Seven Rain

“Hold me,” he whispered, but the ghost gave no reply.

Darkness had long since enveloped the room. Its series of windows all faced to the east and were quick to grab each day’s first light—but also first to let it go.

As the pulse of his heart calmed, the continued hum of the refrigerator could be heard through the walls, through the closed door, closed to the rest of the house as he had closed himself off to the rest of the world. Beyond the windows, the occasional whir of wheels on pavement interrupted his attempts at slumber, cars bearing people living their lives. But so much time had passed since he had all but given up on living his—at least that’s what his friends said.

Or what they would have said, had he had any friends beyond the casual sense of the word.

And, so, again, tonight, just as every other night, he fed the cat, darkened the lights, and tucked himself into the bed, feeling the weight of the bedding fall about him, warming him slightly—but enough—against the pervading chill of the house. Through break in the chill, the ever-so-soft warmth of the covers, he remembered her and how she had felt with him as they would drift off to sleep together. He longed to hold her, to be held by her, so tonight he articulated it.

But there was no answer, no response, no closeness, no further warmth. There was only darkness, emptiness, loneliness. And cold—so much cold.

No matter the season outside, it was always winter within. Every surface, every nook of the house expressed itself through the discomfort of cold. Chilled air rushed from vents in every room, bringing a raw malaise to any who lingered in any one spot for too long. The tiled flooring absorbed the cold air, gnawing and numbing bare feet, necessitating slippers or socks or something to serve as a barrier from the iciness of the house. Heavy blankets were warranted as bed coverings.

And it was in one of these beds—the bed he and she had shared—that, night after night, he would plead to the dark, to the ghost, “Hold me.” And, night after night, the ghost would give no reply.

Maybe the ghost could hear the request, but most likely it could not; he was careful not to disturb the ghost any more than was necessary.

There was no fear of the ghost. The only emotion it seemed to illicit from him was one of nostalgia—a longing for how things had been, for they had been so good before disease came and changed everything and made the ghost that haunted his home, his mind, his very existence.

At first, the changes were subtle—being quicker to fatigue or not getting around so easily—but the changes increased, quickly and more drastically. Soon, she was reluctant to leave the house at all. Fatigue had given way to mobility issues; a former collegiate track and cross country runner could scarcely walk at all, requiring a rollator for balance and some semblance of stability. She no longer “fit in” with the fitness crowd with whom she had found herself, established her identity and very being. She appeared and was treated as almost a pariah, yet eliciting pity and pathetic comments of how “good” she looked.

Looks, as is so often stated, can be deceiving—and they were.

To everyone, for everyone, brave faces were put on, smiles to drown the tears. Only the children were able to see through the disguise, but the children were unable to understand why they no longer went out as often as they used to, why no one seemed to come over, the anguish in every move she attempted to make. The children could only watch as the ghost grew and grew before their very eyes as they attempted to make sense of the seeming anomaly in their midst.

Ghosts are horribly misunderstood.

Originally, stories told in the oral fashion fashioned the notions and forms of spectral agents in our plain of existence: The dead coming back in intangible form to torment the living in some real, physical, tangible way. The advents of film and special effects only furthered the stories and what ghosts were and what they were capable of doing. Turns out those notions were very much overstated.

The notion of ghosts goes back millennia. Certainly there’s the biblical sense, but secular stories of the shrieks and shouts accompanying the deceased were purportedly first told by those who had been in battle and were subsequently haunted by comrades whom had been dispatched or by those they had dispatched themselves through combat. Trauma, it seems, spawns the ghosts that haunt us. Ghosts are, quite literally, figments of the overstressed imagination, returning to haunt us when the mind is at rest and attempts to process what has been directly or indirectly experienced.

His theory of ghosts—that they were nothing more than memories we could not let go—was thought up over a lifetime of loneliness. For a while, though, there was partnership, there was happiness, there was love.

They had met by the lake, beneath a blank sky of slate. Months later, reintroductions were made by another lake as the sky blazed blue overhead. But not until the following year, in a room of darkness did they find one another: As he lay on the floor, he stretched out an arm toward the bed where she slept, though sleep had not yet claimed her; she, too, stretched out an arm into the darkness. Their hands clasped, fingers interlaced, and they breathed in the scent of the night together. A memory made, a love born. Loneliness banished.

For a time, anyway.

The disease would not come for a few years, though they were both vaguely aware of its existence and its implications—only not so close to home. It would not be until after the purchase of their own home a year after saying “I do” in secret to one another on live television and in a crowd of other runners. But even then the disease was relatively benign, so much so that there would be one child and then another. A short time later, the true nature of the disease took root in her brain and spinal column. And the ghost began to take form.

Ghosts—in the traditional sense—were a staple of his childhood, dating back to the stories told by cousins of the haunted attic-cum-guest-room in a relatives home. Ascending the stairs to the room or even sitting within its darkened walls, however, left no eeriness, no sense of foreboding. There were no shrieks or rattling chains or other ghostly evidence to be observed. Even the birthday photo of one of them with a card allegedly suspended by some phantasm or other could never be located for any sort of proof that ghosts were something in which to believe.

Similar incidents persisted into adolescence and the teenage years: Always a story or experience by another, never any discernible proof.

The closest to “proof” probably came in middle school when a classmate became uncomfortable at an abstract of the visage of William Shakespeare, whose eyes seemed to “follow” viewers around the room, but such was the apparent intent behind the poster itself. This same classmate also alleged to have seen “things” creeping or crawling or flying about about in the classroom and would shudder and shake and seek confirmation from someone else that they saw them, too. So, bored as he was in language arts, he would play along with the classmate, pretending to be encountering some ghostly thing or other in the aged halls of the school.

(Incidentally, the classmate and his brother would grow up to produce and host a show exposing ghosts in area buildings and other landmarks.)

At some point, he began to develop his theory of ghosts, that they were little more than memories that, literally & figuratively, haunted the memory holder in one form or another: In realtime or in dreams. Regardless of form, it held that ghosts themselves held no form and existed only to or by those who held some facet of knowledge about what the ghost had been in its mortal existence. Before it came to be recognized as or called a ghost.

As a means of protection against ghosts, though, he learned to block unpleasant memories. Turns out, there was a lot of unpleasantness in his memories, so there was a lot to block. Only in his own slumber would the ghost wake and roam his mind, so he learned to deprive himself of sleep, only that was not without its own consequences—though never in the form of spectral visitors from beyond the grave.

But, now, in his very own home, in the very next room lived a ghost. It was ever-present but strongest at night when the mind was at its weakest, when utter exhaustion would claim the body, causing it to sink deeper into the bed as the mind would sink into the past, deeper and deeper. The ghost would whisper what had been, what could be, but so seldom what was the reality experienced day in, day out, oftentimes so painful as to question the validity of Job’s argument.

Or so he thought.

The memories they had made gave the ghost its glory, the good fondly, often recalled or rehashed; the bad, glossed over. He found himself not haunted by any ghost as much as he tormented himself over what it was he could not let go—the ghost. In frequenting moments of despair, he would isolate himself in reflection to the point where there would be, nor could there be, any relief, painting himself into some proverbial corner, going mad as he waited for the paint to dry, only to apply another coat of paint, insisting to himself that it was the only way forward. Eventually, he was sure, he would recognize his folly, recognize that ghosts were not worth holding onto at the expense of the moments unfolding before him.

Indeed, life was different than what it had been, but such is the progression of time: To change and to allow change. There was no room for ghosts.


Her Sovran Shrine

I’ve been listening to The Cure for a very long time.

My first awareness of them as a band came with the video for “Just Like Heaven,” memorably seen on a television in a mall display window for whatever shop was next door to Alamo Music at Windsor Park Mall, back when it was the place to be. Back when it was a place, as a matter of fact. (It’s since been converted to the headquarters for Rackspace.)

But I digress.

