Mother (A Halloween Story)

Bill Harrison looked down upon Mother lying motionless upon the polished black-granite table. His eyes were still drowsy with the sleep interrupted by the hissing of the motion alarm that guarded the embalming room of his family’s mortuary. For three days and three nights a series of electrodes attached to Mother’s scalp and forehead created a complete circuit with the electrodes attached to Mother’s copper bound feet. Five hundred milliamperes of a five-volt DC current had been applied to the circuit steadily for exactly seventy-eight hours when the alarm went off. Bill rubbed his eyes and looked down at Mother’s face. Was it Mother’s eyelids or his imagination that was twitching? Bill rubbed his eyes again and remembered when it was Father lying upon the table…

Will-eee! You are the man of the house now and you know what needs to be done. We can’t have Father decaying. The smell will drive away the customers. Take the ice pick and make the holes. That’s a good Willy. I’ll get the formaldehyde.

Willy. Will-eee! Will-eeee! Bill hated listening to the sound of the name more than he hated embalming Father. Mother’s mouth turned it into a profanity every single time she spoke it. “Mother, I want to cut out your evil tongue. Mother, I want to break your neck. Mother, I want to kill you.” These were the things he repeated over and over again in his mind while the seventeen-year-old hands used the ice pick to poke Father’s liver full of holes for the embalming solution. First Father’s Liver, and then Father’s kidneys, and then Father’s spleen, and finally – without mercy, Father’s brain.

Bill poked, jabbed, stabbed, and mutilated Father’s organs in preparation for the foul-smelling Formaldehydic embalming fluid Mother mixed. Mother chanted as she combined the ingredients …

      Formaldehyde, in solution, 1.9%, poured to the line that’s red
      Phenol, the poison extracted from tar, 9.3%, slowly added to the yellow line
      Methyl Alcohol, that poisonous liquid, 11.1%, stir while pouring and stop at blue
      Glycerin, so syrupy sweet, 11.1%, for substance, body, and character that’s true
      Distilled Water, clear and cool, 66.6%, to carry it all where it needs to go

Bill opened his eyes and looked at Mother again. Mother’s eyes were fluttering rapidly now. The tips of Mother’s fingers were beginning to move up and down on the table. The excitement in his chest grew as he envisioned a successful culmination of an experiment inspired by that small article in the Herald wherein the science reporter had referred to the amniotic fluid as the “liquid of life”. Getting the fluid wasn’t an easy thing. One could not simply go down to the corner drug store and purchase a gallon of two. No, Bill had to stake out the local gynecological clinics and offices were he would place a radio transmitter on a pregnant woman’s automobile. Then, when he was sure that she was alone, Bill would enter the woman’s house where he would inject her with a tranquilizer via a dart fired by a small air pistol. Bill would then extract a potion of the woman’s amniotic fluid allowing it to drain into a sterile container. Recovering the dart and the radio transmitter from the woman’s automobile Bill would leave as surreptitiously as he arrived. Bill knew that no one would ever suspect anything. The woman’s unconsciousness would merely be blamed on a fainting spell caused by unknown complications of the pregnancy.

It took Bill six weeks from the middle of September to get enough amniotic fluid to replace Mother’s blood drained body. When he had the necessary amount Bill took Mother’s body from the dehumidified storage chamber where it had been kept since January at a constant 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to avoid the growth of ice crystals which, if allowed to form, would rupture Mother’s cells and destroy any hope of resuscitation. Once on the table Bill had pumped the amniotic fluid slowly into Mother’s veins. First at one pound per square inch of pressure, than two, and then three until he was assured that every vein and capillary had been filled. He than bound the feet together using a copper band and attached the electrodes to Mother’s scalp, forehead, and feet. Bill turned on the current and waited.

Mother’s fingernails were tapping loudly on the granite table. Growing slowly in death the fingernails were now longer than the first joint of Mother’s fingers. Bill watched them tap, tap, tap, and wondered why he never thought to trim them. Mothers feet were beginning to move and Bill turned off the current. The movement of the eyes, feet, and hands not only continued but spread throughout Mother’s limbs. Bill removed the electrodes from Mother’s forehead and scalp and then from Mother’s feet. Bill cut the copper band that had held Mother’s feet together in the circuit. Mother’s eyes opened.

