Sunday, December 25, 2022

When Legends Collide

 by Paula Gail Benson


The seafront of Thessaloniki, as it was in 1917

In November of 1940, Fascist Italy bombarded Thessaloniki, Greece, leaving more than two hundred dead and almost nine hundred wounded. Nearly a thousand buildings were damaged or destroyed. The Italians failed to invade Greece and the remaining residents of Thessaloniki -- named for a Macedonian princess to honor her father’s decisive victory at the Battle of Crocus Field in 353 B.C. -- struggled to prepare for holiday celebrations.

Zayle and his younger brother Marios set out in their small caique on the Aegean in late December seeking a magnificent fish for their January first Saint Basil’s Day celebration. Zayle hoped for a golden bream, while Marios sulked.

“Fish is no feast food,” he grumbled, leaning upon the edge of the skiff as Zayle steered. “We eat fish every Friday.”

“And are lucky to have it in these hard times,” Zayle told him. “How many people are starving? With businesses gone and supply lines cut, how many do you see begging for food and shelter?”

Marios sighed. “I know. But I still can’t help dreaming of a table filled with sliced pork or lamb, rice pilaf, stuffed yiaprakia leaves, olives, and lovely fried lalaggia pastries sprinkled with honey.” He sighed again, just imagining the flavors of those delicacies.

“Ah, you’ve forgotten the Vasilopita.”

“No,” Marios assured him. “I would not forget that treat. If only we could have one filled with gold coins.”

“Did you know the Vasilopita initially was served to honor the goddess Demeter, to ensure a successful harvest?”

Zayle had been the family’s scholar before Papa was injured and could no longer work. Zayle did not complain about assuming the responsibilities, but he often inflicted his learning upon his younger brothers.

“No,” Marios said. “I like the Saint Basil story better.”

“But do you know why Saint Basil placed the treasure in a cake?”

This lesson was getting a bit tedious. Mario endured. “So, it would be like opening a present?”

Zayle paused before answering. “In a way. The king had taxed the people, taking all their money and jewelry. After hearing Saint Basil’s plea, the king reconsidered and returned the items to Saint Basil. Not knowing how to distribute them, the Saint baked them into a cake. He prayed and called the people together to serve them. When he cut the cake, each family miraculously received their own valuables in their slices.”

“Wonderful,” Marios said, his eyes still upon the choppy waters surrounding them.


Marios turned to see Zayle pointing out in the distance. Following the direction, Marios saw a gleaming scaled body jumping from the water. Was that a golden streak along its back?

The fish’s massive tail brushed spray into Marios’ face. “It’s huge. Maybe eighteen kilograms.”

“Golden bream usually aren’t so large,” Zayle said.

“Whatever it is will be massive on the table.” Already, Marios could imagine a hefty serving decorated with dried fruits and feta cheese. “I still wish it had swallowed a sunken treasure chest.”

Zayle laughed. “Then it might not be so tasty. First, we’ll have to catch it before we can feast upon it.”

“Hurry up,” Marios urged. “It’s swimming into the cove.”

For a few moments they lost sight of the mighty fish as they turned the caique to follow it. Then, as they rounded the bend, they saw an enormous rock in the center of the cove’s waters. A young woman appeared to be sitting on the rock’s crest with her back turned to them, her dark hair flowing down in ringlets. Slowly, she turned to face them. A golden and jeweled crown nestled upon her head. From the waist up, she was nude and instead of legs, she swished the glittering fish tail they had followed against the water at the rock’s base.

Her huge brown eyes filled with tears. “I must know,” she said. “Does King Alexander live?”

Marios knew a bit about government but found her question confusing. “Does she mean the young king who died of a monkey bite before King George returned from exile?” he asked.

“No,” Zayle shouted. “That is not our answer.”

His words came too late. Already the mermaid had grown in stature with wings sprouting from her shoulders. Her face became mottled with festering blisters and strands of hair rose up as hissing snakes.

“For you, there is doom,” the deep voiced words came from her gaping mouth and a long tongue lolled between the lips.

