I am a woman of considerable age and I admit the stories my grandfather told me as a child still bring fear to my soul.
The last two mornings I have traveled to work in a dense fog. The fog was so thick in spots I was unable to see more than an arm’s length away. If I hadn’t known where I was going I would have gotten lost in the scariness. My grandfather was a storyteller. The best Pride has ever seen. I loved his stories, even the ones that frightened me. Many a night after listening to my grandfather, tell his tales I crouched beneath my bed quilts in fear.
My favorite stories contained mighty and ferocious dragons. According to my grandfather, dragons were misunderstood wondrous creatures of flight. A dragon by nature was not a killing beast but a guardian of gateways to magical realms. They only ate bad children who continuously misbehaved and caused their parents unbearable stress and grief. Dragons hid in the early morning mist and used the fog to travel between the realms.
This morning after reaching the Clinch River Bridge, the memories of my youth came flooding back. The dense fog reminded me of dragons. The bridge is old and needs replaced. A slow steady pace is required on a clear day. The journey across on a day when you can’t see where you are going is treacherous. Halfway across I stumble over a broken board. I fell and scraped my knee. The pain took me by surprise. I yelled a few words that I won’t repeat here. As I picked myself up, I saw two emerald green eyes racing toward me and hear a screeching that sounded very much like the cry of a dragon. I covered my head and crouched in fear. There was a brief moment when I was certain a dragon was going to eat me.
It was not a dragon but Mr. Fredericks driving a motor cart. He was on his way home. If I hadn’t fallen on my knee and cried out in pain, he wouldn’t have known I was on the bridge. Mr. Fredericks apologized for nearly running me over and promised not to tell my husband I swear like a sailor.
An Ordinary Woman
I am an ordinary woman with a strong sense of pride for my family. I have decided to keep a diary and record the events of my humble existence. My lineage is common. I claim no heroes or persons of interest to entice you to read my story. I have a fine husband and five well-behaved children. I live in the town of Pride in a house that is unremarkable. We are not poor or wealthy but comfortable within our means. Pride is not an extraordinary place; we have a king and a grand castle that sits majestically on a hill. Trolls do not inhabit our mote although rumors would have you believe otherwise. If you travel to the north, south, east or west there are other kings and other towns many claim inhabitants of wizards, fairies, griffins, gnomes and other mystical creatures.
Today, I am tired and feel moody. I want to return home, crawl into bed, and hide from the world. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option. I have to work. My husband and children depend on me to help provide. I am envious of the lucky ones who are financially stable and fortunate enough to stay at home. I shouldn’t complain. I have a roof over my head and food on my table. Many people who could benefit from employment are unemployed. Their lives are dreary in comparison to mine.
I was exhausted by the time I crawled into bed last night at 10pm. My gallant husband worked the night shift. He was assisting the town physician. Sadly, he wasn’t home to sleep beside me. I have always needed his touch to fall into peaceful slumber. Without him, I am a restless sleeper. Last night I dreamt a bizarre dream about floating in the clouds. I was lost and uncertain of my flight path. Blue birds filled the sky and spoke to me. I struggled to understand their message as strange images filled my head. For unknown reasons my eyes popped open a few minutes after midnight. I sat up in bed with an overwhelming feeling of confusion and the need to remember something important. Enticing my brain to be quiet and sleep again was difficult.
I woke at 5:45am. Surprisingly, my youngest daughter was asleep beside me. I don’t know when she climbed into my bed; I usually wake at the slightest crack of the floorboards leading to my room. The child has developed the stealthiest of footsteps and uncanny ability to slither into my bed unnoticed, a skill her older siblings never achieved. My husband offered to fix the creaking floorboards years ago but I declined his offer. The boards have always been an early warning system of sorts and a comfort on the nights that I must sleep alone.
After a quick shower, I stumbled down the stairs for coffee. It is nearly an impossible task to start my day without a dose of caffeine. I left for work shortly thereafter. I moaned the entire way hoping an excuse would drop from the sky and give me reason to return home.
