Sunday, February 22, 2015

Promoting Mississippi

The first time I met Patricia Neely-Dorsey, she gave me advice. I was attending my first event as an author -- an open house at our local library. I had copies of my brand new book, a pen for signing, and a terrible case of nerves. She sat at a nearby table looking every bit the professional. Calm as a cucumber.

I've gotten to know Patricia better during the three years since that first meeting. If you asked me to sum Patricia Neely-Dorsey up in one word, that word would be positive.

 Patricia has dedicated herself to promoting a positive image of Mississippi to her fellow Mississippians and to the rest of the world. Let's face it, our state doesn't always get the greatest reviews. If you listen to outside sources, you might think Mississippi has nothing to offer. If you listen to Patricia, you'll be reminded that Mississippi gave the world William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Elvis Presley. In her poem, Meet My Mississippi, she describes: 

Sprawling beaches

Along the Gulf Coast shore
One blues man's crossroads
And inspiration for more;
An abundance of history
Tradition and folklore
Warm front porch welcomes
With a wide open door;

In January 2015, Patricia was recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador for the State of Mississippi by Governor Phil Bryant. The proclamation reads:

KNOW YE, that the Governor of the State of Mississippi in the name and by the authority of the people of said state as vested in him by the Constitution and Laws of the State of Mississippi reposing special recognition for distinguished accomplishments , does hereby recognize:
Patricia Neely-Dorsey Mississippi Author and Poet as a GOODWILL AMBASSADOR for the State of Mississippi in appreciation for the poems Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems" that she describes as a "celebration of the south and things southern" and "My Magnolia Memories and Musings- In Poems " in which her writings continue her celebration of the south and promote a positive Mississippi.
In addition, she was recognized with an official resolution by the state's House of Representatives.

OFFICIAL RESOLUTION-STATE OF MISSISSIPPIAdopted January 19, 2015A resolution commending and Congratulating Talented Poet and Native Mississippian , Patricia Neely-Dorsey for her many achievements as a writer and extend best wishes for many more years of successWHEREAS Patricia Neely-Dorsey is not only a talented poet, who is loved by many , she is also a native daughter of Mississippi and WHEREAS she is a 1982 graduate of Tupelo High School in Tupelo , Mississippi , and she received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Boston University in Boston , Massachusetts and WHEREAS , after living for almost 20 years in Memphis, Tennessee working in the mental health field , she returned to her hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi in August 2007, andWHEREAS, Mrs. Neely-Dorsey published her first book of poetry Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life In Poems in February 2008 and her second book My Magnolia Memroies and Musings -In Poems , was published in February 2012 and WHEREAS. , she continues to live in Tupelo with her husband James, and son Henry and miniature Schnauzer Happy , and she is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc, an avid reader andpassionate writer and WHEREAS, Mrs, Neely-Dorsey has always considered herself a "Goodwill Ambasador" for Mississippi and the South , and she believes that we can bridge many gaps of misunderstanding across regional , racial , cultural , generational and economic lines by simply sharing our stories andWHEREAS, it is the policy of the House of Representatives to commend the success of talented , humble, hardworking , Mississippians, such as Mrs. Neely-Dorsey , who have earned positive recognition and who claim their Mississippi heritage proudly with a badge of honor throughout this great nation :NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI , That we do hereby commend and congratulate Mrs. Neely-Dorsey for her many accomplishments and extend best wishes to our native daughter for many more years of tremendous success .BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That copies of this resolution be furnished to Mrs. Patricia Neely-Dorsey and the members of the the Capitol Press Corps.

Being a Goodwill Ambassador is more than recognition to Patricia Neely-Dorsey. To her it is an opportunity to do what she does so well -- promote the state she holds dear. Our state has a state bird, a state tree, a state flower and a state song. What it does not have is a state poem. Join me in helping Patricia rectify that omission by signing a petition to have her poem, MEET MY MISSISSIPPI, officially declared state poem by our legislature.