A mighty wave crashed into the caique, breaking it in two and tossing the brothers into the writhing waters. The mast fell upon Zayle’s head, knocking him senseless. Marios grabbed onto his brother’s shirt, somehow managing to drag him to land.

When they were found, hours later, Zayle remained unconscious, breathing shallowly, while Marios spoke wildly about a sea monster that capsized their boat. After local fishermen identified them, they were taken to their family home, another tragedy visited on the Thessalonikians.




A few days later, on December thirty-first, the eve of Saint Basil’s Day, Thanasis watched as a family approached the ship upon which he had been recently employed. The parents huddled close to their children, a young boy and girl, both looking as if they might be around twelve years old. The children seemed apprehensive. He could empathize with them. This was his first voyage. Many would have considered him too young to hire as a sailor, but with so many dead or injured after the bombing, workers were needed. After his two older brothers suffered their accident and loss of their caique, Thanasis had to find a job to provide financial support.

When the family reached the gangway, the boy turned to his parents. “We’ve never been away from you on our name day,” he said.

His mama put her arm around his shoulders. “We will only be parted physically. In spirit, we will be together.”

The papa sought to embrace his entire family. “Those born on New Year’s Day are graced with strength and fortitude so they may fight for themselves and others. The time is coming when those talents will be needed. We are sending you where you will be safe.”

“Where you may be able to help us in the future,” the mama added.

The captain called out for them to board. After tearful goodbyes, the children embarked, clinging to their meager baggage while keeping their hands clasped firmly together.

Shaking his head, the captain said, “Not much money to book your passage, but I suppose we should be grateful for any travelers these days. Thanasis, show them where they will be bunking.”

“Yes, sir.” Thanasis turned to the boy and girl. “Follow me.”

Quietly, they descended to the lower level. The compartment seemed very confining to Thanasis, who intended to spend as much time as possible on deck. The children appeared to find comfort in a small space to call their own.

“May we set out our Saint Basil’s Day feast?” the girl asked.

Thanasis noticed she wore a Star of David on a chain around her neck. “I don’t know of any reason not to, but you might get pressure to share. I think some of the crew has gone days without proper rations.”

“We always have enough for guests,” the girl said solemnly. “And we leave a plate for Saint Basil.”

Thanasis frowned. “You celebrate for Saint Basil even though you are of a different faith?”

Shrugging, the boy said, “Our parents always indulged us, since it was our name day. I’m Billy and this is my sister Vicky.”

Of course, Thanasis thought. Two Saint Basil’s Day names.

“We’re twins,” Vicky added.

“I’m Thanasis,” he told them. “Let me know if I can help you.”

Back on deck, Thanasis saw the captain taking on a last-minute passenger, a cloaked man carrying a staff and small sack.

“Monk returning to his order,” the captain explained. “You can show him below.”

Thanasis did as he was told. The monk remained silent as he sat on the berth that Thanasis indicated. Thanasis wondered if he served an order where the monks did not speak.

A short time later, the ship was underway. Thanasis stood on deck with his arm around a mast. Mists of sea spray dampened his face. Had Zayle and Marios encountered harsh conditions on their last voyage? No one knew what to make of their accident with Zayle lingering in a coma and Marios continuing to babble incoherently about the experience. Thanasis hoped they might return to normal, but he had begun to have doubts.

“What do you make of that?” the captain asked, taking a spy glass from his eye and handing it to Thanasis.

Taking the glass and looking in the direction the captain had been observing, Thanasis noted what appeared to be the largest fish he had ever seen jumping from the waves. “It must be a tuna,” he suggested, although he had never seen one that big.

“No,” the captain disagreed. “The scales aren’t right. I’ve heard tell that a mermaid inhabits these waters. Brings sailors good luck, if only they answer her question correctly.” The captain steered to follow the fish as it disappeared into a cove.

Thanasis feared seeing the change in course and hearing the captain’s speculative belief. He had listened to enough of Marios’ ramblings to know that visions on the water could lead to disaster.

