Hold On Tight To Your Dreams

Hello there. Welcome to jimmiekepler.com, the blog of a writer, poet, and polymath named Jimmie Aaron Kepler. This is Jim Kepler.

On my blog, I communicate about how I write, my writing process, and how I manage to do it while maintaining a life. From time to time I’ll interview other authors on the same subjects.

I don’t have all the answers. Like you I struggle. My struggle is a thirty-five plus years journey of writing while working a day job, being a husband, father, grandfather and caregiver.

Presently I work full time as an Applications Support Engineer for a Fortune 500 privately held company. I average 45 hours a week on my day job. I spend another ten to fifteen hours a week in my car during my daily commute. I am the primary caregiver for my wife of forty-plus years who is battling Stage IV Melanoma Cancer and Neuroendocrine Cancer. I also am the primary caregiver for my ninety years old father who lives 50 miles from me with all of the city of Dallas, Texas and its traffic in-between. He still drives and lives on his own.

Today I am the blog’s guest. My name is Jim Kepler. I earned a bachelor of arts degree in history with minors in English and military science from The University of Texas at Arlington and a master of religious education and master of arts degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I later earned a doctor of education degree as well as completed the core curriculum of a computer science degree.

Relax, I promise not to hit you over the head or between the eyes with the Bible. I confess I write science fiction with faith where I include Christianity and other belief systems. I try to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.

Since high school, I wanted to write. I was told writing was not a real job for a man who would someday need to support a wife and children. Graduating from college, I did three years active duty as a commissioned officer in the US Army. I then headed to grad school.

When I finished graduate school, I started taking writing seriously. I attend my first writer’s conference. There I was offered a nonfiction magazine article assignment. I jumped at the opportunity.

Over the next fifteen years, I wrote, sold, and had published one to three articles a year. I was paid at professional writing rates. I penned a weekly newspaper column for fifteen years. I also wrote a nonfiction book, sold it, and then had the kill fee clause in the book’s contract executed. I was paid twenty percent of the contract by the publisher to cancel the book. I was devastated. I started losing my motivation to write.

Then life seemed to get in the way. I did a major career change where I started doing a large amount of corporate training, technical writing, and curriculum writing. I also went back to college and faced the common challenges of career, parenting three teenagers, having my wife develop a serious illness, and caring for aging parents.

Because of this, I took a ten years break from writing articles. I still wrote and worked on a few poems. I also started writing and publishing book reviews in the military history field as well as blogging. I did not write any book-length manuscripts, magazine articles, short stories, etc. during this season of life.

In 2007 I was revisited by my Muse. She encouraged me to start writing again. This time I started over as a newbie. Instead of writing nonfiction I decided to write short stories, historical fiction, and my favorite, science fiction.

That same year I started the next great American novel, joined an excellent writers group, and started writing and submitting short stories and poems. Along the way, I sold a few short stories as well as placed at some writing contests.

The writing contest affirmations of my skills helped my ego and increased my drive. Somewhere in this time, I learned the need to focus. My focus was improved by listening to podcasts on writing like Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” and Joann Penn’s “The Creative Penn.”  Dean Koontz and Diana Gabaldon also were podcasting during this time and provided great insights and motivation.

I took me three years to complete that first novel. It was historical fiction. I went the traditional route pitching it to agents at Cons, small press acquisition editors, and publishers at more Cons, and finally self-publishing the first novel to minimal sales. It proved to be of great value as it showed me I could complete a book. I have since written the first two books of a four-book science fiction series.

Through the years I found myself wanting to be a full-time writer so bad I could taste it. I modeled the habits of the people who successfully transitioned from day job to full-time writer. I started writing an hour a day before work, giving my best time and effort to my writing before going to the day job. I would also write for two to three hours on Saturday.

So I’m chasing the dream. In the weeks ahead we’ll pursue the dream together and meet other writers pursuing their dreams.

And you’ll be reminded to hold on tight to your dreams.

One Great Way to Write a Short Story

ETBU CertificateI am a “second-rate” short story writer.

Why would I say that? “Exhibit A” shows the answer. It is a certificate documenting my second-place finish in the short story writing contest of the East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. I have never won a short story competition but have finished in second place.

I have written and even sold short stories. Over the years, I have entered short story contests. I am still seeking that elusive “first place” in a short story contest.

In my quest to win a contest, I have become a student of the short story form. Here is what I call “One Great Way to Write a Short Story.” It begins with planning.

PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL

I would never start writing a short story without at least a rough outline to tell me where I am going.  I recommend jotting down the answers to a few questions. The answers provide the framework for where the story is going.

The first step in writing a short story is a planning exercise. Plan your short story in advance by answering questions in three areas:

The subject – Who is the main character? What is the problem?

The story –What is the character’s motivation to solve the problem? What actions occur to address the problem?

The resolution – What are results of the character’s acts to resolve the problem? What change does the character undertake because of that action?

HOW I DO IT – STEP BY STEP

1. The Character

I decide about whom I am going to write. You have one central character in the story. It might a soldier returning home. It could be an astronaut. It might be about a businessperson. The reader will identify with that person.

2. The Problem

What is it that the main character struggles with that he or she may not have an instant need to resolve? It is a problem the character has had for a while but has not had an immediate need to solve. An example would be if I were writing about a businesswoman who obtained an executive position using a falsified resume. She may not have an immediate need to deal with the issue.

