shelf of books, except for one: Women, Food and God. For a moment, she stood holding the book and sighed. Hmmm. I always meant to read this. The next instant, she threw the book through the front window, sending glass shards everywhere.
Where is that book!? The bookshelf also held movies, and the books and DVDs were mixed up. This was a catastrophe of epic proportions. Like a woman searching for her lost baby, she started throwing movies and books into the air. In the midst of her turmoil she came across the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This stopped her. She examined the cover then hugged it tightly to her chest. “Oh, Willy, I need you. I need you. I need you.” Tears ran down her cheeks so fast that they blinded her. She stumbled to the couch, sat down, and then began to sing the Willy Wonka song.
Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.
Come with me,
And you’ll be in a world of pure imagination. Take a look, and you’ll see into your imagination ...
The song lulled her into a trance until she remembered the part where the boat started spinning and spinning. It was exactly what was happening in her head.
She released a primal yell and stomped on the movie. She kept screaming until she found one of the fake books. She ripped it opened with shaky hands, only to find that it didn’t have any candy bars in it; what it held was a Smith and Wesson revolver for the just-in-case moments in life. Well, this was that moment. She grabbed the gun and headed for the kitchen.
There must be some sweets here! She ran to the drawers and found a large frying pan. It reminded her of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” ad in the eighties. She then started to chant: “This is my brain; this is my brain in pain. Where the hell is my candy!?” Drawer after drawer was pulled out and thrown to the ground as she looked for a fix. Nothing. There was nothing. She then looked to the freezer. Sometimes, she would freeze her York Peppermint Patties to get that extra blast of cool air. She opened the freezer door using the revolver, which had morphed into her new hand. She used it to throw the frozen vegetables and ice trays out of the way. Nestled in the back was an old Klondike bar with the wrapper torn halfway off. “Ice cream? What the hell? I hate ice cream!” Then, another little jingle went through her brain on pain: “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” Her heart was beating as fast as a Maserati now. Her brain was in pain. Her hands shook, and her knees buckled. Her salty sweat and tears mocked her as the Klondike jingle played over and over in her head. “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” She pierced the freezer-burned ice cream with the revolver and walked away from the freezer.
Pain seared through her brain. Her ears were ringing. Her revolver hand was experiencing numbness and tingling. The knocks on her door echoed through the house, with more chants of “Trick or treat!” mingling with the evil ice cream jingle. She used the revolver as a fork and shoved the Klondike bar into her mouth. The first bite gave her brain freeze, but it was nothing compared to the brain-in-pain scenario. “Ugh! Ice cream. I hate ice cream,” she mumbled around a mouthful. She ate another bite of the old, cracked ice cream bar, and it wasn’t until the third bite that she tasted chocolate. The ecstasy filled her soul. Her heart rate slowed. Her knees stopped buckling. The tears stopped flowing. The room stopped spinning, and her brain didn’t hurt anymore. Her revolver hand took charge, and she mumbled one last word before her shaky fingers assisted her to a peaceful rest.
Crow image by Washington Whitten
Poe girl is my tribute to Edgar Allen Poe. The Cask of the Amontillado ignited my passion for telling stories. Or perhaps it was Mother Goose and the brothers Grimm. Either way Edgar has my heart.
Photo by Ron Armstrong
That corny old saying was finally ringing true for me: Today was the first day of the rest of my life.
It's been a road full of potholes, but tonight I'll be riding on smooth asphalt because my position as brew master and CEO of Cranium Breweries goes public. The ebbs were ruthless, jarring—even excruciating, but tonight the respect, happiness, and my precious ale Captiva will flow.
I opened the front door, grabbed the newspaper, and let my best friend Fortunato in. This gorgeous creature was my guardian, my best friend, but most of all, my savior. He's a stunning black-masked, red-coated Afghan hound. "Good morning, Forti. Did you have a good run?"
My companion wiggled and wagged his tail every time he saw me. No matter what, he loved me.
I kissed his cold, wet nose. "It's a great day, Forti. I feel like a queen and tonight's ball is my coronation. I'm taking the paper to my throne to read about my kingdom and what my loyal subjects are saying."
I couldn't remember the last time hope, love, and coffee started my day. My wish was to turn it into a daily reality.