The Cure is brought up because they and their music are often used as the butt of a joke for depression. Look no further than Better than Ezra’s 1993 album Deluxe and its track “Teenager”:

Wrap yourself in black / Listen to The Cure

“Teenager” by Better than Ezra

And then there was this skit from MTV’s Half-hour Comedy Hour:

Robert Smith 1-900 Parody from MTV’s Half-hour Comedy Hour, circa 1990

All of this is brought up to not just to further magnify the GOAT band that The Cure is but to show that, when it comes to recognizing depression, I’m pretty good at it. Recognizing my own depression, that is.

Though I’ve never been diagnosed by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist, the symptoms have been manifest in me for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen it in other family members, too, both those older and younger than myself, so I know it’s not just a me thing. So The Cure really has naught to do with it for me, but it seemed like as good of a segue as any, so here we are.

Still couple of months shy of my 49th birthday, I’ve been feeling myself slipping into a deep bout of depression. Yes, things have grown infinitely more complicate over the past 30+ years since I first became cognizant of what depression feels like, but those 30+ years have also helped become more aware of myself and when things don’t feel “just right.”

You need to find time to take care of you.

Everybody, when I mention an inkling of what’s on my plate.

Getting into cycling, running, triathlon—becoming (somewhat) of an athlete, I guess—has been infinitely beneficial. It has not only made me more aware of what feels “just right” and when anything is even slightly off, be it physical or mental. However, part of the infinite complications in life has been finding the time to cycle or run—there’s simply no time to race, these days, especially triathlon. Taking care of me often has to get put to the proverbial back burner because there is no one else who can do what needs to be done. Ironically, this compounds my depression, my helplessness, my hopelessness because this is my life.

Yet all is not lost.

While it still inconveniences me at having to juggle a schedule based on the ever-changing wants & needs of others, I’m still & often able to carve out some time to do something. Sometimes it means a long, lonely session on the bike trainer or an even longer, lonelier ride outside, or a run on darkened roads because it’s simply too hot or humid or something to run when it’s light out, but it’s always after everyone else’s needs have been met. If it’s to be before, it’s because everyone else is still asleep.

Like today.

Because it’s now summer, it means my favorite race, El Chupacabra de San Antonio, is coming up—third Friday in July, just like always. Unlike always, though, I’ll not be running in it to be competitive, but I will run.

And, just like the past few years, I’ve begun doing pre-race runs in the park in the wee hours of the morning, with a guy I met through Strava who has become a good friend and running companion—despite his puncturing his shoe and his foot on his first running of El Chupacabra and how I always seem to trip him when we trail run in the dark, even if I’m in front by several feet. It’s a gift, what can I say?

A— and I met up this morning for a pre-dawn run around the Blue Loop at McAllister Park where we chatted about life, the universe, everything since we don’t get to see and/or run with one another as often. But it was a good run, a good conversation, and a good reassurance that none of us are alone no matter what it is we’re going through. Because we’re all going through something, relatively speaking.

Get the Balance Right by Depeche Mode

For me, multisport has and continues to be a positive outlet to—well, to borrow from Depeche Mode, get the balance right. No matter how low I’ve gotten, a solid ride or run can usually refocus me. I liken it to a splash of cold water or a slap across the face. It’s just enough to bring me back to where I’m needed.

Despite, for lack of a better term, exercise’s physical & mental benefits, I am all too aware that it doesn’t work for everyone every time. The death of Robin Williams serves as too-stark of a reminder that sometimes, we need something more than to just ride our bikes. Sometimes we need something, someone more.

So I just tuck that away, knowing that if there ever comes a day where I’m the exact same after a ride as I was before, it’s time to get help. Fortunately, I’m not there, yet—and I hope you’re not, either.

Nearly twenty(!) years ago, The Cure released DVDs of a concert performed in Berlin, consisting of their three “dark” albums, Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers. The release was aptly titled The Cure: Trilogy and featured the three albums played in the entirety for one incredible show. (Indeed, seeing/hearing the whole of Disintegration performed live gave new appreciation, admiration, and love of “The Same Deep Water as You”.)

But before the first note of “One Hundred Years” resounds or the the opening credits track “100 Seconds” resonates, a quote from John Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy” appears on-screen:

Screenshot from The Cure: Trilogy (2003) of excerpt from Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy”

It’s a reminder for me to be aware of myself and all that dwells within, “veil’d” or exposed.

Thanks for reading.


The Timing of Traffic Lights

As we wrapped the final installment of the first volume of S4 of Stranger Things, Nicholle & I made plans for breakfast in the morning from Dunkin’ Donuts: Coffee for the both of us and breakfast wraps for the kids; we would forego the doughnuts since we had partaken in Friday’s observance of National Doughnut Day. (Seriously, it’s a thing.)

The cat’s annoying antics roused me around eight o’clock, so I got myself ready & fed the cat, trying to quietly skedaddle out the door. Success, thus far, so the day’s off to a pretty good start, eh? Breakfast, transfer Nicholle to her wheelchair, then kit up for a nice, couple-of-hours ride on the road bike.

I made my usual left-right jog out of the neighborhood and hit the usual traffic light at the first major intersection. After that, I hit every one of the six traffic lights between the neighborhood and Dunkin’ Donuts, having to stop just when I was getting going.

This happens regularly on this stretch of roads, as I’m sure it happens to countless people on countless stretches of roads all over the world, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. It does, however, reach somewhat deeper for me, personally.

Among the myriad things that make Nicholle & I a good fit for one another is that we’re both Type A people. Sure, Nicholle’s more A+, and I’m more A-, but we’ve both the traits of Type A, especially the ability to build a plan towards most any goal or objective and work together to achieve success by sticking to the plan, making minor adjustments when needed. This process has been true from the minute to the major—meals to marathons to major purchases. But life with MS has complicated this facet of our relationship, of ourselves to a high degree.

Almost without fail, anytime a plan is established, be it for the next couple of hours or days or weeks or months, something happens to derail the plan. Maybe the timing is just off (it can sometimes take thirty or more minutes to get Nicholle successfully transferred to her wheelchair in the morning) or maybe it’s something else, but something almost always happens, and it’s utterly frustrating.

But, just like with hitting red light after red light on a seemingly short trek to get coffee or what-have-you, there is nothing that can be done about it. So I can either sit there and be frustrated, or I can adapt.

Swim. Bike. Run. Adapt.

Much of the past several years have been about adaptation—change, if you will, and change is always hard, especially as one ages, just as I have. However, much of what I’ve learned from triathlon and its comprised sports is that adaptability—change—is part of the process and must be part of the plan. A user from a triathlon forum I still occasionally haunt instills this idea through his sig file:

By all means have a plan. But make sure the ability to change the plan is part of the plan.

Paraphrased sig file from a Slowtwitch user.

Change is hard. Being slowed down or even stopped from wants or whatnot is hard, too. And it’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s downright maddening.

But it’s also inevitable.

Sure, changes can be made to alter the timing of the traffic lights on my commute to get coffee, but changes to my the interruptions of the figurative commute through my day are a lot less likely to happen. No city manager can help with that.

It’s taken me a few hours to write these few hundred words, having been interrupted a few dozen times by one thing or another, one person or another. (Three times just writing this paragraph, as a matter of fact.) But I’ve just attributed it to the timing of traffic lights, the fact that sometimes some things happen. That, sometimes, I just need to adapt and move on as best I can. It might not be the pace that I want or the exact sequence that I had planned, but what needs to happen somehow & usually winds up happening. My happiness with the process is irrelevant.

The kids got their breakfast and are safe & well. Nicholle & I got our coffee, and she is safe & well. My planned, outdoor road ride will just get altered to a mountain bike ride or something on Wahoo X.

Plan. Adapt. Breathe.

Thanks for reading.


Keiser Söze

Sometime in late 2020, I joined the Flogging Pit, a beta tester groups for my training app-of-choice, The Sufferfest. Longtime readers (do I have any of those?) know I have talked a lot about SUF on here, and I’ve no intentions of stopping, even if it only exists now as a “channel” of a larger collective.

