(A poem from the 31st of May, 2022):
What is this feeling like pain and betrayal?
There are brothers, and there are comrades;
There are warriors, and there are passers-by.
I’m weak and You are strong.
I want to decrease and not matter anymore.
I never want to worry again,
I never want to fear again;
But I’m worried and afraid I will.
Teach me, speak to me, make me a better man,
I need Your voice;
Anything else is just a dagger in my lungs.
I’m dancing from leaf to leaf like a droplet of rain,
Falling from grace to grace,
Wondering if I’ll ever stop and collect myself.
Maybe You’ll catch me and drink me up.
Then I won’t have to wonder anymore,
On when I hit the ground and splatter all over the place.
Author: Keith G. Alderman
(A poem from the 31st of May, 2022):
Integrity is everything. What am I without integrity? What is a tree without its roots? What am I without integrity? Nothing but a sniveling fool obsessed with his own image. I am things too horrible to describe. So I will leave it at that.
The truth is that none is above sin except Christ. And the simplest snare to fall into is not the one unseen–But the one we think not dangerous or large enough to snag us. The one we think beneath us.
I may feel lonely, but at least I am not ashamed.
I’m not above anything. Namely, it’s my own fortitude that frightens me. I feel the pull of pride and its long flowing dress that mesmerizes and tells me I’m king. But next, I know, it smothers and destroys.
Integrity is everything. Without your roots in the truth and honesty, you cannot grow. You may fool everyone for a bit like a weed, but you will never really be growing.
There’s a driving ambition to be great and worthy and QUICK! DO IT NOW! And now I know for certain: On the Altar of Acceptance, will we sacrifice our souls.
When I complain and grow weary, I hear God’s tender, blunt question, “Where were you when I formed the world?”
Prepare yourself like a man. You are in the midst of great change and you can not hide from God. You can not hide from God.
God’s plan takes time. Roses wait a whole year before they bloom. And insects, weather, other plants, and disease can disrupt that process at any moment. But when they bloom! My goodness. God’s plan takes time.
I find it interesting, if not reasonably disheartening, that our introductions (especially among men) usually begin with the question: “What do you do?”
We are inadvertently declaring to one another that “what you do” defines “who you are”. But as I’ve been transplanted into a new community and asked this question a number of times, I find a somber angst growing in my soul. I couldn’t possibly explain who I am by giving one pigeon-holed title to another. Sometimes I reply “pastor”. Others it’s “writer” or “farmer”, or just awkwardly get around the question because I know neither I nor he wants the answer.
I think a more apt question would be “what do you like to do?” Of course, this must be genuine and heartfelt, not rudimentary or political, and must be accepting of whatever length of time is needed to properly answer. This would be the only way to accordingly initiate the knowledge of another. Anything rushed and curt is a tell-tale sign that neither party really cares.
I watched three of the four sparrow chicks fly from their nest and the fourth remains alone. All have been spooked by myself or the dog, and I am apologetic each time. The last seemed to struggle the most, hovering above the lawn until she caught enough wind to carry her across the street into a hackberry. I’m sure she will be fine.
It’s a pleasure to witness each first flight. Now, I am alone with Number 4. She stares at me in her solitude. I wonder what carries through her mind. Indecision. Fear. Excitement. Wonder. Confusion. Loneliness (although surely Comfort from having more room).
I suspect she will be gone by the end of the day.
There’s something magical about the Smoky’s. That haze and quiet wind’s mysterious, yet subtle allure. You feel the sense of it calling you but at the same moment know danger is in her foothills. I could stare at her all day.
Number 4 just left the nest. As I sat here with Paul’s second letter to Timothy, I heard a chirp and glanced up to see her rise from the center of the nest and crown its edge. Up and down, her head bobbed and bravery throbbed. Back and forth, she let adventure call her and fear vex her. Once more, up and down, back and forth, and a little chirp before the first leap. She collided with the siding, course-corrected, and made a flight (albeit ungracefully) to the sugar maple her first sibling alighted into.
Just like that, the nest is empty. It served its purpose and now all that remains are pungent filth and happy memories. Their parents may never see them again, and I myself may only witness them flitting off the feeder hanging from the sugar-berry. They are gone, and this chapter done.
Should I remove the nest or erect a monument? Perhaps it will stay there until next season when another sparrow needs it.
God the Father gives the sparrows a place to rest and grow. How much more so does He love you and provide for you? Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you. You will have your nest and you will have your flight (most likely lacking grace and undeniably unorthodox). One day the nest will be empty and hardly a memory or word will be spoken of its decaying self.
Reading Second Timothy, I realize that we as a westernized Church have closed the gap to “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”.
May 17th, 2023 Mark 9:48 “Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Like poison that spreads its arms out both ways into the past and future. Until every action of another (some "Offender"), whether right, wrong, or indifferent, is seen through a lens of disgust and hatred. That’s what bitterness does. It’s the worm that never dies and never finishes its meal. Until its Inhabitant sees its Offender as a demon. And soon the Inhabitant becomes one himself. This is what awaits those who enter Hell, you know? Those sightless, brooding worms: Bitter, Blame, and Self-Righteous. Hell doesn’t need fire, brimstone, and cold dank caverns. It needs only a nice, quiet solitude where hatred can fester. And once that bitterness takes root, it will spread back beyond to the beginning of the Individual’s life and reveal nothing but Hell all along. For those who find Heaven will find that earth was always a prelude and stepping stone to its beauty. But those who find Hell will find that earth was always Hell. The root begins in the Individual’s local offenders—family, friends, neighbors. But eventually it spreads its reach further to government, outsiders, and finally unto God. And upon Him will the Hell-bent Soul hold all accountability for its sin. You see, Jesus knew that the blame of all sin would be put on Him, no matter what. Either accepted by Himself as an act of love on the cross, or thrown at Him in desperation and blood-thirsty ignorance of those in Hell. And whence those souls in Hell mount up their individual sins upon Him, He will become a demon in their eyes and the circle will be complete. They will see then that their god is a demon, and its name is Satan. What is it then, to “redeem the time”? For bitterness works itself forward and backward, casting its long deformed shadow across those we find offensive, making demons of them all. But forgiveness, likewise, meanders down the forward and backward paths of time in our hearts and minds. It cleanses. It digs deep into crevices that the soul was unaware of. It burns us; by all means is abhorrently uncomfortable. For the soul must be reminded again and again to continue its work—forgiveness must take its full effect, lest it be undone and uprooted. Eventually, the water washes the soul entire and we are able to hold no offense any longer. We can see the Offender as Christ sees them—perfect and blameless. That is what it is to redeem the time. To let forgiveness wash us from past to future and heal our souls. Colossians 4:5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.