The radiant heating under the tiles on the bathroom floor warmed my bare feet. Each toe savored the warmth on this crisp fall morning. Autumn was harvest time—you reap what you sow, as the saying goes, and I've sweated tirelessly planting the seeds for a bountiful life. I was going to take a few minutes to enjoy this new feeling.
My panties dropped to my ankles as I sat on my top-of-the-line throne. The bathroom was a sacred place. When I remodeled, I indulged in every one of my whims to feel comfortable, luxurious, and safe. The seat was heated and plush. I adjusted myself to the most relaxed position and began to read the daily paper.
A picture of Anita Robinson's constipated face appeared next to her byline, grabbing my attention. I wanted to vomit. I was in the right spot for heaving and hurling but in the wrong position. The photo hypnotized me. I was afraid that if I stared too long I'd turn to stone. This hag was a modern day Medusa. She possessed a head full of red curls, green eyes set too close, and the teeth of a piranha. I groaned.
Fortunato ran into my royal powder room to check on me. He took his usual seat and faced me. Usually this would make me laugh, but today I looked at Fortunato, then at Anita’s fiery red head, and was shocked by the difference between the two gingers. My animal was exquisite. The human was a beast.
I caressed Fortunato's red coat. "Well, Forti, let's see what the swine wrote," I said, and then I read the article.
Since the death of her husband, Leah Cranium has successfully finished a batch of the family's trademark porter ale, Captiva. This unique brew has been a family legacy since 1915. At present, it is in the hands of a Cranium by marriage. This challenge would be daunting for a blood relative with ale in their blood, but for someone with cheap beer flowing through their veins, well, I cringe at the obstacles Mrs. Cranium will face. Her humble background, lack of formal education and work experience, and, let's face it, lack of pedigree create just a few stumbling blocks she'll need to navigate in order to be a successful brew master, a brew master of one of the oldest and most successful breweries in local history.
Allow me to draw you a stein of brew master particulars. It's customary for the wife to be in charge of all things social and charitable. The brew master is in charge of brewing, experimenting with yeasts, and formulating recipes. This particular position is run with expertise, an artisans flair, and a head for business. I hope Mrs. Cranium is up for the task. Her inaugural batch of liquid courage will make or break Cranium Breweries. Will this novice from simple beginnings destroy an empire? All eyes and palates eagerly await the answer when Leah Cranium unveils her first batch of Captiva as acting CEO and brew master during the annual Witches’ Brewfest. All proceeds from the annual brew and chew benefit The House of Hope, a safe house for victims of domestic violence.
Photo by Daniel Norwood
"Enough!" I slammed the poisonous tabloid masquerading as journalism on my immaculate marble vanity. My royal doody of tending to fecal matters ended. I wiped, then used the bidet to ensure cleanliness, but my anger resulted in a major blunder. I forgot to flush.
The well established ritual began. Again. I walked five steps, touched the wall, and then paced six steps back toward the toilet. It was a comforting routine I knew too well. Calm down. Think. I'm safe. He's not here anymore. "It's okay. I'm okay," I said. Three, four, five, turn. "I've taken her countless attacks, hoping they would go away." One, two, three. "I've ignored this woman, taken the high road, yet she continues to insult me." Four, five, six. "This . . . this is bullshit. Cheap beer runs through my blood? Her blood is riddled with rancid words—there's too much acidity in her system. This doesn't fare well for the CEO and head brew master of the most prestigious and successful brewery in local history." One, two, three, four. "It's my duty and honor to balance the imbalance in her system." Five, six. "My professional ability will not be assaulted." One, two. "Stop! Stop pacing. I'm in charge. Anita Robinson must pay."
I worked myself into a high pitched scream, frightening my beloved companion. When I seized the offending rag of a newspaper, it slipped out of my hand and fell into the toilet, snapping me out of my rage.
Fortunato settled down and, apparently wanting to see what I was looking at, jumped up and placed both paws on the toilet and stared at the irony. The number one beer critic swam with my number two.
"Forti, can you feel the vicious words impaling my soul?" I looked at my confidante with kind eyes, considerate nature, and understanding heart, and then looked at the paper with Anita's picture bathing in excrement. Any other day, this would've amused me. Today it drove me mad. Revenge poisoned my hopes for a new life. The words erupted from me: "NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT.” No one attacks me with impunity and gets away with it. It may take an award winning performance to submit to her, but in the end, I’ll get my revenge.