I am covering for Beth this week. She has taken leave to spend time with her husband whom she has not seen or had contact for more than a year. He is a member of the king’s peacekeeping regiment and has been away on a special duty assignment. Except for official letters, mail service is practically nonexistent from that part of the world. The only communication Beth received from her husband was a short message via emissary on her birthday.
This work is quiet, too quiet. I prefer the constant work of my office. The King is busy. His secretary has only approved a handful of visitors today. Verifying authenticity of documents and audience approval only takes a moment and then I sit and wait for the next visitor. I spend a great deal of time pacing around my desk or playing with my pencil.
Time moves slow as I sit in my chair behind these gray walls. I ponder what other people are doing. The only noise I hear is the air conditioning unit and the movement of the second-hand on the grandfather clock. I occasionally hear the clicking of taps on the wood floor from the guard’s shoes as he passes. The silence is driving me insane. I need music or the distraction of conversation.
People occasionally walk by my window on the way to other parts of the castle. I stop and look. I am able to see the tops of heads, their identities a mystery and so I play a guessing game. I wonder where they are going and if their business is important. I haven’t heard at peep out of any of the people in the nearby administration offices all day except for a single sneeze. I replied, “Bless you” but got no answer in reply.
If you want people to treat you with respect and dignity show them your honorable side. Get an education, work hard and give back to your community. Respect Authority. Respect your neighbors and their property. Accept responsibility for your mistakes and failures. Make amends while standing tall. Be proud of your accomplishments. Those who love you want to shout from the rooftops how awesome you are! I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving.
The Cost of Debt
Family debt forced mothers and fathers to surrender their children to the state-run Office of Financial affairs. As commodities of the state, children could be bought and sold until the age of 18. By law, the collectors could gather children to satisfy unpaid debt using any means necessary.
It was too late. Pleading for more time and promising to sell a kidney, she watched as the collector and two armed security guards load her eight year old son into the back of a truck. The boy was crying. He begged not to go. She yelled out his name and cried, “I’ll get you back!”
The Truck Driver
The truck was government- issue, purchased from an army surplus sale. The driver worked as a subcontractor for the Office of Financial Affairs delivering cargo to different Vocational Education Programs around the country. He wore an old tattered shirt and a leather jacket that had seen better days. He smelled of armpit, cigar smoke and fast food.
The driver laughed as he pulled himself into the cab of the truck. His cargo this trip consisted of two dozen frightened children on a one-way trip to hell.
The Diner Owner
The young man behind the counter was tall and lean. His dark curly hair handed down from his mother; “God rest her soul”. With a heavy sigh, he wraps the food-stained apron around his waist. He loathed this place: the counter, the stove, the constant smell of grease. The diner and its associated debt belonged to his dead parents; their lives stolen as they returned home from a friend’s anniversary party by a drunk driver grieving the loss of his cheating girlfriend.
Matt considered abandoning the diner and its associated debt to attend college but his younger brother would suffer the consequences. The boy was only 15, and considered property of his parent’s estate. The Office of Financial Affairs could legally tag the boy as a commodity and sell him into slavery to pay off his parent’s debts. He would not reach the age of independence for three years.
Her entire wardrobe consisted of half a dozen blue waitress uniforms. As a child, she had been a commodity; life was hell. Her teenage years spent on the run fighting to survive in a world that treats children as less than human. Her employment at the diner began at the age of 18. The previous owner and father of the young man behind the counter had been good to her. She cried the day he died.
A member of a secret society of child advocates, she aids runners in evading capture by the retrievers.
He was in his mid-thirties but he looked older. 10 years spent as a retriever of runners had caused not one but two ulcers to develop in his stomach. He wore a black suit as required by the agency. A 9mm .40 cal semi-automatic pistol and a badge rested on his belt. The badge gave him the authority to capture runners. Dead or alive it didn’t matter. He had a quota and he was running behind this month.
The rain pounding on his windshield was making it difficult to see. He pulled into the Diner parking lot. The signal from the girl was weak but she was somewhere in the area. He slapped the side the tracking device a couple of times before giving it a big shake. The damn thing never worked right.