When I asked Patricia why having her poem adopted as the state poem is so important to her, she said:

"I want to use my poem "Meet My Mississippi " to help teach the children of our state ( and people of all ages ) some important things about Mississippi in a way that can be easily remembered/recalled.
The state song, the state motto, the state tree, the state bird, and the state capitol are all included in the poem ... along with other famous landmarks and people of Mississippi."
How can you help? First, sign the petition. Second, contact your state representative and ask him or her to vote to adopt Meet My Mississippi as the state poem when it comes up for consideration. Third, share this with your friends, family, and acquaintances. Lastly, you can contact Patricia Neely-Dorsey on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog and let her know you support her efforts.

Deception -- A Short Story

Ma Frazier died for three days. Hard days. Days filled with groaning and wailing and profanities above and beyond her occasional hells and damns. Reverend Thomas admonished her to maintain her dignity, but Ma kicked at him with her good leg and told him to shove dignity up his ass. The good reverend slipped from the room and joined the men on the porch.

Uncle Doyle sat barefoot in a wooden swing that hung from the rafters of the tin roof by chains. His belly spilled over his belt and pushed out the tail of his shirt. Ben stood against the corner post at the far end of the porch, chewing on a piece of weed he had pulled from Aunt Molly's row of azaleas. He and Uncle Doyle ran a junkyard together and had been friends since grade school.

Conversation fell away when the preacher came out. A red pickup truck rattled up the gravel road and disappeared over the hill, leaving a thick brown cloud of dust in its wake. Over the next couple of minutes, the dust cloud drifted across the yard and added another layer of brown to everything it touched.

The screen door opened and Aunt Molly stepped out, hair disheveled, eyes tired. She took her first breath of fresh air in days, savored it, then sat beside her husband in the swing.

"Momma finally calm down?"

She took Uncle Doyle's hand and gave it a squeeze, then broke the news that his momma had passed. Reverend Thomas led them in a prayer. Aunt Molly and Uncle Doyle sobbed. Ben rubbed the back of his neck because the prayer dragged on too long.


"That was beautiful," Aunt Molly said.

"You have a way with words," said Uncle Doyle.

Ben snorted and spat into the azaleas.

"Your mother confided in me before she got bad," the reverend said after a while. He raked a partially decayed dog turd off the porch with the side of his brown loafer. It hit a pink flower, then dropped through the leaves to the dirt. "I waited until she passed to tell you because that's what she asked me to do."

"You've got some turd on your shoe, Preacher," Uncle Doyle said. His hands twitched because he couldn't get the bottle from the cabinet by the stove with the preacher around. Alcohol didn't own Uncle Doyle but it borrowed him on occasion.

"Did you hear what I just said, Doyle?"

"I know what you're gonna say," Uncle Doyle said. "Momma got on me all the time for not going to church regular."

"That's not it."

Ben left the corner post and joined the group. "Some souls just ain't worth saving, Lester."


"Don't Ben me, Molly dear. Me and Doyle and the good reverend used to stomp these back roads together."

"I'm a different man now," the reverend said. "I'm like the thief on the cross. Redeemed in the Glory."

"Save it for the flock, Lester."

"Don't mind Ben," Aunt Molly said. "He don't mean nothing."

The preacher chuckled. "He don't bother me, Molly. I know where I've been. More importantly, I know where I'm going."


"Remember that time we picked up the Carter sisters -- "

"Shut up," Uncle Doyle said.

"I was just --"

"Don't just!"

Ben raised his hands, palms out, as a sign of surrender.

"I've been trying to tell you something important," the preacher said to Uncle Doyle. He shifted to the other foot and waited until he had their attention. "Apparently your father buried a large sum of money in the back yard."

Uncle Doyle stopped the swing from drifting. His eyes stroked the preacher. "Did you say money?"

"A large sum."

"How large?"

"Twenty thousand dollars."