Fortunato ran to my side ready to do battle. I caressed his red coat and explained my frustration. "Oh sure, she may be known as the connoisseur of ale, but she's ignorant of my true brewing abilities, just like everyone else. What they don't know, what they can't possibly comprehend, is that when Richard was alive I was the brew master. Me, not him. He was the last of the renowned Cranium heirs. The man possessed no talent for brewing good beer, let alone running a business. I did. And I did very well."
Fortunato relaxed and lay by my feet while I continued to confide in him.
"That was my old life, Forti. I'm in the conditioning phase now."
Conditioning was the brewing process of creating condition, otherwise known as carbonation in the finished beer. This was the technical definition. Actually, it referred to the period of maturation, where the sparkle, the pizazz, and the special je ne sais quoi was added. Warm condition referred to the moment when the liquid fearlessness developed more complex flavors.
"Countless nights my late husband Richard pounded me like concrete with his defective jackhammer, slurring what a simpleton I was—then moaning Anita's name.” I said, reminded now of my past. As if it weren’t enough he had to be abusive and a liar but he also had to cheat on me too-with that woman, of all people. It seemed I hit the trifecta of excellent-spousal- traits when choosing a mate. But it was just a phase. I could see that now. Richard had just been an unfortunate stage I went through. Warm conditioning was a brutal process… but it made the product stronger.
Cold conditioning is where the clean round taste is imparted into the brew. Then the ale was ripened and ready to flourish, evolving into the life of the party. During my cold conditioning phase my brewing frustrations, rage and helplessness unified then blended into a fine ale featuring the secret ingredient-vengeance. As the process was coming to an end I murmured a quote written by Walter Scott in The Heart of Mid-Lothian “Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell.” It was in that moment I knew the perfect place for carrying out my plan was at the original Brew House. "I'll raise my mug to that. Cold conditioning indeed.”
Photo by Domen Jakus
The annual Witches’ Brewfest was the perfect venue for my plan. It was the biggest fundraising event of the year for The House of Hope. This particular charity was a safe house for battered women and children. Restaurants, microbreweries, artists, and musicians from all over the region would rent booths to market themselves and give back to the community. The attendance on Halloween night was always staggering because it was a costume party as well.
It was a bewitching event where costumes enable the revelers to portray who they really are under the masquerade of being something else. Most people squirmed being their genuine selves, so they opened their pocketbooks a little wider to ease the guilt of their debauchery, thus making the Witches’ Brewfest a successful and prosperous charity event. Everyone wanted to be a part of it, even the monsters dressed as angels, the cowards portraying super heroes, or the innocents impersonating outlaws. It was a clash between genuine souls and the forgeries. The carnival was the perfect place to launch my first batch of Captiva as the publicly known brew master, begin my new life as an independent woman, and take care of old business.
All Hallow's Eve arrived and the beer flowed; music blared, while the smell of fried food hung in the air like hops on a filter. Laughter was plentiful, and a long line of ghosts, goblins, and sexy maids waited to indulge in my microbrew. Captiva was a success with the carnival-goers. Everyone—except for me—was in a charitable mood. Rage simmered inside, strangling my compassionate nature. If I didn't bring it to a boil, it would fester. I didn't want to die from this disease.
When I saw Anita approaching my beer garden, I realized my costume was exactly what I needed for my plan to go smoothly. She was dressed in a turn of the century gown the colors of a peacock. A diamond-encrusted tiara ruled the top of her head, governing her fiery red curls. She held the accessory every queen desired, a silver bell to ring when a minion was required. Our costumes echoed the dichotomy of our real life personalities—I portrayed a tavern wench, a mere servant, and she was a royal bitch.
"Leah, hello," Anita said, walking toward me. She stopped to extinguish her cigarette in a deserted plate of half-eaten potato salad, then had the audacity to air kiss my cheeks. She was overly friendly and overly drunk. Her breath reeked of my competitor's pale ale, and the grease and crumbs from the fried mushrooms stained the neckline of her gown. Her sloppiness and intoxication indicated to me that she was ready for the cask—or rather, the casket phase. This refers to the secondary stage of fermentation and maturation in the cask at the point of sale, when light carbonation is created. I wonder if Anita will see the light and repent her sins to me when I’m finished with the casket-I mean cask phase?
