The Coroner Takes A Ride by Chuck Thurston

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It’s a few days before Christmas, 2012. Bad weather is on the way and Woodrow “Woody” Stanton, the 63 year old retired Chief of Police of West Hepzibah, is hunkering down – resigned to another uneventful and vaguely disappointing holiday in this small valley town in the North Carolina mountains. Always wary of being seen as the “kept man” of his wife, Margot, a successful writer of romance novels, he hacks at golf, occasionally offers advice to the new Chief, and babysits his eleven year old great-nephew Daniel “Bruiser” Stanton. The boy has Asperger’s Syndrome – a variant of autism – and is Woody’s frequent companion.

Woody’s routine is abruptly changed by the escape of an eccentric mountain man – Morris Kearsey – charged and institutionalized as insane for the brutal murder of his family eight years previous. Shortly afterwards, Woody finds the body – bizarrely hidden – of a member of the Villains, a notorious biker gang, that Woody always suspected might may have had an undiscovered role in the Kearsey family killings.

As the weather deteriorates, Woody’s old friend Everett Hartsell, the elderly, widowed, highly respected, and often reelected Sykes County Coroner, suddenly disappears in the company of a much younger redheaded waitress. Rusty Kinkaid – termed a “tough cookie” – has a history with one of the Villains, but claims she has left that life behind. Woody wonders: is she really a bad girl going good, or is the Coroner being used for some sinister purpose? And Woody has a thought even more troubling – Is there a connection between the Kearsey family slaughter of eight years ago and the vanished Coroner in the company of someone who may have been associated with that crime?

Brooding over all of this is ‘Old Hep’ – the wind blown, derelict ghost town that looks down on West Hepzibah from the top of Foster Mountain. What might be up in the old town that perhaps ties everything together?

Woody and The Bruiser do some sleuthing. The boy’s savant observational skills compliment Woody’s dogged unwillingness to settle for the irrational why of things, when, somewhere, there must be a rational what. They enlist the help of several allies: ‘Old flame’ County Librarian Harriet Metzler, Sheriff Floyd Shores, Patrolman D-Day Ardell, and others, as they try to solve an old mystery and come to grips with a new one.

Chuck Thurston will publish The Coroner Takes A Ride later this year. Cover art is by Curt Thurston. 

 

Assembly Disassembly by Chuck Thurston

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“Nature doesn’t know extinction.” – Werner Von Braun

“Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein

“I ain’t dead yet!” – Richard Feynman

 

Assembly Disassembly

 

Things start before we think they do;

Not over when they’re done.

 

E.g., I used some Keats once on a maid —

“She walks in beauty like the night…”

And yada, yada all the rest.

 

Time was, reciting stuff like this could get you laid?

“Yes”, she said and proved Keats right.

Lit 101 (of England) made possible this tryst —

But I digress.

 

Take me. Dad’s seed, Mom’s egg,

Moved more by lust than purpose, I would hope —

Began assembly of this mortal pup.

 

Oh sure, some early disassembly frays;

Placenta, foreskin gone as things elsewhere were

Adding and Subtracting in those old cloth diaper days.

 

So up I went: “He’s growing like a weed”,

And netting out to: “such a handsome boy”.

 

But anon Ma Nature eats your lunch;

Teeth, hair, (good riddance kidney stone)

And other sloughing off of form and function.

 

But Ma just doesn’t know extinction, so

Back and forth across the stuff and energy divide.

Matter now, but kilowatts soon, you cosmic toy!

 

Then back again, soon enough, whatever soon is,

Time being also illusory.

Whew! What a ride!

 

Think — David and Goliath now both mouldered,

Perhaps a bronze breastplate and slingshot stone around.

That’s it – the rest is disassembled in suspension, and

Even now, you might be breathing ancient molecules,

Of Jesus even – with vapor from the Ascension!

 

Hitler maybe not yet disassembled to the point

Where he is readily available to inhale;

Don’t slow up to take a breather, though.

 

Nature plays no favorites here;

It’s all rock and roll to her, Pal —

Now rock, now rolling in the ether.

 

But here’s the good part.

Some day the sun will swallow all this up;

A-Yup, hup, hup, and re-assembly will commence —

Again! Who knows what shape this time?

 

Golf champ? Blue whale? Green slime?

Hope for the best, of course, but worms turn —

And any old sport in a dorm.

 

Things start before we think they do,

And not over when they’re done.