Uncle Doyle came out of the swing so fast it almost dumped his wife. "Where?"

"In the back yard."

Uncle Doyle grabbed the preacher by the shoulders and shook him. "In the back yard? Where in the back yard?"

"She didn't say."

"How could she not say," Ben said.

"If you'll stop shaking me, Doyle, I'll tell you exactly what she told me."

Uncle Doyle unhanded the preacher, then looked around like he didn't know exactly what to do with himself.

"Sit down," Aunt Molly said.

He sat.

"It was Tuesday," the preacher said. "I'd been to the hospital to see Sister Rachel. She had her gall bladder removed."

"We don't care about all that," Ben said. "Skip the salad and get to the meat."


"It's all right, Molly," the preacher said. "Ralph sold some land he inherited from a great uncle. 

Apparently he buried half of it in the back yard. A rainy day fund, so to speak."

"Your ole man was a strange bird all right," Ben said. "Probably all that talk radio he listened to."

"Twenty thousand dollars," Uncle Doyle said, gazing at the preacher like he saw clear through him. 

"You ever seen twenty thousand dollars, Ben?"

"Not in one place. Say, how do you know she wasn't hallucinating?"

 "She was lucid," the preacher said. "Whether what she told me is true or not I can't say, but she was lucid when she told it."

Uncle Doyle glared at the reverend. "Momma never told a lie in her life."

"Yes she did," Aunt Molly said, patting his arm.

"Why didn't she tell me?"

"I can't say," the preacher said.

"Twenty thousand dollars. Right in the back yard all this time. Damn me to hell."


"I didn't mean it literal," he said to his wife.

"How do we go about finding it," Ben asked. "Metal detector?"

"Tommy Harris has one," Uncle Doyle said. "We we can't tell him why we need it, though. We can't tell nobody about this until we find that money. You hear me, Preacher?"

"I'm not in the habit of carrying rumors," the preacher said."

Uncle Doyle shook his head. "This ain't rumor. This here's a deathbed confession."

"You're wasting your time with a metal detector, though. She said he buried it in a fiberglass box."

"Fiberglass? Who the hell buries money in a fiberglass box?"

"Your father, apparently. Maybe he didn't want anyone finding it with a metal detector."

"Sounds like him," Aunt Molly said. "Always suspicious. I remember one time he strung tripwires all over the back yard because he thought the Riley kids were stealing eggs from the henhouse."

"Shut up, Molly," Uncle Doyle said, netting himself a stern look from the preacher. He squirmed. "I mean, now's not the time for reminiscing about Daddy, unless you know where he might've buried a box full of money."

"Coins or bills," Ben asked.


"Probably dry-rotted by now," Ben said. "I hope he had the good sense to wrap it in plastic."

"Plastic? That's a fine way to make paper rot," Uncle Doyle said. "Don't you watch TV? You think a rat can chew through fiberglass, Preacher?"

"Rats can chew threw anything, Babe," Aunt Molly said.

"How many times I gotta tell you not to call me that in front of people?"

Aunt Molly rolled her eyes.

"I had a woman who used to call me babe," Ben said. "She said it was reserved for special people."

"You're special all right," Aunt Molly said. "Did this woman have a valve stem in her back?"

Reverend Thomas cleared his throat.

"Sorry," she said.

"You ain't exactly un-driven snow," Ben mumbled.

Doyle looked up from somewhere far away. "I think I got a shovel in the shed, Ben."

"I got one at home," Ben said.

"There's another hole needs digging first," the preacher said. "Let's not forget there's a body in the house."

Uncle Doyle blushed, then jabbed Aunt Molly with his elbow. "Well go call somebody!"

She scurried into the house and left the men alone again.

"We might be digging for days," Uncle Doyle said. "We'll have to close the junkyard."

"Weeks," Ben said. "Too bad we don't have a backhoe. We could rent one."

"What if we don't find anything?"

"Greed has undone many a good man," the preacher said.