"Anita, nice to see you. I'm honored you stopped by my booth." I lowered my head in a show of submission. Now the question was, do I laugh, gag, or continue this subservient charade? Then I remembered my conditioning, my newborn spine, and stuck to the plan. "Captiva is a success, but I realize I must diversify in order to compete." I slumped my shoulders, adjusting my body language to reassure her of her self righteous superiority. "I've just finished a new recipe for a light pale ale. It's made with huckleberries." I cleared my throat, then looked her in the eyes. "Anita, um, Ms. Robinson, I know you're an important woman, but I'd be honored if you would come taste it when you can spare the time and give me your opinion?" The words gushed out of my mouth, but I straightened my posture, waiting for her response.
"Huckleberries?" she spat. "Huckleberries? There have only been a few—a rare few—who could make a nice ale made with huckleberries. You're an ambitious novice, Leah. I'm intrigued. I want to taste it now." She rang her little bell, and a lackey brought her a shawl. A loud exhale escaped me, and I realized I held my breath. The fermentation process was going much more smoothly than I had anticipated. Her ego and superior attitude provoked her curiosity, forcing her to come along with me. I expected it would take more work to persuade her. Who was the simple one now?
"Ms. Robinson, thank you, but I can't impose on you tonight. I'm sure you have more exciting plans on Halloween than to babysit a new brew master." I reined in my giddiness.
"It's the least I can do," she said as she pulled out her compact and checked her make up. "Richard was an old friend of mine. I feel I owe it to his friendship to make sure his legacy won't be ruined." She snapped her compact shut with a loud snap. "No offense, dear," she added with a contrived smile.
"Well, if you're sure it's not an imposition? The batch is at the original brew house down in the cellar. I felt it was the perfect place to experiment. There are no employees snooping around. You understand, I'm sure, what with me being a beginner and all." I fought the urge to grab the back of her head and slam her face into a nearby table, or to perform a lobotomy to rid "dear" from her vocabulary. If I were dressed like a female wrestler or Hannibal Lechter, I may have given in to my impulse. I imagined thanking my dearly departed husband for teaching me patience in the midst of turmoil.
Photo by DncnH
The brew house was close, so we walked. Well, I walked. She stumbled. I contained my contempt at the sight of her catching her shoe on the bottom of her gown over and over. There were a few close calls when she nearly fell on her face into the street, but even in her drunken state, she walked like a queen while ringing that damned little bell.
When we arrived, I grabbed her arm as if she were an old woman who couldn't walk without assistance. We worked our way across the marble floor in the foyer toward the stairway, and then she stopped suddenly and stared. Two coats of arms hung over the mantle. The first depicted a red shield with a silver dog. It belonged to the Craniums and had hung there for an eternity. The second one belonged to my family, the Amontillados: a red lion holding a sword over a yellow background. The words "Nemo me impune lacessit" underscored the lion. I hung it earlier in the day.
"I recognize the Cranium's coat of arms—the other I do not. Does it belong to your family, Leah?" Anita asked with genuine curiosity. "What's the phrase on the bottom say? Is it Latin?" She squinted her drunken eyes to try and make out the words. "What does it mean?"
I hesitated. Her astuteness surprised me. My stomach turned, and I fought the urge to pace. Squelching the butterflies, I stood erect and looked into her bloodshot eyes. "It's my family's motto," I said. "Allow me to interpret it for you: No one messes with me and gets away with it."
Her sickening laughter came instantaneously. "Leah, that's from your family? Fabulous!" She threw back her head and cackled some more. "I don't believe it, but it's fabulous."
I grabbed her arm again, this time not so delicately, and steered her toward the staircase leading to the cellar. I refrained from throwing her down them—it wasn't easy, but I restrained myself. Then, I gently took her arm and cooed into her ear, "Come now, Anita. I know you don't have a lot of time. You're a prominent and well-respected writer. You will be missed at the festival." I regained control of the situation.
Photo by Me
The staircase was steep and long, exactly thirty-seven steps to the bottom. And every step Anita took, the blasted silver bell rang. It got under my skin. At step twenty-two, Anita went into a wheezing and coughing fit. I held her tighter so she wouldn't fall, then helped her sit down on the step. She was having a nasty asthma attack. I eased her head down between her knees so she could catch her breath. This wasn't easy because of the yards and yards of taffeta. It felt like a lifetime before she stopped.
