Living in a Novel

This year of 2020 held such great promise for me, as it did for so many others, when BOOM—what happened?

Life, with all its uncertainties, challenges and unexpected surprises, threw us a new curve ball. The novel coronavirus pandemic, commonly known as COVID-19, happened and upended all of our lives, some to a greater or lesser extent than others.

For some, the virus was a death sentence. For others, their lives will be forever changed in other ways, and their futures are being rewritten one day at a time—one struggle at a time.

Although I’ve written about super bugs and the potential for pandemics in past blogs, I’m no expert on the issue. Although I remain isolated and in good health, many do not have that option to watch from the sidelines.

Those many challenges are highlighted on a daily basis on a multitude of news outlets. The histories and ongoing memoirs of those affected by this disease are chronicled daily in multiple news features.

As of late, with the current protests and ongoing struggles for racial equality, there are people collecting bits and pieces of that evolving history for future preservation in museums or for the written word.

This blog is not about addressing either the pandemic or racial equality struggles. The point I make is that we should all take a moment to reflect on the fact that we are witnessing history in the making—history that our future generations will read about in yet unwritten books.

In the years to come, many books (both fiction and non-fiction) will be written about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it changed life for so many, and many more books (again both fiction and non-fiction) will be written about the current social unrest and the societal changes that will result. Nations across the globe will be included in that change.

How many books will be written about the year 2020? How many of us, as authors, will tackle aspects of the events of this year and turn those happenings into linguistic works of art?

We are all living our personal novels right now and we are choosing the subject matter for each unwritten paragraph and chapter of our novels as we begin each new day.

I wonder how many books are evolving in people’s minds that will become literary reality in the years to come—whether that future author knows it or not as yet.

In my time of isolation and the disruptions to my normal existence, I have been fortunate to have had the time to complete a thriller novel that I’ve been working on for more than a year. It is in the editing stage at present with cover artwork to be completed soon. It is scheduled to be published in August. Links to the pre-sale will be available in less than a month.

That fact is the good that’s come out of this health tragedy for me personally. One personal casualty of this pandemic is that my next planned novel (book three in my Jon Masters series) was going to involve Jon facing the challenge of preventing a world pandemic from the release of a deadly pathogen with no known cure.

At this point, I don’t have the appetite to further that plot, and I’m sure there would be little reader appetite for such a novel. After all, how could I create more drama than we are all presently living? I’ll start that next novel, but the plot will definitely be much different than originally imagined.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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A Memorial Day Reflection

Today initiates the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the United States.

With the current COVID-19 health crisis at hand, it will be a much different celebration than in previous years. I wonder how much celebrating will be happening around the country with our social distancing guidelines still in place in many parts of the US.

Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 and first observed on May 30th of that year when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. This day of remembrance was set aside to commemorate those soldiers who gave their lives in the American Civil War.

There is rich history regarding how the fallen were remembered in the Union territories as compared to Confederate territories. But the common thread was that the graves of the fallen soldiers were decorated on a certain date each May and a “dinner on the ground” often followed the decoration ceremony.

By the early 20th century, Memorial Day evolved into a more general expression of remembrance of all the deceased who had served in the military, and in 1971 Memorial Day became an official federal holiday. 

We reflect on the sacrifices of military personnel and the loss to their families even as we celebrate that the price of those losses results in continued freedom and a stronger nation.

Enjoy your holiday weekend! Be Safe and Healthy during these trying times and take a moment to reflect on those heroes from past wars and for those who fought a recent heroic battle with this deadly virus.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Optimism for the Future of Medicine

As each of us attempts to manage our personal and professional challenges during the current COVID-19 crisis, we can also take a moment to look into the future and marvel at medical breakthroughs that are on the horizon.

I purposely chose not to focus on the COVID-19 crisis in this blog and the multitude of issues involved for one general reason. There are so many news articles, government projections, speculations, practical advice and misinformation that I decided to step away from that mental assault for a moment.

Although I have often blogged about the surge in antibiotic-resistant super bugs and about possible apocalyptic micro-organisms, there are meaningful research projects going on that focuses on the betterment of life post-COVID-19.

Here are a couple of cutting-edge research endeavors that include some of my favorite technology that I believe will define human existence in the future.