May 18th, 2023 Jason’s house was ransacked, and a riot nearly killed all of them in Ephesus. Paul calls this a “labor of love” and moves on. The first letter to Thessaloniki shrugs off this abuse and turns the attention back to its complainer. What are we supposed to do then—Live unclean and fit? No! We are meant to live righteous and holy. God has not called us to mere cleanliness, but to righteousness. Not status quo, but above reproach. And in so doing, we will love our neighbor. And the consequence--(or is it the action? Both product and factor? Both affect and cause?)--I lead a quiet life, mind my own business, and work with my hands. And just as Chambers said- so doing will bring more to Christ than anything else. What am I afraid of besides not receiving fame and glory?
May 19th, 2023
All this talk about slowing down and making time matter was put to the test about a month ago for us. It’s all well and good to say you want to make time for the little things and don’t mind working hard for what matters most. But we don’t really know what the little things are until they smack us in the face.
Then, about six weeks ago, the microwave broke. That little device that’s been around for 80 years has become an institution. Not for proper meals, but all the in-between. The quick-fix chicken-nuggets because your son doesn’t want the dinner you prepared; The soup, hotdog, or chili your daughter prepares herself for lunch; The popcorn during the movie; And of course, the blessed reheated coffee you nuked for the sixth time today because you nurse your coffee like a psychopath.
When it blew out, it mattered little to us, because there was a spare in the garage, meant to go next door in our Bed and Breakfast. I shrugged and removed the old dinosaur before installing our old reliable. Two weeks passed and Ol’ Reliable blew out as well.
This was a test that I didn’t know I needed and was altogether excited by once a day or two passed us.
I wanted the little moments to matter more. And now they were. I discovered that you don’t really need a microwave for anything except convenience and making your food soggy. What you need is a stovetop, pot, and a little patience. And those things I had plenty of. And now, I don’t know if I will ever go back to the microwave. Not because I’m some self-righteous prig who thinks food tastes better this way (though it does), but merely because I enjoy the process of waiting and preparing.
I think God the Father does as well.
May 20th, 2023 Philippians 4:11 "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." I have often revered the need for contentment as a state in which I am satisfied with my family, purpose, career, and home. But I see now contentment really is being satisfied with myself. Now, I do not speak crudely that I should be content with Keith the Sinner or Keith the Foolish. But instead, Keith, son of God, made in His image, wonderfully and fearfully. For the last thing I would endure, is myself or anyone else reading this surmise that I think I (or anyone) can be satisfied with who they are. But I can be satisfied with being myself. I must be okay with me. My mind is my mind and God created it as such. Therefore, if I am striving toward His goal and His likeness, I must be content with who I am in that sense. Especially in being alone. For in my solitude, I find I cannot entrust my heart unto any man, woman, child, or calling—but only unto Christ. And in that “alone” I can find myself with God, content. I am not a failure. I am not a rejection. I am Keith. And He loves me and is proud of me.
May 9th, 2023
Hello again, to and from my soul.
It’s been such a long time since my heart came here. And there is much to be said. Regrettably, I still find it hard to speak. Perhaps part of my soul is worried no one really cares to listen.
But here I am. A man next to a river in the Smoky Mountains. It rushes along so powerful and reckless. It has no master but the Master of the Heavens and gravity. Along it goes next to my weary soul.
I’ve never been more confused by my own heart before. I long to be alone, yet despise feeling lonely. I desire the warmth and safety of a friendly hug. My embraces come from my wife and my children only these days. One of which is sensual and the other takes away from me. But I wish I had a fatherly hug. A brotherly hug. Those embraces I am starved of. How long will it be again?
There is in me a wonder of the word: Joy. Perhaps the busy life thinks it has it, but never truly understood it. And the simple life has it but is afraid they have missed it.
My dog reminds me of devotion. A master’s love and admiration. She is strong and gentle. Committed and truly loyal.
Loyalty. What a word! It was mistakenly put on the forehead of Someone who lacks it most!
See—there is my angry and hurt heart speaking out again.
All I want is to live my life quietly with my bride, lead my children, and love my friends. Meanwhile, enjoying all of God’s creation. But I’m afraid that I will be forgotten by mankind. Disappear…
The cold, rushing water freezes my skin. It closes my sores and blisters. The violets are on just the other side of the river. But the cold, restless water stands between us. That bed of moss and flowers where beauty grows and worry disappears. How my soul longs for your arms. How my heart wishes you were here to hold me.
What shall I say then? That Joy is unattainable? Should we give up searching for it? Or our purpose, too, then? Of course not! On the contrary, we should seek harder for our Joy! And stop forcing others’ opinion validate it. My joy or purpose is not found in my friend. But only my Father. And hopefully—yes, hope! Hope that does not disappoint—I can rest at night knowing my Father is proud. And wants only to be my Father, Master, Lover, and Friend.
My Friend will encourage me.
My Master will direct me.
My Lover will woo and hold me.
My Father will instruct, admonish, and love me.
