The Koi in the Restaurant - By Kenton Erwin 

Mark had rented the restaurant, the whole place. His reservation was for twenty minutes before they closed. The other late diners straggled away, and then Mark and Jeannie were alone with just their food server, enjoying a wonderful dinner. Soon after that, the server left without a word, joining the other restaurant employees in going away quietly, under the deal Mark had paid ​lucratively for. The workers would come back in two hours, to finish cleaning and putting things away for the night.  But for now, the couple were truly alone.  

For Mark it was the perfect setting for a surprise romantic tryst with his pretty wife. But as soon as Jeannie realized what was going on, she thought, "Oh, shit, not again​," ​even as she managed a weak smile and said, "You did this for us?" ​He was kind, successful, and handsome, but he still thought like a boy while she no longer thought like a girl. 

The stars and moon lit up the river valley visible through the huge windows.  Mark went into his best foreplay routine. Soon Jeannie found herself lying on the table, her ​legs dangling off the edge. And while he was thrusting into her with a crazed, happy smile on his panting face, and while she was periodically making utterances like, "Yes!" or "Give it to me!," she had her head turned, watching the biggest orange koi in the fish tank as it gulped for oxygen with its eye firmly fixed on her. "Poor thing," she thought, "It can't breathe."  

Normal? - By Linda Burk 

The card showed a plaid penguin among her black and white friends. The quote:” Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting. “ 

It was good for a laugh and then I wondered what is normal? Is it something to which I should aspire?  In the past two years my paradigms have shifted. Before leaving my house, I no longer care what I am wearing, but I carefully choose a mask from the basket. Should I wear the blue one, or the one with dogs, or perhaps the black one? None of them keep my glasses from fogging, so I stagger along hoping I don’t trip over the uneven sidewalk. As I walk, I suddenly spy people walking towards me! Like a nutty squirrel, I scurry onto the street, risking life and limb as cars whiz by.  Perhaps it is wise to keep some distance when I see an unknown person talking to himself and gesturing wildly. I wonder if he is normal. It takes a few seconds to determine if he has earbuds or not. 

Living alone for the first time, I do question if I am normal. I have started to yell at the television when I hear one more person say” I have my rights”. I talk to my plants. The African violets must understand English as they continue to thrive. And I eat when I am hungry even if it is not the normal mealtime of breakfast, lunch, or dinner or normal food. Mmm, Mmm, cold pizza in the morning, but I draw the line at warm beer (as the song goes).  When someone comes to the door, I no longer welcome them with open arms. I carefully open the door an inch or two so they can slide a package through the opening. And then I rush to the sink to spend at least twenty seconds washing my hands while inanely singing Happy Birthday twice to no one in particular. 

I longingly look toward my favorite Thai restaurant remembering the large group of friends sharing food and stories before heading off to a music concert at Reed College without the need to pull out my ID and the vax record.  Will this ever be normal again? 

I have decided that I don’t always have to strive to be normal. I just must figure out how far I can stray from the parameters. 


He Belongs in my Dreams - By Jim Carlson 

I wanna talk about my big brother Dick. 

He always made me laugh; 

He made everybody laugh. 

Sold movie films to 20th century movie theaters. 

He was an excellent salesman. 

He’s gone and put into a wall at a cemetery here 

Most people don’t know Dick like I do. 


He was funny. 

We had some aunts from Tacoma who would come down 

And play cards on Saturday night. 

He would make them laugh, 

Things he said, things he did. 

I do the same thing, 

It must be inherited from long ways back. 

He was almost 20 years older than I was 

At a different time of life than I was 

But we were joined. 


He was a cool cat from Memphis. 

I don’t think he ever wore a suit 

H\But he was always in nice clothes 

Wore loud shirts. 

He used to cruise Broadway in a blue 1947 Ford; 

White walls made him cool. 

I’m sure he had a good time, even though I wasn’t there. 

He told me that the cops watched him, 

But he was always able to avoid them. 

Just a brother. 


He played ball for a team called The Film Stars. 

Dick played right field, and his baby brother played alongside him. 

I was 12 or 13 and I held my own. 

We did pretty well. 

Play with what you got and be happy with what you’re doing. 