 

Chuck Thurston June 2012

Spill Your Guts by Chuck Thurston

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I once read of a study that claimed Catholics were less likely to seek the help of psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, ostensibly because they had regular access to the confessional and could unload there. I sense that this outlet has been getting less action in recent years. The Catholic Mass – among several other religious traditions – routinely offers a group confession, so you can mumble about your transgressions under your breath and don’t have to hem, haw and blurt them out to another human.

Many years ago, mother told me that on one occasion when she was in the confessional as a young girl, she hunted her conscience diligently to find some little misdeed she could own up to so as not to waste her time and the priest’s. The priest tried a gentle prompt, “Have you taken the Lord’s name in vain?”

“No,” she replied. “But my poppy does all the time!”

The priest sternly reminded her she was there to confess her own sins, and not her father’s.

This is a new age, though. The need to confess hasn’t gone away; it’s now played out in public, and we feel obligated to reveal not only our own transgressions, but those of others!

My wife and I helped to form an outdoor camping and hiking group some years ago. One evening around the campfire, someone (probably after a couple of beers) complained that a Significant Other (SO) had done them dirt. That broke the dam and started a round-the-fire-circle of “She/He done me wrong” stories. Almost everyone had one or the other of these. Many had several.

Fast forward a few years and our large family clan is sitting around a dining room table after rain had washed out the deck party. Someone (probably after a couple of beers) complained a SO had dumped them. That started a round table of stories by dumpers and dumpees about times in their lives when they went through one or the other of these traumas. I had myself been dumped three times in my earlier years. My wife looked at me with narrowed eyes, and said, “Hmmm…I only knew of two of those…”

Well, I wasn’t going to stir anything up from the bottom of that pot. I told her I could give her the details later, and prayed she would forget about the remark. Silly me, as it turned out – but that’s another story.

All of these episodes got me thinking, though, and I saw the appeal of airing these things in public. If you have been the wrong doer or the dumper, you have to assuage your guilt or make a legitimate case for unhooking. If you have been done wrong or been the dumpee, you have to establish your undeserved treatment and certify your innocence.

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That was a more innocent time. Nowadays, many can’t go public enough for their vents. When my wife and I check out our groceries at the supermarket, I scan the tabloid covers and bring her up to date on the latest. “Kim confesses…,” “Justin reveals…,” “Katy accuses…”

Some people, in fact, invite this. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter, told her friends, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me!”

Facebook has augmented and amplified the old campfire and dining room circles and tabloids as the go-to place for sharing your grievances, admitting your wrongdoings and complaining about your treatment at the hands of others. Some of the revelations are fantastic; but why? Why on earth would you want to air this stuff to complete strangers? Even if the complaints are legit, they can’t possibly function as anything more than voyeuristic entertainment to those not closest enough to you to have first hand knowledge of the facts. You’d be better off hunting up old Father Michael if he were still around, and schedule some confessional time. You’re shoveling out Too Much Information, folks, to titillate and amuse other folks who have no inclination at all to empathize or help.

It reminds me of the story of the country preacher who was soliciting confessions of sinful behaviors from his congregation. A young lad of 8 or 10 stepped forward.

“I used some bad words I heard from my uncle,” he said.

“Ah, that’s truly shameful, boy. How else have you soiled your mind?”

“I seen some dirty magazines,” he said.

“Oh!” said the preacher. “The devil is at work here! Tell it, son!”

“And…and…Susie and I played doctor down behind the barn…”

The preacher, sensing that he was homing in on real pay dirt, pressed forward. “Tell it all, son! Tell it all!”

“Well, once,” said the boy, “I screwed a chicken.”

The preacher groaned. “I wouldn’t have told that, boy…”

“Spill Your Guts” is excerpted from Chuck Thurston’s latest book – Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader – to be published later this year.

 

 

Cracker Crumbs by Chuck Thurston

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When my brothers and I went to the Saturday matinees at our local theater in the 40’s we could look forward to a news reel – usually an update on WWII activity – a cartoon, a comedy and a serial – all before the main feature, almost always a cowboy movie.

The serials were very formulaic, but always fun. Every episode would end with the hero in some dire situation that seemed impossible to get out of. We would have a week to speculate on just how he could save his hide. The following week’s episode would begin with a short clip of the predicament he was left in – and his miraculous escape.

One of my favorite serials was “Nyoka, The Jungle Girl.” Nyoka ran around the jungle and desert in shorts and safari jacket and carried a pearl handled revolver. She was a tough and resourceful girl.