May 10th, 2023 I sit out on the front porch of my new palace—looking at the foothills of the mountains, the rolling hills covered in the seedlings of crops. Birds chirp and flutter overhead. My dog rests at my feet. Neighbors pass by. The roses and daylilies bloom. And I am here ruminating of what life was a year ago. How much I despised it! I wanted out and away and would stop at nothing. And yet—there was the beginning of this life I now have. How torturous the journey has been. But also lovely and forgiving. I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if I stayed. I know for certain it would not be well for myself or my family. And that proves it would not be well for those following me. I had a dream last night. I was still there in Florida and quite ready to leave. But I had only left my post as pastor. Otherwise, I still worked at the church—not as a supervisor, but as an advisor for my former departments. I gave problem-solving ideas and didn’t care whether they were utilized. My employer despised me—though he never said it or sought me out. Others thought little of me. And even those who once followed me acted as though I was less experienced and worthless. Deciding to leave for good, I stood in a kitchen (much like the apartment complex my father and I stayed at for a year after his divorce), where my father spoke to me. He grabbed me by the shoulders and made me promise I wouldn’t sin in Tennessee. Then he hugged me and told me to relish it. But the hug was weak and made me feel as such—rather than empowered, like I wanted. I realize and know—for I have known since the beginning of this—that any other choice would have left me embittered and useless, my father disappointed, and those following me miserable and without hope. I know that if I stayed, I would only be a wound to those I followed and served. And that is my only comfort—well, not my only comfort, but certainly one that weighs heavily—that what I did was necessary and set me on the right path. When I remember where I was and whence I came, I am encouraged to keep moving confidently. The relationships I build and the people I serve are predestined. Nothing is a coincidence. And nothing matters, ultimately. As I taught countless times. It all matters, and none of it matters. There is no tomorrow as rich as today. There is no sunrise as beautiful as this sunset. For today is the day that we meet God. Tomorrow is only as thin and useless as a vapor. But today and now holds matter and time in it. It has the birth of chicks, The sprout of saplings, The wind under wings, And the sound of heaven. Today is all that matters.
May 11th, 2023 Purpose. I have in me, I suppose, a purpose. The Word shows this. Greater than the Apostle Paul’s words—Jesus commissioned me. Make disciples. Share His love. Oh, that purpose… Yes, but it gets quite muddy when I imagine all my interpretations for such a word when in reality it could be as simple as making friends and sharing the Good News. I had a purpose. A strong purpose in Florida. And part of me wrestles that I am now finished. I can’t imagine that just like that my life’s work is finished. And I’m confident I will do things that will inspire others. But I cannot deny that so much of the foundation my pastoral upbringing was laid upon has been shaken and destroyed. I second-guess, or at least, question, the methods I used—we used—were taught. The Word is the same. But the Method—that is what is on trial. And “Purpose” is painted all over the Method. But Purpose in God’s Word looks like: “Share the Good News, make disciples, love your neighbor, love your enemy, lead a quiet life, mind your own business, and work with your hands.” Interesting. I don’t want my “open” or “closed” mind to evolve into cynicism. Which it certainly has a propensity to do. Instead, I want to face each day as it is. Simple and Deliberate. The plan will unfold when Christ and His Spirit move my heart. I have many inventions, many ideas, but none outweigh the directive to “wait upon the Lord” just yet. For now and forever, Yours, Keith PostScript: Galatians 5:13 “For you have been called to liberty; do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Called to liberty. My calling is to be free and to serve others through love and not the flesh.
May 12th, 2023
Yesterday, I felt incredible joy—though I suppose nothing truly remarkable or magnificent happened. In fact, it was much like the many days before. But my revelation of Liberty and the Word spoken to my heart brought with them such peace I cannot explain. And it has bled into today.
The birds sing rich.
The grass glisten wet.
My wife’s delicate lips.
My children’s gentle smile.
I am at home. And today I won’t need another thing.
I’ll work today, and it will be strenuous and long. I’ll be reminded of painful memories and bitter rivals. But those things will quickly disperse and give way to the lasting joy. Liberty. Yes, liberty is mine. And no one can take that.
God’s plan takes time. Roses wait a whole year before they bloom. And insects, weather, other plants, and disease can disrupt that at any moment. But when they bloom! My goodness!
God’s plan takes time.
Subject to Change (Eight Months Later)Chapter 21
The November sky covered the earth in a cloudy, wet mess. The sun rose behind it, barely peeking its face through the tree-line of the enchanted forest. The ravens and crows squawked and cawed from their stagnant perches. Dew ran down the strings of spider’s webs and hung in frozen brilliance above the steamy earth. The live oak’s branches bowed under the cold wind and the leaves shuddered “good morning” to each other.
The Dolor children huddled under the shadow of the great oak’s canopy, holding hands and praying. They were different children now—their lives cold and bitter like the breath in their lungs.
A barred owl looked at the children from above. It bellowed its goodnight to them before closing its eyes and taking its morning nap. The children finished their prayer and sat in awkward silence.
“How’s school, Herbert?” Marian asked, dolefully.
He rolled his eyes. “I’ve been reading a lot,” he replied.
Esther smiled, sheepishly. “Do you think it will get better?”
“Mom has Dad’s papers in the kitchen,” Marian replied. “She’s supposed to sign them today—I don’t think it’s getting better.”
“I don’t even recognize Dad anymore.” Herbert stared at the two-by-fours his father nailed into the base of the tree. His finger traced a line through a pile of dirt on top of them. “He only cares about money and Sheila.” (Sheila was Mr. Dolor’s new girlfriend that moved in to their apartment two weeks prior.)
Esther furrowed her brow, and her bottom lip quivered. Marian put her hand on Herbert’s shoulder.
“He doesn’t talk to me,” Herbert continued. “But he’s always watching. It feels weird. Like he’s waiting for me to show him something—or reveal something.”
“The artifact,” Marian whispered.
“Have you seen Aaron since I left?” Herbert asked.
Marian nodded, slowly. “I see him at school,” she trailed off. “He’s not the same since what happened to you and Dad in the dungeon.”
“It’s my fault.” Herbert flicked the floorboard with the back of his hand. “I’ve thought about it a thousand different times and a thousand different ways. I should have had a plan. I should have been able to stop them from putting the drink in Daddy’s mouth. If I was one step faster through the door in my bedroom and the Professor wouldn’t have grabbed me and Aaron.”
“Oh, Herbert, you can’t,” Esther said.
“—If only I gave the artifact to them.” Herbert threw a stick from the tree angrily. “I just kept thinking Ponce would have saved us. But he didn’t.”
“Señor Ponce de León,” Esther whispered to herself.
“I thought you threw the artifact away,” Marian said.
“I just kept thinking,” Herbert replied, “I need to keep my mouth shut. They want it so bad, it must be important. Don’t tell them anything about it.”
“Herbert—you don’t—” Marian touched her mouth.
Herbert bent down. His small hand ran under the rough edge of the two-by-four and brushed a pile of dead leaves and sticks away. A small ornate statue of granite and marble was hidden in the wet crook of the live oak. Herbert pulled it from its hiding place and showed his sisters the roaring panther ornament. It was altogether holy and delicate, a piece of history and power. The children stared in awe and silence.
“I was so afraid somehow Dad or the Professor would find it,” Herbert said, stoic. “But it’s been eight months. I don’t feel scared anymore.”
Esther shut her eyes. Her family was never meant to be apart. Her father and mother were one, inseparable. A perfect picture of harmony and love, joy and kindness. But she now understood her parent’s marriage was as fragile as the spiderweb next to her hand. A delicate and precious thing, strong and tender, but easily ripped to shreds if not properly tended. A tear ran over her round cheek and into the corner of her mouth.
“We should all be together.” Esther’s whisper quavered.
“It’s not just Dad’s fault, you know?” Marian said. Herbert looked at his sister’s angry, bitter face.
“Dad drank the poison,” Herbert interjected.
“—And Mom didn’t fight,” Marian said, spitefully. “She just gave up and said it was all a dream. I will never respect her for that.”
“Marian.” Herbert stared daggers at her. “You don’t know how bad it is with Dad now. He’s not the same.”
Esther was weeping in silence. She took a breath, wiped her face, and cleared her throat. “I wish we could go back in time and change it all,” she said.
Herbert nodded in agreement.
Marian rolled her eyes and looked away. “It’s over. The only thing we can do now is throw that artifact away for good and hope nothing else ever happens.”
The Dolors leaned against the tree trunk and waited for time to pass. In the yard, a squirrel chased another. The crickets stopped singing and the woodpeckers and flickers cried in the distant trees.
At the base of the live oak, a piece of silver unicorn horn jutted out of the side of the trunk. Long ago, before life stopped making sense, the girls had watched a beautiful silver and black unicorn prance in their backyard. They tried taking a photograph of it and thought the flash of the photo provoked the unicorn to propel its horn into the tree and snap a piece off. But the unicorn wasn’t there by chance. It was sent by the Ghost of Ponce de León for that exact moment. And the horn was there for a reason too, for the unicorn placed it especially for the Dolor children. And now the piece of horn was glowing.
“Just Like Us”Chapter 20
“Herbert…” Aaron shook him. “Herbert, wake up!”
Mr. Dolor stood next to the boys, listening to the approaching sirens. He looked down at his attire, checked his clean image in the mirror, and opened the bedroom door. He looked at Aaron on the ground. “If you leave this room,” he said. “It will be the last thing you ever do.”
He closed the door behind him, and the latch clicked from the outside. Aaron sat quietly and afraid in the middle of the bedroom.
Mr. Dolor sped down the steps to the front door as a knock rapped. He flung the door open to see two police officers, Mrs. Dolor, Marian and Esther. The girls were soaking wet.
Mr. Dolor pushed past the officers and Mrs. Dolor and dropped to his knees to hug the girls. “Oh, sweethearts!” He shouted. “I’m so glad you both are okay!” He buried his face in their arms and moaned.
Marian and Esther grinned and hugged him back. They didn’t know about anything yet, and thought he was free of the spell. Mrs. Dolor bent down to take his hand and embrace him.
“Honey?” She said.
Mr. Dolor shot up violently when she touched his shoulder. “What were you thinking taking them out in the storm in the middle of the night like that?!” He shouted. Then he looked at the officers and blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I’m sorry, I’m just so frustrated. What story did she tell you now? She’s already been lying to family and friends for days.”
“What?!” Mrs. Dolor was stunned.
The girls held his hands, but they felt cold. Something was wrong with Mr. Dolor.
“Uh, maybe we should go inside,” the deputy said. “Mr. Dolor, is everything okay with your home tonight?”
“Yes, come in,” he replied. He moved out of the way and let the officers enter the house. The lights were on, and everything was in its place. One officer stood near the family while the other wandered into the kitchen and peeked down the hallway. “And no—,” Mr. Dolor continued. “To answer your question, everything is not okay. I discovered my wife had taken my daughters out into the middle of the rain and storm this morning. I’ve been calling friends and neighbors for the last hour.”
“That’s not true at all!” Mrs. Dolor shouted. “It’s just as I said: my husband’s boss has been staying with us for the last few nights and gave something to us at dinner. There were monsters and—creatures…evil things.” Mrs. Dolor looked around the house at the normalcy of all their furniture, pictures, and unpacked boxes. The chairs were in their right places. The floor swept. The rug on the couch in the proper drape. She knew from the look on the officer’s face he wasn’t believing anything she said.
The officer turned to Mr. Dolor. “Mrs. Dolor was concerned about you,” he said. “Someone found her screaming and running down the street in the rain with your daughters, saying you, your son and his friend needed help.” Mr. Dolor shook his head and rolled his eyes at the ceiling. He sighed, exasperated.
“I can’t believe this,” Mr. Dolor’s voice cracked. “I can’t believe this is happening to us.”
“Is everything alright, Mr. Dolor?” The officer asked.
“Can we please speak privately?” Mr. Dolor asked.
The two men stepped aside into the living-room, leaving Mrs. Dolor and the girls alone at the kitchen table.
“What is going on?” Esther whispered.
“I don’t know,” Marian replied. “Something is wrong with Dad.”
“Do you think the Professor is still here?”
“Everything seems fine now,” Marian said. “But Dad doesn’t seem right.”
“Mom, what do you think?”
Mrs. Dolor stared catatonic at the floor. Her jaw flexed, and a tear dripped down her cheek. “I need to find Herbert,” she whispered. She sniffed a tear up and looked at the girls. “Maybe it was all a dream.”
“What?” Esther asked, shocked. “No—Mom, you saw what we saw.”
“But stuff like that doesn’t happen,” she sighed. “It just—it just doesn’t make sense.”
“We got into a fight at dinnertime,” Mr. Dolor explained. He and the officers stood in the living-room next to the bookshelf, the raven perched on early that evening.
“It upset the kids,” he continued. “I said some things I shouldn’t have. But my wife—I hate to say it—it breaks my heart. She’s been struggling with our move to St. Augustine. Putting wild stories in the kids’ heads about my boss and new job. Drinking wine in the evening more than usual. I’m thinking of getting her some help. But—” Mr. Dolor’s bottom lip quivered. “God, it’s so painful to admit.”
“When did you find out your wife and daughters were missing?”
Mr. Dolor wiped a tear away. “Only an hour ago.” His eyes raced around the ceiling, trying to hold back more tears. “I called around to some people I work with. But I don’t—I don’t know many people around town, yet.” His Adam’s Apple shook up and down. “I didn’t want to resort to calling the police. I—I know I should have done it sooner. I just—I just didn’t want to believe it gotten that bad.”
“Where’s your boy now, Mr. Dolor?” The officer asked.
“Asleep upstairs, with his friend spending the night,” Mr. Dolor replied.
The officer looked around the living-room, studying every portion of the couch, fireplace, television, bookshelf. “Mr. Dolor, I suggest you call someone for some counseling for you and your wife. There is help the two of you can get, and someone may be able to help with the delusions.”
“Thank you, sir,” Mr. Dolor nodded. “I’ll call around first thing in the morning.” He chuckled. “Well, I guess that’s now, isn’t it?”
“Your daughters were very convinced this house was haunted,” the officer said. “They may need some someone to talk to, as well. At their age, seeing a parent go through erratic behavior can affect them greatly.”
“God, I hope they are okay,” Mr. Dolor replied.
The three men returned to Mrs. Dolor and the girls at the kitchen table. The girls could tell whatever Mr. Dolor told them was not good.
“Mrs. Dolor,” the deputy addressed her, “your husband is going to being looking for some ways to get you some help. Someone to talk to so you can find out what happened last night that made you run outside in the storm.”
The girls looked at their mother. She remained motionless, but tears filled her eyes.
“Do you understand taking your daughters out in the middle of a storm like that was very dangerous?” The officer asked.
Mrs. Dolor stared at the tabletop.
The officer waited for a response and turned his attention to the girls when she refused to answer. “Girls,” he said, “your mother is going to be okay. She needs some rest, and I bet both of you do, too. Your dad is going to take care of you.”
“I don’t understand,” Marian glared at the officer. Esther remained silent.
“Thank you, officer,” Mr. Dolor said, “for bringing my family home safe.” Mr. Dolor walked the deputies to the front door, and they exited. Marian heard them step down the front steps saying something about how ridiculous this one was, and the other, chuckling, “monsters and vampires”.
“What is going on?” Marian asked as the front door closed.
“It’ll be okay,” Esther said to herself. “As long as we just stick together.”
“No, that’s not going to happen.” Mr. Dolor turned to face them, and his demeanor changed drastically. He stood straight and narrow, like a pillar, barely breathing or moving. “Mrs. Dolor serves no purpose for Mr. Dauer’s endgame. However, the act of her disposal may slow my other actions down. Therefore, I’ll simply be taking Herbert away. As I know, the artifact isn’t anywhere in the house, it must be somewhere locked away in his memories.”
“What are you saying?” Mrs. Dolor looked up from her daze and met Mr. Dolor’s eyes. Her heart lifted into her throat and she had trouble breathing.
“I’m saying I don’t love you any longer,” Mr. Dolor replied, harshly. “And perhaps, never loved you.”
“How could you say that?” Mrs. Dolor whispered.
A tear fell down Esther’s cheek.
“This is unacceptable!” Marian shouted.
“You aren’t fit to mother our children,” Mr. Dolor declared. “What with your delusions and raving lunacy. Nor are you capable of being my wife any longer. The only child I need or care about is the boy. Therefore, take the girls and the house. Herbert and I will be gone by this evening.”
It’s a dangerous business walking out your front door. And once you let the unnerving, unexplainable, nonsensical, treacherous wild into your heart, you realize it wasn’t looking to make your life exciting, it was looking to kill you for your inevitable rebirth.
I’m excited to announce the release of my second full-length album, Welcome to the Wild. I began writing Welcome… a month before Grief… was released and knew that I would share the songs with the world sooner than later.
I wanted to create a collection of music that carries the themes of The Wild—Peace, Comfort, Bizarre, Chaos, Fear, Excitement, Death, Violence, Birth, Life, and Allure. The Greek goddess of the wilderness is Artemis. So I wanted to give her a voice that carried throughout the album, hidden underneath—a theme running throughout all of this journey.
The Way… acts as an overture to the album.
Welcome… is its anthem.
No More Time… was based on a beautiful plea that George Bailey gives to God while on his suicide bridge in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, just before God meets him in his honest desperation. (It’s time signature is an homage to the idea of life’s bizarre timing.)
Electrify is based on a word the Lord gave my family for the year 2023.
Artemis is a simple progression of the complicated nature of the wilderness.
Watch the World Burn is a love song and dance between husband and wife, groom and bride, Christ and Church.
Ferrocerium is the spark needed to start a fire.
Forest Fire is my aim at portraying this deadly cycle that yields itself to the peace and life in the forest again.
Welcome to the Wild is available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, and wherever else you may look for music. *Released March 24th, 2023
Worst NightmareChapter 19
Herbert’s eyes wouldn’t open. His conscience crept back like a wispy cloud, first his emotions, then his imagination. He was in absolute darkness, floating, falling, or standing. He felt an incisor dislodge itself from his mouth. The tooth spun in front of his face, like a rotating shuttle turning over in outer space. It sailed away from him, shrinking smaller and smaller until it didn’t look like a tooth anymore. Now it looked like a woman, with long, flowing black hair and a happy smile. Her eyes were up, grinning in wonder at her spouse.
Herbert recognized her. It was Squannit, the wife of Maushop the Giant. She was riding on his shoulder and laughing as he carried her away to safety. Tears ran down Herbert’s face, and his chest bounced rapidly. She was safe and joyful. They were finally together again, with no worry or fear.
But she transformed again. Now she wasn’t Squannit. She was Herbert. And he was asleep, held in the arms of the Ghost of Ponce de León. He hovered over the earth and glowed in majestic blue light. His color covered Herbert, and he felt assurance. Not the sort of feeling that comes with being assured. But he felt like he actually met the Person known as Assurance. He never wanted to wake up, because he knew once he did he wouldn’t be in the Ghost’s arms anymore. He would be tied up to some chair again. And stuck under the frozen Pendulum, just as it all started. The tooth floated away into the darkness and Herbert’s eyes blinked. His head hurt and his wrists felt coarse wood against them. He was bound to a chair just as he knew he would be.
But he was inside the dungeon, just as he had hoped to be. Only he was a prisoner, instead of a hero. He licked his teeth and made sure all of them were still intact. It was just some weird dream from being hit on his head too hard. To his left, Aaron hung from the stone ceiling, inside of an iron cage called a gibbet. Herbert recognized it from an old video game his father showed him with people tortured and left for dead. The game itself looked silly compared to the real thing. Ugly rusted iron bolts and long dangerous spikes on the top and bottom coated in dried blood. Aaron was unconscious inside of it, but he looked okay.
Opposite the room, another prisoner was bound with hands hung in iron locks. His wet hair was matted to his lacerated face. His lower lip puffed out yellow and red, swollen so big that he could see it with his own eyes. Blood dripped from it to his chest. He was watching Herbert in silence, too exhausted to speak, too afraid to move. It was Mr. Dolor.
“Dad…” Herbert whispered.
Mr. Dolor gasped and tried to smile at his boy, but his hope faded and his chest shook in heartache. The curtain on the wall flung wide, and the Professor entered. Herbert looked at him, afraid to speak.
“It took a while before Mr. Dolor started screaming,” the Professor said. “But after a few sessions with the chupacabra, he loosed up. After all, we needed some good screams if we were going to get you to reveal yourself.”
The Professor pulled the curtain back to one side of the wall and anchored it with a hook. On the far side, Mr. Dauer sprawled out on his throne, just like Herbert saw him earlier. His legs crossed, and his crocodile and snake skinned shoes tapped one another. His hand propped on his cane, and the top-hat hung low over his eyes.
“Why are you doing this?” Herbert asked. His voice quavered.
Mr. Dauer’s top-hat raised and his eyes peered out from under. The Professor watched him and nodded. He looked back at Herbert and stepped toward Mr. Dolor. “Herbert,” he said, as if introducing a play at a theatre. “It’s what we’ve always wanted. Tell us where the artifact is and all of this can be over.”
“I don’t—I don’t—” Herbert stammered. “I don’t know—”
“Herbert!” The Professor roared. “Tell us where that blasted artifact is now or I will end your father.”
“Hey,” Mr. Dolor whispered. His mouth spat bloody froth when he spoke, and his voice was weak and slurred. “Leave ma boy ‘lone.”
The Professor leaned down to Mr. Dolor’s ear and whispered. “Never forget, leech, you are the one who allowed me to come into this pitiful home. You are the one who let me play the music and take your boy.” He patted him on the back and Mr. Dolor reeled forward. “Don’t grow a nasty moral compass now.”
The Professor looked back to Herbert. “WHERE IS THE ARTIFACT!” He screamed.
The noise woke Aaron in the iron cage. He looked around, trying to make sense of everything.
“I threw it away!” Herbert cried.
The dungeon was so silent that Aaron thought he heard a mouse peep from a hole in the stone. The Professor looked at the Top-Hat Man, disconcerted. Mr. Dauer raised his hand to his chin.
“Why would I want to keep something that reminded me of what I did?” Herbert bowed his head in shame. “It’s my fault the gate opened. My fault the creatures got out and the Top-Hat Man got in. My fault that you’re my dad’s boss.”
“You stupid child!” The Professor screamed. “I was never in that dank forest. We were always out here. You insolent—do you have any idea what you’ve done!”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Herbert fired back. “Why do you want an artifact that has no purpose any more? There’s a new one in the gate. Mine was useless. Go get the other one out of the gate if you want it so bad!”
The Professor ran to Herbert’s side, and Aaron thought he hovered as he did. The Professor reared his hand back to slap Herbert. “I already told you, there is no new artifact—”
“I swar to Gawd—’m gonn rip ‘ou ‘par!” Mr. Dolor screamed, and the Professor stopped from hitting Herbert. “‘Soon s’i get ou’ t‘ere—”
“No,” the Professor calmed down. “No, you won’t.” He glanced back at the Top-Hat Man. “But you will rip someone else apart.”
Herbert heard a strange sound like a rolling pin against the stone floor, bouncing over cracks and mortar. It slid to the hallway door and ended with a loud bang against the wood. The Professor opened the door, and the chef entered with the cart the boys hid underneath. On top of it, the large silver kettle boiled the red tonic.
“La Ars Nova makes the children of men see clearly,” the Professor soliloquized. “Makes them see like we do.”
The chef ladled out a bowl of the concoction.
“Makes them understand why the artifact belongs to Mr. Dauer.” The Professor carried the bowl to Mr. Dolor. “For there should never be a time without him.”
Mr. Dolor recognized what was happening. “Son,” He stammered and locked on Herbert. Herbert’s heart went to his throat. He struggled to breathe and pulled on his restraints. “I ‘ove ‘ou, son—look t’me—I…love…you.”
Herbert stopped struggling and looked at Mr. Dolor. His bloody face was smiling at him. “I love you, too, Daddy,” he whimpered.
The Professor pulled Mr. Dolor’s hair, yanking his head back. Mr. Dolor’s mouth opened in pain and the Professor dumped the bowl of red mucus into his throat. He and the chef held his mouth shut. His body convulsed and thrashed against the chains, but couldn’t get away. The boys screamed for help, but none came.
Then Mr. Dolor’s body fell limp, and he looked asleep. The Professor nodded at the chef, who stammered to his cart and exited the dungeon. The Professor wiped his suit and brushed off his porcelain skin. He leaned in close to Mr. Dolor’s ear and whispered, “Now, you are just like us.”
Mr. Dolor’s eyes shot open. His head twitched and his neck cracked. The cuts on his face closed up and the blood disappeared. His swollen lip shrunk to a normal size and his skin turned pale. He looked deviously at the Professor.
The Professor pulled a key from his coat pocket and unlocked the irons around his wrists. He stepped back like Mr. Dolor was a wild animal. Mr. Dolor’s arms fell to his sides, and he lay limp for a moment. Then, his legs wobbled under him like he had never used them before. His breath spluttered in and out of his mouth and wheezed from his lungs. He looked around the dungeon walls, eyes twitching and rolling every which way. He locked onto Herbert across from him.
“Dad?” Herbert whispered.
“No, Herbert, no!” Aaron hollered.
Mr. Dolor leapt across the room like a panther and tackled Herbert’s chair. He ripped at the ropes with his hands. Aaron screamed for help and banged against the gibbet, swinging in the air.
Herbert’s ropes were free, but he was under the weight of Mr. Dolor. His fists slapped him in the face and punched his skull. Herbert shrieked in pain, a blood-curdling cry for help, but no one came. He begged for his father to cease, but he made no sense. Aaron screamed for help and rattled the cage. The slaps and tears kept lashing and Herbert pleaded to die.
His own broken heart knocked him out. He sagged in Mr. Dolor’s arms, limp as a corpse. His father stopped hitting him and examined him like a confused dog examines a dead puppy it played with too hard. He patted Herbert’s head, and it rolled on the ground. Mr. Dolor started whimpering like a child. Herbert’s body lay across his arms. He burst into tears and threw his head back, screaming.
“Shh…” the Professor approached Mr. Dolor slowly with arms out in front of him. “It’s alright. The boy fell asleep while you tried to get him talking.”
Mr. Dolor looked up at him and wiped his eyes and nose with the side of his forearm. He looked around the room like a lost child, before dropping Herbert’s body on the ground.
“We both know that the boy didn’t throw away the artifact,” the Professor said. “But we have no more time in this night. So it’s your job now, Dolor. Get Mr. Dauer that artifact. Or you’ll never feel the sunlight on your skin again.”
Aaron watched from the cage. The Professor stepped passed him, and he pressed away from him, against the bars. The Professor stood in the middle of the room and looked at the ceiling. He held his arms up at his sides and closed his eyes.
“The Pendulum and the Song are finished,” he whispered.
Then high in the house, at the top of the attic, the walls shook. Like fidgeting gelatinous waves, the shiplap walls rippled downward in a dance. The rain on the windows turned to ice, and then a puff of steam.
Above the solitary wooden chair that earlier held Herbert, the Pendulum hung in stasis. The rippling walls crept upward across the ceiling and down the steel chain. The Pendulum’s edges wrinkled like burnt pieces of paper. It closed in on itself like a fist before snapping open in bright colors of gold and bronze. It swung violently against the side of the rooftop. A final gong blasted from its core, melting the metal and chain into a syrup like mercury. The walls shook and split in half at the sound of its voice. The clang echoed down into every room. Halls, doors, and windows shook from its power. It reverberated through the copper pipes, drywall and insulation. Every last floorboard rattled under its mighty voice. And every door slammed, every monster vanished into dust, and every creature disappeared in a flash. All except the Professor.
Herbert, Aaron, Mr. Dolor, and he were in Herbert’s room again, at the top of the Dolor house. Everything looked normal, and the sun was rising in the east. Aaron was no longer in an iron cage, but on top of Herbert’s bed. Herbert was unconscious on the floor rug, next to the crouching Mr. Dolor, and the Professor stood by the east window.
A familiar whine echoed in the morning air outside. It was the sound of whistling and whirring police sirens. A sound that used to frighten Aaron. But today, made his chest burst with hope.
The Professor cracked the window open and looked up at him. “Wanna see something special, kid?” He smiled.
Aaron clenched his fists and aimed to jump at the Professor. But Professor Ludwig Wolfgang vanished in a puff of smoke. Aaron looked for him in the smog and debris, but there was no man. Only a single bat whipping about in the air. It danced in Aaron’s face, as if to mock him, and flapped out the open window, into the sunrise.
A Banquet of MonstersChapter 18
All over the kitchen, clatter, music, and laughing flitted through the air. Food and wine passed from chef to servant, who passed it along from servant to guest. Platters of beef, venison, and lamb and stacks of mashed potatoes, beans, cauliflower, and sliced tomatoes. On the far side of the accordion kitchen doors, kisses and plates passed around a ballroom full of dancing and laughing.
Red wine splashed from clanging cups, and the patrons giggled as it hit the floor. A drunken fool slipped in it and knocked over a woman carrying a bowl of beef stew. The stew flew to the ground and six guests dropped to their knees, slurping the mess up with their hands.
But none of them were guests that the Dolors would ever invite over. Both the kitchen and ballroom were full of vampires, demons, witches, and ghouls, dressed in tuxedos and gowns for the banquet.
Aaron’s little eyes peered over the edge of the dumbwaiter and darted around the room. An obese vampiress in a red dress howled from the ballroom when a shrimpy, obscene, green demon made her laugh. A ghoul floated above the kitchen island and chewed on the fat of a stuck pig. The food slid down its entrails and back onto the table and floor, covered in a milky white substance. Other guests picked up the defecated leftovers and ate them. A little red man with horns on his head laughed in the corner at nothing, while a witch painted her nails on a stool, and a Minotaur looked awkwardly left and right at nothing.
Aaron’s hands trembled, and he didn’t know if it was because they were tired or he was afraid.
“What do you see?” Herbert whispered.
Aaron couldn’t speak when he looked down at Herbert. He knew they made a mistake, but there was nowhere else to go. The rope was gone, and he felt too weak to make the climb back down.
The howl of a man, clearly in pain, came through the open shaft above. It sounded like it came from a dungeon far, far away.
“C’mon!” Herbert said. “We gotta get to my Dad!”
Aaron shook his head and glanced around the room again. No one seemed to be paying attention to the dumbwaiter. He pulled on the edge and leapt through the opening.
Herbert didn’t realize how much having Aaron next to him made him feel better about hovering over that long vent until he was gone. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His arms were so tired as his shoulder inched upward. His tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth while his foot scooted up the rest of the way. He reached out his fingers and took hold of the opening.
The door came under his chin, and his eyes widened when he saw the party inside. In front of him, on the lower shelf of a kitchen cart (the same island Herbert hid behind earlier in the night), Aaron cowered and waited beside a row of pots and pans. Herbert shook his head in disbelief. He gulped, clenched his eyes, and dove through the opening.
His hands splashed on the tile. The ghoul’s milky substance was all over it and covered his hands and knees. He scuttled to the cart and climbed onto the shelf with Aaron. They looked around in horror and prayed no one had seen them crawl on.
“What are we doing?” Herbert whispered.
“You said, ‘go through the kitchen’!” Aaron reminded.
“Oh my God,” Herbert sighed.
The boys peered around the pots and kettles, and through the legs of demons, vampires and witches, for the pantry door. At least a dozen enemies were laughing, drinking, and flirting in the kitchen on every side. They couldn’t fathom getting through it all.
“To victory!” A shout came from the ballroom. It stirred an echo and soon everyone was shouting. “To victory! To the victory of his future and past!” Each of the patrons lifted their drinks and gulped the red wine in unison. The boys eyed each other and wondered if it was an opportunity to drop and run for the pantry on the other side of the kitchen.
While they perused the room and timed their chance, Aaron noticed a sulky figure not toasting in the corner of the kitchen. It was the Minotaur. He looked miserable, hunched over and maybe even a little sad. Aaron had the impression that he was in trouble, though he wasn’t tied up or anything. As if he were in “time-out”.
“Should we go for it?” Herbert asked.
A bang came from behind them, and the kitchen door flung open. The drunken fool who crashed into the woman with the stew, splashed into the kitchen and flung himself against the cart the boys were on. It rolled forward, and the boys gripped the edges to keep from spilling off and into the feet of the guests.
The drunk’s arms flailed in the air and he cried, “More wine, connoisseur, more wine!”
A low growly voice replied, “You’ve had enough wine, Wormwood,” and Herbert recognized it as the chef.
“Oh, then give me some of this then!” The drunk said and dipped his slimy finger into a kettle on the cart. A red concoction stretched from his finger to the kettle like mucus.
“That is the Professor’s La Ars Nova Tonic,” the chef warned, “and no one is to use it but Mr. Dauer.
“Oh, but it looks tasty!” Wormwood held a piece near his outstretched tongue.
“That’s enough!” The chef stepped forward with a cleaver in his hand.
“Or what, fat man, you gonna stop me?”
The boys heard the cleaver hit skin and bone, then the head of the drunk flop onto the ground next to them. An uproar shook through the kitchen and everyone came to see. They kicked and pulled to grab at the corpse and take bites out of it. Soon, limbs and organs passed around on plates and trays to the patrons out in the ballroom.
The boys peered out from under the cart in horror. The cart rattled under their hands and knees, and they realized the whole house was shaking from the vibration of the gong, echoing from the Pendulum at the top of the house.
“Oh, shut up!” A witch screeched at the chime and went back to her meal.
The boys wouldn’t wait any longer. They scurried off the cart and scampered to the other side of the kitchen on all fours. Aaron looked back for Herbert before bouncing off the backend of the chef.
He fell down onto the tile and looked at the grotesque man looming over him. The folds of his skin bellowed under his clothing like crashing wild waves. He turned and looked down at the frightful boy. Herbert stopped in the middle of the kitchen between Aaron and the cart, and searched the room in panic, before stopping on the Minotaur hunched in the corner. The Minotaur’s eyes met his, and the two looked at the chef raising his cleaver over Aaron’s body.
The chef grinned at the boy and tried to swing the blade, but a frying-pan slammed into his head and sent him crashing against an oven. The boys turned to see the Minotaur standing over them with his hoof hand held out.
“Go!” The mythical beast hollered. He turned around and lunged his horns into the two nearest patrons, a witch and a vampire, picked each of them up and threw them like rag dolls at a group of bystanders. Monsters shrieked. Witches howled. Demons fled. The ghouls vanished. And the boys dove into the pantry.
“Ah!” A painful roar came from the Minotaur and Aaron stopped to look back. The patrons rallied together. They were leaping at the Minotaur now, with knives, pans, pots, claws and teeth. They were on him. He was slipping under the weight of the evil creatures.
Herbert jerked Aaron into the bedroom, slammed the door, and locked it secure. They collected themselves on the floor of the bedroom, next to their blankets and pillows.
“What was that about?” Herbert gasped.
“Who in the world knows?” Aaron panted. “But we made it.”
The boys stood up next to the floating door in the middle of the room. On its other side were long halls of stone and orange candlelit corridors.
“One of those leads to Dad,” Herbert said, wiping his brow. “We can’t stop now. Let’s just get through as fast as we can. Maybe—maybe Dad can…” He trailed off.
Both knew now that no one, not even Mr. Dolor, stood a chance against all the monsters in the house. It was a last ditch effort that turned impossible. They hugged each other and mustered the strength to continue.
“One stupid step at a time,” Aaron muttered.
They leaned forward into the passage as two long arms came from behind, out of the darkness, and yanked at their shirts. Flailing in the air like puppets from their collars, they spun their necks to see the Professor holding them.
“Hello boys.” Professor Wolfgang grinned.