Nano-Technology:

The Swedish company Amferia provides innovative medical devices worldwide, but they also develop solutions to the ongoing global antibiotic resistance crisis.

Recently, this company initiated work on technology that reconfigures standard materials at the molecular level to produce unique substances never before envisioned. This company developed a rubbery nanomaterial that seamlessly integrates with the human body.

Originally, researchers set out to create a bone replacement material; but, by simply manipulating just the right carbon mix at the molecular level, a rubbery texture that could replace cartilage resulted. Further molecular manipulations produced a soft, flexible and extremely elastic material that could one day replace human tissue.

The implications of these discoveries are enormous for replacing cartilage that breaks down in aging joints, tissue regeneration from serious burns, and a whole host of other beneficial human uses. This technology could be the game-changer in trauma-related reconstructive surgeries.

3-D Printer Technology:

I’ve blogged before about the marvels of 3-D printers in medicine, but new innovations have come to light recently.

One recent and immediate use is that a hospital in Italy is using 3-D printer technology to print replacement parts for broken intensive care unit equipment. Specifically, the current need is for replacement of ventilator valves much sooner than standard suppliers could replace them. This became an unexpected life-saving idea never before envisioned and could be useful going forward to 3-D print needed medical devices to fulfil immediate patient needs.

On a more long-term 3-D printing research project, scientists in Israel have been the first to successfully 3-D print a small heart using lab-grown living tissue. The printed tissue included blood vessels, collagen and biological heart tissue.

Although 3-D printed artificial organs and other artificial body replacement parts have been used in medicine, this technology is the first to use biologically-compatible living tissue.

This research is still in its infancy and the process has only produced a rodent-sized heart at this point, but this technical advance could one day become the medical standard for organ replacement if this research continues as expected.

At this time of personal and professional upheaval with the worldwide viral pandemic, it’s comforting to know that there is research out there that looks beyond this crisis to better times and an optimistic medical future.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

While shuttered at home and practicing social distancing, if you need some interesting reads, check out my books on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/author/jamesjmurray

 

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New Beginnings in the New Year!

January always starts off with great hope and promise.

For me, that means more writing and the great hope to finish the novel still sitting on my desk. I’ve made much progress on the research in the last couple of months. I’ve interviewed a clinical psychologist and then a forensics psychologist to “get it right” with this serial killer character.

With the colder, more dreary winter weather, however, writing about a serial killer can also be a buzz kill. The isolation of writing and the subject matter I’m tackling have made me a bit gloomy every now and then.

I know that scientists warn of winter gloominess and they even have a name for it—Seasonal Affected Disorder, SAD for short. Layman often refer to this syndrome as the “Winter Blues.” I wrote a blog about that last winter. See HERE to refer to that blog and to find some easy fixes to lighten one’s mood.

My fix is to take a ten-day cruise on the waters down south for some fun and sun.

I’ll be back towards the end of January to again sit in my writer’s chair and finish this serial killer novel.

In the meantime, here’s a first draft of the first chapter of my book: (Copyright, James J. Murray, Author, Interaction Media Publishing, LLC.)

Emile Richards turned in the direction of the sound, a sound so familiar and yet alien—not science fiction alien, but a timbre once removed from reality. It came from deep within his brother Cecil, a guttural moan that signaled profound unrest. It sent a chill up Emile’s spine every time that sound reached his eardrums, whether it be in the light of day or the still of night moments before dawn when Cecil cried out in his sleep.

That sound . . . an assault on Emil’s eardrums that then bounced around his brain—for an eternity it seemed—until the emotion that welled up within him could be contained.

Glancing down the sidewalk toward his brother, Emile watched as Cecil rocked back and forth on his heels, the canvas of his athletic shoes stretching each time his toes left the ground. His hands writhed in rhythm with the motion of his feet while he stared into the distance.

Emile put the bag of groceries down on the ground and walked toward Cecil. As he did so, his hands contracted into fists. Fighting to control a racing heartbeat, he stopped to unclench his hands and take a deep breath. Control, control the eruption, protect Cecil, he thought.

A man approached from the left and asked, “Is everything okay here?”

No, not by a long shot, Emile almost blurted out, but instead he managed, “Sure, it’s all good. Sorry to disturb you. I just need to catch my breath.”