3. The Motivation

Why does the main character decide to solve the problem? I’ll use the businesswoman with the falsified resume as an example.

It could be that she has accepted a position on the board of directors for a prominent community organization like the United Way. The local media decides to do a feature story on her background. In this case, I need to put in the appropriate backstory – her claiming to have a prestigious Ivy League graduate degree when she had dropped out of college before obtaining her undergraduate degree. Now she is in a position that requires an accredited four-year college degree as well as MBA. She realizes she is about to be found out with embarrassment to herself, her employer, and maybe she could even have to resign.

4. The Action

What does the main character do to solve the problem? What does she do to correct the situation? Maybe she confesses to her company’s president, or she may try to resign quietly from the board of directors for a prominent community organization for personal reasons trying to avoid being exposed and hoping it will just go away.

5. The Result

What happens because of the character’s attempt to solve the problem? Maybe she tells the president and he dismisses her. The employer takes legal action against her demanding restitution from her for fraudulently obtained wages. He takes her to court and wins. She is required to make restitution of tens of thousands of dollars and has her reputation destroyed.

6. The Change

Perhaps at this point, the character struggles financially, loses her large home and country club lifestyle. Maybe her friends desert her. She is unable to get a job because of her lying on the resume. She could go back to school and complete the education she had claimed.  Maybe she becomes an advocate for ethical business practices.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Remember the main character needs a good reason for what they are doing. They need to act consistently to who they are. You need to set up every incident in the story. If the character obtained a high position using a falsified resume, make sure you set this up by doing a flashback or remembrance where she is sitting typing the resume and then clicks submit thinking no one ever checks a resume. If you bring it up, you must conclude it. This refers to the conflict in the story. If you have any conflict, you need to resolve it before ending the story.

Once you have planned your short story, you will be able to write it. My guess is by following these simple principles you too can write a short story. Moreover, just maybe it will be “second-rate” or even better.


This article original appeared in “Author Culture,” September 17, 2014


Enjoy the short story “The Cup.”  The idea for it came from a writing prompt in my writer’s group. In ten-minutes I wrote the thumb nail first draft.

The Cup

by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

 

“It’s too hot! Get the coffee out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out!”

At first I looked around the room trying to find where the yelling was coming from. As I did a visual sweep of the area, I noticed the patrons staring in my direction. The voice originated from the lone ceramic cup on my table. I stared at it.

“It’s too hot. Oh, it’s too hot. I can’t take it anymore!” screamed the cup once more. “Get the coffee out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out! Please, hurry, hurry.”

Can’t be. My coffee cup is crying out in pain. Must be a trick, yes a trick.

My graying hair stood on edge. I had felt a strange current moving through the room just as the cries began. It slammed hard into me sending an electric charge through my body. It knocked me into my chair.

“Is there a problem?” asked John craning his neck to look around the counter. He was the manager on duty. His gaze had both a concern and what the heck are you doing tone.

“The cup I bought from YOU is screaming,” I said in a loud voice.

As if on cue the cup yelled, “It’s too hot. I can’t take it anymore. Get the coffee out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out!”

The cup’s wailing was so thunderous that it drowned my voice as its misery tones echoed off the walls of the coffee shop.

I had a barista empty the coffee from my cup. The cries stopped. I had it refilled. The lamentation returned.

There was no mistake. The howling originated from the ceramic cup with the Starbuck’s logo on its side. The cup seemed sensitive to hot beverages; when filled with hot coffee the blood curdling screams returned.

Pour out the hot liquid and the noise stopped but then drops of moisture formed and flowed down the side of the cup like tears.

“No,” I will not refund your money,” John said when I tried to return it. “I can’t resell used coffee cups. The health department would shut me down. If the health department shut me down where would you buy your coffee?”

“But it’s haunted,” I pleaded.

“It must be some sort of a voice throwing kind of trick on your part,” he said. “If you don’t cut it out I will have to ask you to leave. I do reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Everyone continued staring at me and the cup.

“But, you sold me the cup. Something is wrong with it.”

I decided to get the cup examined. But before taking it to a professional, I gave it a cursory inspection.

I looked in the cup. There was nothing inside but the glaze paint and a few drops of cold coffee.

I looked at the handle of the cup. I was just a handle. There were no tiny speakers or sensors.

Turning the cup upside down, I carefully scrutinized its base. Again I found zilch.

“Maybe there is a heat sensitive computer chip embedded in the bottom of the cup?” suggested a recently hired barista. He was an electrical engineering student at the university.

I nodded.

“It may have a second circuit with a voice recording track where it yells when the liquid is of a particular temperature,” he added.

“Brilliant!” I said. Of course that had to be it. It was the only theory or comment I heard that made sense.

“We can take it to the lab at the university. I have a teacher that has access to the x-ray machine …” he said.

“Yes,” I interrupted.

“He can find even the smallest microchip.”

So we set up an appointment with Dr.Wolfgang Reinhold and his x-ray machine. He was skeptical that the cup screamed when hot liquid was placed in it. The professor initially was convinced it was some cheap parlor type trick until he held my cup in his hand, visually examined it, filled it with hot coffee, and nearly dropped it as it began screaming, “Get the coffee out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out!”

“Can’t be; this can’t be happening,” he said.

The barista and I nodded in agreement. We both were still as confused as the engineering professor.

“There has to be a scientific explanation,” said Dr. Reinhold.

The doubt in his voice was not reassuring.

“That’s why we want to get the x-ray,” said the barista who was studying engineering.