"Anita, are you all right? Do you have one of those inhalers?" I asked with genuine concern. I was not about to let her check out on me now.
"No, I don't have an inhaler because I haven't had an attack in years. The dampness in this musty dungeon triggered it. I'm fine," she said, still a little shaky.
"Anita, are you sure? We can do this another time. Your health is important," I continued, with my mock maternal tending.
"Stop coddling me," she snapped, recovering from her show of weakness. "I'm a reporter and can handle anything. If someone like you can work down here, I certainly can walk down these stairs. Let's go." Her bell rang the remaining fifteen steps.
When we arrived at the bottom of the stairs, she shrugged her arm out of my hold. She took off her glass slippers, grabbed the bottom of her dress, and strutted without further assistance. "For God's sake, Leah, how much farther do we have to go?"
I ignored her tone and grabbed the flashlights I stashed earlier, and then handed one to her. I hoped she'd lose the bell, but instead she let her gown fall to the ground, freeing a hand, and took the flashlight. I turned mine on and led the way. There wasn't much light until you came to the end of the hallway. Fortunato was waiting for me in a hidden spot.
Between the darkness and my sidekick, I was comforted, and my strength renewed. "Did you know that Richard was really into the medieval dungeon games?" I asked.
Anita smirked. "Leah, I'm not going to pretend anymore that you don't know Richard and I had an affair." The darkness appeared to be reviving her pompousness, likely aided by the gallons of alcohol she’d clearly drunk. "Of course I knew about his taste for danger. He loved to role-play during our little liaisons. He would be the lord of the manor, and I would be the . . ." She stopped mid-sentence as she noticed the shackles attached to the wall. "What is that?" she asked.
It took me a minute to recover from what she just revealed. Yes, I knew about the affair, but her boldness and insolence, and the pride in the way she addressed me knocked me off guard. The contempt seeped from her pores along with the odor of the large quantity of alcohol. Her tone was repulsive, even for her standards. She held no respect for me, not even as a fellow human being.
I took a deep breath, rebounding from the verbal attack. Her attitude reminded me of why we were here, so I aimed the beam of light toward the chains and shackles, and for the first time this evening, I unleashed a bona fide smile.
Photo by Randy Von Liski
"Ahh, yes. This is what I was talking about," I said. "The Cranium family legend states that these are the shackles that Richard's ancestors used on competitors who tried to steal the original recipe for Captiva. Richard idolized these shackles. He was obsessed with power and control, just like his ancestors."
Anita edged closer, a smirk forming on her lips as she took in this piece of history.
"Would you like a closer look?" I asked, though she was already climbing up on the small platform, trying to get a closer look at them, when the moment presented itself. I snatched her blood red curls with my fingers and smashed her head into the wall. She slid down the wall like the ale flowing from a full keg. I lifted up my persecutor, turned her around, and then expertly secured her to the shackles. The long hours of practice paid off. I took a moment to relish this victory—until the sound of her bell brought me back into the moment.
She came around pretty fast. I worked so intently securing her wrists that I paid no attention to the damned bell still clasped in her hand.
The moment she realized what happened, her screams began. Each shriek was accompanied by a loud ringing of the bell. The constant noise penetrated my head, agitating me.
I rubbed my temples, closed my eyes from the ruckus, and then cracked. "Shut up! Shut up!"
I back-handed her with a fierce slap. The blunt force sobered her, and she became quiet and still. I had to stand still and catch my breath. The chaos overwhelmed me. The room was spinning, and I needed silence. I practiced the Lamaze breathing techniques I learned while coaching my pregnant sister. And it worked.
It's funny, the breathing that supports you during birth also prepares you for death.
"Leah, what the hell are you doing?" she demanded. It seems her terror subsided, and she was trying to intimidate me while shackled in a dark, damp cellar. I guess I should have admired this trait as it's taken me years to stand up for myself. Perhaps she's leading by example.
Then the wheezing began again. Finally, she's taking me seriously.
"Hush, you aren't going to have another coughing fit, are you? It's unattractive." Her sudden weakness disgusted me.
I approached my toolbox, which I brought down earlier, and pulled out my trowel.