I got in an accident when I was sixteen, 

And he was at my bedside the whole month I was unconscious. 

When I got home, he carried me into the house. 

He was just a guy that everybody would like to have. 


I remember the day I graduated from high school. 

He took me and my mother and grandmother 

to a high-end restaurant in Hollywood. 

The hamburgers were only 35 cents back then. 


After he retired, he went to movie theaters here in Vancouver. 

One of his favorite movies was South Pacific. 

The lead had a beautiful tenor voice. 

What a beautiful cast they had. 


I think about him in my dreams. 

I see him in Hollywood, up in the stars, movie heaven. 

He was the main star of my life. 

You won't see his footprint on Hollywood Boulevard, 

but I know that it’s there.

Story by Janet Westberg 

It has been 40 years since I was last on this field.  The snow storm yesterday made it look like a picture from a Christmas Card.  It has been hard for me to return to the field since it brought back memories of the war.  I had been assigned to help gather the bodies of my dead comrades and was to work with Joe who had been gathering the bodies since early morning. 

The smell of the dead bodies is a smell that I have never forgotten.  It is a sickening sweet smell that is different from any other smell.  Most of the bodies were covered with flies that had been attracted by the pools of blood surrounding the bodies.  The bodies that were the hardest to collect were those who had been shot in the head and parts of their brains had oozed out of the skill.  Those that had been shot in the stomach also made me want to vomit since their intestines were lying outside of their bodies. 

 It was the near the end of the day when Joe said we have one more body to  pick up  He pointed to a body  where a German Shepherd dog was lying with his head  resting on  the  chest of a dead soldier.  Joe said that whenever they tried to pick up the body the dog would bark and try to bit them. We walked over to the body and once again the dog raised his head and barked in defense of his human.  We stood there and then I heard Joe pull out his gun and fire, the sound of the gun echoed across the field followed by the yap of the dog.   I turned to Joe and saw tears running down his face as we stood there looking down at the body of the young man and his faithful dog.  Joe asked two of the other soldiers who were assigned to collect bodies to take the body of the young man.    Joe knelt down and with tears still running down his face picked up the dog in his arms and carried it off of the field.   He laid the dog down by a young oak tree and obtained a shovel and dug a hole into which he placed the body of the dog.  

Once again I look across the snow covered field and head back across the field to my car.  As I walked back I passed under a large oak tree.  I noticed a monument containing all of the names of the young men who   had lost their lives in the field that terrible day.  I brushed the snow off of the sculpture of the German shepherd dog lying on the top as if he was protecting all of those young men who had died.   There was a second plaque   just below the scripture of the dog which read –“This monument is dedicated In memory of those who gave their lives for us”    Joe

Love is a Messy Thing - By Linda Burk 

Love is a messy thing 

A fleeting resemblance to heart shaped cards 

or lace veils on wedding days 

Love is like hope- a thing with feathers 

But more like granite- weathering sun and storms 

Love is a messy thing 

As I soothe my child after a screeching tantrum in the grocery store 

As I pet my dog after he chewed my slipper and threw up on my favorite rug 

As I hug my mate after hurtful words flung in a moment of anger 

As I forgive my friend who forgets to call 

As I  care for my parent who has never shown affection. 

As I try to find patience with those whose opinions I do not share 

Love is a messy thing 

As I learn to accept and love myself with all my foibles 

As I  weather the waves of hurt, frustration, and anger 

As I try to transform it into understanding, compassion, and determination 

As I  go on to love another day.

Family - By Jim Carlson 

We all become part of a family, no matter how many we become. 

Even an animal can become part of our clan, 

along with daughters, sisters, and brothers. 

The biggest words that go with family are love and respect. 

You have to have respect for your wife, husband, or kids, 

Or else you’re not really a family. 


Love makes me go from day to day. 

I think about it during the night when I’m asleep. 

I find the love that I need when I’m getting out of bed 

And getting ready to start my day. 


Sometimes you’re born with love 

Sometimes you learn love as you grow older 

Sometimes love leaves you as you work out with other people 

Love to me is something you learn. 

You have to learn how to love, who to love, and why you love them. 

Mothers have love for their kids-- 

They make lunches, they’re around-- 

It’s easier for mothers to love than dads. 