The man looked directly at Emile with a furrowed brow. “You need me to call someone, maybe get some help?”

Cecil shied away from the man and folded into Emile’s arms. Emile glanced at the man and shrugged with a half-hearted laugh. “It’s fine, a momentary thing.”

The man stepped back, hesitated a moment—his brow creasing a bit more—but finally he said, “Okay, sounds like you have it under control. I’ll let you be.” He turned and walked away, glancing back only once before focusing on his five-year old son again.

Moments earlier the five-year old had demanded ice cream and the dad had scolded him, told him no more sweets until tomorrow. When the child flung himself to the ground and pounded the earth, the dad had yanked him up by his shirt to a standing position and shook the boy. As if remembering the moment with a dash of shame, the dad smiled and kissed the boy’s forehead. “It’s okay, buddy. Let’s get you some ice cream.”

Emile watched the man interact with the child, studied his every movement as the dad hugged the boy and tussled his hair—too little, too late, a daddy bully. Emile pinched his lips together, felt the familiar loathing, but suppressed it once again.

Finally, the man scooped the son into his arms and headed to the parking lot.

Turning to his brother, Emile loosened the hold on him. It had been easier to protect and comfort his brother when they were younger. Cecil was six years his junior and always small as a child. Now, as a man of twenty and almost a foot taller than Emile, Cecil outweighed him and was not so easy to control, particularly when an episode happened.

That’s what the doctors at the hospital called it—an episode! They also described it with a string of multi-syllable words. What it all boiled down to, however, was “not right in the head.” The doctors . . . they didn’t understand. Neither Emile nor his mother would explain to them the reasons for Cecil’s episodes. It was a promise they had made to each other long before.

With a sigh, Emile glanced up at his brother, reached out and gave him a reassuring shoulder squeeze. Seeing that Cecil was calm again, Emile picked up the bag of groceries he had put on the ground earlier. He held the bag in one arm while cradling his brother in the other. “Okay, no more bad man. Let’s go home. It’s time for dinner.”

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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MY NEW YEAR’S WISH FOR YOU!

** MY WISH FOR YOU IN THE NEW YEAR **

May peace break into your home;

May thieves steal your debts;

May the pockets of your jeans

Become magnets for $100 bills.

May love stick to you like glue;

May laughter assault your lips.

May happiness spread across your face;

May your tears be that of joy;

May the problems of this past year forget your address.

In short . . .

May 2020 be the BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE!

To You and Yours!!

Posted in A Holiday Wish, A New Year's Greeting, A New Year's Poem, A New Year's Wish, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, James J. Murray Blog | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Happy Holidays

&

May You and Yours Be Filled

With Joy and Peace

During This Holiday Season

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SANTA’S SECRET HELPER – The Conclusion!

Over this last week plus, I’ve been publishing parts of a holiday short story that I wrote and published several years ago in a Christmas short story collection of  “less than sugar and spice” Christmas tales called “FROST and other stories published by Michelle Browne. Last week I published two installments of the story (See part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE). This is the final third and the conclusion of the story.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Santa’s Secret Helper – A short story (part 3 and the end)

The afternoon of the Lion’s Club Christmas Party, Jake had two extra cups of Flor’s tea and asked Martha to brew a thermos full so that he could sip some during the party.

Since the Santa Claus costume was bulky and the Santa hat flopped down to obstruct his vision, Martha drove them to the party. She was in a great mood, mostly because Jake was so attentive and cheerful himself. She had never seen him looking forward to any holiday as much as Christmas this year. If only their kids lived closer, they could see the wonderful changes in their father.

Max, however, was worried about Jake’s temperament after he’d overheard his mom talking to Martha the day before. He wondered how much yerba mate tea Jake was drinking, thought that Jake might overdose and decided to follow them to the Christmas party gig to see for himself how Jake was acting.

At the party, Martha watched as Jake made the rounds of the room, glad-handing everyone he knew. She didn’t notice that Max had slipped into the reception hall behind some other guests and had planted himself behind an artificial shrub in the corner.