“Can we afford to lose time on our journey to investigate an illusion?” he asked, hoping the captain would not find his question mutinous.

“We both saw something like a giant fish leaping from the sea,” the captain replied. “That is no illusion. When you’ve been a sailor as long as I have, you’ll know not to ignore any sign, whether it be fair or foul warning.”

As they rounded the bend, they saw a rock jutting up from the center of the cove. On it, a young dark-haired female sat watching their approach. She wore a golden and jeweled crown. Below her waist, she had a fish body and tail instead of legs.

Her huge brown eyes filled with tears. “I must know,” she said. “Does King Alexander live?”


From behind them, Thanasis and the captain heard an unfamiliar voice. The monk, his hood draped to his back, strode forward to stand between them and the mermaid.

“My dear,” the monk called to her. “He lives, rules, and conquers still. You just need to know where to find him.”

Beginning with her sparkling diadem, the mermaid’s body slowly transformed into a glittering sphere of lights. It rose and traveled through the air to land on the deck of the ship. Then it became the figure of a beautiful woman, outfitted like a queen.

“Good sir,” she spoke, her voice like a summer wind murmuring through the trees. “Show me where I might find him. We have been parted too long.”

“I rejoice to reunite you, Princess. Let us go below where a feast awaits.”

The monk held out his arm so that she might lay her hand upon it. As they moved to the lower level, the monk’s rustic robe changed into a glowing garment, and a shining mitre covered his head.

“Billy, look,” Vicky cried, as she saw them descending. “Saint Basil has come indeed and brought with him a beautiful lady.”

The Saint smiled as he approached their humble table. “You have prepared a sumptuous banquet,” he said.

Placing his hand on the rough-hewed table, the Saint turned it into a lavishly appointed surface, covered with a gleaming cloth. In the center, a round Vasilopita decorated with almonds and cinnamon waited to be sliced. Before the Saint sat an empty plate and beside it a knife.

“Will you serve our Vasilopita?” Billy asked.

“I take great pleasure in cutting each portion.” The Saint took up the knife. As he made the first sliver, a golden light illuminated the center of the treat.

“Look, Billy,” his sister said as the slice was placed on her plate. “It’s as if you can see the future inside the Vasilopita. We are older.”

“Yes,” her brother agreed. “Walking on the streets of New York with our parents.”

“Remember this image well and work diligently to achieve it quickly,” the Saint advised. “You have heard that people have been disappearing in Germany. In less than five years, Thessaloniki will be under German occupation and the Jewish population will be deported. Only a few will survive.”

“Thank you, dear Saint Basil,” Vicky said.

“We will remember,” Billy promised.

Saint Basil turned to Thanasis. “The next slice will be yours.”

Thanasis had no time to speak before receiving a portion of the Vasilopita. He gazed in its center and saw his brothers, Zayle and Marios, walking along the seashore.

“Good Princess,” Saint Basil explained. “Your question took this boy’s brothers by surprise. The elder knew the proper response – that Alexander lives, rules, and conquers still -- but the younger based his answer on another royal family. For the love you bear your brother, will you not remove the Gorgon’s curse on this family, so they may fish these waters in peace?”

The Princess inclined her head with dignity.

Looking down at the Vasilopita, Thanasis saw his brothers waving to him, as if saying all is well, return home to be with us.

“Is it respectful to know the Princess’s name so I may express my gratitude?” Thanasis asked.

“Already you know it well,” Saint Basil told him. “You live in the city that honors her.”

“Of course,” the captain said, bowing low to both the Princess and Saint Basil. “The daughter of Philip of Macedon and the step-sister of Alexander the Great.”

The Princess looked at Saint Basil. “You have told me that my brother Alexander lives, rules, and conquers still. Will you take me to him?”

Saint Basil bent his head toward her. “Alexander has conquered new worlds where this ship cannot travel. If you bless these good people on their journeys, I will take you to him.”

Holding out her hands, the Princess said, “May this voyage and all future travel be in safety and with great reward.”