Dads come home after work and say “he’s mine.” 

My mother has always been home. 

My wife has always been home. 

I’ll be there to help when you need me. 


It’s hard for me because I’m 84 

And to share my life with my kids as I’ve grown older 

I’ve learned that perhaps the kids are right and I’m wrong 

Maybe, not for sure, but maybe. 

They are thinking as I am thinking 

But with different words and different ideas. 

Times have changed. It is the way it is. 


You might say that others want to become our family 

One way or the other 

Because they see what you have is what they want as their own 

I see kids up and down the street 

Wild, wild 

Maybe their parents aren't watching out for them. 

You never know who is coming down that street. 

Ride on the sidewalk. Stay out of people’s way. 

Don’t smoke, don’t say bad words, share your thoughts and ideas. 

You’ve got all these things to worry about as you get older. 


The love we have together now we will never lose. 

There’s love for the newest, his name is Liam. 

He’s got everybody’s love now. 

There’s 19 in my family now. 

Liam is one of our own. 

I hope that he learns that love is there for him to grasp if he wants to grasp it.

The Welcome - By Dennis Langston 

It caught the corner of my eye as I walked by my office window, bright enough to draw attention to on a dark, cool clear night with the usual parade of stars in our New Mexico sky. It’s fall, and winter isn’t far behind. I retraced my steps back to the window to get a better look, ever the vigilant citizen because area 51 is a short 900 miles away.  It’s been over 50 years, but as they say “ya never know”. There was something about this light that was captivating me, perhaps because it was obvious it was not an airplane due to its lack of movement. I crossed off my second thought, of a star or planet. Way too close. I was trying to be as objective as I could at one o’clock in the morning in Roswell, New Mexico, and Area 51 a short flying saucer flight away. 

When the light began to slowly move what appeared to be in a decent,  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  I had been on my way to bed, but now I was wide awake with cautionary thoughts going through my mind.  No question there is always skepticism when someone confesses they experienced something out of the ordinary, making them sound like they’ve gone off the deep end.  I felt I was wading into that end of the pool the more my thoughts leaned towards an out of this world explanation. 

If I just go to bed now I could stop this, this, no I’m not going to say it trying to encourage my sensible side to settle me down.  But what if it is….?  Come on sensible side kick in, tell me this can all be explained with a simple explanation.  Well I gave it a little time with negative results, no simple explanation came so I began thinking of the things I needed to do in the morning.  I was about to turn away from the window when the light began  to bounce, stabilize, then bounce some more.  A helicopter, it could just be a helicopter that is having problems staying up.  I should have heard an engine because sound travels a long way at night.  But nothing, as the bouncing descent continued until it looked like it finally hit the ground.  I wasn’t sure if I imagined or actually heard a muffled thud just after the brief sound of a very large fan coming from the light’s direction. 

The light seem to be growing dimmer to the point I could barely see it, making it hard to judge how far away it was from my house.  There wasn’t a conscious decision to go.  It was just a natural response to go help if I could.  I was sure help was probably on the way, but one shouldn’t assume anything when it comes to accidents, and people needing help.  I would need to take my four-wheel drive vehicle because the terrain is a little iffy in some places out here, and I may have to transport any injured so better be prepared.  I grabbed a jacket and some blankets for the cool night of New Mexico.  Keys in hand, a thought crossed my mind, so I grabbed it too.  I’d rather not need it, than not have it and wish I did.  I checked the 15-shot magazine and holstered it, ready if needed.  Meeting me at the front door was Tucker my eight-year-old golden lab who wasn’t taking no about going with, so out we went into the cool night air.  My shivers stopped when we got going, tracking the dim light that was about a half mile away.  

When my head lights first illuminated what looked like  some sort of aircraft, definitely not a helicopter or anything that I was familiar with.  We were about 150 yards away when I slowed to a stop thinking that I should turn around and call the authorities when Tucker squeezed out of the half rolled down passenger window and making a bee line towards the craft.  I turned my head lights off, jumped out of my jeep and yelled to Tucker to come back.  Tucker wasn’t listening but the light from the craft turned off perhaps in response to our presence.  I started jogging towards the craft when someone or something appeared to be standing on the craft than jump down to the ground as Tucker reached the craft.  My heart was in my throat, feeling no good was going to come of this. Why hadn’t I just gone to bed?  