When I joined, they were working towards something big for the near future: A redesign of everything. later to be revealed by their purchase by Wahoo Sports, who would rebrand The Sufferfest as Wahoo SYSTM and eventually Wahoo X, following their additional acquisition of RGT. But I digress.

In early 2020, Nicholle purchased a Keiser M7i elliptical, unique in its design in that it allows wheelchair users to stay in their wheelchairs while exercising. It is billed as a “Total Body Wheelchair Stepper,” though still stubbornly refer to it as an elliptical. Regardless of name, with the M7i, the user’s feet get strapped into rotating foot straps (See? Elliptical.), while the wheelchair itself is secured to the elliptical using a locking hook system with locking, retractable straps. Arms help with putting & keeping things in motion.

With a relatively low profile, the Kesier M7i takes up precious little space in a bedroom.

In addition to a traditional cardio exercise display, the M7i also features Bluetooth connectivity, presumably for just connecting a BLE (Bluetooth low energy) heartrate monitor. But, under closer inspection it is actually capable of much, much more.

The M7i’s display in ID mode for setting up advanced connectivity.

From the beginning, Nicholle loved what the M7i allowed her to do, with relative independence. As it was positioned, she could watch a TV, listen to music, and just kind of lose herself in the motion of exercise. But I thought there could be more. After all, if apps such as SYSTM existed to connect to smart trainers to make indoor cycling more enjoyable, shouldn’t those same apps not be able to connect to any other indoor fitness device?

The process would prove more challenging than initially expected since available third party devices such as speed/cadence sensors and footpods did not work terribly well with ellipticals; the very design of ellipticals is so vastly different in how it functions to record data—especially power. Keiser, though they make power adapters for their indoor exercise bikes, does not make one compatible with the M7i, nor did they seem terribly interested in doing so. Despite making an excellent inclusionary piece of hardware, this lacking piece of circuitry & code excluded a demographic already largely excluded from so much from getting more use, more joy out of their routine.

This did not sit well with me.

One night this January, I posted a part rant, part plea to the Flogging Pit (FP), asking for a feature request to add ellipticals to work with SYSTM. What I got was more than I could have hoped for.

It didn’t take long before someone in the FP named Paulo chimed in that he was willing to help from across the pond in Portugal. A programmer by training & trade, Paulo was keen on the idea of not only helping my wife get going in SYSTM but also with how quickly he could complete a project like this.

Within seemingly no time, Paulo had assembled a proposal, including parts and requirements on both our parts. He had already obtained from Keiser a development kit and emulator from the manufacturer to simulate on his computer what a real M7i elliptical would act like when interacting with BLE sensors. He had begun generating code within a couple of hours.

First draft of code Paulo threw together while I was still loafing on my sofa.

A plan was put in place to use a pair of M5 stacks (ATOM Lite ESP32s would fit the bill, one for power emulation and one to send/receive data) with Paulo tending to the coding on his end and me dumping his firmware onto the M5s on mine. The biggest setback was the time involved in receiving the M5s from the manufacturer due to supply chain, shipping, or whatever issues there were. Yet, all told, within six weeks, hardware & software were ready for launch.

Except that I sucked at getting the M5s to sync up with my hardware and hit some other snags most easily attributed to general inexperience, incompetence, or what-have-you.

After a series of failures to understand what, exactly was going on on my end, we finally found success in getting the firmware installed and pairing up with the actual M7i.

A very ugly video edit, but it accomplished what it needed to.

Following this, we were able to figure out that SYSTM had some security issues when it came to MacOS and the M5 stacks, but Zwift worked just fine.

Zwift recognized the Keiser M7i (Nicknamed Keiser Söze because what else should it have been called?) right away.
Power & cadence were captured from the M5 stacks.
Using my old Zwift profile (and Tron bike), Nicholle was rolling from the comfort of her own wheelchair. Even if she appeared as a guy.

Once Nicholle was rolling in Zwift, the project was essentially finished from Paulo’s side of things. There’s still the hope that another set of M5s (still sitting in an envelope on a bedside table) can be set up to emulate a footpod for running in Zwift (Nicholle was always more of a runner than a cyclist, anyway), but, in the interim, there’s still the option of cycling in Zwift. (RGT, now part of the Wahoo family, seems to have the same issue that SYSTM does, in that Keiser Söze is detected but does not receive [or at least act on] data to put the avatar in motion.)

Right now, the M5s are plugged in to a mini USB hub, itself connected to a port on a charger. They rest easy on a nightstand and have no issues when the cat knocks them down, causing them to dangle over the edge; the entire setup is little more than a few grams.

Needing little power and having excellent transmission range in the house, the setup gets signal to the Apple TV setup in the room where the Keiser elliptical resides, allowing for a quick, easy setup to get moving each evening when I help Nicholle get strapped in for her sessions of ten minutes or more.

The whole process took roughly two months to complete, working around my & Paulo’s own jobs and lives in general on separate sides of the Atlantic. Just as Nicholle refuses to be stopped by everything MS throws her way—and MS does throw a lot—the process helped demonstrate to me and to the Flogging Pit community that we all have talents and can accomplish great things when we working together and communicating effectively.

We like to think of technology as anything with a circuit board and/or using software. But technology is really just the application of science—of knowledge—to solve a problem. Though this particular problem is quite unique and for a very specific audience, the joy it’s brought to a special someone in my own life is beyond measure.

Thanks for reading.


Varying Degrees

The idea for writing this first occurred to me in August of 2020, but it’s taken me until mid-May of 2022 to finally put the thoughts into words into sentences. Some things just take a bit of time.

Like my going to college—the first time.

College was just something that had not figured into much of the equation for my young life. No one in my family I knew had graduated college, and friends whose parents had been never talked with me about it. All I knew of college was the pictures of Texas A&M University adorning the walls of the pool room at the Floyd’s house. The whole process of applying and getting in and finding something to do with the rest of one’s life was as foreign to me as another continent—of another planet for that matter.

It had never occurred to me to ask my teachers because why would I? At that point I didn’t even know all of them had been, and, again, it never occurred to me to ask.

So I graduated high school in ignorance of post-secondary education and went off to join the Marines. It was there, at MCRD San Diego, that the bug was really planted by the base commander who lectured me and the other washouts who were cleaning his office one night that we should take the opportunity of getting out so young and to go to college.

(Because I, at the know-it-all age of 18, had told those at MCRD that I would not, in fact, change my MOS to marching band [instead of air traffic control] despite their insistence that I would—and that my JROTC paper work had not been forwarded, so my pay was half of what it was supposed to be—I was discharged as “failure to adapt to military lifestyle.” It is my greatest shame and my second-biggest mistake.)

Within a short amount of time I had enrolled in a community college, taking a few classes, but I was still as lost as I had been in high school, so I dropped out in nearly no time until L— convinced me to re-enroll and take classes with her at Palo Alto Community College. She even helped me pass the maths section of the requisite test with extensive tutoring so that I could stay in college and start to find my way as a major in the management of information systems.

After several starts and stops with classes due to failed attempts to salvage my young marriage, I finally found my footing in August of 1998, finishing a summer semester with all As and thinking I knew how to go about things.

Then the shooting at Columbine High School happened in April of 1999, and I found myself dropping the MIS degree plan and going solely for a degree in English with the intent to teach at the secondary level. (I had added English as a second major at the behest of my Freshman Comp II professor, Dr. Raphael Castillo. He was & remains one of my favorite teachers ever, in the company of Mr. Jim Thompson, my 11th grade English teacher.)

My first degree was the associate’s in arts with a focus in English, which allowed me to transfer to the University of Texas at San Antonio. The newly-opened Texas A&M campus in San Antonio was not just yet offering English degrees, so it was off to the north side of San Antonio with me.