"You'll get your share," Uncle Doyle said. "In the collection plate."

"Ten percent is two thousand dollars," the preacher said. "That's the Lord's share, though, not mine."

"In that case we'll give the Lord his share when we see him," Ben said.

"Blasphemy is a free-fall into hell," the preacher said. "You're not invincible, Ben."

Aunt Molly rejoined them and said the hospital was sending an ambulance.

Uncle Doyle and Ben started digging as soon as they returned from the funeral. Reverend Thomas stopped by later that evening and blessed their efforts. Aunt Molly toted ice water and sandwiches.

"Don't you think you should tell them," the preacher said to Aunt Molly.

"Look at 'em dig," she said. "Doyle ain't huffed and puffed that much since our honeymoon."


"Tomorrow," she said. "Maybe."

When they stopped for the night, Ben crashed on the couch instead of going home. At first light they hit the yard again and dug more holes. Aunt Molly couldn't bring herself to tell them that day either.
Halfway through the third day, Uncle Doyle stopped and leaned on his shovel. He stood waist deep in another failure. "Ben, suppose Daddy set this up just to make me work?"

Ben stopped digging and sat on the edge of his tenth hole of the morning. "Damn me if I wouldn't put it past him."

"You think we should quit?"

Ben surveyed the place. Dozens of holes dotted the yard, each marked by a mound of red clay dirt. 

"Suit yourself." He stood and stabbed his shovel into the ground for another  turn. "I ain't quittin'."

Aunt Molly brought lunch and ate with them on the ground. They ate fried chicken and homemade biscuits, and washed it down with beer from a cooler she had brought out half an hour earlier.

Uncle Doyle tossed a chicken bone into his newest pit and belched. Aunt Molly frowned and shook her head, then cautioned them not to overdo it. It was hot out and they looked spent.

She stood and brushed the dirt from her jeans. "Doyle?"

Uncle Doyle looked up and saw her staring out toward what remained of the chicken coop. He scrambled up out of the hole and followed her gaze. "What the hell you looking at?"

She pointed.


"That rock. Where'd it come from?"

Uncle Doyle looked at the big rock beside the chicken coop. "That rock? I don't know. Momma said it was decoration."

"Most people decorate their front yard," she said.

The two men looked at each other and grinned.

"Come on, Ben!"

They ran with their shovels toward the rock. It was a big rock. A handful for one man, but no match for two. Together they rolled it away and went to work with their shovels. Two feet down, Ben's shovel hit something solid.

"Doyle? Hear that?"

"I heard it."

Molly watched as they unearthed a white box about the size of a washtub. It took another ten minutes for them to get it out of the hole and up onto the grass.

"It's bigger than I expected," Ben said.

"Maybe there's more than twenty thousand," Uncle Doyle said. "There's a hasp but no lock. Why wouldn't he lock it? I'll shoot that damned preacher if it's empty."

"Why lock a box you're gonna bury?"

Ben had a point, Uncle Doyle agreed. Molly told them to open the damned thing and get it over with. Ben lifted the lid and threw it back on its hinges, revealing a large pile of paper money. Tens and twenties and hundred dollar bills thrown into the box in a disorganized heap. Spending money.

"Look at all that green," Ben said. "I say we count it."

Doyle reached in and dipped his hands in the cash. "I say we get drunk."

Aunt Molly trotted to the house and fetched his bottle from the kitchen, along with a garbage bag for the money. While the two men passed the bottle back and forth, she transferred the pile of loose bills into the bag.

They sat in the back yard and drank until both men passed out from liquor and exhaustion. Molly carried the bag of money to the front porch and called the preacher. Fifteen minutes later she heard a car coming up the gravel road, then saw his black Buick come around the curve. He stopped at the mailbox and waited while she ran up the driveway clutching the garbage bag to her chest.

"Last chance to back out," he said.

She reached over and squeezed his thigh. "Shut up and drive."

