The Winemaker Finds a Ghost by Chuck Thurston




It is 1898. Joe Stanton’s Irish immigrant father, grimy and exhausted after a long day’s labor and beaten down under the weight of company store debt, has little hope to pass on to his youngest son. And yet there are the evening fiddle tunes, the dark Irish stories told around the small stove in the miner’s shanty and the wit that never buckles in the face of grinding poverty. Joe has some token schooling, but at 12, he takes his place alongside his father in the mines. He would seem to be yet another “strong back and weak mind” — slaving life away building the wealth of others. But he has a different plan. He does not want the new century to see him coughing up the black flecks that mark his father’s hacking spells.

At nineteen, Joe manages to exchange the coal company scrip from his last month’s work for American cash and heads south across the Piedmont to escape the meager prospects in the West Virginia coal fields. Surely he can put his strong back to work to support himself, and send some “real” money home to help his struggling family.

Granite is being quarried near the small North Carolina town of Mount Barclay. Barclay Mining is run by Millard Wheatley — the latest of several owners. None before him have been able to turn a profit, but, with Wheatley’s influence, a rail spur is being extended to the quarry proper which should finally make the enterprise profitable.

Wheatley is rich, arrogant — and unscrupulous. He controls what he doesn’t own outright in the little town — from cradle to grave. A general store with children’s shoes and candy barrels — and a funeral parlor — sit at opposite ends of Barclay’s single, dusty business district. In between, scattered offices house his land, real estate and lumber interests. The head of the last elk shot in the region is mounted prominently in his hardware store. This building is two stories with a full basement under it – one of the most impressive structures in the small town, and the headquarters of his Mountain Empire.

Wheatley’s quarry boss takes on Joe and is soon pleased with his strength and tireless labor — and his wit and humor. Joe is quick with a joke and a laugh and not given to the complaints and grumblings that mark most of the other laborers. Days spent in the free air of the open quarry are reason enough to lift Joe’s spirit, after the grimy pits of West Virginia. He describes his family’s misery and his gratitude toward his present circumstances to his Tarheel coworkers.

He is soon the most reliable “dynamiter” in the operation — analyzing the granite seams, drilling the holes, placing the charges and finally, lighting the fuses. All this done, he sprints to a safe spot for viewing, and watches with pride as the resultant blast frees exactly the portion of the granite wall he aimed for.

Wheatley doesn’t spend much time at the quarry, but hears enough about Joe to realize that the young Irishman could be useful to him. Young, naive and trusting, Joe is increasingly asked to run personal errands for Wheatley who teaches Joe some rudimentary money handling and soon has him clerking at his hardware store. He begins to mold him into a tool for a scheme that the great man is hatching.

Some of the tycoon’s dealings have caught up with him and he realizes that unless he turns a large profit on one of his enterprises soon, his entire house of cards is apt to tumble. He comes to the conclusion that the hardware store might be his salvation.

The store sits smack in the middle of Mount Barclay’s main thoroughfare, on the east side of the north-south running street. The bottom floor is filled with the paraphernalia of the day: nails, nuts, bolts, horse tack, plow points, metal cookware, axes, knives, shovels, picks, tubs, kegs, — and a thousand other items useful in a nineteenth century town. Wheatley’s hunting trophies occupy any wall space that doesn’t have a bridle or harness hanging on it. A pot-bellied stove sits in the middle surrounded by three or four cane-bottomed chairs. The second floor has a large meeting room and several smaller rooms of stored merchandise and files containing the store’s records. The stoned up cellar houses jugs of turpentine, kerosene and a few bottles of locally made spirits that Wheatley consults on occasion.

But it all has to go. Wheatley has insured the store and its contents to double its real value with the connivance of a bribed insurance auditor. He begins to set in motion a scheme to collect this windfall. The store must be destroyed, but it must be done in a way that throws no suspicion on him — and ideally – directs the blame toward someone else. He has no lack of enemies. He just needs a willing collaborator.

Wheatley cultivates Joe’s trust with patience and cunning. Joe thankfully accepts the credit that Wheatley extends to him. He can, after all, send more of his own cash back to his impoverished West Virginia family. He discovers – with Wheatley’s encouragement — the charms of the whisky collection in the cellar. Wheatley also feeds the gullible young man tales of greed, fraud, bribery and other malfeasances that Wheatley himself is exquisitely familiar with. Wheatley paints a picture of himself as a struggling businessman beset on all sides by others wanting to do him in. Joe remembers his own family’s servitude under unscrupulous mine owners, and he is inclined to believe his employer.

