“Esmerelda” by John Goodie

Crows

Esmerelda’s tears flowed down her cheeks making clean lines down her ashen dirty face as she rocked her head from side to side with a low miserable moan. Her nasty feet, black from the soot of the ash bucket, folded under her skirts on a torn mottled blanket. She had three more light shawls layered over her shoulders and covering her bare feet and legs. The veil she wore halfway, clasped on one side, so her face, in all its hideousness, was profitably exposed for all to see.

Esmerelda hardly noticed the five-hundred Euro note placed in her cup by the banker. She knew him by sight as he passed her daily. Her spot was in the shade of the huge concrete, marble-pillared structure he worked in, in the center of Rome. Her spot was decided by her Papa, who controlled that whole block and all its beggars.

It took a great deal of effort for that banker to give her that much money, especially since he had seen her there literally hundreds of times and simply chose to ignore her as he was not normally a charitable soul. But that day, seeing her with her nose sliced completely off, hog-like snout, bloody and dried with no salve, his heart was touched. She had been one of God’s prettiest creatures on this earth with a natural beauty: olive complexion, green eyes to match her name, long flowing black hair, full red lips, a curvy figure who walked with a natural grace.

But Esmerelda had been sold as a child to an Italian gypsy, some call Romani, or travelers, who lived off the trade of begging, stealing, and conning. She ended up in the hands of a grizzled old Romani task master she called Papa on a corner in Rome. She felt like his daughter as she had been handed over to him and Mama as a baby. She thought of them as her own and she as theirs.

Sadly, Esmerelda’s sole purpose was to beg for money from tourists, workers, the citizens of Rome and anybody who might toss a coin her way for her to bring home to Papa. She had been doing this as a child with Mama. There was no schooling for Esmerelda other than the street. When she turned sixteen, a few days before the banker filled her cup, Papa, fearing her great beauty and the fact that she thought well too, being blessed by God with a superior intelligence in addition to her physical attributes, decided to fix Esmerelda. He taught her to use a prothesis, so they cut a fake nose from a rubber mask and she learned to put it on with her makeup to blend in with her olive complexion. And they dabbed red nail polish atop the frayed ends to make it look like a real sliced nose.

Her devious trick was working splendidly, as evidenced by the reaction of the banker. So, she would be able to gain more pity from the masses and contribute a lot more to the family than usual.

Shortly after that, though, a raven appeared next to Esmerelda. He croaked and he shrilled. Then he grabbed her begging cup with his beak and flew off with it about thirty feet.

‘Hey, you,” Esmerelda yelled at the bird as she jumped up off her blanket and chased it. It did not run. She got her cup back. But at that instant, an Italian sports car, out of control, came flying down the hill of the perpendicular street and smashed headlong into the pillar where Esmerelda had been laying. Her blanket was under the tires of the Fiat. Nobody was hurt but the driver, who had evidently had a heart attack before losing control.

In Greek mythology, ravens are associated with Apollo, the god of prophecy. They are said to be the god’s messengers in the mortal world. And they are also said to be a symbol of bad luck. But for Esmerelda, the raven was good luck. This was not the first time a raven had intervened in her life. His timing was perfect to save her from being killed by the out-of-control Fiat.

‘Igneous Rock Structures’ by John Goodie

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The Professor was describing intrusive igneous rock structures that formed underneath the Earth’s mantle. He called them “plutonic” after the god of the underworld, Pluto. I was drifting into a nodding state, barely keeping my lids opened.

I started to daydream and the word plutonic stuck in my head as platonic which took me back to a girl I knew long ago. She was insatiable sexually and I was ten years younger than her, so we were like bunnies for a couple of years — in the mornings, after work before dinner, after our guitar sessions and all weekend. She wore long flowing dresses with no panties. My access was unfettered.

But one day, she stopped telling me she loved me. So, I left. We remained friends for many years, but we never had sex again. It was only a platonic relationship to me. I kept my heart out of it and my dick.

As I mused about that relationship in my vivid daydream, the Professor dropped a book on the floor in front of me and my head snapped back straight. The class pealed with laughter.

All I could think of was Judy and how she would sit across from me playing acoustic guitar with her dress hiked up and legs spread. I could play all night pretending I was watching her fingers change chords.

My next dilemma was getting the thoughts of her sweet scent out of my head so I could walk straight when the class was over. I held my backpack in the front to cover the bulge and started thinking about intrusive igneous rock formations under the Earth’s mantle.

‘Stretch, the Monkey, and the Bikers’ by John Goodie

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As Stretch hiked along the Art Loeb Trail south toward Butter Gap from the 6000-foot high balds of Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob of Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina, he noticed the little monkey following him. Every now and then he would stop striding and look around and catch the monkey dodging behind a blueberry or hawthorn bush or a tree in the more forested lower areas below the balds. The curious thing was, other than the fact that you don’t generally see little capuchin monkeys in the Appalachian Mountains, was his outfit: the monkey wore a red felt fez cap with a gold tassel hanging from it and a blue felt vest with gold buttons and gold stitched embroidery.

Stretch got his nickname as a trail name given to him on one of his Appalachian Trail thru-hikes. He did one southbound hike and one northbound, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, where he was quickly tagged with that moniker because he was so lanky and long-legged — a long-strider. He could make up some serious ground if he wanted to or had to. He loved the outdoors and the hiking and backpacking lifestyles so after his last thru-hike he bought a used trailer and lot in the Asheville area near Brevard and Pisgah Forest where the Appalachian Trail passed through North Carolina. It was also near where the thousand-mile eastward Mountains to the Sea Trail began, and where the thirty something mile long Art Loeb Trail was that crosses four 6000 plus ft. tall mountains from the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp and Cold Mountain through the Shining Rock Wilderness area in the north of Pisgah Forest to Davidson River Campground and the Fish Camp at the south end. His trailer did not have any electricity, only a gas generator to run the fridge, an electric stove, water heater sometimes, and a lamp or two at night. He rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle and worked on them some when somebody asked him to, to get by, but other than that, he did not work much. He had very little money preferring the freedom of the woods to working for the rich man and the damn government.

So that day when he first saw the monkey, Stretch slowly paced to Butter Gap, got some water from the stream and sat down on the shelter’s edge. He pulled his lunch out of his backpack and slowly peeled a banana as the shy monkey watched from behind a tree. Stretch also had an aromatic peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some peanuts. The monkey was highly curious and with good instincts had started following Stretch on his hike south that day.

“Come here boy, it’s okay,” Stretch said to him. “Want some banana?”

He slowly walked toward him about fifteen feet and laid half of the peeled banana, half the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some peanuts down for the monkey and went back to the shelter. The monkey, wary, but hungry, retrieved the food and devoured it eagerly. He jumped up and down and waved to Stretch, grinning like little monkeys do.

“See, I told ya. It’s ok little man.”

So, the monkey followed Stretch home.

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