“Yes, the x-ray. I will prove scientifically that this is someone’s cheap trick, said Dr. Reinhold.

 

#

 

He just kept looking at the monitor and the nothingness it revealed.

“Let me check the calibration,” he said. “There must be something wrong with the x-ray machine.”

He fiddled with some buttons, knobs, and checked settings on the computer.

“Well?” I asked.

“I think you need Dr. Spurgeon Smith,” said an exasperated Dr. Reinhold.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“He’s a religion teacher,” said the barista.

“Religion?” I questioned.

“The cup must be possessed of Satan. You need an exorcism to remove the demons,” said Dr. Reinhold.

“What the devil?” I said.

“No, not what the devil, but where is the devil or demon? And the where is he question’s answer is he is living in that cup!” Now get it out of here. It must be possessed!” said Dr. Reinhold as he pointed to the door.

 

#

 

I called making an appointment with Dr. Spurgeon Smith. It was several days before he could see me and my cup. In the mean time, I made the mistake of washing the cup.

The police were called by my neighbors as the screams from the cup escaped my dishwasher and penetrated the apartment walls.

The police were not amused.

“What are you trying to pull?” said the older sergeant.

“I am not trying to pull anything,” I assured him.

“It is coming from your dishwasher,” said the younger patrolman. His hand was visibly shaking as he pointed to the appliance. “I think you have someone in there.”

“This isn’t funny,” said the sergeant. “He opened the dishwasher door in mid wash cycle.

“Hey, what are you doing?” I shouted. “You are getting soap and water all over my kitchen floor.”

“You can clean it up,” he snapped back at me.

“The screams stopped,” said the younger officer.

“Of course it quit. When you opened the door it stopped the wash cycle,” I said.

Well for the next ten minutes I explained about the cup to the policeman.

Two days later when I finally got out of the mental unit at the hospital I made my way back home, picked up the cup and made my way to the appointment with Dr. Spurgeon Smith.

The reverend doctor had no explanation. He filled it with holy water, of both the cold and hot variety. The cold holy water had no effect.

When the hot holy water was poured in the cup, there was an immediate response.

“It’s too hot,” screeched the cup. “Get the hot water out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out!”

 

#

 

I thought of throwing the cup away or smashing it. Each time I began to smash it with my hammer the drops of moisture would form on the side of the cup like tears. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. What if it were somehow … alive? I couldn’t destroy a living thing.

I was being psychotic, even obsessed by the cup. I feared how the other cups would behave if I destroyed my Starbucks’ cup.

Over time, there would be a large puddle of water under and around the cup if I left it alone. Apparently the droplets of moisture would form on the cup’s side and slowly trickle down like tears when it was left unaccompanied, so I decided I couldn’t leave the cup by itself.

The cup started going with me to work. A well meaning co-worker filled it with coffee. Immediately throughout the office was heard “It’s too hot,” screeched the cup. “Get the coffee out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out!”

The cries faded rather quickly as security escorted me and my cup from the building. I was told my final check would be in the mail.

 

#

 

The cup and I got a job with a travelling carnival. People would pay a small amount to see me pour hot coffee into it and then hear the screams. Three local television stations and two national cable news channels did a story on my cup.

Everyone said it had to be a trick, a fraud, fake, but no one could figure-out how the cup screamed and cried. The cup and I were making enough money, but we didn’t have any extra.

Then it happened. Someone kidnapped my cup. I even received a ransom request. The wanted me to pay them $100,000.00 to have the cup returned.

As I read the note, I started laughing. I chuckled for five minutes. Tears of joy began streaming down my cheeks.

I again felt an electric charge throughout my body. This time I could feel it exiting and moving from my room. I relaxed for the first time since the cup entered my life. I was free. Free. Free!

For the first time in months, my now totally gray hair wasn’t standing on edge.

 

#

 

Many years later I was traveling out west. One evening in my hotel room the local television station carried a news story about a small carnival that was in the city. They had a news story about a screaming cup.

I quickly checked out of my hotel room, got into my car and sped far away as fast as I could.

In the distance, I thought I heard a faint, “It’s too hot. Get the coffee out of me now before it scalds me to death! Get it out!”

And somewhere out west the cup shed a tear.

Final Note:

I’m an entrepreneurial indie author. I published the short story on Amazon. It’s highest ranking was on August 1, 2016.

Overall it has an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,546.
#23 in Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Literature & Fiction
#27 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Horror > Short Stories

It is also ranked as high as # 36 in the UK and # 60 in Germany Amazon markets.


Jimmie Aaron KeplerJimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. He holds BA, MA, MRE and EdD degrees. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. He is the author of seven books and collections available on Amazon. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Charlie’s Bells by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Charlie’s Bells by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Pummerin Stephansdom Vienna July 2008 P02Jackson Smith lived in the pale-yellow house with the whitewashed picket fence on Second Street. When he first arrived in town, he had already accepted a new position with the First State Bank. He brought with him a small inheritance from his favorite aunt, so he had not hesitated to purchase the three-gabled structure. Jackson prized the large porch on the house’s west side. He envisioned himself swaying gently on the wide swing. Handsomely painted a peaceful gray, Jackson had it repainted a cheerful pale yellow to please his new bride when they married two years later. Since then, he spent many an enjoyable evening on that porch. The charm of Jackson’s home was appealing. An advantage was its’ location, just one block north of the County Courthouse and the bank.