The tycoon concocts a tall tale. He gradually convinces the uneducated Joe that a rapacious insurance company has worked a devious scheme to seize most of his property. Joe is astounded, however, at Wheatley’s carefully described plan to burn down his own hardware store to forestall this takeover. As Wheatley hopes, Joe doesn’t fully comprehend the fallacy of this logic and is seduced into helping his boss carry out the plan.

On a cold, blustery October night in 1899, Wheatley provides Joe with the last of the details. The store ordinarily closes at 5 or 6 in the evening, when Joe locks up and leaves for his boarding-house supper and pint at the Quarry Tavern; Wheatley customarily holds court with a few of his cronies in his upstairs room. On this night, however, there will be a change in the routine.

Wheatley tells Joe that following lock-up, he is to stay behind and clean up the store. The crowded aisles and dusty merchandise have not seen the hand of broom or brush in some time and Joe will busy himself with these chores until he hears Wheatley and his shady crowd leave by the back exterior stairs. The early darkness of autumn will have fallen.

Joe will wait a bit until he is sure that Wheatley and the others have all left, then light a kerosene lantern and take it with him to the cellar. He will hang the lantern on one of the darkened cellar’s supporting posts. Wheatley tells him that he will see an empty whiskey barrel which Wheatley has filled with various combustibles — pitch pine knots, straw, some oily rags. Joe is to drop the lantern in the barrel, make sure that a nice blaze is started and then make his way up the short set of stairs to the cellar’s outside entrance – large swing-out doors opening to a side alley. Wheatley assures Joe that the fire will provide him plenty of light to exit by and that he need not panic. Wheatley will join him at the Quarry Tavern, buy his supper and treat him to a pint of his favorite. They will be dining and toasting long before the flames have raised an alarm in the small town.

Joe carries out the scheme. But Wheatley has added something else to this tub of destruction that he has not told Joe about. As Joe watches the flames catch and begin to devour the barrel’s contents, he hears another sound that chills him to the bone – the unmistakable hiss of a fuse! Wheatley has planted dynamite beneath the top layer of kindling!

Joe is paralyzed for a brief moment, then turns and runs headlong up the three steps and pushes up against the wide cellar doors. But Wheatley has taken no chances that his treachery will be uncovered. The doors have been barred from the outside. Joe realizes the fuses must be short. He backs away from the doors and rushes at them again, putting all of his weight and the strength borne of his terror against them. The old wood splinters and the doors bang open against their frames. He senses briefly the cold, fresh air — then he is enveloped in a light and roar and blown into the windy October night.

Funky Friday Sci-Fi by Chuck Thurston


My wife and I started a new Friday evening tradition.  I discovered that you can find old full length sci-fi movies on YouTube and play them  through your TV!  We’ve seen three so far and I believe that the common denominator is that all of the titles are misleading!

Take Devil Girl From Mars.  This is no girl, boys – this is a woman.  W-O-M-A-N!   She is here to recruit healthy, virile males to replace the increasingly wussy Martian men.  Furthermore, she is dressed in cape, high boots and shiny black vinyl.


And she is having problems?  Her first mistake was landing her damaged spaceship outside a little Scottish countryside tavern.  She tries negotiation first (before she resorts to intimidation), but they have to put on a pot of tea and think it over.  I will never look at the Highland Games the same.

The Riders To The Stars don’t actually go to the stars.  In fact, they never leave low earth orbit. Even the cosmologists of 1954 knew better than that.  Scientists want to know why some meteors survive the atmosphere and strike the earth intact.  They suspect that they are coated with some substance – that if it were found  – could enable them to build spaceships that would stand the rigors of outer space.

They send three meteor-collecting rockets out there to capture some and bring them back. The pilots are all scientists with not as much as an hours flight time in a Piper Cub, but never mind.  Two of the boys come croppers, but the last (and best looking one) grabs a rock – using the last of his fuel and has to crash land in the desert.


His space ship is torn to shreds, but he is a miraculous survivor and comes back to conscientiousness just in time to suck face with the gorgeous Doctor Flynn, who has lusted for him from the beginning.

A very young Robert Loggia is the lead in The Lost Missile, and he would probably be just as happy if this piece of work was left off his filmography.  Well, the missile isn’t lost at all.  It damn well knows what it’s all about.  It came from outer space and is circling the world at low altitudes and leaving a five mile path of destruction below it as it cruises along.