The Waitress Pt.2
The moment the diner door chimed, she knew a retriever had walked in. They all looked the same, black suit, badge and firearm displayed on their belts. This one looked unhappy. Something weighed heavy on his mind.
He walked to the counter and took the first available seat.
“What can I get you?” She asked as she listened for the young couple’s exit thru the backdoor.
“Just Coffee and toast.” he replied as he fidgeted with the non-functioning tracking device. The girl was close. He could feel it. If it weren’t for office budget cuts and a freeze on buying new equipment, he’d have this commodity bagged and tagged for the landfill.
“You look like you could use a hardy meal. The boy in the back makes a tasty breakfast platter. Let me serve that up for you.” She slaps the counter to get his attention. “It’s on the house!”
The diner was a temporary stopping place, a safe haven from the torrential downpour outside. The booth made of old wood was cold and drafty but offered a clear view of the road. Exhausted from their journey, her head of brown curls resting on his tired shoulders she whispers, “I love you”.
The waitress brings the weary travelers two glasses of water and a day old cinnamon bun. The young man scratches his stubbly chin and nods in appreciation. He could offer no more. His pockets were empty.
The waitress sighs, “There would be no tip from this table”. The Young Man
The young man’s tracking device ceased to function the day he turned 18. In a few months, the device implanted at the age of four would break down leaving a small scar, the only evidence of his forced servitude. He stood released from the life of a commodity. The Vocational Education Program that bound him, as slave labor could no longer force him to work. He walked a free man. His life his own, he could travel anywhere, go to college or seek employment. All traces of his life in hell erased from the books, sealed by the courts as governed by law.
The young man looked out the window; the rain slowed to a drizzle. “We gotta go,” he said nudging his girlfriend out of the booth. The Young Girl
Her brown curls were from her drug- addicted mother. Her father unknown, he could have been one of a thousand men. Life as a commodity started at the age of four. If the state penitentiary had welcomed her mother a couple years sooner she might have had a chance at adoption and a good home.
Her days of picking vegetables and daily devotional were numbered. Too old for the needs of the church, the elders had taken her picture and marked her for sale. The caption on the bottom of the Commodity Trade show flyer indicated she was a good reliable worker. She ran away from hell to stay with the young man. Pursued by a retriever, her tracking device still functioned.
Life in Bear Country was written by Marsha Loftis as a blog from 2004 to 2006. The blog was deleted years ago. I have decided to revive it with some additional content. All 164 journal entries were podcast when it was originally written. I’m not saying the writing is great or even mediocre but decided not sharing all that hard work would be a waste.
I’m not sure exactly what day this whole thing started. I never watched the news. I was a kid doing my own thing. I didn’t care what was happening around me as long as I could spend time with my friends. I remember my Dad saying how sad it was that a mother of three small children had died from the flu. Then someone else died, then someone else and then quarantine. Life fell apart after that.
We were told to stay in our homes. Stay away from other people. Don’t go out in the streets. Doctors were working on a cure. People panicked, they left town to get help from other hospitals. This was a mistake. Soon the news was filled with stories about epidemics, people dying by the hundreds, then the thousands.
My dad was a part of the homeland security team. He was working with the town government trying to keep things under control. Unfortunately, his efforts and the efforts of others didn’t help. The virus continued to spread. The death toll continued to rise and soon bodies began to pile up on the streets. It was awful. Our entire town smelled like death.
My mother died first. My heart hurt so bad. I wanted to die. My father was already sick. I could tell his heart was broken too. He died a couple of days later. I laid on my bed and cried for a couple of days hoping death would take me too. The only thing that took hold of me was hunger.
Children were left to survive on their own. Death prayed on the smallest children. Babies died in their cribs. Toddlers starved to death because they couldn’t get out of their homes. The older children began to ban together and form tribes. The Bear Tribe was formed when about a dozen children and I moved into the Bear Country High School on LaFayette Blvd. We survived but life wasn’t easy.
I have always wanted to be a writer. I think my Dad bought me my first journal when I was in the 1st grade. I have kept a journal ever since. This is my story. The following journal entries are a brief view of my life.