“Your graciousness matches your brother’s courage,” Saint Basil told her. “Look. He awaits you now.”

Droplets of light brightened the compartment, lifting the Princess and Saint Basil. They could hear her calling to Alexander as the two figures disappeared from sight.

“Come, Thanasis,” the captain called. “To your post. Let us make this journey swiftly so I may return you to your family.”

“Yes, sir,” Thanasis answered, following the captain to the deck. Just before ascending, he took one glance back. Billy and Vicky embraced.

“We shall see our parents again,” Vicky said.

And my brothers will be restored to my family, Thanasis thought. There could be no finer gifts than what he had witnessed on this very special Saint Basil’s Day.

Mentis Bostantzoglou (Bost), Alexander the Great with his sister, 1984. Credit: Parallaxi, source: Daily Art Magazine



Monday, December 19, 2022

Some Things Don’t Change at Christmas by KM Rockwood

The isolated depot, a ways out of town on the interstate, was dark when I clambered down from the bus.

Not a surprise on Christmas Eve.

Courtesy: Foursquare

Behind me, the bus door closed with a pneumatic swish, and the bus lurched back onto the highway.

I shivered. Icy snowflakes swept through the uncertain glow from the single overhead light. Gusts of wind swirled the bits of snow that had already fallen into small drifts against the depot’s wall.

The door was locked. I tried to peer through a window, but I couldn’t see much. The whole building smelled of neglect.

It had been twenty-some years since I’d been here. A lot could have changed. Maybe this was just a pick-up and drop-off spot now. Maybe nobody ever staffed the depot.

Well, if I remembered correctly, at least the pay phone was outdoors, around the side of the building.

As I headed around the corner, I dug in my pocket for change. How much were calls now? Certainly more than the quarter they used to be.

But there was no phone there. All that remained was a discolored spot on the wall and a patch where the wires used to be.

I’d kind of noticed that there were no pay phones in the city neighborhood where I had been staying, but I put that down to them being removed because they were being vandalized. And possibly used for drug deals.

But when I thought about it, why would there be pay phones anywhere? Now everybody had a cell phone.

Everybody but me.

How stupid could I be?

Very, apparently.

I should have called my sister Miriam to ask if I could come before I even got on the bus.

When I told her in my last letter that I was living in a halfway house and that Mr. Jennings, my parole officer, had said he might consider granting permission for an out-of-state trip for the holidays to visit family, her reply had been cautious, but not totally discouraging.

“I’d love to see you, Jacob,” she’d written. “If you think you can make it, let me know and I will talk to Papa. Since Mama died, the kids and I have moved in so I can take care of him. He’s not well. Mostly his lungs. I don’t need to tell you he’s still upset at the shame you brought on the family. Mama never got over it, never wanted to show her face again in church. And Papa’s never forgotten that.”

She was right. I had brought shame on the family. My poor mother.

Miriam was my big sister. She wrote me once a month all the years I was in prison. A few times she even sent ten dollars for my commissary account. I always wrote back.

Her letters were the only ones I ever got. And I’d never had a visitor.

I couldn’t blame Papa if he didn’t want to see me. I shouldn’t have shown up like this, without an okay from Miriam.

But it was only last night that Mr. Jennings let me know that he’d approved the trip. Not much time to plan.

I’d decided to come anyhow, and call Miriam from the bus depot. Another stupid decision. How could I have missed the absence of pay phones? I hadn’t planned to mention I was already here unless she told me it was okay if I came, and that she’d pick me up at the depot.

If she said “no,” I’d just catch the next bus back.

It wasn’t until I went to the bus station downtown that I discovered the schedule had been cut back so much. Only one bus a day ran by the old depot. And only one bus back.

So now, here I was. And I was stuck. Maybe I could hike the remaining miles to the homeplace outside of town, but it would take hours, especially in the darkness. I wouldn’t get there until early morning, long before anyone got up. I’d be totally unannounced.

I couldn’t imagine I’d get any kind of welcome at that hour.