I watched rather gleefully while her eyes widened at the stack of bricks and bucket of mortar next to my toolbox. She was an observant creature. I'll give her that. I guess it's one of the special gifts that creates an excellent beer critic, reporter, and whore.
"Anita, you know all about my humble beginnings—you know, the beginnings you always reference when addressing me? But did you know I come from a long line of masons? I know, I know—you're going to say, 'Isn't it a group exclusive to men?' Yes, but since there was no male heir in my family, my grandfather taught me. He even shared the secret rituals performed in the club to initiate new members."
She was stunned or scared—I'm not sure which—but I continued chatting, while Fortunato came out of his hiding place to sit beside me.
"Masonry is just one of the many trades I'm skilled at. Let me give you a run-down of my resume," I said, as I carried on with the building of her tomb. "I was the beer master at Cranium Breweries the entire time I was married to Richard. Well, except for the first year. Do you remember the year of all the disasters? The one where they used all available PR at their disposal to make it appear that the beer had been tainted by infiltrators from another brewery? Except every mishap occurred because of Richard's ignorance. He did not possess a talent for brewing, for business, or for anything which required a brain."
I let out a belly laugh when I realized his last name was Cranium, though he was really dumb. The song "Ironic" instantly popped into my head, and I began to sing:
Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? It's like ray-ey-ain on your wedding day. It's a free ride when you've already paid. It's the good advice that you just didn't take. Who would've thought . . . it figures.
Anita was horrified, but I just looked at her with curiosity and asked, "Don't you like the song?"
"Is this because I had an affair with Richard?" she whimpered.
My God, she's as stupid as he was. "No, you see, as I was saying, Richard had no talent for the business, except for the schmoozing part. He was the face of Cranium Breweries, and what a handsome face it was. If you don't remember his drop-dead good looks, you can see for yourself. He's in the vault right next to you." Fortunato jumped and growled at the offending crypt. "Down Forti," I commanded, then turned back to my guest. "Although his face is probably gone by now. Flesh has a way of going away with time." I shrugged my shoulders and grinned like the Cheshire cat.
Fear seeped into my secured antagonist. "You killed him?" she screamed and rang the blasted bell. I remained calm and busy working while she was throwing a tantrum. When she stopped screaming she tried to regain composure and finished her questioning. ”I thought he was presumed dead from the avalanche in the mountain he was skiing on." I just shrugged my shoulders and raised my eyebrows.
Anita went into another coughing fit, followed by an unattractive heaving as she glanced towards Richard’s crypt, laying dead next to her. She clearly knew I was serious at this point. Finally, a little respect. That's all I wanted. It wasn't so much to ask. I continued building the brick tiers of happiness.
“Listen to me Leah. I’m sorry. Please, can’t we work something out? I’ll do anything. ANYTHING!” She was hysterical. “You know a few great reviews written by me will propel Captiva and you into the big leagues.” Anita begged.
“It’s too late for that. It’s my turn to talk. Now, where was I? Oh yes, we were happy when we married. We weathered the year of disaster. My gift for brewing came naturally, so I took over and I was sworn to secrecy. Richard took all the credit, but I didn't care about the notoriety. I loved him and wanted to have my happy family. The Craniums were thrilled, and only a close few knew of the situation."
Anita tried to hold back her wheezing, but the bell kept ringing. She knew it upset me and continued to ring it. She let out a string of loud curses, alternating with defiant silence to rebuke me.
"Brave 'til the end, huh, sugar? The bell keeps ringing, but no servants are coming. Are they?" I laughed at my own wit. This domination business was much more satisfying than being a victim. "As I was saying, I was the one at the helm, and after a while, Richard couldn't handle it. So he took his frustrations out on me. The first time he hit me, he cried and begged for forgiveness afterward. He told me he didn't know how to handle failures. He panicked, because how could the man of the house let the woman do all the work? He was ashamed." The memory floored me, and humiliation charged to the surface, always ready to take over my life.
Anita stared at me in horror. It was becoming clear to her now. "Did he continue to beat you? That must have been so hard." Apparently she was trying a new tactic to deal with me. "I saw you at all the functions. You never let on. I just thought you were a shy mouse of a woman, out of your element." Her attempt to trick me failed as her hatred of me overtook her false concern. "I wondered what someone as dynamic as Richard saw in you. I wanted him to leave you and be with me—now I know why he didn’t.” Her strategy backfired, awakening my strength and shooing away my indignity, and I resumed my masonry.