And it was a great school with great people and experiences and all the other trappings of college life, save that of parties and dorm life and the like. And it was cheaper than TLU, where I had contemplated switching to after my first semester at UTSA.

My college experience was atypical in those and many other regards, but it was one I don’t think I would have traded for anything. It kept me busy, engaging my mind in myriad ways until I graduated with a BA in English in the spring of 2003. I began teaching English the following year, first at a middle school across town and then, a couple of years later, at the high school level in the district of the community where I had grown up and still lived.

In the summer of 2010, I found myself sitting in the office of one of the district’s instructional technologists who was away on holiday, tending to something involving removable media (what escapes memory but is inconsequential, I’m sure) and found myself gazing at his master’s degree in instructional technology hanging on the wall of his office. After completing my first Ironman in Coure de’Alene, Idaho, the previous summer, I had mulled over what my next challenge should be and had decided on graduate school, though not in school administration or leadership; I should play to my strengths. Scott’s diploma hanging on the wall solidified my decision to aim for instructional technology, as well. So I did.

Three years, a new house, one kid, and another Ironman later, I had my own master’s degree from Texas A&M Kingsville. Landing a position where I could put the degree to its fullest use (having a master’s degree, alone, earned a little pay increase from the school district) would prove significantly more challenging and time-consuming.

The first serious prospect (and offer) was from the Texas A&M School of Pharmacy, also housed on the campus in Kingsville. Unlike my degree plan, however, that was completely remote—my first time on campus was for commencement—the position with the School of Pharmacy would require a relocation to Kingsville, something we, as a family, could not commit to given the proximity of quality care for Nicholle’s MS progression, to say nothing of the challenges awaiting us as vegetarians living in a community thriving on barbecue.

Other interviews from local entities, including my own district, yielded no success other than experience with interviews. I kept just coming up short with successfully landing a position to make full use of my degrees, both of which hung in nice frames, complete with anti-glare glass.

When I moved into a classroom in the main building of my alma mater and teaching home, instructions were made that any decorations should be hung on the wall using Command hooks from 3M to avoid damaging paint or whatnot. So I hung my stuff, including my framed diplomas, on the wall using Command hooks on the wall at the back of the classroom. It was on the same wall as the door, which would prove to have disastrous results.

Between the weight of the frames and the minute vibrations of the wall each time the classroom door closed (or lockers on the other side of the wall slammed shut), the Command hooks simply failed, and my diplomas came smashing down as I set up my classroom for the year one August afternoon in 2020.

A smashing failure of varying degrees.

I found the results telling about where I was in my life, personally and professionally. Like many middle-aged men, my life was not turning out quite like I had anticipated—certainly not as I had planned, and, as a Type A person, I was quite the planner. The shattered glass just seemed to solidify the notion that I had set out to do would not come to pass.

Two years and change later, such is still the case—most recently failing even to gain even an interview for an instructional technologist position, despite meeting or exceeding every one of the minimum & preferred qualifications posted.

As a teacher, I endeavor to help my students find their way and find answers to questions they may not know to ask. I make every effort I can to help them avoid the mistakes I made in high school, but, as one who—in regards to age and other attributes—on par with many of my students’ parents, “getting through” provides its own challenges.

But still I try. Just as I continue to try to find a way to make continued use of my BA in English and (especially) my MS in instructional technology.

But perhaps it’s merely time to truly follow the advice of one older and wiser than I.

Thanks for reading.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Thirty.

Before the incident in the pond, Cody had been feeling more invincible than the average cat.

He had journeyed the farthest from home he ever had and found shelter—with some help. He had made friends across species and learned to forage when food was scarce—with some help. He had defeated a powerful, fearsome foe—with some help. And he had escaped drowning in a muddy pool—with some help.

As fiercely independent as he liked to think he was, every element of his journey to confront and defeat the owl—and its epilogue—were all only possible because of assistance from others. Even the food he had learned to forage from the trash was there because of others. He and his raccoon friends were just doing their part to help keep more from going into landfills.

Cody had truly come to enjoy it in this wooded eden, but as a cat that couldn’t swim or do much else entirely on his own, and he could not distract himself from it. He came to recognize his utter dependence on others for even the simplest of things it seemed, and this notion bored into his brain as he slinked back from the site of his near-drowning, fur still soaked and muddied. As he stopped to again shake himself, recognition of the fact that he would never be completely cleansed from this baptism in the woods sank in. He knew that he needed to go back home. He knew he would have to leave soon. He didn’t know how many of his nine lives he had left.

Cody also did not know how long he had been gone. It was long enough to have been trapped by snow and have it melt, making the earth again warm and wet and viridescent. Dozens of sunrises and sunsets were entirely plausible, and he found himself nervous of if his person would even accept him back into the home. And then what? Back to waiting for food, he guessed. Sure, it could grow irksome if he had played particularly hard that morning or evening, but at least the presence of food was reliable.

And maybe he would still get to venture outside every now and again. Perhaps take a day trip with Fenswick someplace?

The possibilities seemed very likely and very real, so he set it in his mind he would leave at the next sunrise. One last evening with the raccoons and Fenswick before departing home.

At last, he was at the park, and found the raccoons having their picnic from the remains of the birthday picnic that had been held there a few hours earlier. Ralph and Roderick were on the ground, gorging themselves on cantelope while Reginald, and Regina were both buried in the trashcan up to their haunches, legs hooked around the rim for support. While the other two munched, they continued to dig out more than half of a birthday cake and a seemingly endless quantity of torn hamburger and hotdog buns.

“Yes, my fellow veiled varmints—I have it!” Reginald exclaimed, emerging with a broken sphere covered in colorful crêpe. “I give you: The piñata!”

Regina brought herself up out of the trashcan, huffing excitedly, “Oh, you have it, do you? All by yourself, then?”

“Well, Regina,” Reginald began, pausing to choose his words carefully, “you see, it’s—oh, good heavens, what happened to you?”

He dropped the piñata back into the trash and hopped down, scampering across the ground to Cody.

“Dear Cody, what on earth happened?” Reginald was shocked and concerned to see that cat covered in drying mud, matted and sticky in various patches on its body.

“I’m fine, Reg,” Cody said, stopping to vainly lick the bits of fur he could reach. “I just lost my balance and fell into a pool between two boulders.”

“I told you going into that part of the woods was not a good idea,” Roderick said, shaking a small piece of cantelope at the cat.

“You did?” the other three raccoons inquired at the same moment.

“Well, not in those exact words,” replied Roderick, “but I did say he should stick with us.”

“That you did, Roderick,” said Cody. “That you did. And I’m afraid I have some more bad news,” he began.

“Wait, where’s Fenswick?” asked Reginald, again alert and looking about in worry. “He didn’t fall in with you, did he?”

“No, no,” Cody said, calming Reginald. “He’s still napping in the persimmon tree near the pond. I think he’s come to claim that as his own after we evicted that owl.”

“There was no ‘we,’ Cody,” said Ralph. “You did that all on your own.”

“No, no…” said Cody trailing off with his words.

“But you did,” Regina said, reassuringly. “We were all there.”

“No,” Cody said, more firmly this time. “That’s just it: You were all there. You, Fenswick, Whale—”

“Whale?” inquired all four raccoons in unison.

“There’s a whale living in our woods?” Roderick asked, peering around Cody, almost expecting to see a hundred ton whale hiding behind a tree.

Cody chuckled, “No, not a whale. Whale was the name I gave the turtle that saved me from drowning earlier today.”

“Ohhhh,” the raccoon quartet said, understanding Cody.

“It just made me realize that I’m unable to really do anything on my own, and I think it best that I head back to my person,” continued Cody. “And my person’s home. I just hope to still have a home there.” He sounded said.

“Well, dear Cody,” began Reginald, sniffling a bit, “you’ll always have a home here with us.

“Here, here!” piped up Roderick and Regina.

“Fine,” muttered Ralph. “Here, here.”

Roderick brought them all back to focus: “Then let’s get that piñata out from the confines of the trashcan and have ourselves one grand celebration!”