I cautiously slowed to see if I could make out what the darkness was not letting me see.  I unholstered my model 19 Glock and crouched low and approached the craft not knowing what to expect.  There they were Tucker licking the face of the stranger, while he laughed and petted Tucker.  I was about to introduce myself when through the darkness something didn’t seem right about this person.  Stepping closer I could see the left side of his face was black, and the other side was white.  I immediately thought of the mime Marcelle Marceau.  The stranger looked up at me and laughed.  Did he read my mind? 


The Queen Bee - By Dennis Langston 

Surprise, fear, then anger preceded eventual tears when she was overcome by the sight of her little ones on their backs with their little legs up in the air, not moving.  A sure sign of their sudden tragic end.  But how could this be?  There was no sign of any kind of struggle.  Just them laying there being so quiet and at peace in what could have been a late afternoon nap.  When they didn’t answer when she called for their return, if they had finished their daily chores. She knew something was wrong, but certainly not to this degree.  She had been so proud , as she explained to them, their importance to the world, and to have pride in how this makes them so special doing the work they perform daily. 

She felt it was her duty to impress upon them their development of a strong work ethic, to stay busy, busy, busy with no exceptions.  She also explained the art of self-defense to only protect themselves, and only use it as a last resort.  As she surveyed this senseless site of death she wondered to herself was there something she should have warned them about, and now what is she going to tell the others about the mysterious deaths of so many.  Panic slowly began to take hold of her whole being because this may not be an isolated incident, but something more sinister, and wide spread, threatening life as they know it taking away their reason to being, destroying what has been passed down from one generation to the next, and so many depend upon their work.  How is the rest of the world going to survive if they should perish.  

She took a deep breath and steeled herself for all she would have to do next.  Let the others know; sound the alarm; and make the decision to uproot their whole life and move their entire colony.  It’s been done before to ensure their survival, but it had been done due to a known cause, like a fire or something similar, but this.  How can you fight when you don’t know what you don’t know.  No, this decision she does not take lightly, and being the queen it is her decision and no one else’s.  Her subjects are loyal, and will follow her whatever she decides to do unless, of course, there arises something she failed to keep tract of due to her busy schedule…another queen bee looking to unseat her, and perhaps cause the destruction of their hive, and a chain reaction involving other hives as well.  Could this be more far reaching than she first thought.  


York - By Dennis Langston 

After that band of gypsy coyotes quietly walked by, the mood of our group became melancholic.  We had been at it for 3 months and we knew that what we just saw was not a sign of good times ahead.  Quite the contrary.  That was the third such sighting in a fortnight.  We knew it was going to be a long mission, and we planned for it.  But to say it is one thing.  To live it day after day, week after week until there seems to be no end in sight, is quite another.  And as gawd is my witness this is surely the other.  I tried to prepare myself, in my mind, but how was I to know what to expect having never been further than town for my entire life.  I didn’t even have a proper time to say good-bye to my woman, and child before we were fixin’ to leave.  I may never see them again.  I see the others writin’, especially the captain.  He more so, day and night.  Now I wish I had brung something to write on even if they wouldn’t let me send it back. It still woulda felt good to put it down on paper for my family to read later, just lettin ‘em know what we seed, and done on this trip.  I aint talked to William about what I desire, but surely as long as he knowd me, specially since I’m a family man too how can he not know?  Even though I was forced to come with him now that I’m here, and doing my share like all the other men I’ve earned to be a free man.  I was the one that nursed Sgt. Floyd, and did all I could until his poor ol body just gave out. 

Lawd knows how much longer this here trip gonna take, but the beauty of this untraveled land is a site to see.  Some days we walk amoung the heards of buffalo, a sea of brown thundering hooves, and horns eatin, and a grazin whit no care in the world.  Sometimes I wish I was one of them being able to roam to and fro, to and fro lawd knows I’m ready.  They are a smelly bunch, but they will provide for us after we set up our huntin party to bring down enough of them for food and other things we are aneedin.   I also like to watch the deer so preety and fast.  They are difficult to hunt ‘cause they hear and smell pretty good, and our muskette rounds only go so far.  The first shot must be true.  A second shot is a movin target harder to hit. 