Max watched Jake for signs of an overdose. He knew that too much cocaine caused erratic behavior—much like Jake was exhibiting—but he worried about the other symptoms that he’d read about. They included high blood pressure, increased heart rate and a sudden rise in body temperature. Max realized that those could be life-threatening for a man Jake’s age.

He watched from behind the plant and witnessed Jake’s good mood escalate. Jake played a good, jolly Santa Claus. Whenever he approached children, his exuberance made them initially smile and giggle, but then shrink back from him and run to their parents. Max thought Jake seemed a little out of breath after awhile and that worried Max.

Martha watched Jake also and noticed that his hands shook when not clasping on to his Santa cane that was made to look like a giant peppermint candy cane. She thought that maybe the costume was getting too hot for him. She felt around in her purse, found the heavy thermos full of tea, but decided that water might be a better choice.

She went to the bar, asked for a tall glass of ice water and brought it over to Jake. “Are you thirsty? Maybe you should drink something.”

He looked at the glass and then at her with eyes that danced, and which looked much more alive than his costume. “Great idea. How about some of that tea? Where’s the thermos?”

“I have it right here, but maybe water—“

“No, I want some tea. A big swig, that’s all I need.”

Martha brought out the thermos and handed it to him. With a shaky hand, he unscrewed the top, tilted it up to his mouth and took a large gulp. He wheezed a little, as if he’d swallowed wrong, coughed, sputtered some, but recovered. Jake took another large swallow, screwed the top back crooked on the thermos, handed it to Martha and said, “Ho, Ho, Ho—Santa’s ready to roll!”

“What? Jake, are you okay?”

Sweeping Martha into his arms, Jake gave her a big wet kiss and said, “Never better, Babe.” He gave her a swift pat on the butt before heading over to the Christmas tree.

Max took in the scene and slumped to the floor behind the plant. “Overheated body, thirsty, crazy mood—I’m screwed. He’s going to overdose for sure,” Max mumbled to himself.

Jake arrived at the Christmas tree and bent down to grab a present but stumbled and fell into the tree, twirling as he did so, and landed face up on top of the fallen tree.

Gasps were heard around the room. Martha screamed and ran to him. Max ran up also but stopped halfway to Jake and hid behind a group of people.

Martha looked down to see Jake’s smiling face. “Oops,” he said. “Santa went down the wrong chimney.”

“Jake, are you all right? Is anything broken?”

He moved his legs and arms. They worked spastically but adequately, and without pain. He stood, tilted sideways momentarily and then bent over and vomited all over the Christmas tree.

“And now nausea and vomiting,” Max mumbled. “Next, it’ll be lights out.” He touched a finger to his lips when a woman turned to him with a quizzical look.

“I think you’ve had too much caffeine,” Martha said to Jake.

“No, Babe, it’s just too hot in here. I need to shed some of these clothes.” He kicked off his boots and then started to unzip the Santa suit.

“But, Jake,” Martha whispered. “You don’t have anything on under that suit.”

Apparently, Jake didn’t remember that under the Santa suit all he had on was his birthday suit. He slipped off the Santa costume like one would peel a banana. The pants snagged on his hips and refused to move down further.

“Jake, stop. You’re making a fool of yourself,” Martha shouted.

A man rushed up, identified himself as an off-duty policeman and asked if she was Jake’s wife and if her husband had a medical condition.

“Yes, I’m his wife, but I don’t know of any medical problem that would cause this.” She looked at the thermos. “Maybe too much tea?”

Someone in the crowd shouted, “Is he on drugs?”

Martha looked around the room and then at the cop. “Drugs? Jake won’t even take aspirin!”

“It kind of looks like an overdose of something to me,” the cop said and called out to the crowd, “Someone call 911.” He turned back to Martha and frowned. “What’s in the thermos, lady?”

Jake weaved back and forth, coughed some, and then said, “My special tea, and I need another hit.” The Santa pants slid down one hip but Jake didn’t seem to notice.

The cop grabbed the thermos out of Martha’s hands, unscrewed the cap and took a deep whiff. “Smells like tea, but with an undertone. What’s in it?”

“Only what my friend Flor made. It gives Jake energy and makes him happy.” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s really only tea. Flor gets it imported from Argentina.” Martha looked at the thermos and furrowed her brow with uncertainty. “At least that’s what she told me.”