Copyright 2015 Carl Purdon. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Release Date Set

Release Date: March 23, 2015

After THE NIGHT TRAIN, Jayrod Nash, Arnold Wise, and Farley Milo went their separate ways, until Arnold’s abduction threw Jayrod and Farley, aka Frank Mayo, together again for a cross-country rescue mission that soon leaves them wondering if they are the hunters or the hunted.

Frank Mayo is a fry cook in a greasy breakfast restaurant in Atlanta. His home is the back room of an abandoned building infested with homeless addicts. Among them he is respected. To the rest of the city he is invisible. Enter Reese — a ghost from Frank’s past, with a newspaper article that throws Frank’s world into chaos. Soon he is reunited with Jayrod Nash, the abused boy he took under his wing in another life. Together they track the man who abducted Jayrod’s friend Arnold, but things aren’t always what they seem, and time has a way of changing people you thought you knew. The hunters become the hunted, and trust is a commodity best spent with caution.

Red Eyes is a story of friendship, betrayal, and second chances. 

Pre-order your copy today by clicking HERE and Amazon will automatically send it to your Kindle them moment it become available to the public.

I never intended to write a sequel to The Night Train.

Since its release, The Night Train has received more reviews and triggered more reader comments than my other two novels combined. I have had the honor of speaking to middle school students who read The Night Train as part of their curriculum, as well as to teachers (retired and active) who have told me it should be required reading for all middle school students because of its subject matter.

Again and again, readers have repeated two comments: it should be a movie, and I should write a sequel. I can’t do anything about the movie request, but there came a point when I felt I could no longer dismiss the second request without failing the very people who have made these past few years so special — my readers.

So often sequels fail to live up to the original. When I decided to do this, I made a commitment to write a novel that can stand on its own merit. I wanted readers who haven’t read The Night Train to enjoy the full experience of reading a novel that is not part of a series, while not including too many spoilers should they choose to go back afterward and read TNT. At the same time, I didn’t want to subject those who have read The Night Train to excessive repetition of the original story. Striking that balance proved to be the most difficult part of creating Red Eyes. I eagerly await your verdict.

Pre-order RED EYES by clicking here. If you haven't read THE NIGHT TRAIN, get it now for only 99 cents.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Red Eyes

Sequel to The Night Train
Coming in 2015
It has been almost three years since I released my first novel, The Night Train. Since then it has garnered 38 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.8 stars. I've received countless comments (Facebook, Twitter, in person), emails, phone calls, and even a lengthy letter from a fellow author who survived child abuse.

Child abuse is the dominate theme of The Night Train, but I didn't write it to be a book about child abuse. I wrote it to be a book about a boy who happened to be abused.

Since The Night Train, I've released two more novels -- Norton Road and Blinders. All three are stand-alone books. Series books aren't my thing. Along the way, so many readers asked when I was going to write a sequel to The Night Train that I decided to do something about it.

Red Eyes is the story of Farley Milo -- the scruffy, often lawless, hobo who took Jayrod Nash and Arnold Wise under his wing and guided them (pushed, pulled, sometimes prodded) through the adventure that made up the pages of The Night Train. In this sequel, readers will learn more background on Farley (who goes by the alias of Frank for much of the story), and they will follow him on a suspenseful journey that rips him from the alleys of Atlanta and throws him into the fight of his life when an old adversary kidnaps Arnold and lures him into a cross-country pursuit rife with pitfalls and stacked with characters old and new.

You don't have to read The Night Train in order to make sense of Red Eyes, but I suggest you do because it will enrich the reading experience of the sequel.