“Hurrah!” they all shouted.

“Hurrah!” said Fenswick. “What happened to you, Cody? And what are we celebrating?”

“Fenswick, my friend,” said Cody, “I had a bit of a spill and subsequent epiphany. Come, let me tell you all about it over whatever this is that Reginald and Regina have just pulled out of the trash.”

As the sun set, the animals continued to feast, including Fenswick, safe in the company of his friends, comfortable in the knowledge than an owl would not be swooping down to clutch him away from all that he loved.

The morning sun spread its brilliance across Cody’s face through the shudders. The warmth of the sunlight—muted through special film the humans had put on the windows somewhat recently—was still pleasing and reminded him of his months spent in the wilderness with a squirrel and four raccoons. And a whale of a turtle, too.

His roommates didn’t believe a word of his story—how he had not only learned to speak squirrel but had also made friends with one and journeyed far from their home to live among raccoons, surviving a snowstorm, and fight an owl only to later almost drown and be saved by a turtle—preferring to tease that Cody had been picked up by animal control. They further teased that the person of the house had been oblivious to his absence, but Cody knew that wasn’t true. He had seen the paper rectangles with his picture and words and numbers plastered all around the neighborhood when he and Fenswick had entered, as well as in the house. Dozens of extra copies were still in the room with all the books, ready to be sent to the far reaches of the suburbs, all in the hopes of finding a single cat.

All of this brought Cody happiness in the ensuing days when he thought of adventures to be had out of doors and sadness poked its head about. But the best happiness came the following evening, which was remarkable cool for so late in the spring. Cody was in a windowsill, watching shadows grow and cover the back yard just as the snow had covered the wooded area in the wake of the disappearance of his bunny, of the finding of the feather and half-a-doughnut, of the befriending of a squirrel, when a flash of contrasting brown against the khaki of the fenceposts caught his eye and riveted his attention: A bunny.

It wasn’t the same bunny as before—Cody knew that. But it was a bunny, and it was his to watch and love and enjoy. He knew that, too.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-nine.

The snow stuck around for far longer than the animals—or the humans, for that matter—could have imagined. A day turned into another day and then another and so on until an entire week had passed. Seven full days and nights with almost no sun and not one but two periods of rapidly falling snow covering the frozen woods.

Eventually, though, the snow did melt away, just as the owl had seemed to do as it was absorbed by the clouds as it flew out of sight. In the time thereafter, Cody, Fenswick, and the nursery of raccoons were all but inseparable, caring for one another either by finding food or drink or working to expand the shelter beneath the rocks.

As the sun returned, Cody chose not to go back to his home just yet. He was enjoying himself in the wild, joining the raccoons as they rummaged through trashcans and discovering he really enjoyed gnawing on plastic grocery bags. It felt nice on his teeth and gums while also allowing him to relish the flavors absorbed by the bags, although he did soon learn to avoid those smelling of peppers; they were a touch too spicy for his liking, especially when water was as far away as the pond.

Despite the owl having taken leave from the area, Cody and his brood seldom went to the pond save to saturate their respective thirsts when other water sources were not to be found—or to ensure the owl was keeping up with his end of the bargain.

It was on one of these ventures to the pond that Cody inquired of the raccoons what was beyond the pond, past the persimmon tree where the owl had nested.

“Why would you want to know that, old chap?” inquired Reginald in between gulps of water from the pond’s edge. “No one liked to look at the tree let alone past it.”

“No one but us, you mean? Right, then, Reg?” butted in Roderick. “But as I understand it,” he began speaking in a lower, more hushed tone to get Cody’s attention, “it’s naught but loose rocks leading to a massive stony surface where the foul creatures lurk: Snakes and the like. Some say the owl was the guardian and gatekeeper of that place. Bugger of a bird as it was, it kept the truly bad things out.”

Silence hung in the air, heavier than the humidity, recently returned after its winter sabatical.


Everyone turned to look at Ralph, propped up on his hind legs, his tongue still hanging out of his mouth following its rude eruption.

“You can’t honestly believe that spooky nonsense Roderick is trying to get you to believe, can you?” Ralph asked. “I mean, come on. We live in the wild, for crying out loud.”

“Ralph, you’re letting him get you all riled up again,” said Regina, shaking her head in disbelief. “Come on, we should start heading towards the park. The birthday party we heard earlier should be wrapped up, and those trash cans will be brimming with refuse.”

“Pip-pip! Off we go then,” Roderick said, ushering a giggling Reginald along with him.

“You go explore wherever you want, Cody,” said Ralph. “We know you’re the bravest thing to come into these woods in a very long time. But don’t dally too long. You know how the rest of the nursery is about saving the good bits of trash for latecomers.” And he turned to walk off, following his friends to the park.

Cody ventured up to and then beyond the persimmon tree, casting a glance upwards to see Fenswick fast asleep in a nook. The wounds the owl had given him had healed up nicely, now appearing only as a series of dark dots on his fur, spaced precisely to match owl talons. Fortunately, nothing internal was wounded.

From the shade of the trees, Cody found himself in a broad, rocky area. There was loose shale stones compacted title in a path where the creek had forced such closeness. Higher up was a seeming sea of stone, vast and warm, flowing as though with ripples, fashioned by centuries of periodic running water followed by baking in the near-constant sun. Pocks here and there caught the cat’s attention, and tried to investigate each, but they simply were too many.

Curiosity of the holes in the stony surface on which he walked momentarily satisfied, Cody carried on to the west, following the sun, still high in the sky. He found himself higher up and was about to attempt a leap to another high bit of land across a chasm of a few feet. But just as he tightened his muscles to spring, the dirt and bits beneath his forepaws gave way and he fell eight to ten feet down into water.

Landing with a splash, Cody hissed and attempted to cry out but was unable: He had sunk beneath the surface of the water collected there.

A small pool of water—remnants from the last flash flood through the area a fortnight or so ago—proved to be large enough, deep enough to swallow a cat whole. The mud from the rocks holding the water clouded the water so that only ripples were visible of the struggle taking place within the confines of the water. Not even the turtle making its way across the pond was perceivable, neither from above nor from within the pool.

Counterintuitively, the turtle swam towards the source of the disturbance and somehow positioned himself as something to help stabilize the thrashing limbs of the cat, eventually buoying it back to the surface and then to the edge of the pool. Cody had clutched onto the edges of the turtle’s slick shell, with only one paw attached to something that did not feel natural but was secured firmly to the turtle’s shell, just above where his head poked out.

“Oh, hi, there,” said the turtle as it crawled over a narrow bridge of water where the pool that had swallowed Cody joined with another. “Golly, I didn’t expect to find a cat in my pool here.”

Cody said nothing, nor did he move, petrified as he was at having so narrowly escaped drowning.

“Say,” continued the turtle, swimming at the surface of the next, smaller pool, his head and shell still above water, “I don’t suppose you’re that cat the killed that owl are you?”

“No,” began Cody, slowly finding his voice. “I mean, no, I didn’t kill the owl. I just attacked and threatened it because it was trying to eat one of my friends.”

“Oh,” replied the turtle. “Well, I suppose that makes for a pretty good story, too.”

“My name is Cody,” said the cat. “What’s your name?”

“Name?” asked the turtle. “Not sure if I have one, kind of like that squirrel I hear you run around with.”

“I need to call you something because I need to know whom to thank for saving my life,” said Cody, more humbly than he’d ever spoken to anyone, including Fenswick.

“So give me a name, then, cat,” said the turtle. He had reached the opposite edge of the pool, where he crawled onto muddy land to deposit his passenger. “What do you want to call me?”

“I…I don’t know,” said Cody, “but you saved me, just like the story of a whale and some guy who had fallen in the ocean. My person had read that one aloud quite a bit.”

“Whale, huh,” chuckled the turtle. “I suppose that’s good enough, then. I like the sound of Whale better than turtle, anyway. Sounds far more majestic, you know?”