Jake staggered over, grabbed the thermos out of the cop’s hands and took a big swig. As he leaned back, the Santa suit slid all the way down to his ankles. Jake didn’t seem to notice and walked right out of the costume that lay on the floor.

He stood in all his glory and said, “Ho, Ho, Ho. Santa’s got a present for everyone.”

The cop looked from Jake to Martha and asked, “Does he have a drug habit? Is your friend his dealer and you gave him too much?”

Martha opened her mouth to speak, but just then Jake clutched his chest, keeled over, fell back into the Christmas tree and had a cardiac arrest on the spot.

“I’ll need to know everything about Flor and her ‘tea’,” the cop said as he rushed to Jake.

A little girl watching the scene in her father’s arms yelled, “She killed Santa Claus!”

**There is more to the story—does the cop do CPR and revive Jake? Is Flor or Martha (or both) arrested for drug distribution? What do you think? Post your conclusion!

*******************************************************************************

For some interesting and entertaining reading, download my two medical thriller novels in the Jon Masters Thriller Series.

Both involve Murder, Mayhem and Medicine!

Lethal Medicine: “When a drug study clinical trial involves more than cutting-edge research and innocent people’s lives are threatened.”

eBook or Paperback – Order Here!

Imperfect Murder: “When trust in our nation’s drug delivery system is shaken to its core and worldwide drug safety is threatened.”

eBook or Paperback – Order Here!

 

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SANTA’S SECRET HELPER – A short story (part 2)

Several years ago, I contributed to a Christmas short story collection of “less than sugar and spice” Christmas tales called “FROST and other stories published by Michelle Browne. Last week I published about a third of my Christmas short story (See part 1 HERE), and now this is part 2 of the story. Part 3 will be published as my December 23rd blog.

I hope you continue to enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Santa’s Secret Helper – A short story (part 2)

Early the next morning Max came home, opened the front door, walked into the house and listened for sounds that would suggest his mom was awake. Hearing nothing, he gently closed the door, tiptoed into the kitchen, opened the pantry door and looked at the shelf holding the cans of soup.

Something was wrong. The cans were placed differently than the day before. After a long night of partying, however, he decided that he was imagining things, shrugged and reached behind the soup cans. He came up empty-handed. Reaching further back, his fingers moved to the left and to the right—nothing. He rubbed his chin, felt moisture, looked at his hands and realized that they were shaky and damp with sweat. He searched the pantry with frenzy and, as his eyes glanced over some freezer bags of powder, he froze.

“Oh, my God. The bags multiplied overnight.” He gazed up to the ceiling and called out, “Thank you, God.” Frowning at the thought, Max rubbed his hands together and said aloud, “No, that’s impossible. But where did these bags come from? And where’s my stuff?”

Realizing that he was shouting, he put a finger to his lips and touched his other hand to his chest, felt his heart pounding and thought of what could have happened to his stash.

A jumble of horrible scenarios popped into his mind. They congealed into one thought. “Mom!” He touched his finger to his lips again and whispered, “Oh, Mom, what did you do?”

He backed out of the pantry, slowly shut the door and zombie-walked to his room. In a daze, Max shut the bedroom door behind him, backed against the door, slumped to the floor and folded his hands over his head. He shook his head and tried to figure out what had happened.

Hearing the front door open, he listened closely. It was his mom. He remained on the floor, his muscles refusing to move. Eventually he stood and, as if in slow motion, opened the door and walked down the hall. His mom was in the living room reading a magazine.

Flor looked up when he entered the room, tossed down the periodical and tilted her head. “I didn’t hear you come in last night. Were you out late again?”

“Not very.” The words came out more like a squeak. His mom’s only response was a puzzled look. Max cleared his throat and forced a grin. After two attempts to talk, he finally said, “I see you made a new batch of your special tea, a big one this time.”

“Well, I had a nice shipment of holly leaves that I’d never used and my friend had a bunch of dried berries. I even found some in the pantry from a previous batch. I added that into the mixture and, before I knew it, I had enough for several bags.”

Max rubbed his face with both hands and slowly closed his eyes. “You found some old mix in the pantry? Some that you didn’t remember you had?”