But what good would a blog post about an upcoming novel be without a teaser? Following is the opening lines of Red Eyes:

In prison they called him Red Eyes — a variation of red eye, which meant hard stare. His given name was Farley. In Atlanta, they called him Frank.
A noise awoke him. The city peddled noise like a drug, but this was different. This noise stood out. He pushed himself up to one elbow and cocked his ear toward the steel door and listened. There it was again. One small metal object probing another.
Frank visualized a pick tool probing the tumblers of the disengaged deadbolt, guided by hands taking direction from a brain that didn’t know about the length of pipe laid across two L-brackets just above the doorknob on the inside. Frank didn’t use the deadbolt because he didn’t have the key.
He threw back his blanket and groped the darkness for his boots, then pulled them on without making a sound. The noise at the door stopped, then restarted with less caution. Not the police, Frank thought. Cops would have reconnoitered the abandoned restaurant first, and would know the steel door that opened into the alley was the only way in or out of the ten-by-ten storage room. Besides, cops didn’t pick locks, they knocked down doors with rams, or blew them with explosives.
If not cops then who? A bounty hunter, perhaps, or someone out to settle an old score. Frank had lots of old scores against him. He also had more sense than to seal himself into a room with only one way out.

Red Eyes is scheduled for release in early 2015. For the most up to date information, like my Facebook Page, follow me on Twitter, check out my website, or subscribe to this blog (enter your email address in the subscription box to the right of this post).

As always, thank you for reading.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Passing It On

Logan will turn twelve next month. So far he has accompanied my wife and me to every author-related event in my brief two-year stint as a published author. But more than that, Logan loves to create. In addition to writing stories, he comes up with new ideas for video games and movies (both of which he develops by acting them out in the living room, often in front of the television). For the past few weeks he has spent most of his spare time creating comic books.

Logan has a great capacity for understanding things. Sometimes I bounce ideas off him -- ideas for a scene, or a direction I'm considering for one of my novels. Most of the time his insight is spot on. He's into zombies and The Walking Dead, though, so there's that.

If you are a parent, I don't have to tell you what a thrill it is to see your child involving himself in artistic and/or intellectual activities, especially if he is following in your footsteps. Not a parent? I could probably expend a thousand words and you still wouldn't fully understand. Parents and children share a bond that can't be replicated outside that experience.

The best we can do is instill in our children an interest in positive things. A spark, then stand back and let them do with it what they will, encouraging them every step of the way without smothering them. It's a fine line to walk as a parent. I didn't do it alone, though. Not by a long shot. Sharon introduced him to our local library and makes it a regular part of their routine. Done correctly, parenting is a team sport.

Early on we noticed how much Logan looks like me. Not now, but in the old pictures of me at his age.

Logan and I have a long-standing tradition of "storytime" before he goes to bed. Not so much now, but we still do it from time to time. Storytime for us has never been a retelling of the old standards. Early on he let me know he doesn't care a wit about three billy goats, or a trio of bears breaking into a little boy's home and sleeping in his bed. Logan wanted originals. Stories I made up on the fly, with him lying there on my arm. Coming up with a new and different story every night, day in and day out, year after year, was a challenge, but he has a sharp memory and refused to let me tell the same one twice.

A few nights ago he asked me to read the latest scene in the comic book he is writing. Our conversation went something like this:

"I used to wonder how you came up with all those good stories," he said. "I wondered where your ideas came from. All those stories and you never told a bad one. I just realized that I'm coming up with ideas for comic books. They just come to me and it's not that hard."

I said something about being proud of him, and told him he has a huge talent. As he walked away, he stopped and turned to me and said, "I get that from you."

Yeah, it felt every bit as good as you're thinking it did.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Meeting Readers

book signing

Basically, I'm an introvert. More Type B than A. In school I was so shy the shy kids probably wondered what was wrong with me. On the other hand, once I'm comfortable around someone, or some group, I tend to make up for all those other times when I didn't say much. Hint: if you find yourself wishing I would shut the hell up, it probably means I feel relaxed around you, so much so that it's okay if you tell me to shut up.

As a little boy I used to hide under the kitchen table when company would come. Sometimes, if they stayed long enough, I would come out and talk their ears off, probably making them wish I would crawl back under and leave them alone.