So what was I going to do?

Hole up somewhere and try to get some sleep before morning. Not like I’d never slept rough before.

My stomach growled. I’d brought a few granola bars, but I’d eaten them already. Being hungry, though, was the least of my worries right now.

I pulled my slightly-too-big, warm jacket tighter around me. I’d found it at the Community Thrift Shop’s five-dollar-coat-day sale. I had wool gloves and a watch cap. But my legs were already cold in the blue jeans, my socks had holes in them, and my worn boots were far from waterproof.

Why hadn’t I stuck a blanket in my backpack? It would have fit. All that was in it was a change of underwear and a few pathetic Christmas presents for Miriam and Papa and the kids. Cheap ones. I didn’t have much money, and the warehouse where I’d been lucky enough to snag a job was closed for Christmas week. A week without a paycheck. But I’d still have to cover the cost of room and board at the halfway house. Even if I wasn’t there.

I’d done my buying at a pawn shop. I had a silver-colored necklace with a heart for Miriam, a carved pipe holder for Papa (It wasn’t until later that I wondered whether he still smoked a pipe. Especially since Miriam had mentioned something about his lungs) and for the kids, some strange robot-y creations which the proprietor had called “action figures” and assured me that today, all kids loved them.

Maybe I could pick the lock on the depot building without damaging it and sleep in there. At least it would be out of the snow and wind.

But if somebody found me, that would be a breaking-and-entering charge, not to mention trespassing. Definitely a parole violation.

Or find an old barn. Might even have some straw in it that would make for a cozy bed. It’d still be trespassing, but at least without the breaking-and-entering part.

The wind picked up and the snow came faster. I had to find somewhere out of the weather. Or I might freeze to death.

Not that freezing to death was really such a terrible prospect. My whole life, from age seventeen to now, was a waste. One stupid decision after another.

Instead of using my high school years to get an education and a start on life, I’d succumbed to the temptations of fast cars, wild parties, copious amounts of weed and alcohol.

I hadn’t even made it to the “woman” part of the proverbial “Wine, women, and song.”

That final night haunted me every time I closed my eyes.

Parked outside a small convenience store, engine running and radio blasting, I’d been sitting in the driver’s seat of my buddy Denny’s car. I’d positioned it right by the exit for a fast getaway in case he ran into trouble with his fake ID. We were both too young to buy beer, but his fake drivers license looked pretty realistic. Since I didn’t have a fake ID, he’d gone in alone.

He came running out, carrying just a six-pack. He jumped into the passenger seat and screamed, “Let’s get out of here!”

I stared at him. “All you got was one six-pack?”

He punched my arm. “Shut up and burn rubber.”

Shrugging, I put the car in gear, pulled out of the parking lot and roared down the road.

The radio was too loud for us to talk, but not loud enough to drown out the sirens.

I sped up, trying to evade the police cars. Denny urged me on.

The road was twisting and dark. The tires were almost bald. I missed a curve and the car slammed sideways into a tree, smashing the entire passenger side. And the passenger.

Later, I had lots of time to piece it all together as I lay shackled to a hospital bed, guard at the door. Seems that when the clerk questioned Denny’s fake ID and threatened to take it away from him, Denny shot him.

I didn’t even know he had a gun.

The clerk died.

So did Denny, crushed when the car hit the tree.

For me, that meant a felony murder charge. Participating in a crime which resulted in death.

I tried to argue that I hadn’t really participated in the clerk’s death. I had no idea what was going to happen.

Someone trying to use a fake ID to buy beer might be illegal, but how could it be a serious crime?

No one bought it. Not the cops, not the judge, not even my court-appointed defense attorney.

And I couldn’t argue that I wasn’t guilty of the fleeing and eluding, which ended with a smashed car and a dead Denny.

Probably would have been better all around if I’d died, too.

Now, twenty years later, I was out of prison on parole. Still doing stupid things.

The night air carried the ringing of bells from the direction of town, drawing me out of my morose self-pity. I gazed toward the sound.