“What a surprise that was. I didn’t realize I had plenty enough already to share with Martha. She stopped by yesterday to pick up a supply.”

“You made some for Martha?” Max seemed to choke on the words.

“Sure, and I had already made the fresh batch, so I just added the old to the new. Now I’ll have enough to add it to the holiday punch I promised to make for the Christmas party.”

“Christmas party?” There was that squeaky voice again. “Your new tea in a holiday punch—for other people? Where’s the party?”

“You know, that Lion’s Club Party I volunteered to help with for their Christmas party. I said I’d help with the refreshments.”

Max furrowed his brow, tried to think of something to say. “Will kids be there?”

“Of course, it’s Christmas after all.”

“Maybe that’s not such a good idea . . . to give kids something with your tea in it . . . you know, caffeine and all that.”

She gave Max a disappointed look, but it quickly turned to joy and she shook her fists in the air. “I know what I’ll do. I’ll make two batches of that festive holiday punch. The soda type for the kids and for the adults, I’ll spike it with some of my tea. Everyone will love it.”

“But, Mom . . .”

“Shush! I have so much now and with the party only weeks away, I’ll have a special brew for the adults too. Isn’t that a great idea?”

“I’m not so sure, Mom. Not everyone will like the tea. And there’s some old stuff in it.”

Flor put a fist on her hip and gave her son a look that would whither a rose. “What are you suggesting?”

“Maybe you should make a totally fresh batch for the party.”

“Nonsense! Besides, I don’t have any leaves left. It’ll be fine.” She got up to go to the kitchen, but stopped and patted him on the cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll save some for you.”

Max thought about who would be at the party . . . tried to calculate how much cocaine would be in the mix . . . realized that it was too much, even diluted into the punch . . . understood that she would kill him if she knew . . . willed himself to keep quiet.

He decided that he needed to think and turned toward the hallway. “I have to go study now, Mom. See you later.” He retreated to his room, closed the door and found the small stash of coke that he kept for personal use. He needed to steady his nerves.

+ + + + +

Martha stopped by to visit with Flor a couple of weeks later and was telling her how wonderful her tea was, said that Jake was drinking two cups a day and that he was like a changed person. “His mood is, I don’t know how to describe it, but definitely less sullen. He even offered to help at tomorrow’s Lions Club Christmas party, without me asking, and he’s been singing ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ every time I mention the party.”

Flor smiled and nodded as she pointed at Martha. “My best batch yet.”

“And not only that, Flor, but Jake’s agreed to dress up as the Santa Claus to hand out gifts at the party. A couple of days ago he ordered the costume and got fitted for it—all on his own. Before giving him your tea, he was thinking of quitting the club altogether.”

“That’s wonderful,” Flor said. “The leaves I’m getting from my cousin seem to be stronger lately. Maybe I should market that tea.” She waved a hand high across the air. “I could call it ‘Flor’s Fabulous Fix.’ How does that sound?”

“Ambitious, but I can’t argue with the results. It has to be the tea that’s made Jake human again.

( PART 3 – To be continued on Dec 23rd)

For some interesting and entertaining reading, download my two medical thriller novels in the Jon Masters Thriller Series.

Both involve Murder, Mayhem and Medicine!

Lethal Medicine: “When a drug study clinical trial involves more than cutting-edge research and innocent people’s lives are threatened.”

eBook or Paperback – Order Here!

Imperfect Murder: “When trust in our nation’s drug delivery system is shaken to its core and worldwide drug safety is threatened.”

eBook or Paperback – Order Here!

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SANTA’S SECRET HELPER – A Wicked Christmas Tale

Several years ago, I contributed to a Christmas short story collection of  “less than sugar and spice” Christmas tales called “FROST and other stories published by Michelle Browne. It’s still in print, but I am allowed to use it as I wish. I thought you might enjoy this intriguing Christmas misadventure, so I’m going to publish my short story here in three parts over the next couple of weeks before Christmas.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Santa’s Secret Helper – A short story (part 1)

Martha Lanston stomped around the kitchen as she cleared the breakfast dishes, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the countertop near the sink and vehemently whispered, “That lazy bum. I’m so sick of him!”