"Yes, Anita, the beatings became more frequent and intense. He knew the exact spot to target so there would be no evidence. He also liked taking his aggressions out on me in the bedroom. I wanted to leave, but I feared for my life. However, I am smarter than a Cranium. I am an Amontillado. You remember our motto, don't you?" I stopped building and looked her in the eyes, and then I repeated my mantra: "No one messes with me and gets away with it."
Anita was a formidable opponent. She knew she couldn't get to me with force, so she ambushed me with words. "Amontillado! Ha, your name is Leah. I did a story on baby names once. Your name means weary, weak, feeble, deficient, impotent. Shall I continue?"
I put my hands up to my throat. It felt like her remarks pierced my skin. Survival mode kicked in. My body stilled. My eyes closed, and then my mind was set free. I grabbed my trowel, and then went back to the soothing, hard work of laying bricks and storytelling.
"I knew his obsession with shackles was one of his many, many vulnerabilities," I said. "I wonder if his secret name was Leah? I just heard from a reputable source the meaning of the name." I winked at her and continued. "So, along with the thought of my new huckleberry ale and the impression that I was going to indulge him in his debauchery, I enticed him down here to meet his fate. Along with pushing me around, that's another thing you two have in common." I took a deep breath and kept laying bricks and continued telling Anita her last bedtime story.
"He loved it. My aggressiveness turned him on. Was that how you lured him? With your aggressiveness? Because it sure ain't your beauty." I couldn't resist the jab. "I seduced him with kisses and ale. I stroked his ego and his alter ego. The rest, well, I don't kiss and tell. You will have an eternity to talk it over with him. Your dreams are about to come true. You will be together for eternity. Oh, no need to thank me."
The tiers were up to her neck, and I was getting thirsty. I pulled out a bottle of the infamous huckleberry ale. It was my precious baby and her downfall. The bottle was perfect, the color a gorgeous lavender, and when I opened it, the aroma intoxicated me.
I took a long swig, but my thirst wasn't quenched. Then I looked at my guest. "Where are my manners? Here take a sip—this is what you came for." I held it up to her mouth and, well curiosity being what it is, she took a sip. I could tell she loved it. She swirled it around in her mouth, her eyes went hazy, and then she spit the sweet ale in my face.
I wiped my face with the back of my arm and laughed. "I should have seen that coming. It's time to finish. I want to get back to the carnival and see how much money was raised for Hope House. A worthy charity, don't you think?" I asked, not expecting an answer.
The last of the bricks were going up when Anita went into a big coughing fit. She was hacking, wheezing, and trying to scream and the bell was ringing constantly. I couldn't take it anymore, so after one more swipe of mortar, I set the trowel down and picked up the last brick. It was heavy, and I struggled to get it into the last hole. Anita's breath was ragged and sparse, yet she was trying to talk. "Leah, I'm begging you to stop. Please."
I hesitated for a moment, grappling with my conscience, but the damned bell wouldn't stop ringing.
Photo by Thiophene_Guy
Breathe. I needed to breathe. One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths.
"That's better," I said as I regained control and turned to my guest. "Anita, I learned early on that begging doesn't work. You just have to suck it up and take it. Then if you are smart enough, you regain control." I whistled for my dear companion. "Fortunato, say goodbye to our guest."
He jumped up with his paws on the wall and barked. The brick went in smoothly this time. The ringing stopped. There was silence, blissful silence.
My dog and I sat down in companionable peace. I hugged his neck, then took another swig of my pride and joy. The first taste was sweet, and then a bitterness followed.
Photo by David Paton
"Forti, I'm going to have to tweak this recipe some. It's not quite there yet. Isn't it a shame I won't get feedback from these two?" I said with a snicker. I made the rules now. I was an Amontillado.
Nemo me impune lacessit!
The photos in the story were gifts from very talented photographers. They graciously allowed a perfect stranger to use of their art and not only did they give me permission they sent well wishes and words of inspiration. I was touched by the response I received. Please do me a favor and visit their sights and show them some love. People are good and amazing, um, except for maybe the characters in this story.
If you click on their name it will take you to their sights.