Bill helped Mother sit up on the table. He gingerly moved Mother’s legs off the side of the table so Mother could more easily sit upright. Bill held Mother’s shoulders as Mother’s initial unsteadiness evaporated into an easing balance. Mother’s eyes studied Bill while she puzzled over the sensation in her abdomen. Mother reached out and placed her hand upon Bill’s side, stroking it, feeling it, and sensing the life force within. Mother plunged her long fingernails into Bill’s side, ripping a wide gash large enough to insert the hand that pulled forth Bill’s liver from the gaping wound. Mother chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed, until Bill’s liver was gone. Ever so hungry from nine long months of fasting the pain in Mother’s abdomen ceased – a little. Mother stood on the floor next to the embalming table and looked at the thing lying on the floor below her. Slowly, as if remembering how to walk, Mother stepped over the thing and moved slowly toward the door of the embalming room. Pushing through the hinged doors Mother proceeded cautiously down the hallway, through the showroom, through the waiting room, and finally through the entrance doors of the mortuary and out into the yard.

Mother stopped at the sidewalk and looked up and down the street at the dozens and dozens and dozens of witches, goblins, scarecrows, Ninja’s, pirates, Indian chiefs, cowboys, princesses, ghosts, vampires, and at all of their escorts.

Mother looked and Mother was pleased.

Mother was very hungry.

This short Halloween story was written several years ago and was used by my wife this time of the year in her high school English classes. She now teaches sixth grade and this is a little to much for the tender ages. This story appeared in this months Fresh Ink publication of the Inland Empire Branch of the California Writer’s Club



Praying Mantis

We have had a visitor at our mobile home now for several days. It is a large praying mantis and I find it unusual that it chooses to hang out on the vertical patio screen when there is a perfectly good lemon tree only a few feet away. At one point I even thought that may his tiny feet were caught in the screen but I discovered that I was wrong as I watched it move about when I came too close in my examination. But our little visitor has got me thinking about the fascinating world of insects and of arthropods in general.

In my youth I was an amateur entomologist and in many ways I still am. I have been fascinated with (and sometimes disgusted by) insects for as long as I can remember. I have very young memories of the marvelous dragonflies that could be found around the lake at Alondra Park and when I was told that the immature dragonflies lived in the lake and hunted fish and tadpoles I was completely taken in. The enchantment with insects led me into a phase of field study, collecting, and preserving insect specimens that lasted many years. The desire to collect and preserve insects died away while I was still in my twenties because I could no longer bring myself to kill the poor creatures but my first born, who had been my constant companion, was already bitten by the study of insects and she is today a biologist for the State of California whose job is with researching and implementing biological controls of insect agricultural pests and the diseases they transmit.

I was once told that entomologists come from one of two primary beginnings and first are those (like myself and my daughter) who are completely fascinated by the creatures. The other group is comprised of those who, as children, dropped bricks on them or otherwise find ways to crush them. The first group continues to study them while I think the second group is searching for better ways to exterminate them. My daughter researches natural and biological means of control.

I read once that the largest single biomass on the planet are the ants of the order Hymenoptera and it was estimated that it exceeded the combined biomass of all other life forms on Earth. That is mind-boggling to say the least. Hymenopterans are fascinating creatures and range in size from microscopic creatures that are internal parasites of the eggs of other minute insects up to (around here anyway) tarantula hawks that may be two-inches or more in length.

Our praying mantis visitor is just over three inches in length and I know his kinfolk can grow much longer. We don’t have a lot of really huge insects in the southwestern United States although I have seen some of their cousins like scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes that were six to eight inches long. Many years ago my wife and I visited the Yucatan Peninsula and stayed at a tropical hotel that had rustic screened rooms without telephones and other amenities but what it did have were the largest walking sticks that I had ever seen not to mention a plethora of other large insects. I don’t recall the name of the hotel but my wife told me at the time it had been in the movie Against all Odds, which I have never seen, and I believe we stayed there after touring Chichén Itzá those two plus nearly three decades ago.

Insects are everywhere. They are in our food and in some places they are food. They were likely the first terrestrial colonizers and they will likely be the last. Although we consider some to be pests and some beneficial I simply cannot imagine how this world would have evolved without them.