Jackson possessed a keen intellect. He enjoyed strong, good looks, a healthy shock of sable brown hair, smiling amber brown eyes and naturally straight white teeth. The only flaw found in Jackson Smith was he would not attend church. He had been enlightened at State University. One religion professor taught church attendance wasn’t necessary. That man’s teachings was validation for Jackson’s inclination towards the avoidance of church interiors.

Jackson avowed his Christian belief but insisted on sleeping on Sunday mornings. It was with a good-natured yet firm resolve that he rebuffed the invitations to attend the sermons of Dr. George Whitefield Jones. He visited a few times when he first moved to town and joined the church.

Since Jackson could answer anyone’s questions on Christianity with his thorough Bible knowledge and rhetorical prowess, even Dr. Jones left him alone. This has been particularly true since Jackson subscribed to the church budget based on his gross income. He was one of the church’s top five contributors while never attending. That was truly the only gossip the mongers could muster on the man.

Anyone familiar with small town customs knows that such a refined, young man cannot be allowed to go through life unmarried. The eagle-eyed wife of a bank trustee spotted Jackson within days of his arrival. She set to work matchmaking Jackson with her beautiful, debutante granddaughter who was of marrying age. She thought, Julia needed a husband and so she went to work.

The scheming matchmaker worked to pair the two, her activities so blatant that both parties and half the town knew what was afoot. In the end, most felt Cupid intervened, releasing the twin arrows from his bow that pierced the paired lover’s hearts.

Jackson was happy the meddling trustee’s wife had insisted her granddaughter visit that first summer. He thought it endearing how she had plotted so many events to bring them together. They were soon courting and then engaged.

As the impending nuptials approached, Dr. Jones began lobbying Julia to have Jackson pay for the repair of the church bells so they might ring out gloriously in celebration of their wedding.

Julia imagined her wedding day, a perfect June morning with a blue sky, she and Jackson exiting the church and laughing at being drowned in showers of rice. Dr. Jones had vividly planted the suggestion of wedding bells ringing. Julia, too often indulging in her favorite wedding daydream, actually began hearing the church bells ringing.

When Julia finally asked Jackson to pay for the bells repair, he said yes. It was a bit sad when it was discovered that the restoration turned out to be so much simpler than anticipated.  The armature holding the bell didn’t need replacing. The rope had merely become frayed and gotten caught up in the gears. It only needed untangled from the mechanism and replaced with a new line.

That Tuesday afternoon in May, the sudden ringing of the bells after so many years of their silence caught the community completely off-guard. People rushed out of their shops or stood at home on their porches admiring the sound. The melodic ringing elicited broad smiles, a few sentimental tears, and cheery goodwill.

When the wedding day arrived, it was as Julia imaged. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Smith exited the church with happy smiles as cascades of rice poured down on them. They dashed to the waiting car with the Just Married sign, the tin cans and old shoes tied to the bumper. The bells rang and rang. They resonated long and gloriously filling the blue sky with their joyous sound.

#

The Smiths were still unpacking from their honeymoon when the Richards family moved to town. Mr. Charles Richards was hired to replace the saw mill’s elderly superintendent, who after losing two of his fingers had grudgingly agreed to retire.

The Richards were an unassuming couple. Their family was small with one son, Charles Junior. Everyone called him Charlie. He had Down syndrome. It influenced his personality strongly.

Charlie was fifteen years old, always smiling and happy. He quickly gravitated towards the church. You’d find him there whenever the church doors were open. Some of the dear sisters thought maybe his mother shooed him off in the church’s direction to have some time away from the simple-minded boy, but he was not a bother. He was competent and industrious when directed towards a task that was within his abilities. He was able and willing to dust and polish pews and rake leaves. Charlie had a special talent for plugging away at the most boring and repetitive tasks. He always completed them with industry and cheerfulness than no one else would, or even could.

Charlie’s efforts saved the church money. It was with appreciation that Dr. Jones would pay Charlie a small salary. The money swelled Charlie’s heart with pride. He would take the few dollars down to the shops on the square, buy himself a comic book and a double-dip ice cream waffle cone with a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of butter praline.

The first-time Charlie heard the church bells he wanted to ring them. A young man named Tom held the bell-ringer position. When Charlie found out that Tom would be leaving for college, he began lobbying to take over Tom’s duties.

Dr. Jones liked the idea of Charlie having the bell-ringing responsibilities, but he was also concerned with Charlie’s physical and mental challenges from Down syndrome that he might injure himself. The bells were as big as Charlie and weighed hundreds of pounds. The timing and rope pulling needed to be coordinated in just the right way to be safe for the bell-ringer and pleasing to the ear. It just so happened that Tom was both an athletic young man and gifted with a musician’s sense of timing.

It also turned out Tom was kind and patient. When he learned Charlie wanted to be the bell-ringer, he taught Charlie how it was done. To begin the lessons, Tom rigged up a phony line next to his. He’d have Charlie practice pulling along with him.

This thrilled Charlie, as he didn’t understand that his rope had no effect on the bells, because when he pulled his line along with Tom, the bells rang. After several sessions of perfecting the timing with the dummy rope, Tom had Charlie assist him at pulling on the real rope so that Charlie could get used to the weight and feel of the swinging bells.

It turned out that Charlie was a natural bell-ringer. He wasn’t just competent; he was good at it! Charlie performed his duties safely. He had a natural rhythmic gift. Often when pulling the rope, he’d let the rebound lift him several feet off the ground, thrilling to it over and over. Charlie would tell his parents that he felt like an angel flying in the church, and Charlie’s mother would tell him that he was an angel.