“Yes, sure. ‘Whale,’ then,” said Cody. “Thank you, Whale of the Deep Pool.”

“Hehehe,” Whale the turtle laughed. “Well, thank you, cat. Say, you know it’s safe enough to step off my shell, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Cody, rather sheepishly. The turtle’s shell was surprisingly comfortable, but he know he had to be on his way to the park. Raccoons seldom saved even the third best pieces of trash for anyone, even if they did defeat the nemesis of small furry creatures everywhere.

Cody began to step off, his forepaw on the unnatural feeling bit of shell near the turtle’s neck. A package of chewing gum had somehow been firmly attached to the shell, providing Cody a safe spot for traction and grip. He strained hard to see what it was, seeing seven letters, bold and thick in their appearance, despite being faded from alternating exposure to sun and water:


Huh, thought Cody. I wonder what that says.

Whale said another goodbye and disappeared beneath the surface of another muddy pool. Cody was left alone to pick his way back to the pond, being cautious to avoid any other risks of falling into too-deep of water.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-eight.

The world outside the raccoon’s hovel was vast and white. Only trees and the tallest weeds perforated the deep drifts of snow, deeper than this area had seen in any living creature’s lifetime. Fenswick hopped over to join his friends who had sunk down into the soft-packed snow but had worked to clear an area that was wide enough and seemingly safe enough for the party to gather.

“I’m hungry,” said Cody to no one in particular.

“Well, cat” began Reginald, “I’ve no idea how we’ll find a trash can in all this confection. Besides, my paws are freezing.”

“As are mine,” agreed Roderick. The two were back to being sounding boards of one another’s arrogant statements, each not only reinforcing but also trying to subtly outdo the other.

“Perhaps we could find some nuts or berries or something,” suggested Ralph. “The movement would keep blood circulating to our paws and through our core, helping us to stay warm.”

Fenswick perked up at the suggestion of nuts and berries. As the smallest, the lightest of the group—and the one least dependent on the refuse of others—he again found himself in a unique spot to help his friends.

Scampering across the snow to the nearest fruit-bearing tree—a fig tree with roots near the top of a hill, placing it higher than trees in the lower places—and began collecting the small, edible bits to which the tree had continued to cling since spring and summer to ferry back to his friends. This he did repeatedly, neatly dropping them in the bowled area the raccoons had fashioned for their picnic in the snow. Cody, however, was uninterested in the fig bits, instead finding a dark speck in the snow and digging it out—a small mouse, caught in the snow drifts, finding death in snow and ice before it could find shelter from the same. Cody gnawed on the frozen mass of fur until the heat from his breath and saliva had sufficiently thawed the poor creature for him to pick it apart, eating it greedily but slowly enough so as to not upset his tummy. One of the other cats at his person’s house often ate so ravenously it would soon throw up what it had just consumed. With food so scarce out here in the wild and further so in the snow and ice that had enveloped them all, Cody did not want to take any chances with his meal. He paused, mid-munch to glance back at the group and found them staring at him.

“Mwhat?” Cody asked as the remains of the mouse fell from his mouth and plopped into the snow.

There was no response from any of them, save Regina who uttered the single word “disgusting” before returning to her meager meal of figs and whatever else Fenswick had brought them. The squirrel was off a bit from the others, forming a third point of the triangle of animals eating their respective meals. Unlike the raccoons, the squirrel still preferred to munch on his meals alone. They soon found out how not alone the group was out in the open, though.

With a flash of brown from above and a shriek from ground level, the raccoons soon saw Fenswick began to be lifted from the ground as though he had sprouted enormous wings just like those of an—

“OWL!” Roderick cried out as they all instinctively ducked.

But across from the bowl where they had only moments ago been enjoying brunch, a streak of orange flashed across the snow at a sharp angle and broke the owl and the squirrel apart from one another. Fenswick dropped to the snow, a mass of brown fur marred by pinpricks of blood where the owl’s claws had dug into his sides to lift him into the air.

The owl lay a few feet away, attempting to flap its wings but failing to gain purchase of air but catching nothing but wet powder. Circling the lump of a body and flailing wings and legs was—in contrast to the brilliance of the perfectly white snow—was a concentration of orange fire, tail twitching, fore- and hind legs slowly emerging before re-centering to the mass in the middle as though flickers of flame.

“How DARE you!” growled Cody, his eyes locked on the owl as it tried to regain its composure, reassert its position as the top predator, the top force in this realm.

The eyes of the raccoons were wide in observance in the scene before them, their bodies as frozen as the landscape about them. Finally, Reginald nudged Roderick and the two of them hurried to Fenswick. Reginald tucked the squirrel under his mass of fur and made for the hole in the snow, wherever it was; they had lost it in the mass of white.

“Over here, Reg!” cried out Roderick. He had located the hole, partially collapsed where the still hidden but still warm sun had melted the outermost snow.

“Come on, then. There’s a good chap,” Reginald said in efforts to soothe and comfort the wounded squirrel. “Let’s get you back down where it’s safer and warmer. I think that cat of yours has things up top under control.”

Reginald and Roderick disappeared down the hole, ushering Fenswick to safety. Moments later, they were both back on the surface to see what had happened.

The owl had managed to get itself somewhat upright, but its wings had gathered too much snow, causing the feathers to stick together, keeping it from taking flight. Its comically long legs had sunk deep into the soft snow and its endeavors to paddle itself back up were in utter vain. The panicked motion had caused it to sink further down into the snow and in its position as intimidating predator.

“Hoo,” it said.

“Cody,” replied the cat, misunderstanding the pathetic sound coming from the defeated owl.

“Bested by an idiot of a cat,” muttered the owl, finally ceasing motion.

“Idiot,” repeated Cody. “Who’s the one with his skinny long legs sunk down in the snow, unable to take flight?”

“My unfortunate situation does not denote my intelligence, cat,” said the owl, moving its head an impossibly long way one way and another.

The owl’s head rotation disturbed the raccoons but intrigued the cat. He playfully reached out to touch a tuft of the feathers that served as one of the great horned owl’s “horns.”

“Stop that!” shouted the owl.

“Huh,” said Cody. Ignoring the owl’s demand, he touched the tufts again and again. “Guys, they’re not really horns! They’re just feathers. It’s like this thing’s a flying pillow or something.” He squinted his eyes as a grin for a moment before the mass of the owl’s feathered wing smacked Cody across the face, knocking him down into the snow.

The owl had managed to take to the air and flapped its way to the top of a pecan tree.

“Insufferable, idiotic feline,” grumbled the owl. Its eyes were enormous plates of green, pricks of black in the center bearing down hard on the orange lump of fur that was Cody. “You were fortunate for a moment, cat, but I am the top predator around here, and you are but an intruder in my—”

For the second time today, the owl had been caught off guard. Daytime was certainly not its thing.

The owl flapped its wings to try and gain flight but the high snowdrifts made the ground too close for the wings to do as intended. As it fell into the snow, it managed to see what had it its second bout of humiliation.

Fenswick clung to the thin bits of tree with his claws, his heart racing faster than ever before as the main branch swayed in the wind. He flicked his tail to help maintain his balance.

Before the owl could bring itself upright, it felt a singular point of pressure then another, followed by a larger, heavier mass weighting him down. The cat’s tail curled around its sitting body as it slowly extended its claws into the owl’s chest.

“Hi, again,” said Cody. “You were saying something about being top critter around here?”

The owl just stared at the cat. How did he managed to get bested twice—or was it three times?—in just a few minutes? Had he lost his touch?

“Oh, you were finished? Great. Then let me provide a counterargument to what you’ve had to say: Your days of picking on squirrels and…and…BUNNIES are over!” He paused a moment to reflect on whether or not he had been too overly emotional. “You’re going to use this opportunity to use those big wings of yours to lift your feathery butt up into the air and out of here. Forever.”

The raccoons came and peered down around the ring of snow, grinning at the owl.