I still get nervous when I speak to groups, but I think (hope) I'm getting better at handling it. The unexpected thing for me was how nervous I get at book signings. Book signings can either be great (you sell a lot of books and meet a lot of readers), or they can be not so great. When I first started, I feared the day I would have a signing and no one show up. Okay, I've done that. That one is out of the way. There may be more, but there will never be that first time again, so it's okay.

Last weekend I had the honor of signing books at an event to benefit a local hospice. It went well. It went great, in fact, and not just because of how many books I sold. It was a great day because of how many people stopped by my table and said good things about my books, or simply told me they had heard good things about them. What made it more special was that I didn't know any of them. Don't get me wrong, I love it when friends, family, and acquaintances tell me they like my books, but when people you don't know tell you, it lets you know your circle of readers is expanding. You sense something of a momentum, and it makes you work harder to build on it.

I'm still an introvert. I've always considered myself a bit odd. Out of my element in almost any crowd, but meeting my readers face to face, signing a book for them, posing for the occasional picture ... those are the parts of being a writer that I never saw coming. For someone who considers himself fairly good with words, I find it hard to encapsulate exactly what that feels like. Readers, by nature, are intelligent and insightful. To have your work -- your creation -- accepted by them, sometimes praised by them, is a very satisfying thing. It's exciting, inspiring, and humbling. Yes, humbling, because you realize that without your readers you would serve no purpose. Because of them, you are able to live a dream.

* * *
You can find my books all over the place. To date I've released three: The Night Train, Norton Road, and Blinders. You can find me at my website, on Facebook, or Twitter, but you won't find me under any tables.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Halloween Story