I sometimes find myself getting annoyed with my fellow drivers who roll through stop signs as if they were optional. Even after I tell myself not to take it personal it’s hard to let go of the idea that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

When I was seventeen years old two friends and I planned to go camping and target shooting in the wilds north of Victorville. I had graduated from Lawndale High School when I was sixteen but my two friends were still students at Villa Park High School. The night before we were to leave on our Spring Break camping trip a group of us decided to go to the drive-in in Huntington Beach to catch a long forgotten movie in my pickup truck. My friends were all in the bed of the truck while I drove to the drive-in and where I would back into the last row of the theater where all the pickups and vans got parked. The oldest of us was twenty-one and while I was still parking he pulled a six-pack from his duffel bag and opened a beer. Even before I was out of the cab we were descended upon by two undercover Huntington Beach police officers. To make a long story short we were all arrested, placed overnight in a drunk tank, and released the following morning, that is all but the twenty-one year old who had possession of the beer and the only one drinking.

Once I paid the fifty dollars to get my pickup out of the impound my two friends and I were on our way to my favorite camping spot in a secluded canyon north of Victorville. I rolled through a stop sign and onto a lonely country highway and was immediately pursued by a Highway Patrolman who came out of nowhere.

I rolled down the window and expected the worst but instead was greeted by the saddest face on that Officer. He explained to me that what I had done was known as a California Stop. He further told the three of us that earlier that morning, at the very same stop sign, a man had rolled through but had failed to take notice of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler who was unable to stop in time. In the resulting collision the man, his wife, and their three children were all killed. We had already noticed and commented on the debris from what must have been a terrible collision and so of course we believed him without question.

In a completely unexpected turn the Highway Patrolman said that if I were to give him my word of honor that I would never do another California Stop and be vigilant with my traffic checks he would not write me a ticket. I did, and then we shook hands and went our separate ways. Forty-three years later I still keep that promise and I suppose that may have something to do with why I get annoyed.

Drive safely and live long.

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Tragedy & Creativity

Tragedy & Creativity

I usually do not have difficulty with my writing once I sit down to do it. That is, until a tragedy beset our family and the import of it has left me emotionally drained. I had been working on revising the draft of my novel entitled Tears in the Morning when the news reached me that two very close members of my extended family have been arrested for that crime most foul – in the vein of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

When I was in graduate school my master’s thesis was titled: The Creative Process: An Organizational Perspective. I spent a lot of time reading about creativity from a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives including; management, sociobiology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, ethnology, and more. I was after all a social science major with a degree in anthropology, which included a behavioral science minor that emphasized the psychology and sociology of deviance. And so, after pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and transferring into an MBA program I simply wanted to look at creativity from the perspective of someone tasked with the management of the Creative Process within an organization.

One of my primary conclusions was that the Creative Process was manageable inside of an organization. The one thing I did not address with any great depth in my thesis was the management of creativity within the individual contributor or to what extent individual creativity can be hindered. And, as it appears, creativity may be stifled by many different factors including all sorts of emotional trauma including things like grief, post traumatic stress syndrome, depression, fear, and rejection, just to name a few.

Grief is a significant part of my novel The Seventh Stage and is also a theme within the novel mentioned earlier: Tears in the Morning. It is something I have dealt with too often and it is something that simply cannot be escaped from in a natural world wherein the direct consequence of birth is death. What a cruel jester is this thing we call life.

I have been dealing with this for several days and I have been studying it once again with the eye of a researcher but this time I am my own subject. So, can the Creative Process be managed within the individual? The conclusion of my less than scientific process is: Yes, it can, but it has to come from deep within. My father was fond of the old adage that went something like: “A real man sometimes has to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.” Which, I think is to say, that you need to find that place where the creative spark still burns and lift it out from under all of the trauma and let it shine.

I think also that ingrained habits may have something to do with being able to manage your own Creative Process. I have been writing significantly and creatively now for about eight years. Novels, plays, musical compositions and songs, stories, poetry, and finally blogs. It now seems easier to return back to these endeavors since they have become a habit. When I first got the news I was stunned and did not seem to know how to continue with my writing. After two days I forced myself to sit at my piano and play some favorite 70’s songs. Then I followed that with my guitar and a selection of hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Today I sat at my computer and wrote this.

Life is notorious for throwing us spitballs. We never know when they’re coming or whether we’ll fly out or hit them back for a base hit. I think my latest spitball hit me in the shoulder and I took the walk. At least I’m back on base now.