“Hello, feathery sir. You remember us, right?” asked Roderick.

“You see,” Reginald continued for his friend, “you’ll remember that we remember where it is you live. And, while we’re not as quick in the night as our feline friend here, we are more adept in the daylight hours when you like to sleep. When you’re particularly vulnerable. Like now.”

All four raccoons bared their teeth in a grin.

“So,” Cody said, “what do you say, owl?”

“I…I suppose I can find another place to hunt,” stammered the owl at last. “Someplace far from here.”

“Yes,” said Cody, “far from here. And no matter where that is, you’ll never touch another bunny again. Ever. Because you know word will reach me, and you know that I know how to find you. Because my friends and I are—” he paused and took his off the owl, looking at each of the raccoons and then Fenswick, still clinging safely to the pecan tree—”resourceful.”

“Agreed,” said the owl. “Agreed. I yield my claim to these woods and will depart at once. Or once you take your claws out of my feathers.”

Slowly, Cody retracted his claws and hopped off the owl’s body and out onto the snow. It was softening, and the wet slush saturated his fur. He found some rock in the melt and perched above it, waiting for the owl to emerge. At last it did, taking flight in a wide circle before disappearing into the retreating clouds.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-seven.

Daybreak came later than usual. Heavy clouds amassed overhead, simulating the scene below; snow had piled upon the land below then piled upon itself until all was covered in white.

“I’m not touching the stuff any longer; my paws are freezing.”

Reginald was in a bit of a mood as he made his way to the back of his home.

Regina took a turn at trying to dig their way out, but everywhere outside of the entrance was wet, white powder. She couldn’t even tell which way to dig or how far. Sighing, she, too, made her way back into the hovel.

One by one, the raccoons had tried to dig their way out of the hovel, but to no avail. Their digging proved fruitless at doing nothing more than shoveling snow into their home. The weight of the snow above collapsed the meager tunnel that had been attempted by each of them. Even Ralph, the seeming expert at anything having to do with the survival and well-being of the nursery, was unable to dig more than a few minutes and make no progress.

As the four raccoons spoke in hushed tones from the back of the hovel about what their next move should be, Cody curled back up to take a nap. During the course of the night, as they warmed one another and attempted to fall asleep, Cody learned more about the owl that had taken to using the pond and its surrounding area as its home and hunting grounds.

The owl had first appeared last winter. The raccoons were uncertain of which direction it had flown in from, but it certainly was quick to craft a nest of sorts, making itself at home.

It preferred to nest in a persimmon tree on the northern end of the shore. Three of the four raccoons found this an odd choice, as the persimmon was far from being the mightiest tree in the forest—something befitting so magnificent a creature as a great horned owl. Only Ralph, in his practicality, recognized why the owl would chose the persimmon.

“The mice like the fruit of the persimmon tree,” he explained. “The pecan tree will only attract a squirrel or two at a time because those guys are super territorial—back me up on this one, Fenswick.”

Fenswick nodded in agreement, really wishing he could sink his teeth into a pecan or even persimmons, dry as they had seemed to him on the rare occasion he had partaken.

“But the mice will keep coming to the persimmon tree,” Ralph went on. “Other rodents and some birds, too. The persimmon tree seemed to have done a good job of hiding this particular owl, because he’s never been run off, and he comes back to that tree every single morning. Heh,” he laughed, “we both seemed to end our evenings around the same time, and at the same place—down at the watering hole.”

While Ralph went on chuckling at his effort at humor, Regina continued on, telling Cody about the owl’s flight and hunting patterns, as well as his other habits. Going off of Ralph’s comment about ending each evening’s hunt for food at the pond, she noted how the owl would both see and acknowledge the presence of the raccoons, almost in either reverence or annoyance at their size at being too big for him to hunt.

“But tonight,” she said, “the owl didn’t do that. I know it saw us—OK, I’m pretty sure it saw us—but it’s like it was intentionally ignoring us. Like we weren’t there. Like it just knew something because…because…oh, heck, I have no idea what goes through the mind of an owl. But it did seem almost mad or disappointed or something at us tonight. Like I said, it knows. It knows something.”

“Of course it does,” chimed in Ralph. “Owls have long been associated with wisdom and knowledge and—”

“And death,” finished Roderick. “We all know what that owl means to the creatures around here. Even us, if we weren’t at our prime, and let’s face it: We are not at our prime just now. We can’t even get out of our home.”

Roderick had barely finished his sentence when a ray of cloud-dulled light broke into the hovel from the front of their home. The four raccoons looked around in surprise and alarm before Cody noticed one of them was missing.

“Ta-da!” exclaimed Fenswick, poking his head into the hovel through hole he had dug. He was greeted with stunned silence.

“How?” asked Reginald. He fumed on, almost in a rage. “How did something so small and and gangly and…and…squirrelly as a…as a squirrel manage to accomplish what I and the rest of this nursery of the most excellent raccoons ever assembled could not?” He paused as Regina put her paw on his neck. Ralph crawled low to the front to investigate what the squirrel had done as he hopped back inside and shook himself, wet with snow. Cody began to lick Fenswick’s fur to warm the rodent, as well as get himself from moisture.

“Because he is so small, Reginald,” Ralph said, poking his head through the small hole. “His anatomy, so different from ours, allowed him to stretch out so long while still digging. His body and constantly twitching tail allowed him to bore this pilot hole through the snow. And now…”

His voice trailed as he poked first his head then then the rest of his body up through the rift in the snowbank that had settled around the rocks serving as the raccoons home. In another minute, he was back inside, again nose first.

“Yes, that does it. I made it to the surface and had a look around.” He as panting, excited rather than exhausted from the bit of exertion. “The rest of you should come up, too.”

“Fenswick?” Reginald said, poking his head first through the snow and then back into the hovel.

“Uh-huh?” said the squirrel, now dried from the care of the cat. Of the four raccoons, Reginald made him the most nervous.

“Thank you. You did what we could not and have improved my opinion of squirrels most certainly,” he finished and then disappeared into the packed snow.

Roderick patted Fenswick’s head before following his best friend up the hold and into the world outside. Ralph gave a sort of “thumbs up” and crawled on up, while Regina just made her way through, figuring her fellow raccoons had said and done enough.

“So, big guy,” Cody said, looking down at the squirrel. “It seems you’re making friends everywhere you go. Good job, Fenswick. Good job.”

Cody looked cautiously at the hole, now greatly enlarged and further compacted by the shuffling of the four raccoons who had blundered their way to the surface, and licked some of the snow. He was horribly thirsty and could not wait to get outside and find some water in liquid form.

Squirrel has done good, the squirrel thought to himself. Wait, no. Not ‘squirrel.’ He stood himself upright and looked around and nodded to himself.

“Fenswick,” he said aloud. His tone was firm and brave. “I, Fenswick the squirrel, has thought of and helped others. I am a good friend.”

Smiling at what he had accomplished over the past few weeks, he clambered up the hole after the raccoons and cat and into what he was certain would be a warm welcome in a cold world.

NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-six.

Fenswick hardly slept at all.

Ordinarily, this would not be terribly unusual for a squirrel, but this particular night was unusual for him.

For starters, there was the whole him thing. Prior to being named and identified by Cody the Cat as a he, Fenswick had merely been a squirrel, an it. He had never known identity as an individual, let alone a gender, and it was blowing his tiny, little, squirrel mind, keeping him from sleep.

Beyond that, there was the unusually cold weather and the fact that he was sleeping mere inches away from a cat, one of many predators he had come to know and fear over the years. But, over the weeks, he had grown fond of Cody, recognizing him as a kind and caring and inquisitive fellow creature—drastically different from the owl. The owl was just an asshole, killing creatures for food and but mostly for sport.