We been up against death on four paws too.  Them bears aint nothin to mess with ‘cause it takes so many shots to bring em down.  The other day the captain had to be rescued from one who wanted what the captain had kilt a nice size deer.  The captain shoots then out anowhere a grizzly as big as a horse making deep grunting sounds with each stride taking aim for the captain.  Sgt. Ordway and three other men took aim on that there beast hitting it with all four shots that only made it run off not kill it.  We were all a bit shaken to see such a big animal filled with such fury be so nimble, and run so fast, and our muskette rounds havin little effect to bringing it down at such close range.  That day made us watchfull for more chance meetings with sudden death like the captain almost had.  It surely made me home sick and added to why William should let me go my way.  I will continue to do my share of what needs to be done for we must work together to stay alive so we can get back home where I will be a free man.

High Heals and Chickens - By Linda Burk 

Samantha Starr was at the top of her game. A classic beauty with raven-black hair, porcelain-white skin, startling gray eyes, and a six-foot body clad in size-one clothes. Her parents were real-estate barons in New York City. They pushed their daughter to take advantage of her good looks. 

Samantha, like many other models, was anorexic to keep her size-one figure. As a perfectionist she excelled in school and as a famous model. Her photo appeared on the cover of many fashion magazines dressed in her signature silver sequin dress with six-inch matching heels. 

Samantha lived in the center of New York City on the second floor of a brownstone. She kept to herself being too busy to notice her neighbors. Her friends were other models who mainly were interested in spas, clothes, and meeting men who had plenty of money. Her long-term boyfriend was a stockbroker. Their time together was spent mingling with the rich and famous. 

As Samantha reached her 25th birthday she had the nagging feeling that she was missing something. Her life seemed empty. Samantha was taking a few weeks off from modeling to relax. As she stretched out on her white kid-leather sofa, she fell asleep and began to dream. It was a country scene. She loved the smell of fresh manure, cattle lowing in the nearby field, and she was drawn to the yard of chickens. She immediately fell in love with these feathered creatures. They strutted around, not unlike the models on the runway. Each day of her vacation Samantha returned to that dream. After a week she was compelled to seek out some chickens. One morning she rode the subway to New Jersey and found a bus to the countryside. It was a revelation. The lack of constant horns and sirens of New York traffic, the smell of the fertilizer on the fields, and the smell of the sweet clover just mowed was intoxicating. She walked to the fenced-in yard to watch the chickens pecking for bugs in the green grass as they made little contented moaning sounds. Oh my! How she loved it! All at once an old farmer strode up to her. “What are you doing?” He eyed her tight-fitting slacks and six-inch heels slowly sinking in the dirt. Samantha was startled but made a split-second decision. She wanted to buy some chickens for pets. The farmer shook his head muttering “These darn city slickers.” But he found an old cat carrier and sold her two banty hens. Samantha hurried into her building with the covered cat carrier. The doorman did not seem surprised. “Good evening, Ms. Starr. I hope you enjoy your cats.” Samantha nodded and smiled. It would be her secret. She set up the spare room with some straw and an antique dresser on which the chickens could roost at night. The chickens were free to roam around the room. She loved to hold and pet them. But they did not seem to be thriving. She realized they needed a place to peck at bugs. Several times a week she began a routine of transporting them in the cat carrier on the subway to New Jersey and then riding her bike to a field where they happily pecked at bugs for a couple of hours, She lured them back with cracked corn. 

Samantha became obsessed with the chickens. She dropped most of her friends and her money- obsessed boyfriend. She began to eat the eggs and discovered she loved cooking and even canning fruits and vegetables from the local farmers’ market. Soon her dress size increased to a 3 and she no longer was the top model. She couldn’t understand where this passion came from. One day she went to a hypnotist. He took her back to her former life as a farmer’s wife in the 16th century. Her husband treated her badly and she took solace in the barn yard-especially with the chickens. 

She knew she had to make a choice: high heels or chicken. Samantha thought long and hard. She realized her looks would not last forever and her modeling had given her financial freedom. Her heart was in the fields of New Jersey. Her chickens wouldn’t care what she looked like. It was not a difficult choice.