That church just outside town calling good people to Christmas Eve services?

They’d sing Christmas carols. Raise their voices in prayer. Listen to the preacher read the Gospel story of the blessed birth.

It would be warm inside the church.

If I went there, I could probably sit in the back for the service.

Did they leave churches unlocked overnight? Maybe I could sneak back in after everyone had gone home and stay there until morning.

Pinpricks of dazzling light appeared down the road and approached. Slowly.

They evolved into a set of headlights, with windblown snowflakes dancing and shimmering in the glow.

Any chance I could step out by the road as it passed, stick out my thumb and catch a ride?

Not much. Even if they stopped, a ride to where? The church was in the other direction.

But the headlights didn’t pass. The vehicle limped slowly into the dim circle thrown by the overhead light. With the distinctive thumping sound of a flat tire.

It was a huge SUV, towering high above the pavement on outsized tires. One of which, the right front side, was totally flat.

I stood still as it stopped with the driver’s side door right next to me.

The door opened. Warm air, smelling of cinnamon and peppermint and pine, rushed to meet me.

A small, slender woman jumped out.

She was wearing a bright red coat, with a wooly hat pulled down over her ears. Her boots were some kind of shiny material.

She didn’t say anything, but she looked at me, shut the door, and proceeded to the back of the SUV.

I followed.

“You got a spare?” I asked.

Stupid question. It was right there, mounted on a bracket on the rear door.

“How about a jack?”

She nodded and pulled the door open.

More warm, fragrant air poured out.

How delightful if I could just climb in there, curl up, and go to sleep.

Like that was something she might let me do.

I wasn’t planning to pull a me-strong-man, you-weak-woman number on her, but really, tiny as she was, could she even manage to get that huge spare tire off its bracket without hurting herself?

Of course I’d change it for her.

Courtesy: Dreamstime

Then maybe she’d give me a ride. But even if she didn’t—and I couldn’t blame her if she didn’t want to let a strange man ride along with her—it wouldn’t hurt me to do it. Most useful thing I’d have done in a long time.

I unbolted the spare while she opened a compartment under the floor and pulled out a jack.

The wind was picking up, blowing the snow in our faces.

We worked surprisingly well together but wordlessly, and finished quickly.

She disassembled the jack while I bolted the flat tire to the brace on the back door. Then she put the jack away, slammed the floor back into place over it, shut the back door, and climbed into the driver’s seat.

I stood there, wondering how to ask for a ride.

Sitting behind the wheel of that huge vehicle, she looked like a delicate toy.

We still hadn’t spoken a word.

“Aren’t you getting in?” she asked.


“Come on. I’ll give you a ride.”

“Back into town?” I asked. “To the church?”

She shook her head. “All locked up. They’ve already gone home.”


“But I could take you somewhere else.”

I heaved my backpack in and scrambled into the passenger seat.

The fragrant, comfortable warmth surrounded me. I felt more relaxed than I had in years.

“Have some coffee,” she said, passing over a thermos. “And there’s a few cookies in that tin over there if you’d like some.”

I’d like some. I was hungry.

Before I shoved a cookie into my mouth, I told her where the old homeplace was.

She nodded. “Yes. I’m going right by there.”

The snow was coming down more heavily, making it hard to see, but that didn’t seem to bother her. Snow coated the roads and drifted against the fences.

I took a drink of the coffee and sat back, looking around. The back seat was covered with wrapped packages, a basket of fruit and some grocery bags.

“What are you doing out like this on Christmas Eve?” I asked. “Especially in this weather.”

She shrugged. “It’s Christmas. You get weather like this. You can’t really expect one person to handle everything that needs to be done. And sometimes you need to give people a chance to show whether they deserve what they’re wishing for. We do find that Christmas Eve is the best time for certain tasks.”

I glanced at the packages. “Like delivering Christmas presents?”

“That, too.”

We rode along in silence. The snow was coming down quickly, piling deeper and deeper.

“This SUV certainly handles the roads well in this weather,” I said.