Charlie’s bell ringing pleased just about everyone except Jackson. In his enthusiasm to please his wife and have the bells repaired, Jackson had not thought through the consequences of having fully functioning church bells so close to his home.

Jackson liked sleeping late on Sunday. He didn’t mind Julia getting up and going to Sunday services at the church. His request was she be quiet and not awaken him while she was getting dressed. Julia complied as she dressed and ate her light breakfast, but it was pointless. Julia might as well have shot off artillery in the front yard because the bells woke Jackson up just as predictably as cannons would have. Every Sunday, the bells Jackson had paid to repair caused him aggravation, even more so because he was responsible for their now flawless functioning.

Julia suggested since he was going to be woken up anyway, why not accompany her to church? Jackson almost softened but said no. He didn’t offer an explanation. It was then that she realized Jackson’s real aversion was to attending church. She pointed this out to him and gently queried him further, but this questioning was met with an uncomfortable silence. Julia decided she respected her husband enough that he could keep this secret.

Jackson decided to do something about the Sunday morning bell ringing. Dr. Jones chuckled at Jackson’s request to silence the ringing, pointing out that Sunday’s bells called the congregants to church. Dr. Jones even suggested there was a sort of positive Pavlovian response for churchgoing people to hear the ringing bells. He again thanked Jackson for having the bells restored, shared how much Charlie enjoyed ringing the bells, and the community’s appreciation. Well, that shook Jackson’s resolve. He resigned himself to wearing earplugs which didn’t always work.

One reason Jackson no longer pursued ceasing the Sunday bell ringing was Charlie. He and Julia were very fond of Charlie. The boy often stopped and drank a glass of iced tea if he walked by their home when they were sitting out on their west facing porch waiting to watch the sunset. The three of them would sit companionably enjoying the evening and chat about subjects that suited Charlie. Julia would also praise him on his bell ringing. She liked watching her husband grimace disapprovingly, but there would be that smile in his amber brown eyes.

I’ll have to resign myself to hearing the bells ring all the days of my life, he’d grumble to Julia. She countered the sounds should fill him with joy, reminding him of their wedding day. She reminded him, their marriage was the reason the bells had been repaired. Jackson knew not to argue that point.

And so, it was, every Sunday the bells announced church. This went on year after year. Charlie with his bell ringing was a faithful servant unto the Lord.

Jackson and Julia had always assumed that they would have children, but the years passed, and it just never happened. Julia sought advice from a doctor and tried some different things, but in truth, they were content just with each other.  They also enjoyed spending time with Charlie, who though he grew older was still a perpetual kid. They often took Charlie places with them, sometimes to a movie, or on an overnight trip to the lake. They would have dinner with the Richards family almost once a week, alternating homes and cooking duties.  Mr. and Mrs. Richards eventually designated the Smiths to be Charlie’s guardian should anything happen to them.

One Sunday Jackson didn’t wake up until nearly noon. No church bells were ringing to serve as his alarm.

Jackson knew immediately when Julia returned from church that something was terribly wrong; her nose was red, and her face was wet with tears that continuously streamed down her cheeks. He lightly took her shoulders and pulled her to his chest, enfolded her in his arms and asked what was wrong.  Julia could barely choke out her grief-stricken words, Charlie was about to leave for church this morning when he had a heart attack right in front of his Mama. They called Dr. Wilbur. He came right away, but they knew Charlie was dead. Dr. Wilbur said Charlie had flown to Heaven before he even reached the floor. His Mama said he was an angel now.

Now the years had been good to Jackson. His work ethic complimented his banking skills. Before he turned fifty, the board appointed him president of the First State Bank. When Julia’s grandfather passed away, he assumed his seat on the board of trustees. Jackson had remained faithful in both makings and paying his subscription to the church’s budget. He was now their largest contributor.

One morning Jackson called and made an appointment to meet with Dr. Jones. The aging minister had recently announced that he would be retiring on his seventieth birthday. Jackson wanted to meet with him while Dr. Jones was still able to help.

When he arrived at the pastor’s study, Jackson asked one question. He wanted to know who would be ringing the bells at ten o’clock A.M. every Sunday. Dr. Jones agreed there was still value in the bell ringing, but said no one was willing to commit to taking the responsibility.

A couple of more Sundays passed with Jackson sleeping away his Sunday mornings because no one rang the bells to wake him. People started arriving late at the church service because they had no church bells to remind them to hurry to church.

The weather turned to match the cold, gray attitude that settled over the town on Sundays since the church bells stopped ringing. The joy of the little Down syndrome boy who grew into a happy man that had permeated the congregation and town for a quarter of a century disappeared when the bells stopped ringing.

#

Julia came home from the Wednesday night church business meeting with all the color drained from her face. She told Jackson the church had voted to remove and sell the church bells. The value of the brass and the money obtained would be given to help those with special needs unless someone stepped forward, called by God to ring the bells.

Jackson shook his head in disbelief. He said nothing.

The next Sunday morning at ten o’clock, Julia and her Sunday school class heard the bells ringing. They closed their Bibles, picked up their purse and hurried to the bell tower curious to see who was ringing the bells. Dr. Jones left his prayers and last minute review of his sermon as soon as he heard the bells ringing. He also headed for the bell tower. This was repeated by class after class from the oldest men’s class to the older preschool class.