A Bag of Snickers

by Carl Pardon

Cort Hatcher hadn’t always been a drunk, but a drunk he was and there was no denying it. He opened the door of his mobile home and stepped out onto the plank porch in his bare feet. It was cold, the first cold morning of the season. Soon the frost would come and coat the landscape with brown. His was a small lot but private, with trees of varying species dotting his yard. Fall was his favorite time of year but it never failed to plunge him into melancholy.
            He eased himself into the wooden swing that hung from the rafters by chains and cradled a hot cup of coffee between his massive hands, hands that had once been hard and calloused. A gentle breeze blew right through his white cotton t-shirt and green checked pajama bottoms.
            “It’s cold this morning.” Sometimes Cort talked to himself. He raised the blue cup to his lips and took a sip. “That’s hot. Feels good, though.”
            The coffee warmed him but his system needed more. “Not today. We’re not giving in this time.” Even as he spoke the words, his mind slipped through the door, to the kitchen, and into the cabinet beside the refrigerator. Whiskey. “No. It’s Halloween and I can’t be drunk when they come this time.” He remained in the swing and took a deep breath. It was not quite cold enough yet to see his breath when he exhaled. “Not this time.”
            Every year Cort decorated his yard with square bales of hay and jack-o-lanterns. Ghosts and goblins hung from his trees by the dozen. Some people go overboard with Christmas decorations but not Cort. Halloween was his obsession. When he finally rose from the swing he descended the concrete steps, three of them, and made an inspection of the decorations. It wouldn’t do to appear sloppy tonight.
            Each tick of the clock brought Cort one second closer to nightfall. His hands trembled as his internal organs thirsted for alcohol. By noon his head pounded. Even his eyes ached. “Just a few more hours. We can do it. A promise is a promise.” He paced the floor, ate a sandwich for lunch, then went out into the yard and checked the ghosts and goblins again. Not a second passed that the bottle in the kitchen didn’t cross his mind. At two o’clock he drove to town and bought a single bag of miniature Snickers and a dozen red roses. When he returned home, he placed them on the coffee table and stood back to admire them, then sighed and checked the clock again.
            At long last the sun began to slide below the tree line. Inch by inch it fell until all that remained was a faint splash of orange in the western sky. They would come soon. He had to be ready. How surprised they would be to find him sober this year. He made one more pass through the yard, this time lighting the candles inside the jack-o-lanterns. Nine glowing pumpkins would greet them. Last year there were eight. Next year, ten.
            Cort stepped back inside and turned off the living room light, leaving the porch light on of course, lest they think him not at home. There was no bottle on his mind now, not now. Sobriety felt strange to him, though, like some long lost recollection that can no longer be. “They should be coming any minute now.” He waited.
            An hour passed. They were late. Then another. Perhaps they weren’t coming this year. Suddenly he wondered if their visits had been no more than drunken fantasies? His heart raced. His throat grew tight. He needed a drink. “No! Not yet. They’ll come. They have to come.”
            Fifteen more minutes and still no lights in the driveway. The tremble in his hands was violent now, so violent he could barely hold a glass of water without wetting the floor. “Just one little drink. Something to calm me. They can’t see me shaking like this.” He rushed to the kitchen and pulled open the cabinet door. There it sat. All day it had taunted him. He reached in and grabbed it, then hesitated. “Just one drink. One! Not two.” He twisted the cap off and raised the bottle to his lips. The aroma of the dark whiskey calmed him. The doorbell rang.
            “Trick or treat!”
            Cort jumped at the sound. “They’re here! And to think I almost ruined it.” He recapped the bottle and returned it to its spot beside the crackers then hurried to the front door. On the porch stood a boy of six and a woman of twenty seven, both dressed in costumes. Cort knew their ages because he knew their identity.
            “Ah, look at you! You’re a pirate this year. Grand.” Cort pushed open the door and stepped out onto the porch and immediately fell to his knees in front of the boy. “I was afraid you weren’t coming.” He reached out but the boy withdrew. “Yes, I’m sorry. No touching.” He looked up at the boy’s mother and strained to see her face behind the black veil. Her costume never changed. She wore the garb of a lady in mourning.
            “Take off your mask, Timmy, and let me look at you,” Cort said to the boy. The boy raised the pirate mask and smiled. “I’m sober this year,” Cort said. “Just like I promised. Are Snickers still your favorite?”
            “Yes, daddy,” the boy said.
            “Oh, look at me,” Cort said, fighting back the tears in his eyes. “I’ve forgotten to bring them out. Wait right here. Don’t leave.” He pushed himself to his feet and quickly retrieved the bag of candy and the roses from the coffee table. When he turned back toward the door his visitors were gone. He ran outside and called for them, yelled for all he was worth, then fell to his knees and sobbed like a child, clutching the bag of Snickers and the roses to his chest. Almost an hour passed before he righted himself and began to walk down the driveway. When he reached the road he turned left. Gravel crunched beneath his feet with every step.
            With nothing but the moon to light his way, Cort walked for two miles then turned right into a narrow drive, then through a metal gate. He could navigate the cemetery with his eyes closed, as the moon was not always so bright when he came here. There is nothing more private than a cemetery at night. He walked leftward, along the fence for twenty paces, then right for fifteen more. Sometimes he counted them off as he walked, but not tonight.
            Two headstones stood side by side, the bottom dates the same. Nine years ago today. Halloween. “Timothy Ray Hatcher. Born June 23, 1995. Died October 31, 2001,” he said aloud. There were no tears now. He had cried himself dry. “Janet Ann Hatcher. Born August 3, 1975. Died October 31, 2001. In God’s loving arms.”
            Cort stared at the granite for a long time, then placed the bag of candy before one and the roses before the other. It was a slow walk home. At times he forgot where he was or what he was doing, such was his grief. When he reached the end of his driveway, the eastern horizon had an orange glow. The nine jack-o-lanterns in his yard were silent, their faces dark. The ghosts and goblins hung motionless out of respect as he made his way up the driveway, onto the porch, and into the kitchen. “Three hundred and sixty five more days,” he said, as he opened the cabinet beside the refrigerator.

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