In one episode, Nyoka and her male companion are captured by indigenous evil doers of an indeterminate sort (jungle inhabitants, robed Arabs and oily mercenaries all show up at one time or another) who have tied them to a stake encircled by a ring of fire. Outside of this fire ring, snapping crocodiles are licking their chops. The chief evil doer gives an evil laugh and announces to the hapless pair: “When the fire goes out, cracker crumbs!”

Whaaat? Cracker crumbs? Cracker crumbs? We left the theater astounded. In what fiendish torture could cracker crumbs possibly be used? This was a totally new twist to us and we puzzled over this until we sat in the theater the following Saturday and watched the repeat of the predicament Nyoka and her buddy had been left in. We leaned forward in rapt attention as the insidious villain taunted the couple with a repeat of the week before: “When the fire goes out, crocker comes!”

Of course…crocker referred to the waiting crocodiles who would certainly come when the fire died down. We never admitted our confusion to anyone else, but for many years it became an inside joke amongst us. “Oh, yeah…sure…that’s as clear as cracker crumbs!”

 

 

I Take The Con by Chuck Thurston

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Every now and then, Captain Kirk orders one of his starship Enterprise crew to “take the con!” as he beams elsewhere to handle other business. It’s usually Spock, but if Spock joins him on his mission, the con passes down to Sulu or Checkov, or…who knows? In a recent movie, so many of the high level regulars were elsewhere, that the duty might have passed down to a surprised ship’s steward, as he delivered coffee to the bridge.

Just what is the “con” and what does one do with it? The expression originated on early battleships and cruisers, and dates as far back as 1840 sailing warships. These ships were built with “conning towers” – a raised platform on a ship, often armored, and usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility of the entirety of their own ship, and of ocean conditions and other vessels. The officer could “con” the vessel, i.e., command or “conduct” the operations of a ship during battle by passing orders down to the helm. The Star Trek crew assumed a lot of Naval terminology as they sailed through the stars.

I was always obsessed with airplanes. As a young boy in WWII, I collected books and pictures of the warbirds of that era. I wanted to be a pilot. One of my idols was the lead character in a movie serial, “Don Winslow of the Coast Guard.” Commander Winslow piloted a seaplane on the lookout for spies, saboteurs and other enemy agents that might be threatening America’s Pacific coast.

Some years later, I had the con for a very short time.

I never did get to pilot training, but I did get to fly – and I had the best seat in the house. I joined the Coast Guard, went to Aviation Electronic School and flew as radioman on the principle search and rescue aircraft of the day – the Grumman Albatross amphibian, military designation UF1G. The radioman’s seat was on the flight deck on a slightly raised platform directly behind the co-pilot – one looked over his shoulder, as a matter of fact.

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On one SAR flight, the co-pilot had to answer a call from nature and went aft to the plane’s small head (toilet, to civilians) – smaller than a phone booth, and located in the very rear of the aircraft. As he left, the pilot turned to me and said, “Like to sit up here, Radio?” Did I! I hurried up and strapped myself in before he belayed (rescinded, to civilians) the order. After a minute or so, he spoke again, “How would you like to feel the plane?”

To this day, that short query remains among the most exciting offers I have ever received. I can’t describe the feeling as I took the yoke and gently moved it up and down just a bit, while watching the artificial horizon gauge on the instrument panel. I had the con!

I’d like to say that I spotted something in the ocean below, turned and banked, and roared over the object of our search – a distressed soul waving frantically from a life raft. Of course that isn’t true. Soon enough, the co-pilot finished his business, returned to claim his seat and I went back to mine. My four or five minutes at the con were over.

 

Chuck Thurston is a retired IBMer living in Kannapolis, NC. He is married to Heidi Wibroe Thurston and both are published authors. In another life, he flew in US Coast Guard search and rescue aircraft as a radio/radarman. Chuck has published two books of essays and remembrances – Senior Scribbles Unearthed, and Senior Scribbles Second Dose. He is currently working on a full length mystery thriller, The Coroner Takes A Ride.

 

The Sleep Of Reason by Chuck Thurston

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pantheon of the gods

Many of us believe things to be true that have been proved not – e.g., President Obama is Muslim or Kenyan-born. Many of us do not believe in things that have been demonstrated to be true – climate change is one of the most pervasive non-beliefs.

These positions are part of our personal belief systems. If we disagree with the president’s policies, believing that he has strong ties to a particular religion or country allows us to rationalize behaviors of his we see as suspicious. It confirms our fear, and we tell our acquaintances, “See! I told you so!”

If we don’t believe in climate change, then the dire predictions of what the long term consequences are likely to be won’t worry us.