They all arrived at the bell tower at the same time. Someone opened the red door. Inside was the president of the First State Bank, Jackson Smith. He was pulling the rope up and down, ringing the bells. A great smile was on his face.

“What are you doing?” questioned Dr. Jones.

“I’m ringing Charlie’s bells,” said Jackson Smith.


Picture source: By Gryffindor stitched by Marku 1988. This image was created with Hugin [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Miracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story

miracleMiracle at the Gibson Farm: A Christmas Story
By Jimmie Aaron Kepler

I had a bad habit of calling my bride Joanne mama. That is what the kids called her. I guess I just copied them.

I hadn’t planned on mama dying. Neither had the kids.

I remember getting the news that she had cancer. We barely knew what that was. We weren’t more than kids with children ourselves. She was only twenty-three. I was an old twenty-four.

At Wednesday night prayer meeting, we would hear people share requests to pray for their aunt, uncle, and sometimes their cousin that had gotten cancer.

One thing we had learned was that God didn’t seem to answer the prayers to cure the people that had cancer. They always died. Now we all die, but with cancer, they died before their time, way before their time. It seemed like we would pray for them and within a few weeks we would be giving our condolences to their surviving kinfolk.

Now Joanne had cancer of her female parts. One month when her monthly lady time came, it just kept on and on, not stopping. We both knew the story from the Bible about a woman with the issue of blood. That’s how she told me she had a problem.

She called me into the kitchen after Joseph Junior, and Elizabeth were put to bed for the night. We sat at the kitchen table. She opened the Good Book to Saint Luke chapter 8 and then read verse 43 from the Authorized King James Version. That’s the only one that was allowed at our church.

She read, “And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any…”

She then asked if I knew the story.

I nodded. “I am familiar with the story. Preacher Jones has preached about it before,” I said.

She explained her situation. She said she knew we couldn’t afford a doctor, but this was a real problem. She told me how her mother had the same happen before she got sick and died.

I went to see Doctor Simon next morning. He agreed to stop by and to accept an old chicken we had for payment.

I still remember him calling me in after looking at Joanne.

“Cancer,” said Doctor Simon. He added, “I will stop by Reverend Jones and ask him to call on you. You will need to get your personal affairs in order. Joanne will not be here to celebrate our state’s one-hundredth birthday.”

I remember Joanne and my looking at each other. It was barely the second week of 1936. We both knew our beautiful state of Texas’ birthday was in March. That was less than eight weeks away.

The preacher called that very afternoon. Joanne knew Jesus as her Savior but did not want to die. She didn’t mean to leave our children and me.

Cancer gave her no choice. It took her real fast. We buried her in the cemetery at our little church on Valentine’s Day 1936.

The kids and I didn’t celebrate Texas’ birthday. We didn’t feel too happy. We missed mama. It was hard. Even with an old maid aunt of mine coming to help keep the kids, it was still hard.

Aunt Emma was my father’s baby sister. While she was a right handsome woman even now, she had a speech impairment that kept any man from seriously courting her. My aunt was an educated woman. She had gone to college back east. She not only had a college education, but she was one of the few women that had attended and graduated law school.

Emma Gibson was her given name. Miss Emma as everyone called her had even passed the Texas bar and had her license to practice law. She had tried to get a job, but no law firm would hire someone who had trouble talking without stuttering. She had even hung out her shingle but couldn’t get enough business to pay her rent.

She had never married. I provided her with room and board for caring for the kids, as well as a small allowance.

Aunt Emma was as sweet to Joseph Junior and Elizabeth as if she had given birth to them herself.

As Christmas neared in 1936, an empty wallet was only one of many concerns we faced. The children missed their mama. Their mother had always made Christmas special. She had sung a solo in the church Christmas pageant since she was thirteen. I missed my wife, as well.

I missed my wife, as well.

Mama and I had talked about moving to California to a better opportunity before she had got sick. We just never followed up on our dreams.

I had a bank note due come Thursday, December 24, 1936. If I didn’t make that payment, the bank would have the sheriff evict me, the kids, and Aunt Emma.

The year had been a bad one. What little livestock we owned was all that had been sustaining us. Well, that and the canning Aunt Emma had done from our garden. Because of drought, the garden had not produced very much.

It was humbling, but I took a job in the nearby oil fields. The work was hard. The hours long. The pay was good for the times. I hadn’t made enough money for the bank note. I still owed the bank.

I had thought about asking the church for help, but three other families had bank notes due that same Thursday. There just wasn’t enough money in the congregation to help everybody.

I needed a miracle. I had seen with Joanne that miracles happened in the Bible and to other people, but not to my neighbors and me.

On day Aunt Emma asked if she could read all my papers to see if she could find any loopholes or options.

I gave them to her. I guess she never found anything. My focus shifted to what I could do for the kids and Aunt Emma with Christmas coming.

The supervisor at the oil field was a mean man. He used profane words that not even sailors had ever heard. He had a soft spot within his mean streak. He would allow a hard working man to work extra hours. He made sure you got your wages for your labors.

I was counting on some extra hours of work. Maybe the money would help get me an extension with the bank. I also needed those hours to buy a few presents for my family.

One of the few good things I had seen come out of this depression President Roosevelt way trying to get us out of was something called layaway. The 5 and 10 cent store in town was the first to offer it.