Ultimately these orbits will leave the earth a cinder, so something must be done.  The film looks to have been made for Civil Defense footage and a lot of time is taken showing populations heading for underground shelters or fleeing the anticipated path.  Poor Ottawa is in the way, and school children are shown crawling beneath their desks, curling up in a ball and tucking their head between their legs.   Their next logical action should have been to kiss their patooties goodbye, given the scenes of Ottawa’s post missile condition that follow.

New York is next in the path, and I won’t spoil the ending for you.  Ask Robert Loggia, if you can contact him – but he may not own up to it.

Night Watch by Chuck Thurston

meteor shower

Last night was supposed to be a good night for Perseid meteor watching. I waited until the last glow of evening – around 9:45 p.m. local time – and went out on my back deck to have a look. I hung onto the rail and craned my neck skyward. The sky was clear. I saw the Big Dipper and located the North Star. I saw four airplanes. I saw a lone lightning bug.

I turned around to all the compass points I could manage from my deck and scanned high and low. I saw what might have been a UFO low on the eastern horizon. It was just above the trees and looked like one of the big 18-wheeler rigs with all of the running lights lit. It hovered above the trees for a minute or two and disappeared below the treeline. It didn’t make any noise.

I saw my neighbor’s son pull into his dad’s driveway. He is older and married now, but he works odd shifts at his job and comes around to check on his parents now and then. A good son, to be sure.

I saw another lightning bug – perhaps trying to locate the one I spotted earlier. I didn’t see any more flashing, so perhaps they hooked up. I can understand that if not much else was going on. I considered lighting up a cigar myself, but decided it was too close to bedtime.

I saw a small dark form scurry across the back yard. It might have been one of two neighborhood cats I have seen now and then, or perhaps a rabbit. I wondered if it might be an escapee or perhaps a scout from the UFO I spotted earlier. I thought of going back into the house for a flashlight to check it out, but I was primarily interested in meteor watching so I bagged that idea.

I was out for a half hour or so. I was getting a stiff neck. I never did see a meteor. I went back into the house and had a small glass of port before I went to bed. I can hardly wait for the Ursid meteor shower in December.

Chuck Thurston is the author of “Senior Scribbles Unearthed” and “Senior Scribbles Second Dose” – both available on Amazon.  He has a third, “Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader” in the works and will finish it if he stops wasting his time at other useless activities.

Down To The Crick by Chuck Thurston


I recently got a Facebook post from one of our friends, a day after our annual church picnic:

“After the picnic Sunday, Drake and I played in the creek with Rosie and Amelia. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. We found crayfish, some eggs we could see the eyeballs of whatever they were going to hatch out as, a golf ball, and metal parts from a car or tractor.”

Does that paint a mental image from your childhood? It certainly took me back. We lived on a farm that had a sizeable creek running through it. In my mother’s West Virginal vernacular it was a “crick,” and that’s what it was to us, as young boys.

On any given summer day—after morning chores were taken care of—we’d respond to Mom’s question, “Where are you headed for?” with “Down to the crick!” She didn’t seem to fret about any great hazard associated with this expedition, and waved us away, if our work was done.

The crick was a source of endless fun. It passed under the two lane blacktop just a few hundred yards east of our house; we owned land on both sides of the road. On the downstream side of the bridge was what we called the “deep hole.” It was perhaps four feet deep and contained all manner of minnows, chubs, frogs, crayfish, water bugs, and an occasional water snake. We splashed among them all. We had no bathing suits, as such, but wore cutoff jeans that had worn through the first—or even second—generation of knee patches, and the bottoms hacked off.

The hole itself was not much larger around than a good sized hot tub, and just one or two strokes of what passed for us as swimming took you from one side to the other. We even fished in it. An occasional four or five inch chub would grab one of our hooked worms.

Additional delights were to be found along other stretches. When there was a fair volume of water running, we floated all manner of things downstream: cans, bottles, crude homemade boats, then, bombarded them with rocks. Ultimately, we would upgrade our arsenal to BB guns. These were the war years, and our targets were German or Japanese vessels, to be attacked from our shore batteries and sunk, before they bobbed out of range of our cannonade.

In the spring, the rains and snow melt would turn the crick into a fearsome torrent. We ventured down to watch it, and could hear large rocks being tumbled end over end by the force of the current. At these times, the crick was far from the gentle brook that would provide us with so much fun later. It seemed dangerous and threatening, and we kept our distance.