In either case, our beliefs are driven by fear. Franklin Roosevelt took the office of the presidency during the depths of the depression – with turmoil in Europe and the Far East. He quickly realized that many public fears were irrational or unfounded and kept the nation from moving toward solutions. He was probably familiar with Mark Twain’s famous quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened!”

FDR early on told people “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

I recently discovered the science fiction of Alice Mary Norton, who wrote under the pen name of Andre Norton. Female sci fi writers were rarer than hen’s teeth and had very little cred amongst fantasy and sci fi readers in the 50’s and 60’s. I won’t go into a long critique of her work – which I am enjoying – but a particular passage in one of her works stuck with me. Here’s the scene:

A group of space travelers from earth land on a strange planet – almost paradisiac in its beauty, climate and inhabitants – a gentle, handsome Polynesian-type race with extraordinary ESP skills. They can, for instance, communicate with dolphins. In the course of events, the earthmen are following a native girl, guiding them through some very old, dark tunnels toward an old structure that may be frequented by an ancient evil that frightens the natives. At one point the girl says that these tunnels are inhabited by their “old gods” – and they have hundreds – and to disturb them is very dangerous. The girl is terrified and is ready to abandon the expedition.

One of the earthmen attempts to calm her fears. He says, “But they are not our gods! There is no power where there is no belief!” Another adds, “No being without belief!” The girl eventually concludes that she must be safe if she is in the company of those who simply do not believe – and therefore evaporate – the old deity’s which so frighten her. The troop continues on.

So Norton’s characters are saying that if you don’t believe in these whatevers, they cease to exist. Is it this easy? Over the course of millennia, humans have taken up, worshipped, and eventually discarded – thousands of gods. Most of us don’t believe that Thor or Jupiter have any power over us any more. We aren’t moved to offer up prayers to Venus or Aphrodite in exchange for some favor. Is there going to be an eventual discarding of whatever is left?

Should we consider bringing back a few specialists to handle modern complexities – or does boiling it down to one streamline the process and make it more efficient for the digital age?

Chuck Thurston’s “Senior Scribbles” are available on Amazon. He is currently working on a longer work, but the muse of mystery thrillers hasn’t helped him much. He is about ready to dump her and try cheap wine.

The Root of all Believable

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The Root of all Believable

“I don’t care too much for money…” John Lennon sang, but that’s easy for a member of the Beatles – who was rolling in it – to say. “Money can’t buy me love,” he adds, but that’s not entirely true, and just adds insult to injury for us of modest means. Money can buy you all kinds of companionship if you’re not very picky, although my wife has pointed out that companions are like wine: money will allow you to pick good ones over the cheap types you used to hang out with.

As it turns out, even if you are not looking for love outside your significant other, money might be needed to stay in the game. When my doctor wrote my first prescription for performance enhancing pills some years ago, he said, “I bet you never thought you’d be paying for sex, did you?” He paused, and then thoughtfully, “Of course we always have, you know…flowers, dinner, drinks, theater…”

Mae West hit the nail on the head: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor – and rich is better!”

We don’t play the lottery regularly, but now and then as our supermarket purchases are being checked out, I glance at the customer service desk and see it’s manned. I check my wallet, find a single or two and buy a ticket. At home, along with an evening glass of a lower-priced wine, we play the popular game of what we’d do with a multi-million dollar prize. After we have factored out allowances for kids, grandkids, other close relatives and favorite charities we examine our own pipedreams. New car maybe…better wine, for sure…move to a big house in a gated community or restore our 30+ year old house and stay in a neighborhood we like? Pretty tame stuff, really. Maybe it’s just our lack of imagination. I’m sure we have friends who could suggest several ideas – probably even offer to help us realize them. I’d pick those pals carefully, though.

Some years ago I hired a contractor for some work and enjoyed his company well enough to have a beer or two with him when the workday was done. When he found out I was a writer, he suggested that I might be interested in his story.

“I made a million dollars and lost it,” he said.

I told him I didn’t think his story was that unique – that lots of people have made fortunes and lost them.

“I’ve done it three times,” he said.

I happened to be acquainted with him during one of his financial troughs, but not long after, he divested himself of his property and holdings, and was probably back to seven figures after those deals. He headed for Florida. I wished him well, but if his karmic sine wave holds true, he is probably cutting bait on some fishing wharf in the Keys by now.

 

Chuck and Heidi Thurston live in Kannapolis, NC. You can find their books on Amazon and help make these their happy years by buying them. The lottery thing hasn’t worked out so far.