Within a week, the department store on the courthouse square followed suit offering the same. I had new shoes for the kids as well as a new dress for Elizabeth and overalls for Joseph Junior plus two shirts and store bought undergarments on layaway at the department store.

At the five and ten cent store, I had a doll and cap pistol on layaway for the kids.

I think the merchants figured I was crazy trying to buy something for my family.

Mr. Matthews at the department store thought I had lost my mind because I sometimes would ask mama what she thought of the clothes I was selecting for the kids, even though she was now in heaven.

With my overtime, I was able to make my weekly payments and still have money to save for the bank.

I was trying to be frugal. While I owned an old Model A Ford, I only drove it when necessary. The kids, Aunt Emma and I walked to church on Sundays, to prayer meeting Wednesday nights, and even to town. It was only a mile to the city and church was halfway between.

I had offered the car to the bank to help pay my note. They said no. They required cash. Since I had been late on a payment back in September, they got the justice of the peace to require me to pay in full by December 24, 1936.

Wednesday, December 9 we had a called two-hour prayer meeting at our little Crossroads Community Church for the families facing eviction and foreclosure by the bank. While it felt good, no one gave me the money I needed to pay off my place. None of the three other families received money to pay off their farms either.

I remember how cold it was that night. Poor Elizabeth complained about how cold it was when I made her wear a dress to church. I remember her crying as we walked home. One of the older kids told her we would be losing our house, farm, and she had better get used to the cold.

Why would an older child be so mean to a preschool aged little girl? It caused Elizabeth to cry and cry. The words of that teenager scared her so badly. Joseph Junior didn’t understand. He was still too young I guess.

Prayer meeting came on December 16 and again on Sunday night December 20. We prayed again.

I remember Aunt Emma asking we pray for wisdom for those trying to figure this out. Preacher Jones said all four families could move into the church if needed; that is if the congregation would agree.

It was the first time I felt like there was a chance of keeping the farm.

My hope was short lived. The banker’s cousin who also chaired our finance committee stood up. He said he wasn’t sure if the families moved into the church that he could keep the bank from calling in the church’s note. It was past due he noted.

I just knew all hope was lost. The wives of the other three families had all started tearing up. One of the men asked if we pooled all our money if we had enough to save one farm. He suggested the farm that had the least owed on it be paid off. Naturally, it was his.

His suggestion upset some of the church members. They didn’t view it as an option, but as his trying to save his place sacrificing the other farms and ranches.

Depressed describes my feelings that night. The walk home that night was bone-chilling. Aunt Emma and I had to carry the kids as they were exhausted from a long meeting.

Aunt Emma mentioned she was still going over the legal papers. She said the preacher’s wife had agreed to watch the kids Wednesday since we had no prayer meeting that Wednesday. She asked if she could use the car. She had an idea. She even said she would pay for the gasoline. She said she needed it on Wednesday before Christmas. She had managed to set up an appointment with someone she thought could help with the bank note and save the farm.

I asked what she had in mind.

She shook her head. “In case it doesn’t work out, I’d rather not say but I do have an idea.”

She wouldn’t say another word. I tried, but nope she would not talk.

“You do have a license and know how to drive?”

She nodded.

“You can use the car,” I said. I was desperate. I wondered what she had in mind.

 

###

 

“Mr. Horn will see you now,” said the secretary guarding access to his office.

Aunt Emma made her way into the oil company’s field headquarters office.

After one hour, one handshake, and an exchange of merry Christmas greetings, Emma left Mr. Horn’s office.

 

###

 

We could see the dust kicked up by a car as it drove down the main road turning onto the little road that came up to our farmhouse. With today being December 23, the sun set early. It seemed like a car, and sunset was arriving at the same time.

“I wonder who that is?” asked Preacher Jones. He and his wife were at the house checking on us. They had also brought the children back that Sister Jones has been watching. They also had accepted my invitation to supper.

If we are going to lose everything, we at least were going to eat enough these last days. I was barbecuing our last pig over a big pit fire beside the house.

“That’s Aunt Emma. She had an important errand requiring using the car. She said to expect her back about dark,” I said.

“I wonder what important business she had?” asked Sister Jones.

As the car came closer to the house, Preacher Jones said, “That’s the sheriff’s car. I didn’t expect him out here until Thursday noon.”

We stepped down off the porch to greet the sheriff as the patrol car came to a stop.

“Evening folks,” said Sheriff Porter as he stepped out of the vehicle tipping his hat.

“Hello, Robert,” said the preacher. “Everything okay?”

I looked with curiosity at the sheriff awaiting his response. I was fearful maybe Aunt Emma had been in an accident.

“Well?” I queried.

“Nobody’s been killed. I just wanted to give you a reminder I would be by at noon tomorrow with Ronald Foley from the bank. I have the papers. The judge signed them this evening. I had to drive over to his place to pick them up as he is on vacation the rest of the year.”

I nodded.

He looked me right in the eye and added, “Joseph Gibson, I will do my duty if you don’t have the $750. The court order says it must be paid in full and paid in cash.”

“I understand. Sheriff Porter, please stay for supper. We have barbecue pig. We have planty and it’s ready. We’ve some beans and greens to go with it.”

Rubbing his stomach, the sheriff replied, “I am hungry. Sure, I’d like that. What are you folks going to do when you are evicted tomorrow? It sure won’t be much of a Christmas for you.”

“Now Robert, don’t you go repossessing their farm until after the deadline. We still have time for a miracle,” chimed in Preacher Jones.