She opened a drawer and brought out a small plastic bag of finely ground powder. She measured a teaspoonful of the light brown mixture and sprinkled it into a coffee mug that was printed with “Hot Stuff.” The mug had chili peppers stenciled on the outside upper edge.

Martha ran tap water until it was hot to the touch, remembered the instructions not to use boiling water, and filled the mug three-quarters full. She gently stirred the mixture until the powder went into solution.

She took a deep breath and thought about her life—a successful schoolteacher for decades, presently retired and devolved into a housewife and servant. Yes, that’s what she was, nothing more than a servant. That thought encouraged her to continue her plan.

Martha squared her jaw, clenched a fist and whispered again to the four walls, “No, he’s not getting away with this anymore.”

She picked up the hot mug, blew heat from it and walked into the living room. As usual, her husband Jake was reclining in his favorite chair and thoroughly engrossed in a crossword puzzle.

“I made you some tea. Flor says it’s a special brew that she drank all the time back in Argentina. I had some yesterday at her place and it’s good. Here, try it.”

Jake didn’t react at first, as if the request needed further thought. He frowned, looked suspiciously at the tea and then up to his wife. Without saying a word, he took the cup, set it on the end table next to him and returned to the crossword puzzle.

As he did so, Martha thought about her visit the day before with Flor, the neighbor next door who happened also to be her best friend. Martha remembered how she had tearfully told Flor how Jake was acting. They were both retired and Jake had lots of free time also, but all he seemed to do these days was work crossword puzzles, take naps and read books. Martha did all the housework, the laundry and the cooking. Even mowing the grass had become her responsibility.

“That man is crazy,” Flor had said. “You’re a good wife. He needs my tonic tea—my yerba mate. I’ll fix some for you. If you like it, I’ll give you a small bag for Jake.”

“Will it give him energy?”

Flor smiled, lifted one shoulder and tilted her head. “It may even make him feel sexy.”

Martha smiled and took a sip of tea. It was rich in aroma and warmed her insides. She decided to take some for Jake. After all, Flor seemed to have the energy of two people. The sexy part didn’t interest her, but maybe it would help Jake get off his rear and help around the house.

Suddenly, Martha heard Jake say, “Are you deaf?”

“What? Oh, sorry, I was just remembering my visit with Flor.”

“Well, you’re right. It’s tasty.” He drained the cup. “How about fixing me another?”

“I’ll make you a cup after lunch.” Grinning, Martha strolled off to sort laundry.

+ + + + +

Flor’s son, Max, walked into the house and gently closed the door behind him. He was tired and needed sleep. Tall, burly and used to getting his way, he turned into a mouse around his mom, who didn’t like him staying out all night and this was the second time in a week. He tiptoed toward his room, all the time looking around to make sure his mom wasn’t around.

As if by magic, Flor appeared from around the corner near the kitchen, stood rigid with her legs apart and arms folded. “Again, Max? What do you do all night?” She sniffed the air and wrinkled her nose. “You smell like a brewery, and you’re smoking again.”

“Ma, please, I’m over 21. I pay rent. I can come and go as I please.”

Flor stretched her five-foot-one frame as tall as she could and pointed an index finger at him. “My house, my rules. Now get some sleep. You have class this afternoon. You need to be smart, make good grades, graduate college before you’re thirty, for God’s sake.”

Max started to protest, but Flor held up her full hand this time and pointed toward his bedroom. Without another word, Max headed down the hall.

+ + + + +

That afternoon Martha made another cup of yerba mate tea and Jake gulped it down in three large swallows. Martha decided to make the tea a daily ritual.

She called Flor to report that Jake liked the tea and wanted to know where to buy it. Flor had responded that her special yerba mate was a personal blend and, since there was only a little left in her pantry, she would need the afternoon to prepare the ingredients and make a supply for Martha. Flor said that she’d call to let Martha know when her special tea was ready for pick up.

+ + + + +

Max had one ear squeezed into the small space between the door jam and his almost-closed bedroom door. He was too wired to sleep and needed to make his batch of product so that he could deliver it to the buyer the next day. He heard his mom talking on the phone, but then she started rattling around the kitchen, banging pots and pans, and opening and closing kitchen cabinets.

When she was done, she left through the front door. Her car started up, moved down the driveway and the engine sounds faded as it headed down the street.