During the heat of a long summer, the stream was often reduced to a sluggish trickle. Pools would shrink and some disappear. This would reveal new wonders. Areas that had been scoured by the spring floods would have moved the channel a bit to one side or another. We would see new sand bars and pockets of gravel previously unknown. We would explore these endlessly, looking for the gold that we knew must be there. We never found any, but, now and then, as we wandered along the stream bed, we would come upon something intriguing—half buried in the sand. What in the world…? We would commence to dig.

It might be an old plow point, the tine from a harrow, a sheet of tin—perhaps blown from a barn roof—other metal objects the origin of which we couldn’t identify. It was all salvaged and laid away to await the next visit of the scrap man.

During the war years, parents—ours included—were genuinely terrified of the dreaded Infantile Paralysis—Polio. The disease and its means of infection didn’t seem to be well understood. Certain food items were associated with the affliction and were removed from our diet. I remember that peaches were one of the suspect fruits, and I don’t believe I was allowed one during those years. Turnips—which I could as well have done without—apparently passed the health muster, and I was permitted any number of them.

I am amazed, as I think back on it now, that the crick was not put off limits to us. By the end of summer we would be covered with stings, welts, cuts, bug bites, scratches—badges from our summer fun—and all bathed in the crick.

It drained the woods, fields and pastures to the north and east of our farm. It carried the flotsam of the farms and wilds it traversed. It was a watering hole for every critter known to those parts, and carried God knows what with it. But it also carried the joys of our boyhood. Perhaps in the great wisdom of nature, it also carried our immunization.

Writers Night Out by Chuck Thurston

FE open mike poster

FE open mike posterDear Writers –

Here’s what’s coming up in the next few months:

July 23 – Writers Night Out – Mike Knox

Mike Knox is a journalist with the Kannapolis-Concord Independent Tribune. He’ll be our discussion leader and tell us how his reporting skills helped him in putting together a documentary film on the circus. Who doesn’t like a circus? This promises to be an interesting and informative evening. As always at our meetings, we will wind up the evening with an open mike so you can share your poetry or short prose selections with us.

August 27 – Writers Night Out – Peg Robarchek

Peg published a book of poems, Inventing Sex this spring. Listen – if that title doesn’t get you off the coach and to a meeting…Peg will read from her work, and discuss poetry generally – or whatever else pops up. Be prepared to read some of your own or perhaps a favorite poem by someone else for open mike. An evening with Peg Robarchek is to be much anticipated and subsequently savored.

September 24 – Writers Night Out – Melinda Metz

Melinda will discuss her plans to support NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – This is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.  On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Melinda is a tremendously productive creator of Young Adult literature.

All meetings are at the French Express Coffee House at the corner of S. Cannon Blvd and Dale Earnhardt Blvd. – around the corner from the new Planet Fitness facility. We get started at 6:30 p.m. and go until the FE folks kick us out – generally around 8:00 pm.  Get there early to sign in and get a cup of the good French Express coffee – or iced mocha this time of year might be your choice.

September 26 and October 24. Kannapolis Arts Festival dates

This is an outstanding opportunity to sell your published material at an authors’ table. Check with Mike Knox ( for details.

Chuck Thurston

Regional Rep, North Carolina Writers’ Network

Charlotte Metro North Region


Kwitcherbitchen by Chuck Thurston

bad attitude

My wife has had a string of gnawing physical ailments over the last month or so; recovery is sure, but too slow in her view, and she is not a paradigm of patience. She is getting snarky. Today she gave me a semi-apology. “I shouldn’t bitch to you about my problems. You didn’t do anything to deserve it!” Well, I gave a quick second to that emotion.

bad attitude

We got talking though. Bitching about what gripes us is quintessentially human. It might even be necessary. There is probably some therapeutic value in letting all your grumpiness hang out, but how can we do this without jumping on those close to us?

My wife remembered a time several years ago when I came home from a particularly bad day at work and said a few unpleasant things to her in the kitchen as she went about preparing dinner. She was irritated and snapped at our oldest son who was lax in doing something she had asked him to do. He, in turn, hollered at his younger brother over some matter – and he got on our daughter – the youngest – for no good reason at all. She, justifiably, took it out on the dog, which continued its doggy smile and wagging its tail. Labs for some reason known only to their maker seem to have a perpetually friendly attitude. My bad day at work fizzled out at that point.

The dog – Maxine – was available in our incident, but had her limitations. Granted, she could maintain a cheerful composure, but she couldn’t provide what the bitcher really needs – someone to say things like “sit down…tell me all about it,” or “I don’t blame you – that would irritate me, too,” or “there, there…it’s going to be alright.”