“Amen,” I added.

As we were sitting on the front porch, after enjoying our supper we saw the lights of a car approaching the house. It was Aunt Emma. As she got out of the car she shook her head and said, “Keep praying for a miracle.”

 

###

 

“No, I haven’t picked the layaway presents up. I just didn’t get them paid off. I have until 5 PM today.”

“I understand. I expected to see the Sheriff Porter here,” said Preacher Jones.

“He told me he wouldn’t be here until just before noon. It’s just 10:30 AM. Mr. Foley from the bank will be with him. That Foley man reminds me of a vulture with his big beady eyes,” I said.

Preacher Jones nodded. “Did Emma ever come up with anything from reading your papers?”

I shook my head. “I honestly think she drove into town to interview for a governess position.”

“Governess?”

“Yep. I heard she interviewed with the president of the oil company. He had advertised for help in last week’s paper,” I said.

“From the dust, it looks like the Sheriff Porter is on his way. Is Emma still here?” said Preacher Jones.

I nodded. “Aunt Emma is keeping Joseph Junior, and Elizabeth entertained. I told her we needed to start packing. She said there would be time. She said don’t lose faith.”

 

###

 

I didn’t recognize the car that was approaching my house.

“That’s a new 1936 Series 90 Cadillac,” said Preacher Jones.

I just kept staring. I was wondering who it was and what it was they wanted. I had my answer in a matter of minutes.

“Only one man in the county owns that car,” the preacher added. “That’s Harlan Horn.”

“The oilman?” I gulped. No wonder Aunt Emma wasn’t concerned. She had her work lined up.

“Yep, the oilman.”

The long, black Cadillac rolled to a stop. The door quickly opened. A tall, slim man stepped out. He put on a silver Stetson Open Road hat. He moved around the car with a purpose in his step.

“Is Emma Gibson here?” he asked.

“May I ask who is calling?” I said in a cold voice. I just knew he was here to cart off Aunt Emma to be his housekeeper or care for his youngins.

“Horn’s my name; Harlan Horn, but you may address me as Mr. Horn.”

I looked at the fancy car. He wore custom-made boots as well as a new suit. The Texas A&M class ring on his right hand signaled he was somebody. At least Emma would have a place to live.

As I turned toward the front door to call for Emma, she opened the door. The children were a step behind her. Sister Jones was beside her.

“Mr. Horn,” she said with a big smile on her face. The enthusiasm in her voice surprised me. “Do you have it?”

“I do,” he replied.

“Oh wonderful,” said Aunt Emma.

“Of course, it depends on if Mr. Gibson is willing,” said Mr. Horn.

I looked over at Mr. Horn. “Willing to do what?”

Mr. Horn had a satchel in his left hand. “Can we go to your kitchen table?”

I nodded.

We moved into the house. We sat at the table. Aunt Emma had coffee prepared to show she was expecting us to be at this very place.

Taking papers from the satchel, Mr. Horn said, “If you do sign the papers Mr. Gibson, I have one thousand dollars in cash for you right now. I also have your layaway presents in the back seat of the car. They were paid in full.”

I looked at Aunt Emma.

She nodded. “Joseph, it’s okay. It’s just an oil lease. The thousand dollars is the first year’s lease payment. You will also get royalty money on any oil or gas they produce.”

“A thousand dollars? Oil lease?”

Mr. Horn interrupted. He explained, “Your lawyer aunt drives a hard bargain. She found in your deed wording showing you own one-hundred percent of the oil and mineral royalties.”

I looked at a grinning Aunt Emma. I smiled.

She said, “The owner of petroleum and mineral resources may license a party to extract those resources while paying a resource rent or a royalty on the value or the resultant profits. That is all we are doing. It should take care of you money needs for the remainder of your life.”

I quickly signed the papers. Mr. Horn had just finished counting out the money when Sheriff Porter and Mr. Foley up.

Banker Foley did not look to happy when we had the cash. Reluctantly he had no choice but to take my payment. Aunt Emma made sure we got a clear deed.

Sheriff Porter just grinned realizing he had one less person to evict.

Sadly, my church member friends did not own the royalty rights to their places. They would each lose their farms and ranches.

I had my Christmas miracle.

Next morning the children missed mama as we sat around the Christmas tree opening our presents. Later that morning we missed the amazing solo she sang each year at the Christmas church service. The first Christmas without mama would be remembered for the miracle we had at the Gibson farm.

The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Eighteen

The Naming of Names (2004-05/2035-36) first appeared in The Martian Chronicles. Not to be confused with the short story “The Naming of Names”, first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, later published as “Dark They Were, and Golden-eyed”.

This story is about later waves of immigrants to Mars, and how the geography of Mars is now largely named after the people from the first four expeditions (e.g., Spender Hill, Driscoll Forest) than after physical descriptions of the terrain

Dandelion Wine – Chapters Eight and Nine

Chapters eight and nine tell of the “Happiness Machine”. After listening to old people’s depressing and defeatist conversations, Leo Auffmann maintains they shouldn’t dwell on such unhappy topics. Douglas and his grandfather, passing by, suggest to Leo that he should make a Happiness Machine. After the talking people laugh at this apparently ridiculous idea, Leo becomes determined to do just that. A brief scene of him returning to his family of six children indicates his happiness at home, demonstrated when his wife Lena asks, “Something’s wrong?” after Leo expresses his wish to build a Happiness Machine.