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing

When I was all of thirteen my cousin, her boyfriend, and I went rock climbing in the Santa Monica Mountains. At one particular gap I decided to cross by leaping over rather than struggling the long way around. Unfortunately, from my perspective, due the manner in which the light and shadows played off the ledge below, I did not perceive the unevenness of the shelf. I leapt and landed with my weight entirely on my left foot, which caused it to twist painfully. I was unable to put any weight on the sprained ankle and my companions were not able to support or carry me so the two of them went for help thereby leaving me alone on the mountainside.

I do not recall how long I had been left alone before I heard the most terrifying scream. I turned in the direction of the scream and saw that I had been joined by a Mountain Lion who stood seven or eight feet above me on another ledge. I immediately thought I was a goner as the two of us eyed each other. It seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably less then a minute, the Mountain Lion apparently decided I was neither a threat or lunch because it turned away and left.

It did not take anytime at all for me to decide to do the exact same thing, which for me was to turn and crawl down that mountainside before my new acquaintance had a change of mind and decided I might just be lunch after all.

I met my cousin, her boyfriend, and the posse of rescuers at the bottom near the parking lot where the car was parked. I was promptly scolded for not waiting and taking such a risky chance. After they sufficiently got over their disappointment at not being able to rescue me I told them about my encounter with the Mountain Lion and the fear that gave me the incentive to crawl down. I think they were all a little bit jealous of my up close and personal encounter with one of the Santa Monica Mountains shy but magnificent residents.

I do not like to be afraid and I do not put myself into fearful situations, like roller coasters and horror films. However, I would not exchange that terrifying encounter with the Mountain Lion, for when the fear dissolves into awe it is truly an amazing experience.

Columbine High School

Remembering Rachel Joy Scott

Rachel Joy Scott

This morning I was researching nonfiction reading materials to use with our high school curriculum in the spirit of the Common Core Standards when I happened across a sidebar that indicated Susan Klebold received a book deal to write a memoir regarding her experiences following the Columbine Tragedy. I can well imagine how difficult a process this will be for her to go back in time in order to recount what had to have been the most painful experience of her life but the first thing that came to mind for me was that now iconic image of Rachel Joy Scott sitting peacefully upon a boulder beside a lake in a purple blouse and blue jeans.

The Columbine Tragedy took place more than fifteen years ago and yet if often seems as if only days have passed by and even 9/11 sometimes seems to pale beside the horror of those two troubled boys turning their wrath and weapons upon their classmates, some of whom they once called friends.

One of the more touching books I have read was Rachel’s Tears and I continue to refuse to part with it. It was a book I stumbled upon many years ago in a Deseret Industries Thrift Store and it truly served to personalize the Tragedy of April 20, 1999.

I have been troubled with the stance that some of my A Course in Miracles friends take when they insist that all of the bad that goes on out there is only an illusion that we have manufactured in our ego consciousness and means nothing at all. I don’t buy it.

Now I understand that we human beings have a limit to our perceptions and, as such, can never truly appreciate the true and complete nature of anything but that doesn’t mean the out there is illusory. Yes it’s true that we may not see it all but what we sense is real and the pain and suffering of our sisters, brothers, and cousins around this planet of ours is as real as Rachel’s disbelief when Eric walked to where she was sitting and shot her dead.

Rachel Joy Scott inspired a legacy and I have had the good fortune to experience several of the Rachel’s Challenge assemblies, both as a teacher and as a private citizen, and found them to be truly inspiring events. In this small way Rachel lives on.

In his poem A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, Of a Child in London Dylan Thomas concludes with the line: After the first death, there is no other. That line has been a cryptic puzzle for me for sometime and I have tried many times to reason what Thomas meant by it. Now this is a poem that comes to mind whenever the memory of Rachel intrudes and, for some reason, I have subconsciously connected London’s daughter with Columbine’s daughter and it’s likely because Rachel was the first to die on that black Tuesday.

I returned to work after the distraction but my mind wouldn’t let it go and I later recalled that Rachel had developed some strong Christian convictions and it occurred to me how Thomas’s last line might apply to Rachel and that is: After the first death there is the resurrection and eternal life and, if there really is a happily ever after, I believe Rachel has earned her place in it.