He woke up shivering in his proximity to the entrance of the hovel. Cody lay a few more inches back, making all the apparent difference in the world. But there was something more than the chill in the air and the howling of the wind. Fenswick thought he heard voices—not human, not owl, not anything that would normally prey on him, but…

Oh, no, he thought, recognizing now exactly what he had first suspected them to be.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” Fenswick whisper-shouted to Cody.

“Hmm? What? I’m up,” Cody said, he eyes still squinted shut, sleep and grogginess muddling his voice.

“Chirp-chirp!” Fenswick said with emphasis.

“Yeah, of course I’m being quiet,” went on Cody, oblivious to the need for stealth.

“Well, well, well—what ‘ave we here?” Roderick bellowed as he peeked his head into the hovel. “It appears we ‘ave a couple of interlopers, yes we do. Uninvited guests, you might say?”

“Well, well, well,” chimed in Reginald, his masked visage mirroring Roderick’s as he peered in.

Fenswick’s hear rocketed to catastrophic ranges, while Cody arched his back in a seated position, causing his fur to spike out, seemingly increasing his size. He hissed at the raccoons who merely laughed at the cat’s actions.

“What’s that he’s doing there, my good sir?” inquired Reginald.

“I do believe, my dear Reginald, he is trying to frighten us by puffing out his fur,” replied Roderick, stoicly so as to insult Cody with not only his inaction at Cody’s action but also with the words he was able to articulate while Cody could emit not a single coherent syllable.

The two raccoons began to laugh with one another and at Cody. Outside of their home, Regina began to shiver from the still-dropping temperatures. The very dirt seemed like ice to her padded feet.

Finally, Fenswick gathered his bravery and leapt in between Cody—puffed as a balloon about to burst—and spoke.

“Raccoons of the riverbed!” he shouted.

Almost as immediately as his leaping, Fenswick clasped his hands to his mouth. Never before had he spoken out in the common speech so that others might more naturally understand him. Before, all of his—and other squirrels, too, for that matter—speech had just amounted to a series of chirps that squirrels could follow along pretty easily; they had a pretty much two-track mind: Collecting as much food as they possibly could and avoiding predators. It was the latter that had finally made something in Fenswick decide to break from squirrel kind and start out on this insane quest that now put him standing in between a cat on the defensive and a nursery of raccoons in the middle of the night in the close hunting grounds of a squirrel’s most frightening adversary, a great horned owl. He had become not only a squirrel with a name but also—and especially—a squirrel with a purpose.

“Good heavens, Reginald, it speaks!” Roderick turned as though stunned to the raccoon at his right.

Roderick, after a brief pause to collect his own senses, replied back, “The squirrel, yes, but that cat. The cat is still what puzzles me.”

“And what they’re doing in our home, of course?” Regina’s irritation had reached a critical point. She wanted to be out of the open. Though the owl was not of great concern to her—raccoons were just a touch too large for the owl near the pond to see as prey—the occasional coyote did give her cause for concern. Plus, she was just plain cold and tired. She wanted sleep and she wanted sleep now and in her own home.

“Oh, yes, of course, of course,” muttered Roderick.

Silent for as long as he’d ever been around these three raccoons, Ralph finally walked up to the two at the hovel’s entrance to speak.

“What they’re doing is seeking shelter from the coming snowstorm, you idiots,” Ralph said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. That Reginald and Roderick were unable to “read the room” as it were baffled him; Regina at least recognized that the air and even the ground on which they stood and walked had grown uncomfortably cold. It would be best to sleep it off, despite their low stores of fat; the collective warm bodies of their small nursery should be enough to keep them warm.

“Snowstorm? Good heavens, no,” Reginald said to Ralph, as well as to himself. He had heard of snow from the occasional migratory bird on its way to or from someplace else, but snow—and certainly snowstorms—just didn’t seem plausible for this place they called home. “What say you, Roderick? Have you ever heard of such ludicrous locution from anyone?”

“Ah,” began Roderick. He wasn’t sure where to go from that utterance. “Well,” he tried to begin again, fumbling through what to say, one syllable at a time. “It. Um. You. Hoo. Yes.”

That last syllable visibly knocked Reginald back a bit. In all their time together, Roderick had never known Reginald to be but in total agreement with him, be it in thoughts over what trash can to pilfer or what to say and to whom. They were practically the same raccoon with the same mind. Whether it was the unexpected find of a cat and a squirrel—and a talking squirrel at that—or that there was actual snow falling from the sky now had just been something to upset the otherwise natural order of things.

“Guys, it’s snowing,” Regina said, her eyes wide.

“Told you so,” Ralph said, for at least the second time tonight.

Regina’s statement of the snow falling from the sky, brought the four raccoons together, in a line, watching the foreign flakes of ice crystals falling from the sky, more and more quickly. With the entrance clear and the need for heightened senses abdicated, Fenswick ventured out to witness this meteorological miracle. He walked up, cautiously, to the four raccoons and spoke, breaking the silence that hung in the air, snowflakes flurrying all about it, about them.

“Raccoons of the riverbed,” Fenswick continued. “I am Fenswick of the northern neighborhoods where humans dwell. My feline friend and I seek shelter from this storm until he can dispatch the owl that has been killing off my family, our friends.”

“Owls never bother me,” Reginald muttered.

“Nor me,” agreed Roderick. “However,” he continued, “it cannot be discounted the vulnerability of raccoon young when the time comes. Owls are not known for subscribing to the same ethics as we for leaving the young alone.”

Regina clicked her tongue in her mouth, thinking deeply. “Can a cat actually kill an owl, though? He’s no bigger than we are, and I wouldn’t dare challenge an owl—even if I thought my life was on the line.”

“One cannot discount that the critter did appear prepared to take the four of us on,” Roderick said.

“True,” Reginald said, “though he would lost such a battle magnificently.”

At the sound of hearing others speaking about him, Cody peeked his head out into the icy air. Everywhere around him had been blanketed in the soft, white powder of snow, its size and thickness continuing to amass.

“Guys—and Regina,” Ralph said, “this has been a really strange night, and now there’s all of this snow. Two more warm bodies in our home will help keep us warm until the snow stops falling.”

“He does have a point, Reg,” Roderick said to his friend. “We’ll need more than the four of us to stay warm in this. I, for one, am simply chilled through!” He let a little chuckle and rubbed his forepaws together. “Besides,” Roderick continued, “a common-looking house cat like this one will make for such excellent sport, taking on that enormous owl down by the pond, will it not?”

“Yes, yes, I suppose it would,” Reginald said at last. He didn’t feel it beneficial to continue the argument, especially since he was experiencing difficulty in feeling his hind paws. They had grown numb in the cold, but he wasn’t about to tell any of them that.

“So, little guy,” Ralph said to Fenswick. “Whad did you say your name was? And the cat’s?” He was unaware that Cody was right behind them all, perched atop the rock marking the entrance to the raccoons’ nest until he spoke.

“He said his name was Fenswick,” Cody said. The four raccoons all jumped at the sudden sound of another speaking. “And my name is Cody. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back inside and get warmed up. And I’d also like for you to tell me everything you can about this owl.”

Mumbling in agreement that the idea to go inside was the best they’d ever heard, the six critters made for the hovel’s entrance, now just a sliver in the piling snow. Regina and Reginald began to dig a larger opening for them, with Ralph and Fenswick helping, as well. Cody sauntered over and sat next to Roderick, witnessing the show.

“I do like a good show,” Roderick said. “But you against an owl will lead to nothing but your utter disintegration. That’s not exactly sport in my reckoning.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence, raccoon,” Cody replied. “And thank you for having us in your home. Now, tell me more about this owl thing so I can avoid my ‘utter disintegration,’ as you put it, and, perhaps, give you a bit more of a show.”

“Hmm, I think I like you, cat,” Roderick said. “Saucy, just like my chap Reginald down there. Come, then, let’s adjourn to our humble abode, warm up, and tell some stories.

And with that, the six animals disappeared into the hovel as the hovel itself disappeared from sight, covered entirely in snow, just as all the woods around it, just as in Cody’s dream.