Look – there are visiting nurses who visit convalescents to change dressings, administer medicines and perform other such ministrations. Why can’t there be a specialist in listening to our complaints and empathizing with them – a kind of designated bitchee? Surely, as the population ages, and gets more cranky, there is a call for this skill. We can’t leave it all to ministers who have enough problems of their own. These good people tend to have to much anxious concern. We need people who can be totally unobjective – who could care less about what is ailing you.

george burns

I am reminded of a remark that George Burns once made in response to someone who asked him what the secret to his success as a comedian was. Burns didn’t hesitate. “Sincerity,” he said. “Once you learn to fake that the rest is easy!

I can see a promising career path here.


Chuck Thurston is the author of Senior Scribbles Unearthed and Senior Scribbles Second Dose – a collection of humorous essays and memoirs.  Available on Amazon or through Second Wind Publications.

Look Ma, No Hands! by Chuck Thurston

driverless car

Driverless cars are coming. Audi has tested one and others are ramping up. U.S. automakers Ford and Chevy have advance plans; in Europe, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are in the hunt. Google has one on the road, and Tesla can’t be far behind. Many experts look for them to be commonplace in another 4-5 years.

One experiment by Audi had the vehicle drive itself from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas – about 560 miles – and Audi claims that it can navigate through city traffic. We can expect more widespread testing in the near future, but I, myself, would watch carefully before I stepped off a curb, unless these cars have been put through a testing regimen that satisfies me. Here is the Thurston robo-car premium test package:

1) Take that jitney down to Atlanta and put it on the I-285 beltline at rush hour. Put a piece of cardboard about the size of a cell phone in front of one of the front sensors to block part of its vision.

2) Have the jalopy circle the parking lot of a super Walmart on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving. Have it compete for the closest parking spaces next to the entrance. It should be able to ignore thumps on the trunk and hood and be oblivious to various vocal commands and suggestions received by shoppers.

3) Send that robo-rod up to the back roads of Pennsylvania deer country after dark during rutting season. Choose a time when many hunters will be going back and forth to hunting lodges with cases of refreshments. For the most effective testing, time the cruise to coincide with a late November snow or ice storm.

Okay, if the car comes back in one piece from this – and hasn’t wiped out any other traffic on the road – send a salesman around to talk to me. He’d better pull up in front of my house hands-off, though.

driverless car



Quit Yer Bitchin’ by Chuck Thurston

chambers bay

chambers bay

I have been watching the 2015 US Open championship at the Chambers Bay golf course in Washington state. The course has a nice industrial landscape cachet about it – you can imagine Duke Power looking it over for coal ash dumping; it might be used for motocross on alternate weekends.

A highly respected senior golfer from the Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino (none of them, incidentally) era said that it was an unplayable disgrace and totally unsuited to host such a prestigious event as the Open.

I take strong exception to that. I think it is high time that professional golfers be subjected to the same indignities that we weekend hackers are. The group I hang around with is not the country club set. We generally look for the low cost option and we know all about scalped tee boxes, unplayable lies on brick hard fairways, and baked greens. Taking divots on the fairways I am familiar with is a calculated risk. Wildlife abounds. A coyote ran across the fairway in front of me as I was teeing off on one course. I know a guy who surrendered a ball to a copperhead; took a drop several feet away, and we didn’t make him take the penalty.



One course that I particularly love is built over an old landfill. Two or three days of rain often bring strange things to the surface. I would not stick my hand in any of the ponds on the course to retrieve a ball. I’m also partial to a course that was developed out of an old dairy farm by the retiring farmer. He had never played the game himself (I assume he had watched some on TV) but designed the course himself and carved it out with his tractor and box blade. It has more moguls than an Olympic slalom course. I know a course where the bunkers are gravel. My golfing pals would feel right at home at Chambers Bay; it would be an upgrade!

golfer in rough

I am not about to take this “unplayable” baloney from a guy who practiced five days a week, didn’t even have to pay for his own equipment, played in highly manicured landscapes, won several majors – and made millions at it!

My advice? Suck it up, dude! Join my buddies and me now and then. We gripe and complain, but we laugh a lot and we fudge the regulations a little. We allow one mulligan per nine holes; a foot wedge to a little tuft of grass perfectly acceptable to compensate for a fairway lie on a rock outcropping; pick the ball up after a triple bogie and count it. Look if we don’t fudge the rules, how in the world are we expected to improve at this game?

Chuck Thurston is the author of the Senior Scribbles series, available on Amazon and Second Wind Publishing.  The 4th in this series “Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader: Your Results May Vary” will be published this fall. He is an incurable hacker, but loves to hack.