He smiled, nodded to himself and took the brick of cocaine that he had bought the night before out of his backpack. It was good stuff, had cost him a bundle, but he could cut it with sugar, starch and some of his mom’s tea blend to stretch it and make a good profit.

He’d watched his mom make her special tea before. It was a blend of dried holly leaves, the kind from Argentina that had lots of caffeine in them, and crushed holly berries. That was her secret. The dried holly berries, when crushed, made the taste a bit bolder.

Since he was family, his mom had shared her recipe with him so that he could make it for himself after she was gone. His mom had even requested that he serve it to friends at her funeral party.

Max went into the kitchen, cut the coke brick with powders from the pantry, including the remainder of his mother’s tea blend, and started to put the brownish mixture into small plastic bags. Suddenly, he heard a car come up the driveway. He looked out the window and saw that it was his mom.

He panicked, pushed the few small packs of mixture he had made into his backpack, stuffed the remaining blend into a large freezer bag and hid that behind some cans of soup in the pantry. He swung the backpack over his shoulder and hurried to his room, reminding himself that he’d need to make a small batch of his mom’s tea later to replace what he had used.

Flor opened the front door while holding a shopping bag full of dried holly berries that a friend had been saving for her. She shed her coat, put her purse down on the couch, went straight to the kitchen and pulled out a large mortar and pestle from a cabinet.

After placing a handful of the dried berries into the ceramic bowl and using a vigorous twisting motion with the pestle to crush them, she transferred the resulting fine powder into a larger bowl and set that aside.

Next, she went to the pantry, took out the box of dried holly leaves that her cousin in Argentina had sent the previous month and measured a generous portion into the mortar. As before, vigorous twisting motions with the pestle to crush the leaves produced uniform minute granules.

She added the ground leaves to the berry powder, mixed the powders together until well blended and repeated the crushing and blending process several times until a large bowl of yerba mate tea resulted.

“Now to package this up,” Flor said aloud. “I’ll have enough for Martha and still have plenty left over for me.”

Moving into the pantry to get a box of large freezer bags, she spotted something behind some cans, looked closer, pushed the cans aside, and found a large freezer bag full of a previous blend of her herbal tea mixture.

“That’s strange. I don’t remember having this much left,” she whispered. She inspected the bag once again, gazed at the shelf behind the cans one more time and finally shrugged. “Such an odd spot. It’s a wonder I even found it. I must be getting senile.”

Flor tried to remember when she had last made a batch of mate tea. It had been months ago. She thought the mixture would be good for a long while but wondered if it had lost some potency from sitting on the shelf so long, and even questioned if it was from the last batch or from the time before that.

Deciding to mix this batch into the new one rather than waste the old by throwing it out, Flor rationalized that if some potency was lost, it wouldn’t be much and not even noticeable after mixing it with the fresh one.

When everything was mixed well—new with old—she bagged the entire blend into eight one-gallon freezer bags, placed six of them on one shelf in the pantry and kept two out for her friend Martha.

She went to the phone and called Martha. “I have your tea ready. Anytime you want to stop by is fine with me.”

“Now, Flor, are you sure you have enough to share?”

“Oh, I had plenty of ingredients, and I even found more tea in the pantry that I had forgotten about. So I’ve got lots to share and more if you need it.”

Martha promised to come by later that afternoon.

( PART 2 – To be continued on Dec 17th)

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Here in the United States, it is Thanksgiving time—Thursday, November 28th to be exact.

It’s a day of fantastic food feasts, with the bonus of a long holiday weekend ahead. I hope the day is extra special for all of my US readers.

 

More importantly, it’s a time to all of us to reflect on what makes our lives so special and rewarding, and what makes us thankful when we think back on the current year and the events that have shaped our lives in the recent past.

I am especially thankful to all of my readers across the world for supporting and encouraging my work as an author.

You Continue to Inspire Me!

THANK YOU!

I wish you much success at being thankful on a daily basis for all the good things that happen in your lives and I hope the not-so-good things are minimal.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Posted in A Holiday Wish, Being Thankful, Being Thankful Every Day, Being Thankful For Your Life, Happy Thanksgiving Blog, Holiday Cheer, Thankful For Being A Writer | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments