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 + Open : The Dark Side of Joy

Return from the Dark Side.

I have a tumultuous past, and have mentioned parts of that tale here and there. The single good thing that comes from my history is that it makes for interesting stories, and if you've read much on this website you may agree.

About a year ago, I decided to immerse myself in a larger writing project. I wanted to create something with meat and meaning to it. Creative processes such as this have a way of working their way into my mind, and making my brain itch; I become obsessed, and am compelled to focus on them to the exclusion of almost everything else. It helps when the story is something personal, that has meaning to me.

Oddly enough, the seed for this project came from how I got my first motorcycle, a 650 BSA Lightening. I could simply say something like, 'I bought it from a friend', but that isn't even close the whole story. There is a huge tangle of tragic circumstance attached to that tale. It's a story based on an event which completely changed the direction my life would take, and drastically altered my personality and world view. So, one thing led to another, and seven months, and a hundred and twenty thousand words later, my book, 'the Dark Side of Joy' came into existence.

Once the project was complete, I wondered what the heck I was going to do with it? At first I considered putting it piecemeal on this website, but I liked the story enough that I wanted to share it with a larger audience. Then I learned that it was possible to put my work on the Amazon.com website, where anyone can obtain either an electronic Kindle version, or a print version of my work.

So, is 'the Dark Side of Joy' something that you would be interested in reading? Maybe. I've you've read and enjoyed the stories on this website, then I suspect that you might like it. For the guys, there's a body count, and for the ladies there's a romance. Click the button below for the product description. If you're interested, click on the link on this page.

So, I'm back from the Dark Side. I've shared my story, and now anyone can read it.

I hope you enjoy it.

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 + Open : Product description

The Dark Side of Joy, product description on Amazon.com.

A story of survival...

Twelve-year-old Alan Smith had everything going for him; he was athletic, popular, and excelled scholastically. The only problem was that his parents were criminals. The lies he was forced to tell to protect his parents isolated him; his entire life was based on deception.

On April 23, 1967, the lies ended. That night, the police kicked in the door to his home and took his parents away. With that, every relationship in his life fell apart. His extended family abandoned him out of shame, and friendships based on dishonesty crumbled and collapsed. Alan soon found himself homeless and alone.

What follows is an odyssey of the human spirit. Alan will learn to survive the loss of friends, juvenile detention, foster care, and finally life with other lost children selling drugs on the street for an outlaw motorcycle club. As he struggles to cope within increasingly hostile environments, dealing with abandonment, mindless violence, extreme brutality, and murder, he adapts, evolves, and in the end, becomes someone new.

Alan finds hope amid all this suffering when he meets Swan, his first true love. It is through this romance that Alan learns the greatest and most difficult lesson of all, that there is a dark side to joy.

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 + Open : Look Inside

A look inside the Dark Side of Joy

Chapter 1: Morning

A light breeze wanders through the Aspens, causing the leaves to hiss and rustle, sounding like ghostly whispers of a forgotten conversation. The air is cool, but not unpleasantly so, it glides over his arms and face much like a lover's tender caress. The rising sun bathes the mountains before him with a warm golden glow; the trees on those distant slopes are ablaze with their bright yellow fall colors, looking like fire burning against the rough granite cliffs.

He is an old man sitting on the back deck with his morning cup of coffee, watching the sunrise brighten the Shoshone Mountains to the west. This is one of the few pleasures left to him; like any machine his body is showing its age; once he was active and fit, but now it's easier to just sit and watch as the world starts to move on without him.

The coffee cup is warm in his hands; he smiles and closes his eyes as he breathes in its rich aroma prior to taking another sip. Times are good now, but once it seemed that life was nothing more than coping with one catastrophe after another, his path always determined by what needed to be done to survive the moment.

Now though, he is nearly at the end and is content. His life has been good in many ways, but hard in countless others; soon he will leave it all behind without complaint. At times, his fatigue is nearly overwhelming, and the thought of falling into that blessed darkness to forever sleep at ease is compelling beyond measure.

Memories drift through his mind, like ghosts wandering the halls of an ancient mansion. Mostly their murmuring only taunts or tickles, but at other times they prick and make him bleed. That's the way it is with life; pain and pleasure being different sides of the same coin, one can't exist without the other. Many of his sweetest remembrances, are fraught with misery.

Once more the Aspens whisper and he sighs, takes another sip of coffee, then places the cup onto the chipped mosaic table at his side. He closes his eyes and rests his head against the back of the Adirondack deck chair, listening to the sweet rustling of the leaves, and remembers.

Chapter 2: April 23 – 24, 1967

The loud and tedious drone of the single aircraft engine slowed his thoughts and he drifted in and out of sleep. He sat behind his parents in the middle row of their Cessna 185 airplane, and looked through the side window at the nighttime city lights below. There, bright pin pricks of light sparkled and glowed like the embers of a dying fire.

Spotlights rotated in the distance, advertising either a feature film at the cinema or a business grand opening. The beacons painted the night sky with brilliant columns of illumination, and reminded him of old movies about the Allied bombing of Europe during the last days of World War 2. In those features, the spotlights were intended to pick out and target American bombers; and just as he thought this, a blazing shaft of white light hit their small airplane betraying it to the night. The light passed in an instant, but in the following darkness he worried that perhaps this encounter was a bad omen.

Alan squirmed uneasily in his cramped seat, surrounded by rumpled cardboard boxes that were filled with kilogram sized bricks of marijuana. Similar boxes lay across the bench seat behind him, and also filled the cargo hold of the Cessna. The herb's rich and oddly warm scent filled the cabin and he wondered idly if the smell, that now permeated his clothing, would be noticed by his friends at school the next day.

Although quiet, polite, and soft spoken, he attracted a crowd of extroverted friends who perhaps sought out his company because he never competed with them for attention. He was tall and slender, but athletically built, with collar length black hair and light blue eyes. Between classes at Middle School he enjoyed playing baseball and soccer, and was just beginning to notice the lingering looks girls gave him during class.

This coming June he would graduate from Middle School; he had skipped the fifth grade, and so would be only thirteen years old when he entered High School. His love of reading, which had propelled him rapidly through his studies, had started early in life; at only three years old he had memorized most of his children's books, and by the time he entered kindergarten he was reading at a third-grade level. Over the past few years, reading had also become a pleasant refuge from the craziness of his life at home.

He knew that his parent's activities were illegal, and believed that 'bad things' would happen if they were caught, but had no exact idea what those 'bad things' were. Fear of that unknown was a constant burden that filled his chest with a heavy and ominous sense of dread. Perhaps things would have been easier if he had a sibling, someone that he could confide in regarding their shared circumstance, but he was an only child, and so the burden was only his.

The long day had left him drained. He had awoken early that Sunday morning to the sound of his parents arguing. Money had been tight lately because during a recent attempt to open up sales in the mid-west, his Father had been mugged and his drugs and money stolen. That morning his father had insisted that they fly south to San Diego to pick up a large shipment of pot. This consignment was a favor granted by their supplier; although they would only get a small portion of the profits it would be enough to recover some of their losses in the mid-west, and help them start up their illegal business again.

Now their journey was finally coming to a close, and he was impatient to get back home. As the airplane started its final approach to land at Palo Alto Airport, he felt anxious to return to the security of his bedroom. Once ensconced and safe, he could sleep, and get ready for school the next morning.

After landing, his Father taxied the airplane to their outdoor tie-down space, then shut down the engine. Through his window, he saw that everything outside was dark and still; there were no lights in this part of the airport, so no one could see what they were about to do. "Alan," his father said, "help me unload, while your mother goes and gets the car."

Bundled in his warm corduroy coat he followed his parents outside; first helping his father tie the airplane down for the night, and then removing the heavy boxes of marijuana from the Cessna and setting them out on the tarmac. After his mother returned, they all worked together to fill the trunk and most of the back seat of their 1960 Ford Thunderbird with the thick smelling weed; he counted 244 kilogram bricks, this was one of the largest shipments that he could remember.

He climbed into the back seat their car, and almost immediately fell into a light sleep. He rocked back and forth in a soothing slumber as his father drove them over the winding mountain road to their home in Redwood Terrace, a small town just south of San Francisco, nestled in the redwood forest that hug the California coast. Once they were home, he helped his parents unload the pot and stack it in a big pile at the center of their living room, and then he went to bed.

There's a constant tension that comes with a life such as his. Some, like his father, find the risk of getting caught exciting. He was not like that; he believed that the risks rose the longer that the illegal activity continued. His parents had been selling pot and acid (LSD) in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for nearly two years, and he could see his father was becoming increasingly reckless. He had no clear idea of what would happen if his parents got caught, but he worried constantly about the possibility.

Alone in his room, he sat at the edge of his bed. A tightness had gripped his heart, and he felt breathless with anxiety. His parents were his parents, and as such he was bound to whatever decision they made. As their son, his role was to lie to his friends about most of his family life, and keeping those secrets made him stressed and uneasy. After a few minutes of slow breathing, the pressure in his chest eased and he was at last able to lay down, close down his thinking, and ease into a deep dreamless sleep.

*****

He awoke abruptly to the sound of a crash. Confused and afraid, and still tangled in the last tendrils of sleep he quickly sat up as two men wearing dark business suits rushed into his bedroom with their guns drawn. They pointed their pistols at him as he cowered backward against the wall beside his bed, then one of the men gruffly commanded, "Get up!"

Tightness in his chest suddenly clamped around his heart, and he felt bile rise up in his throat. He stared wordlessly at the two men as the dreaded realization hit; his parent's illegal activities had been discovered; they had been pinned to the night sky by a searchlight, and now the destruction of his family was assured. Still struggling to speak, he stared wide-eyed at the two men. Finally, in a weak voice he asked, "Can I get dressed first?"

Both men slowly lowered their weapons. They looked a bit abashed and ashamed of themselves, probably for holding a half-naked twelve-year-old boy at gunpoint. After first glancing at his partner, one of the men finally said, "Ok, get dressed."

They stood and watched as he got out of bed, wearing only his underwear. He felt vulnerable and somewhat violated under their scrutiny as he put on a pair of jeans, some thick white sox, and then pulled on a pair of scuffed Engineer Boots. After that, while the men still looked on suspiciously, he took a flannel shirt out of his dresser drawer and put it on. He then walked between the two men with his head down in both shame and terror, as they escorted him from his bedroom out into the living room.

Both his mother and father sat handcuffed on the floor, while several men ransacked the room. They yelled angrily at his parents, demanding to know where all the drugs were hidden. If he hadn't been so frightened at the time, he would have thought that this entire act was funny, because all the dope was in plain view, stacked neatly in the center of the room.

Outside he could hear his dog Rex barking. The little blond terrier mutt was doing his best to protect his property. In the distance, he heard someone shouting inarticulate commands and then a yip from his dog, as if he had been kicked.

The policemen ordered him to sit on the floor, so he sat cross legged and watched as hostile strangers destroyed his home. They upended furniture, flung books and other items across the room, and even tore wooden paneling off one of the walls. After a while, it became apparent that there wasn't any more dope to be found, and so the they stacked a number of kilogram bricks of pot inside the wall where the paneling had been removed, and then took photographs of it.

He then watched as his parents were taken outside, handcuffed and at gun point, and loaded into the back of separate police cruisers. As this was going on, a conversation took place out of his earshot; both suited and uniformed officers would look at him, then talk with his mother, and then return to chatting amongst themselves. He had no idea what was going on, but had a feeling something important was being decided.

Soon his parents were driven away, and he was left alone with these dangerous and destructive men. A short while later, he was ordered into the back of an unmarked police car and locked inside. He assumed that he was being taken to jail, because that's what they did with criminals, wasn't it? Panic tightened its grasp on his heart. Was he a criminal simply because his parents were? He supposed so, since he had helped them load and unload their illegal cargos. This seemed unjust; he had only followed his parent's orders, what else could he have done?

The inside of the car was dark and cold, and he could hear alien sounding chatter over the police radio. As he was driven out of his driveway, fear driven tears rolled silently down his cheeks. Wanting to hide this weakness from his captors, he leaned forward and placed his face on his folded arms that rested on his knees. He was terrified, and wished he could somehow vanish.

They didn't travel very far before he felt the car turn into another driveway. Looking up, he saw they had pulled onto the dirt road that led to the Johnson's house. Before his parents had entered the drug trade, his mother had been close friends with Mrs. Johnson. He had known the Johnson's children, Mary and John, since before he went to Kindergarten. When the car stopped, he saw through the windshield that another police cruiser was already parked in the driveway ahead of them, beyond which his mother was pleading with Mrs. Johnson; he wondered what was going on?

After a few minutes his mother was put back into the police cruiser, and then his door was suddenly opened and he was told to get out. "You're staying with these people for a while," one dark and forbidding policeman said from the shadows. As both police cars pulled away, he was left abandoned in the Johnson's driveway, clutching only an old corduroy jacket that he had been allowed to take with him.

Feeling forsaken and suddenly lonely, he shivered in the darkness, as the cold moist fingers of mountain air caressed his body. In just an hour, perhaps two, his entire life had been shattered. Everything he believed about the world and his place in it, was different now. What could have been, now would never be. He was suddenly alone, surrounded by angry strangers, and carried uncontrollably forward by currents he didn't understand.

"You'll sleep on our couch tonight Alan," Mrs. Johnson said. She put her arm around his shoulder and walked him toward their front door.

Mr. Johnson was waiting in the shadows beside the door. "Your parents were filthy drug dealers?" he asked in a harsh and angry voice. "How did we not know?"

Mrs. Johnson told her husband to hush and go back inside. "It will be all right," she said in a light airy whisper that her husband would not hear. Once inside, she set a thick woolen blanket on the couch, then said, "Lay down and try to sleep." She paused a moment, seeming to consider something, then continued, "Alan, you don't have to go to school tomorrow if you don't want to."

This startled him; the very idea of not going to school just seemed wrong. He suddenly wondered, what would his friends think of him now that his family's secret was out? Would they still be his friends?

His first inclination was that he wanted to hide, as if by remaining unseen he could somehow avoid the fallout of this sudden shift in his life's direction. That would be just a delay though, because there was no way to avoid the coming maelstrom; the best way to withstand such a thing was to go straight through it. The shortest path was usually the most direct. So, after a long pause he answered quietly, "I'll go to school I guess."

Later has he lay on a foreign couch, in an alien house, he thought that sleep would be hard to find. Soon though, he closed his eyes, and a dreamless oblivion claimed him. The mind when confronted with more than it can handle, often shuts down.

*****

The next morning, he came awake quickly. Looking about with sand filled eyes, he was immediately aware of where he was and why he was there. He vaguely recalled Mr. Johnson leaving for work in the pre-dawn hours, and now Mrs. Johnson was moving about in her kitchen making as little noise as possible.

There was no privacy in the Johnson's living room, and so he had slept with his clothes on. Now with a sigh he silently stood up, then folded the woolen blanket he had been given the night before and lay it back on the couch where he had slept. After assembling himself as best he could, he walked quietly into the kitchen. "Thank you for letting me stay here," he said at barely more than a whisper.

"That's ok Alan," Mrs. Johnson said. She shook her head in negation then continued, "We didn't know any of that was going on. We had no idea at all."

He wasn't sure what to say in reply, but managed, "Yeah, I guess no one did." He sighed and then said, "I'm sorry."

"Oh Alan, that's ok. You didn't do anything wrong," Mrs. Johnson said in response. "Sit down at the table and I'll scramble some eggs for you."

"I don't usually eat breakfast," he answered. "Could I have a cup of coffee though?"

"You're too young to drink coffee!" she remarked, looking shocked. "Did your parents allow you to have coffee? It will stunt your growth."

"Oh, ok," he replied simply as he slipped his feet into his boots. Mrs. Johnson placed a glass of milk in front of him; it looked pretty unappealing.

"What's Alan doing here?" a young voice said. He turned and saw his friend John coming out of his bedroom, still wearing pajamas and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His sister Mary suddenly leaned around the corner and was watching with keen interest.

"Alan's parents got into some trouble, and so he'll be staying with us for a while," Mrs. Johnson said.

"Oh cool! Can he sleep in my room?" John asked exuberantly. He was a short and thickly built boy that was a year younger than both himself and his sister Mary. His close cropped blond hair and eager blue eyes often made him seem younger than his eleven years.

Mary on the other hand was tall and slender with light brown hair and an innocent open face; she was an intelligent and neatly composed young lady. "What happened to your parents?" Mary asked politely.

He didn't want to answer, but didn't have the strength to lie. "The police came to our house last night and arrested my parents," he said simply.

"Why?" Mary asked. She was probably interested and excited by the gossip potential.

"Mary, let Alan be. He's had a hard night," Mrs. Johnson refrained.

"It's ok," he said. "The truth can't hide." Closing his eyes tightly and composing himself by sheer force of will, he answered in a quiet voice, "We were selling drugs to hippies in San Francisco. Last night the police caught us, and we got busted."

"Wow! Cool!" John suddenly exclaimed.

"This is not cool at all John," Mrs. Johnson responded harshly. "It's a tragedy, and it's horrible. So now Mary and you too John, you say nothing about this to your friends, do you understand me?" she admonished while wagging her finger.

He hoped they wouldn't tell, because it would be nice to hold on to a sense of normalcy for just a little longer. The best he could hope for was just a few more ordinary days before the inevitable end came. Sooner or later either John or Mary would tell their friends; it would happen no matter what their mother had ordered, nothing could be done to prevent it.

Once Mary and John had eaten their breakfasts and gotten dressed, it was time to leave for school. Mrs. Johnson handed out bagged lunches to her children, and gave him one too. "Thank you," he said quietly, and then followed the other children through the door.

John peppered him with questions as they walked together down the dirt road to the turnout where the school bus would pick them up. Mary scolded her little brother, but he could tell she was interested in his answers too. He didn't hide anything, but kept his responses short because speaking the truth was painful and degrading. His parents weren't his safe place anymore, instead they were criminals and as such they were hated by everyone. By extension he felt loathsome and guilty, and knew he would probably be shunned by all his friends.

They heard the roar of the bright yellow school bus engine before it came into view. In that moment, he felt a deep dread crushing his chest; everyone probably knew and they would hate him. As the bus turned the corner and came into view he could hear the high-pitched chatter of children's voices that resonated through the open bus windows. They knew. They would hate him. Horror flooded his brain, but he was trapped in the moment with nowhere to run.

The bus stopped and the folding doors opened. John and Mary got in ahead of him. He reluctantly climbed the steep stairs on unsteady legs. The bus seemed to have gone silent, and his heart was pounding painfully as he turned to walk down the center aisle.

*****

The ringing in his ears cleared after a time, and the echoing high-pitched chatter of young voices within the school bus slowly returned. They didn't know, and they didn't hate him, at least not yet.

"What's wrong Alan?"

Still in a daze, he saw that he was sitting next to his best friend Rick. He shook his head and replied, "Nothing's wrong. I'm just sleepy this morning."

"Why'd you get on the bus with John and Mary?" Rick asked with a frown.

Did Rick know that his parents had been arrested? He panicked for a moment, but then realized that it was too soon for the story to have gotten out, so maybe for today at least he would be ok. He wondered if he should he tell his best friend what happened. Friends were supposed to confide in each other, weren't they? He smiled uneasily. "My parents had to go out of town," he lied. "So, I stayed at the Johnson's house last night."

He didn't want to admit that his parents were criminals, and that he had kept their secret for a long time. There was more to it than that though; he didn't want any of it to actually be real. Can truth be denied, and by so doing be made false? No, it can't, but he still wanted to hide from the reality that was crashing down upon him. Acid churned in his stomach, and he was suddenly glad that he did not eat the breakfast that Mrs. Johnson had offered; puking on the school bus would be pretty uncool.

Lying isn't only about deceiving others, more often it's about deluding yourself. His duplicity allowed him to feel normal again. He was sitting next to his best friend, on his way to school, and it was a day like any other, or at least he could pretend so. He wanted to be normal again; to just be good old Alan, the smart and funny kid that had lots of friends, but he didn't know if he could keep the charade going even for one more day. It felt as if he were dancing on the blade of a sword; the safety of his pretense would only remain as long as he kept moving, and dancing to the rhythm of his lies.

Rick had short brown hair, and forest colored eyes. He was a year older, ten muscular pounds heavier and half a foot taller than he was. His friend was a terror on the soccer field, and enjoyed playing defensive tackle on the school football team. Rick's parents owned a ranch outside of town, and he helped his father with a lot of the chores so he was big and strong; but fortunately, he had an easy nature, was quick to smile and could be counted on as a dependable friend. If there was anyone he could unburden himself to it would be Rick, but he didn't utter a word, and let the day unfurl before him. He longed for the sense of balance that his fabricated normalcy would bring.

The day passed in a distracted mental fog. A few friends mentioned that he was quieter than usual, but he just gave the excuse that he was tired and they let it go. Concentration was a problem during his classes, but again no one really noticed. Lunch with his friends was easy, they laughed and joked together as they ate. Living through that day was a lot like holding his breath while swimming under water, he could feel the pressure build within but as long as he didn't panic he could swim a little further.

He again enjoyed Rick's company on the return bus ride to the Johnson's house. His friend had a crush on Mary, and wanted to know if she was getting her boobs yet. He told him that he didn't know, but Rick urged him to find out.

They both had pre-Algebra homework and carried their school books with them. Rick wasn't very studious, and wondered if it would be ok to call him at the Johnson's house if he needed help. Alan thought that it would be ok, but suggested that he should ask Mary for some personal tutoring instead. Rick had blushed and laughed at his joke. It was a good ending, but it felt like the last page of the fairy tale.

*****

He waved to Rick as he got off the bus and walked with John and Mary back to their house. He felt the weight his new reality increase with every step he took down their long dirt driveway, and by the time he reached their front door, he dearly wanted to turn and run away.

Once inside the Johnson's house they all put their books on the dining table and started making preparations to do their homework. As he was getting ready, he suddenly remembered that his dog Rex needed to be fed. "I have to go feed my dog. I'll be back in a little while," he said, then started walking toward the front door.

Mrs. Johnson seemed disconcerted, and quickly said, "Oh, you don't need to do that. I stopped by earlier and fed him. He's just fine."

Remembering how Rex yipped the previous night, he was concerned, and wanted to check on his dog. "Um…" he said hesitantly, "I also need to get some clean clothes for tomorrow."

"No, no. You should stay here. You can wear the same thing tomorrow. You'll be fine. I'll pick up some clean clothes for you while you're at school." She then returned to the kitchen and busied herself with preparing dinner.

Something about her demeanor was unsettling. Mrs. Johnson seemed nervous. "Are you sure that Rex is all right?" he asked.

"Oh yes, he was just fine," Mrs. Johnson said as she hurriedly stirred a pot of boiling pasta. "You don't need to worry about a thing."

He had an uneasy sense that something wasn't being said, but he was stuck where he was and there was nothing he could do. After he finished his Algebra problems, he read ahead through the next two chapters in his text book. This was something he liked to do because when the teacher went over the material in class, it was easier to understand if it was familiar.

Mr. Johnson came home just as they were finishing up with their homework. After walking through the door, he glanced toward the kitchen table and said, in a low and gruff voice, "Is he still here?" Mr. Johnson looked directly at him then, his eyes were stony and cold. "Your parents made the front page of the Examiner today", he said, referring to the most popular San Francisco newspaper. "They'll probably make the six o'clock news tonight too. Damn it, I don't want us to be caught up in this mess."

Mrs. Johnson interceded, saying, "John, why don't you take Alan into your room?"

He felt hollow inside. All the air seemed to go out of him as a painful tension built within his chest. He remained seated in his chair at the dining room table, stunned into silence. From far away he heard himself say, "If my parents are going to be on the TV news, I should see it. I need to know what to expect at school tomorrow."

"The news isn't on yet," Mrs. Johnson said. "Go to John's room, and we'll call you when it's on."

*****

He next found himself in John's room, sitting on the side of the lower mattress of a bunkbed, with no idea how he got there. A dinner plate lay by his feet on the floor; most of the food was gone, but he didn't recall eating.

"My Dad's really mad at you," John was saying.

"Yeah, I know, and I'm sorry," he replied. There was nothing more he could say beyond that; how many more times would he have to apologize for something that he didn't do?

Mary abruptly leaned around the corner of the door and said, "The news is on."

It was as terrible as it could possibly be. He stood alone and mute, and watched the destruction of his family on the evening television news. His skin tingled and he felt mildly dizzy as the newscaster dissected his life, and told the everyone about his horrible parents. Mr. Johnson continued to grumble from his recliner while Mrs. Johnson, Mary, and John sat on the couch, silently watching the humiliating coverage on the evening news.

They referred to his Father as 'The Phantom', and 'Mr. Big'; titles obviously made up by the police or the media. He watched as both his father and mother were led in chains into a courtroom, where they were admonished by a judge. He heard his humble two-bedroom home referred to as a 'palatial mansion', and his parents described as kingpins in the illicit and illegal drug trade that was turning young 'hipsters' into mindless America hating zombies. According to the newscast, his family represented everything that was wrong in the world.

There was one thing mentioned by the newsman, almost in passing, that got his attention. It was reported that his parents had been caught with 120 kilogram bricks of marijuana. This was less than half of what he had unloaded from the car and stacked in their living room. Could his parents have hidden the unreported 124 kilos? That didn't seem likely when he considered how the police had torn his home apart. It seemed more plausible that the cops had taken that dope for themselves.

The rest of the newscast was mostly a blur, and soon he was again sitting on the lower bunk of John's bed. His dinner plate was gone this time so apparently, this wasn't a flashback or hallucination. He looked around the room, and noticed that Mary was sitting next to him on the bed, and John was perched at the edge of the top bunk above. "My Dad is really, really mad at you," John said again.

"Yeah… sorry," he replied. "I should go home."

"You can't," Mary stated firmly. "No one's there."

No one is here either, he thought.

Click to find out what happens next!

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 + Open : Old Town

Old Town

It is by no means an irrational fancy that in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.
      - Edgar Allan Poe

I did not grow up in the city. The games of 'kick the can', 'red light, green light', and other pastimes of that ilk are alien to me. I was never told to come home when the streetlights came on, because there were no such things within many miles of my house.

That said, my childhood was not bereft of nighttime outdoor activities with friends. By chance there were three other boys about my age within a mile or so of my house, and most of the time we even got along. In many ways, we were more free to venture out at night than city-kids, because there were no dangerous strangers to be wary of, and there was practically no street traffic at night. Also, we all had grown up in the wilderness, and knew very well how to take care of ourselves.

Some may think that we were deprived without the joys of suburban living, but none of us saw it that way. Maybe our happiness was based on ignorance of what we were missing, but isn't that the way it is with everything? How can anyone miss what they have no knowledge of? I can't miss being the King of England, because I have no idea what that's like. Within our ignorance, we were all content with our lives.

We also were more independent than were city-kids. We rarely played organized games and usually felt overly constrained by rules. Growing up in the mountains also creates individuals that are happy by themselves. We learn to enjoy our own company, and are more easily able to self-entertain. In short, we were all satisfied with our lives and happy.

Dale, a quiet and solemn kid with mousy brown hair and pale blue eyes, lived about a mile farther up the same dirt road that my house was on. In the early summer of 1970, I was fifteen and Dale was fourteen, and I was spending the night at his house because my mother was away visiting my father in prison.

Shortly after dinner the phone rang, and Dale's mother Ellie let him answer it without much question. She knew it would be one of our friends, and was probably hoping to get rid of us for the duration of the evening. It was Ian on the line, who lived about a mile and a half away, and he wanted to go camping. Even without many details, Ellie gladly gave her blessing. Dale quickly packed up his jacket and sleeping bag, and together we jumped on my BSA for the short ride down the dirt road to my house.

After parking my bike for the night, I got my sleeping bag and then we started the walk to our friend John's house. John's father didn't much care for me because he thought I was a 'bad influence' on his children, and John's sister Mary hadn't spoken to me since I got suspended from high school for knocking out her boyfriend the previous year. Wary of possible trouble, I hung back and remained in the shadows while Dale rounded up John for our camping trip.

After waiting in the darkness for what seemed a long time, I saw two shadowy figures approach. Beside Dale's tall and slender silhouette, John's short and stocky shape marched along. I hadn't seen much of John since my parents were arrested, but we remained civil and even friendly together. He was a good kid, and didn't seem to hold a grudge over the crime they had committed.

Once we all got together, we continued on our way toward Ian's house via an old stagecoach road that ran through the woods. The trail hadn't been used in years, and no longer connected to much of anything at all. It just wandered deep into the forest, passing close behind Ian's house before it eventually ended at a cluster of old abandoned houses.

It was a moonless night, and under the impenetrable canopy of the redwood trees, it was pitch black. The air was damp and cold, and the forest was mostly silent around us; here and there we heard the scurrying of small animals in the underbrush, and once the hoot of an owl, but otherwise we were undisturbed. Small trees grew within the boundary of the road, their branches brushed lightly against our arms and faces as we walked. There's a sacred sort of silence that permeates the deep woods at night, and the spoken word often feels like a violation.

We followed our flashlights deeper into the forest, taking the shortcut that would unite us with the last member of our little group. We didn't talk much, only warning each other of pot holes in the road, or murmuring quietly as we painted the trees with our flashlights that were in our way. Within about a half mile, the lights of Ian's house came into view.

Ian's father answered the door, he was tall, dark haired and pale just like his son. "Ian's all ready to go," he said as he let us inside.

Ian stood waiting, wearing his usual heavy leather coat and carrying his sleeping bag slung over his shoulder. "You guys wanna camp in Old Town tonight?" he asked with a fiendish grin.

"Old Town?" Out by Rodgers Gulch?" Dale looked worried. "Isn't that place supposed to be haunted?"

"You scared?" Ian asked tauntingly.

"No?" Dale replied. His answer sounded like a question.

"We can camp behind our house if you're afraid of ghosts," Ian suggested with a smile.

"No, that's ok," John said. He stepped forward and rested his hand on Dale's shoulder. They were both a year younger than Ian and myself, and were probably wanting to prove their courage.

"Don't worry," I said. "We'll build a fire inside one of the fallen down houses and sleep there. It'll be a lot more comfortable than sleeping out on the cold ground."

Old Town was just a collection of houses that were probably built back in the 1930's, but had been abandoned for unknown reasons sometime in the late 50's. Those dates were just guesses because no one really knew the history of that area, and in the place of hard facts rumors and scary stories abounded. The remaining collection of four houses was an enigma though. Whoever had lived there had left all their furniture, books, paintings, and everything else behind when they left, and no one knew where they went. It looked like the people who lived there just vanished one day.

When all of us were much younger, our mothers had taken us on walks out to Old Town. The women explored the homes, and took a few took books that had been left on the shelves and brought them back home as souvenirs. Misfortune seemed to follow those items though, and within a few weeks, all our mothers had returned their stolen items to where they belonged. Ever since that happened, we all believed the place was haunted.

"Well let's get gone then," Ian said as he marched out the door.

Ian led us around the back of his house and then across the creek to the remains of the old stage road. This was the same avenue we came in on, but beyond Ian's house the already overgrown and forgotten thoroughfare degraded substantially. Following the road was difficult even in the daytime, but at night it was nearly impossible.

Soon the edges of the road faded into the forest floor, and the road itself became muddy. We continued to follow the trail as it crossed a small stream, and then we waded through a marshy area. In the dark, we all began to wonder if we had lost our way, but eventually Ian found the road again and we climbed out of the marsh and up a fern covered hill.

We had all traveled this route before and we knew the woods well, so there was little chance of getting lost. Still though, the deep and dark forest is an unnerving place to be on a moonless night, and all of us were at least a little frightened. Ian didn't help matters much; once we were beyond the marsh he turned off his flashlight and hid at the side of the narrow road, then jumped out with a loud 'BOO' when Dale walked past. Both Ian and I laughed, but the younger boys didn't see the humor.

Old Town was about a mile walk form Ian's house, and the route took us through some fairly challenging terrain. Ian tried to tell ghost stories as we walked, but going up and down hills on the overgrown trail in the dark soon proved to be too much for storytelling, and soon we all fell into silence.

Whether it was the talk of ghosts, or the spirits themselves it's impossible to say, but the woods were unusually creepy that night. There was furtive movement all around us, this was probably just small night creatures doing what they normally do, but all the talk of mysterious disappearances and hauntings had set us on edge. Apprehension tickled at the backs of our minds.

"You know, it's kinda weird how none of the furniture or books are rotted or falling apart," I said. "I mean, Old Town has been sitting empty for more than ten years." No one answered. "You'd think that packrats would have gotten into everything and built nests; that's what they do. But the last time I was there, the furniture and books all looked new." Still no replies. "But, I've not been there in a few years, so maybe it's changed." I finally gave up on making conversation, and we continued on in silence.

The glow of John's flashlight was yellowing, and he turned the light off to save the battery. He walked close beside Dale so he could find his way. "That's crazy," John said quietly. "I put in fresh batteries just a couple days ago."

"Spirits," Ian said. "I saw a TV show where they said that spirits can drain batteries."

"You're not helping Ian," I remarked.

Ian laughed a little too loudly, and I wondered if he was more nervous than he was letting on. "Yah, you ain't very comforting either. All that talk about how nothin' is fallin' apart out there was pretty creepy," he said.

"I saw a show on Saturday Night at the Movies about a modern Jack the Ripper last week," Dale said casually.

"So what?" Ian remarked. "Jack the Ripper lives in the city."

"Maybe he lives out here, and goes into the city to kill people," Dale replied. "Maybe he lives in Old Town."

"That's nuts," I said. "What the hell would Jack the Ripper be doing out there? And most of the houses in Old Town don't even have roofs anymore. You're just trying to scare John."

"No I'm not," Dale said defensively. "You talking about spirits protecting those old houses was a lot scarier than Jack the Ripper."

"Oh," I replied. "Sorry." While walking a lonely stage road at night, it's easy to fall under the spell of darkness. Silently I did wonder about those old houses. What had really happened there, and where did all the people go?

We continued on, with Ian leading the way and me bringing up the rear, with the two younger boys sandwiched between us. In silence, we followed the old road as it skirted a hill. The area had become thickly forested with gigantic old growth redwoods. Some of the trees we walked past had trunks more than ten feet in diameter. The forest had grown quiet, as if it were holding its breath.

Suddenly something big crashed through the thick forest of ferns at the side of the road. I quickly swung my flashlight to the side to see what it was. I glimpsed something large moving close to the ground, but then abruptly my light went out. In a near panic I slapped the flashlight on the side and it instantly came back on, but by then there was nothing to see; whatever it had been was gone.

"What the fuck was that?" Ian asked nervously. "Animals out here are usually more afraid of us than we are of them, so they stay away. Could that have been a bear?"

"It might have been," I answered. "But I've never heard of a bear living out here. They've been hunted to extinction in these mountains." I wondered what the hell I saw? Cougars used to live near our house, but I hadn't heard of any sightings in years. "It was probably just a deer," I replied finally.

"A deer?" John asked uncertainly.

"A deer makes more sense than a bear or a cougar because they wouldn't have been afraid of us. A deer would be though, so that's probably what it was." I thought that sounded plausible, still though I wasn't sure.

The old road finally wound down out of the hills and had wandered out onto a wide flat plain covered with old growth redwoods. We were getting close to Old Town, and the forest was becoming noisy again. We all heard the sound of animals moving through the brush all around us, and were becoming nervous.

"It sounds like they're all behind us," Ian said in a voice tight with anxiety. He stopped and shone his flashlight to the rear, but nothing was there. The landscape was still, yet we heard the thump of feet and the hiss of movement through the ferns. "It's like they're herding us toward Old Town," he uttered.

"Probably just your imagination," I said. In the glow of our flashlights, I noticed that the younger boys looked very nervous, and I didn't want to contribute to their fears. Ian looked pretty freaked out too.

We painted the darkness all around us with our flashlights, and saw no sign of any animal. There was nothing visible that would make the racket that assaulted us. "Well," I finally said. "We have only two choices. We can either stay here and be scared, or we can just keep going forward and hope that we get beyond whatever's making all this noise."

My friends stared at me with eyes empty of everything other than fear. "Ian, you lead the way, and I'll guard our rear. Let's get moving," I said in what I hoped was a calm and authoritative voice.

We got on our way again. Ian strode purposively forward and the younger boys looked nervously around as they hurried after him. "Watch where you're going," I cautioned. "Whatever is scaring you is still there, whether you look at it or not. So just keep moving."

The sound of animals around us started to fade as we entered a circular cluster of redwood trees, and was completely gone once we emerged on the other side. The sudden hush had an almost mystical quality as it hung over us.

Ian stopped suddenly, and we all clustered tightly together around him. Facing outward as a group with our backs pressed against each other we shone our flashlights out into the darkness. Everything was still and silent. "We're here," Ian finally said. "There's Old Town."

Dark shapes of tumbled down houses squatted just at the far edge of our flashlight beams. Oddly enough, the glowering shapes did not evoke feelings of fear or trepidation; instead what I felt was a sense of welcoming.

We slowly approached the buildings, with the younger boys especially shining their lamps in every direction, perhaps searching for something to be afraid of. There were no threats though, and as a group we all began to relax. This would be a good place to spend the night.

The first house we came to was the most intact. The roof was completely gone, but the walls were still standing. Inside we found a small living room with a large stone hearth and fireplace; bookcases stood against the rear walls, and once fancy furniture lay broken on the floor. Beyond the living room were two empty bedrooms and a bathroom with all of the porcelain fixtures broken. Beyond a second door was a room without a floor that once held a small kitchen.

"Let's camp here tonight," Ian said. "There's plenty of redwood branches on the ground outside that we can use for wood so we can have a fire in the fireplace. The walls should keep enough of the heat in that we'll be comfortable."

Together we all gathered wood, and soon had a heaping pile outside the front door. Ian collected redwood tree bark, and with my KA-BAR knife I shredded a few branches, and together we got the fire going. The blaze took hold, and soon the room was nice and warm. We spread our sleeping bags out on the floor in front of the fireplace, and lay down using our jackets as pillows.

It was a pleasant evening. We told jokes and stories. John even asked me about my time in Bayside Juvenile Detention, and I told him some of it. People always ask for the truth but actually they never really want it. Placation is always more pleasant to the ear than truth. We joked and laughed until sleep slowly claimed us one by one.

The next morning, we picked apples from the small orchard behind Old Town, and John found a group of wild carrots growing in a sunny patch behind one of the houses. We snacked on our breakfast of fruits and vegetables on our way home.

We all speculated about what made the scary noises the night before. I maintained my point that it was only our imagination that had provoked our fear. Terrors usually occur at night, because the unseen and unknown is always more frightening than what is clearly revealed by daylight.

Still though, I wondered why the sound had so suddenly ceased once we arrived at Old Town? Perhaps ghosts come in different varieties. Some spirits may be angry and vengeful and want to bring fear to the living that they encounter. Other haunts may simply be lonely, and desire only to be visited and listen to the silly stories of young boys.

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 + Open : Four Bricks

Four Bricks

"The warrior learns of the spiritual realm by dwelling on the cutting edge of the sword, standing at the edge of the fire pit, venturing right up to the edge of starvation if necessary. Vibrant and intense living is the warrior's form of worship."
      - Stephen K. Hayes

My father served in the Navy during World War 2. He had two ships blown out from under him; the first time he was rescued quickly, but the second time he was in a life raft for a week before being found. Another one of the ships he was on was hit by a Kamikaze pilot, fortunately that just took out the smoke stack.

I find it odd that while he was in the Navy, he was sent on missions behind enemy lines twice, the first in China and the second was in France. This was surprising because I thought that Navy guys didn't spend much time on dry land. While in China, he was injured when he killed a Japanese soldier in hand to hand combat, and was awarded the Purple Heart. In France, two of the men with him were killed by a single French Nazi sympathizer who was skilled in the art of Savate knife fighting.

By the end of the war he was assigned as a Drill Instructor at the Camp Lejeune Marine Base. As an instructor, he told young soldiers to 'just shoot and kill' any Frenchman they saw with a knife because Savate was just too dangerous. It was his experience and appreciation of Savate that resulted in my lifetime training in the martial arts.

We had a neighbor who was from France who was an artist (painter), and was also skilled in Savate. After much persuasion, my father convinced him to start training myself and my friend Dale in Savate when we both were both five years old. That was in 1959, and I've studied martial arts ever since. Over the years, I have earned advanced black belt ranks in three different styles, but the art I've spent the most time in is Taekwondo, and that's where this story comes from.

*****

Throughout the 1980's I ran my own martial art school in Dublin Calif. It was a rough schedule because I was working as an Engineer during the day, teaching Taekwondo classes in the evening, and competing in Open Karate Tournaments on most weekends. Even with this schedule, I found the time to continue learning, by occasionally taking afternoon classes with Master William Kim in Vallejo Calif. It was through those afternoon classes that I met Roger Carlon, who was one of Master Kim's students and was the same Black Belt Dan rank that as I was. Around 1987 or so, Master Kim decided that both of us should test for our Fourth Dan Black Belt rank together.

Roger and I were already close friends and 'competition buddies'. We trained for tournaments together, then would usually compete against each other on weekends. Roger was also one of Master Kim's favorite students, because when he won (on those few occasions that he beat me) it looked good for his school. In preparation for our upcoming test, we decided to get together and train on Sunday afternoons. This worked out pretty well because our wives became friends at the same time.

On the day of our test, we both went with our wives to Master Kim's studio (or Dojang in Korean). For that test, both Master Kim and his teacher Grand Master Koo would be presiding, but Master Kim's English was better so he was running the show for the most part. Everything we did was pretty standard for martial art tests. We performed our techniques, forms, demonstrated self-defense, broke boards, and sparred. Everything was going fine, then at the end of the test we were set up to break bricks.

Generally speaking, brick breaking for Black Belt ranks is one brick per Dan, so for Fourth Dan we were to break a stack of four bricks. This was done without spacers between the bricks, because spacers make the break too easy. So, we were about to smash a stack of four bricks, or a total of eight inches of solid concrete, with our bare hands. We had trained for this, so it was difficult but far from impossible.

If you've ever seen a martial artist break a stack of bricks, you may have noticed that he moves his hand up and down a number of times before doing the actual break. This is done just to psych yourself up for what you're about to do. But Master Kim thought that the up-down, up-down thing was ridiculous. So, his instructions that day were that we were to step forward and wait, he would then tell us what technique to use, and without any delay we would break the bricks.

I broke my bricks without problem. Then Roger was called up, and because Roger was one of his favorite students, I suspected Master Kim might be up to something. While Roger stood waiting for instruction regarding the technique to use, Master Kim looked down and covered his mouth. It looked like he was laughing. At last he said, "Roger, break with head."

Roger took a step forward, then hesitated and looked confused. "Master Kim, I've never broken anything with my head before, and I don't know how," he said.

Still covering his mouth, Master Kim's leaned forward slightly, and I noticed that his face was turning red. "Just bend over, then hit with head," he finally answered.

Roger stepped forward and stood before the stack of four bricks, each two inches thick. He leaned forward and placed his hands on the two cinder blocks that were supporting the stack of bricks he was about to break. He took a deep breath.

"No, no, wait," Master Kim suddenly said. "I am joking. You can break bricks with whatever technique you want."

A collective sigh of relief came from our families that were sitting at the back of the room. Roger's wife seemed especially relieved.

"That's ok," Roger said. "I'll do the break with my head, just as you asked." He then took a deep breath, then smashed the top of his head into the stack of bricks. They didn't break. Roger staggered backwards, his eyes were unfocused and he had a cut at the top of his head from where it had collided with the leading edge of the brick.

Roger looked at Master Kim, who was laughing openly by this time. "Can I use a different technique?" he asked.

Master Kim looked serious. "No," he said. "You said you would break with head. So now you must do it, but this time use the part just above forehead, not top of head."

Roger went to the stack of bricks again. Eight inches of concrete were waiting to greet his forehead. After a deep breath, Roger slammed his face into the stack of bricks. After the impact, Roger fell backward and sat on the floor. Only the top brick had broken. When Roger looked back at his wife, I saw that the bridge of his nose was bleeding, and his eyes looked like they were pointing in two different directions.

"Ok, you learn lesson?" Master Kim asked. "You now break bricks how you want. But replace one you broke with new one. Requirement is to break four bricks, not one and then three."

Roger replaced the broken brick, then completed his break with a simple 'sudo' (knife hand strike). He then bowed properly, and returned to the back of the room where I had sat watching.

Once he was seated I leaned over and whispered in Roger's ear. "Roger… man. Dude, that was an intelligence test and you failed," I said. "When someone gives you the option to NOT slam your face into eight inches of concrete, you need to TAKE that option."

We both passed our tests and were awarded new belts and a fancy certificate to hang on the wall. Roger paid more dearly for his rank advancement than I did though.

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 + Open : Outlaws

Outlaws

"When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has not choice but to become an outlaw."
      - Nelson Mandela

We've all heard the word 'outlaw' bandied about, particularly the term 'Outlaw Motorcycle Gang' that is so frequently used in the media these days. I wonder if many people have actually given much thought to what 'outlaw' actually means.

The word came into its present form sometime around 1150 AD, from the Middle English 'outlawe'. Before that the Old English word was ūtlaga, which came for Old Norse ūtlagione. All these words were defined to indicate someone that was outside the protection of the law. This is different than how the word is used today, as another word for criminal.

Outlaws are not necessarily criminals, although they can be, because those within and without the protection of the law are both equally capable of committing crimes. In part, to be an outlaw is to not rely on law enforcement for protection. Considering that the average police response time to an emergency call is between nine and twelve minutes (in the USA), we all should be outlaws because we can't count on law enforcement being there when we really need them. In these conditions, it makes solid sense to be ready to protect your family on your own these days.

Beyond that, there is a distinction to be made between the law, and justice. Too many times we see those who have destroyed lives through murder, rape, violence, and larceny get away with what seems to be trivial punishment, simply because the letter of the law was insufficient. Judges can be lenient, evidence omitted, and juries tampered with. There's even a television show on CBS called 'Bull' that glorifies courtroom trickery and jury selection manipulation. The law isn't about justice anymore, and probably hasn't been for a long time.

Where is the justice for the grieving family of a murder victim? How is a few years in prison a just penalty for a rapist, who shattered a woman's psyche and drastically darkened her life? Why is it ok for executives and politicians to get away with larceny? Something has gone way wrong here. Justice has been forgotten, leaving behind only the fickle and indiscriminate sword of the law.

To restore justice, it might be a good idea to determine guilt through the court, and if found guilty let the victims determine the punishment without restraint. Fear of real justice could well reduce crime.

On the other hand, Outlaws are only about justice. Living outside the law allows them to live freely, and dispense justice as they see fit. They have escaped the fickle confines of the law and live their lives on their own terms. Considering all this, I'm an outlaw, and I wonder if you are too.

Freaking out the Squares.

One summer evening in the early 1970's I went for a ride with a group of my friends. I was still riding my BSA at the time, but the rest of the group were on Harley's. Most of us were either a little drunk, or a little stoned, or a bit of both. It was one of those nights were the warm air rolling across your skin feels like a sweet caress, and the city lights sparkle like fiery gems. In other words, it was a perfect night to be on two wheels.

We were riding north along El Camino Real, the major thoroughfare along the San Mateo Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. This was a favorite ride on evenings like this. We would ride easily along the wide boulevard, stopping to chat at traffic lights, and laughing and joking together as we rode.

Sometimes we would just follow people in cars for no reason whatsoever. This wouldn't be done in a threatening manner, we would just follow along behind them because we were curious about where they were going. We called this 'Freaking out the Squares'. Often when we did this small kids would wave to us from the back window of their family station wagon, and we would laugh and wave back. Their parents were probably concerned, but they were squares so they didn't matter. We did no harm and when they finally pulled into their driveway, we would wave goodbye, twist our throttles and loudly be on our way.

On that particular evening as we rode through Redwood City, a white Rambler American station wagon abruptly pulled out of a driveway and scattered our group. No one was actually hit, but it was pretty darned close. As I swerved my BSA to avoid the driver's side front fender, I saw through the window that it was my former foster father behind the wheel. Obviously, we have a history but I don't hate the man simply because he's not worth the energy. Instead, he just doesn't matter, so my mind registered who it was but I just sort of mentally shrugged my shoulders and let it go.

However, the leader of our little group decided that this butt-cake needed to be taught a lesson. So, launching ourselves into full-on 'Freak out the Squares' mode, we started following the car. We were a lot more aggressive than we usually were when escorting a car out of curiosity, and bracketed the car on three sides while gunning our engines mercilessly. One of our group, a 6' 9" Icelandic guy with the nickname 'Roadkill', pulled up next to the driver's window and shook his fist.

The driver, obviously frightened, shouted that he had not seen us. As any motorcycle rider knows though, that's a pretty lame excuse.

We followed the car as it wound its way through suburbia, until it finally pulled into a long driveway at the side of a house. As this happened we all stopped at the edge of the road and continued to gun our engines menacingly. As the driver leaped from the car and ran into his house, Roadkill shouted, "CAN YOU SEE US NOW MOTHERFUCKER?" That was outlaw justice, nothing more or less needed to be done.

Later that night we all rode up into the coastal mountains along CA-84 toward my home town of La Honda. Once there I rode to the front of our group and led them well off the beaten path and onto an old and nearly forgotten Stagecoach road, where we parked our bikes at the center of an ancient Redwood Tree grove and built a fire. Soon we were all warm and happy, drinking moonshine and smoking pot, bothering no one, and blissfully free. We were outlaws, and were living as we chose.

Addendum:

Freaking out the Squares would be very a dangerous activity these days, because the world has moved on and become a darkly intolerant and dangerous place. Just following a car on your motorcycle can easily get you shot and killed, even though you've done nothing wrong. I don't play Freak out the Squares anymore, and I strongly advise anyone reading this to not do it either.

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 + Open : The Path of a Hero

The Path of a Hero

"Normally I put some relevant quote here. All I can say is that I remain forever in awe of the person you will meet in the following story. Beyond that, I remain speechless."

In the spring of 1981, I was 26 years old and living with my wife of three years in a house we had recently purchased in Pleasanton California. We had no children yet, so our lives were pretty much care free. Together, we enjoyed going out on dates several times during the work week, and frequently went on weekend motorcycle rides on my Honda CX-500.

Pleasanton itself was considered a 'cowboy town' back then, and even put on a Rodeo each summer. It was cattle country with some agriculture thrown in for good measure. Main Street in town was a far cry from the ridiculously trendy area of today that plays host to a wide range of restaurants, shops, and politically correct book stores. Back then the majority of the buildings were vacant, with the most active businesses being the three bars spread out along the street. Barroom brawls and street fights were common, especially on weekends, and dead bodies were sometimes found downtown and reported in the local newspaper on Monday morning.

Houses were cheap though, which is why my wife and I had purchased our first home there the year before. It was a nice single story three-bedroom place in a 1960's era development. There was a park nearby, and even an elementary school within a couple blocks of our house. My wife's family and many of our friends frequently lectured us on the stupidity of buying a house so far from our jobs, which were in the San Jose area about 35 miles away.

Regardless of the distance, the commute was actually an easy one. Back then, we were among the very few foolish enough to live so far from the lucrative job market of Silicon Valley, and so the freeway was pretty much empty even during rush hour. I distinctly recall getting on the freeway in the morning, and being the only vehicle on the road. An experience like that is unimaginable in the San Francisco Bay Area today.

I had recently taken a six-month contract job as a Mechanical Design Checker at ROLM Corporation, a company that made large mainframe computers. These machines were huge, requiring large arrays of disk drives and special rooms set up to keep the overstressed electronics cool, and yet they had less computational power than most of the new cell phones these days.

The ROLM campus was an incredible place, consisting of several one and two story buildings surrounding an artificial creek and lake. There were fountains in every building lobby, and the company cafeteria had the muted lighting and comfortable seating of a high-class restaurant. Our meals were also highly subsidized by the company, and every morning I would get a hearty French Toast breakfast for about a dollar.

One morning after breakfast I returned to my desk to discover that I had a new neighbor. "Hey, welcome aboard," I said.

"Damn, I thought I was the only guy in the building," he replied. "I'm Rob."

I introduced myself and we shook hands. "I'm here on a six-month contract," Rob told me. "It's a Mechanical Engineering gig."

"I guess I'll be checking your designs when they come back from the Drafting Department then," I responded.

"Glad to hear you're not one of the Engineers, because things are pretty damned fucked up around here," Rob said.

"Yeah, I know," I replied. "They're having lots of problems with the new PC board card racks. The pins are breaking on the motherboard connectors when the daughter boards are plugged in."

We discussed the problem at length, which involved the alignment of a male connector on the motherboard, and female connectors on the daughter boards. If the connectors didn't line up perfectly, the pin on the motherboard would be bent when the daughter board was inserted, and the entire assembly had to be taken apart to fix the pin. Of course, when the card rack was reassembled and the daughter boards plugged in again, more bent pins would occur.

According to Rob, ROLM was developing the product for the government, and the lousy connector situation was something the client had required. As usual, the government had messed up their product specifications by mandating the connectors, and were spending a stupid amount of money to fix the problem that they had created.

Rob and I went to lunch together that day. The cafeteria had a lot of good food, but I noticed that Rob was extremely picky about what he ate. He even had to talk personally with one of the cooks so he could get something that he could eat. When he finally joined me at our table, I had almost finished my lunch.

"Are you on a special diet or something?" I asked.

"Yeah," he answered. "In Vietnam, my helicopter was shot down and we were captured. I spent five years as a POW, and now I have only one lung that's much good, and the one kidney I have left only functions at about twenty percent. So, I have to be really careful about what I eat."

"Damn," I said. "Sorry to hear that man." I felt like I needed to say more, but was left speechless. Sometimes words are just inadequate.

"Yeah, my doctor says that I'll not live very long. Only a few more years at most." Rob responded.

After that Rob changed the subject, and I sensed that his Vietnam experience wasn't something he wanted to talk about. So, we chatted idly about other things that day, but over time I got to know a lot more about my friend Rob.

Rob's wife had left him and moved in with his best friend while he was a POW, which I thought was a pretty shitty thing to do. He had a daughter, but his ex-wife had apparently been telling tales about him, so his daughter didn't want to see him. His parents were dead, and all his siblings lived on the east coast, so Rob was pretty much alone in the world. All he had was an apartment in Milpitas and a female cat named Daò to keep him company.

One thing that Rob and I shared was a love of motorcycle riding. I don't know what it is about Mechanical Engineers, but they all seem to have a great love of older American made bikes. Rob rode a 1953 Indian Roadmaster, one of the last Indians made at the Wigwam in Springfield. I mentioned that I had previously worked with another ME who had also restored an old Indian, and we laughed about how people in his field like to take on lost-causes like old basket case Indians or Harleys. Rob's bike was just a frame and a jumble of parts in a box when he bought it at a garage sale. He had rebuilt it entirely, and in some cases refabricated pieces he didn't have.

After lunch on that first day, Rob took me out to see his bike. I like Indians, but I have to admit that the old Springfield era Roadmasters are not to my taste. His bike was painted a garish shade of lemon yellow that seemed to glow in the sunlight. In addition to the tank and fenders, the sheet metal over the engine cam assembly and the rear belt guard were all painted that same blinding color. The bike also had the large 'chummee' seat and saddlebags, all of which were excessively decorated with fringe and Indian beads, and an absolutely gigantic windshield. Regardless of the color choice, Rob's bike was in fantastic condition, and I complemented him on his restoration.

Over the months that we worked together, Rob and I became friends. I saw his apartment, met Daò, his little Siamese cat, and we would often go for rides on Saturdays. Afterward, he would usually have dinner with my wife and I at our home in Pleasanton. He even spent the night a few times.

Regardless of the horrors of his past and his unfortunate present, Rob was a great guy to be around. He was nearly always upbeat, and had a wry and pointed sense of humor, so conversation over dinner was usually filled with laughter.

I recall one day at work Rob started talking about his diet, which he had to maintain to reduce stress on his failing body. "You know, I like junk food just as much as anybody," he said. "And I'm not going to live forever… hell none of us are, so I treat myself every once in a while."

"Really?" I said. "What junk food do you like to eat?"

"I love Hershey bars, and if I could I'd eat them every day," he replied. "So, when the craving gets really bad, I buy one of those big family size Hershey bars when I'm grocery shopping. When I get home, I wait to put my food away, and force myself to sit down and eat that entire candy bar in one sitting. Once I'm done with it I'm really sick of candy, and can go a good three months before I want another one."

"Isn't that bad for you?" I asked.

"Life is bad for you man," Rob responded. "None of us getting out of this mess alive. The thing is, if I have a little chocolate every day, the total will be more than when I force myself to eat one big family size bar all at once."

One Saturday in late September, Rob and I went for a ride over the back roads from Alum Rock Park to the Calaveras Reservoir, then through Palomares Canyon, and back to my house in Pleasanton where we would have dinner that night. When we arrived home, Rob pulled some paperwork out of his saddlebag. "I have something to show you," he said.

Once inside, the three of us sat around our dining table and looked at the brochures Rob had laid out. It was for a car designed for handicapped people that was available from the RMC Corporation. "I designed this car, and I owned this company," Rob told us.

Responding to our astonished looks, Rob continued and told us the story.

"It was always one of my dreams to design my own car," he began. "And I wanted to do something for people stuck in wheelchairs who have trouble getting around." Rob turned the brochures around so we could see the diagrams. "It's a three-wheeled car with a small engine in the back, and the whole front of the car is designed to open, so a wheelchair can back right in.

"All the controls are built for someone that doesn't have the use of their legs. It's a purpose driven design, not a modification of a normal car. When the front of the car opens, hydraulics slowly lower the floor until it contacts something, like a sidewalk or the pavement. That way you can wheel right out and be on your way without any hassle."

"Looks like a damn fine design," I said.

"It is, and when I was done with the plans, I thought that I could get some big car maker to buy them. But one of my buddies told me, 'car companies don't buy plans, but they do buy other car companies'. He told me that I should build a prototype to display at car shows, and maybe if one of the big auto makers liked it they would buy my company.

"It was a bitch to do, and it cost me a lot of money, but that's exactly what I did. I found a lot of problems going from plans to building the real car, but anyway, I got it done. After that I incorporated, printed up brochures, and even hired a few pretty girls to show off my car at the shows."

Rob suddenly smiled. "And it all worked out," he said. "GM agreed to buy my company right before I went to work at ROLM. The deal's final now, and I'll get my first check in about a week."

"Wow! That's fantastic news," I said.

My wife, ever the practical one in our marriage, asked, "What are you going to do with the money?"

"I'm going to the Bahamas," Rob replied. "With the first check, I can buy a little bar on the beach. I'll stock it with hookers, and spend my days sleeping in a hammock out back. I don't have a lot of time left, so I sure as hell am going to enjoy myself before I go."

"We're happy for you," my wife replied. "Good for you."

That was the last dinner we had together, because Rob left a week later. His cat Daò came to stay with us after he was gone. She lived a nice peaceful life, and died in her sleep about eight years later. I'm sure her owner went much the same way.

In case you've not noticed, life usually isn't fair. Most of the time it serves up shit-sandwiches, and really all we can do is to try to smile when we take a bite. Rob had a difficult life. I can't imagine what horrors he suffered in Vietnam, and then returning home to a broken marriage and a country that spat on its veterans back then… the injustice of it pisses me off to this day. But he ended well, and maybe that's what counts the most.

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 + Open : Author Notes

Author Notes

"Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you."
      Marsha Norman-

My novel, The Dark Side of Joy, has received some really nice reviews on Amazon which has made me very happy. I wrote the book for the pleasure of writing it, and the joy of sharing my story with others. To those who have read it, thank you, and I'm very glad that you enjoyed it.

One question I've been asked several times is, how much of the story is true? One person even asked if bodies were ever found in Whiskey Gulch, and another was incensed about what was done to me by my foster care family. I'm happy that my readers got so involved in the story that they would ask these questions.

The answers are that about 95% of the book is absolutely true. My foster family were religious zealots that decided the best way to 'save' me was to beat the crap out of me after church every Sunday, which is why I'm not a religious person today. As far as the bodies go, none were ever found.

Back in 1991, the old Whiskey Gulch area was demolished, and now in its place there is a fancy Four Seasons Hotel, and a batch of trendy coffee shops and yuppie-marts. The old apartment building where I lived is long gone, and what happened there is forgotten.

****

I'm currently in the process of writing a second novel, that will continue Alan's story. In this work, Alan is older and trying to figure out what to do with his life. The book primarily concerns itself with outlaw bikers and martial art societies involved in what is famously known as 'The Dojo Wars'.

Again, this book is based on my personal experience. However, the truth index will drop a little, probably down to about 75% or so. It was an interesting time with biker clubs fighting over territory, and martial art societies up in arms with each other.

Currently, I'm about 30% of the way through the first draft, so I have a long way to go. If things go according to plan, 'The Dojo Wars' will be up on Amazon late this year. I hope you give it a look when it becomes available.

Best regards,
Ken

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