“Yes.” She didn’t take her eyes off the road. “It’s designed to meet any challenges that arise, especially winter road conditions.”

Before I knew it, we were driving through the deepening drifts and pulling up the long driveway at the old family homeplace.

Public Domain Pictures

A string of Christmas lights decorated the front porch. I could see a Christmas tree through the front window.

My throat tightened. Suppose they weren’t happy to see me?

I turned to the lady. “I might not be able to stay here. Then I’d have to move on. Do you think you could wait a minute and see how it goes before you leave?”

Although I had no idea where I could move on to.

She stopped in front of the porch. “I’ll be here if you need me.”

I thanked her and climbed out.

Clutching my backpack and trying to keep the tears out of my eyes, I stepped up to the door and knocked.

It opened instantly.

I had no idea what to say. I just stood there, my stomach churning.

Miriam gasped. She turned and shouted over her shoulder, “Papa. It’s Jacob. Come for Christmas.”

I heard him cough, then clear his throat.

Our Jacob?”


“Tell him to come in out of the cold.”

My vision blurred. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve.

Miriam looked out over my shoulder. “How did you get here?” she asked.

“This lady gave me a ride. See…” I turned around to point at the SUV.

But it was gone.

There weren’t even any tire tracks in the snow.

Beyond the end of the driveway, pinpricks of light lifted toward the sky.

Public Domain Pictures

A sound of ringing bells drifted across the snow.

This time I recognized them for what they were. Sleigh bells.



Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Moving On By E. B. Davis

I remember cruising through Hatteras Village and being glad the traffic and tourist crowds had lessened since it was mid-September. There were empty outdoor tables at the coffee shop so I steered my Dare County patrol car into the parking lot. A jolt of caffeine might revive me. I hadn’t taken a break in hours. The staff greeted me and brewed and frothed my usual cappuccino. When I returned to my

panda, an older man stopped me and asked if I had a minute to talk. I gestured to the umbrellaed tables. We sat on opposite sides. “What can I do for you?”


“Deputy, I’m a resident, me and my wife. We live in Frisco. A few months ago, my neighbor came over and asked to buy my house. I’m not ready to sell, but I listened to him because I know the day will come when we’ll need to move closer to more extensive healthcare services. The offer he made was at least one-hundred thousand under its fair market value. Made it simple for me. I told him I wasn’t interested and walked away.”


“Okay,” I said, nodding and hoping he’d explain why was this my business.


“He wouldn’t stop pestering me, like I’d eventually see the error of my ways. I kept telling him that his offer was too low. Told him to ask a real estate agent. But, and I emphasized this, I told him it didn’t really matter because we weren’t ready to move.”


“So, was that it?”


“Nope—that SOB sent me threatening notes through the mail.”


“He signed them?”


“Oh, well no, he didn’t sign them.” The man shook his head. “Guess I can’t prove it was him.” His shoulders slumped.


Lousy neighbors were the pits. He had my sympathy. “Do you still have the notes?”


“Yes, at my house.”


I followed him to his lovely Sound-front home where he gave me the two harassing notes in a plastic bag. But he admitted to handling them before he thought to put them in the bag. His name was Bob Womble, an old North Carolina last name, and his wife was Eleanor—a lovely couple with a problem neighbor—Rob Jones, they told me.


“I’ll process the notes and let you know if I get a hit. If I were you, I’d put up security cameras covering as much property as you can and get a backup drive so if anything goes amiss you can access the recorded images. Make sure the cameras have night vision and high resolution so the face can be identified.”


“I can do that—or at least—a friend of mine can. He’s a whiz with those things.”


“If we could prove these notes came from Jones, they would be evidence for harassment charges. Under NC code, he could get jail time and fines. If you get another note, call me and don’t touch it.” I gave him my business card. “We might be able to lift fingerprints and get a match if he has a record or, if a judge gives the go ahead, obtain fingerprints and writing samples from him. Do you have a record app on your phone?”


“No. What’s that?”


I showed him how to download the app and told him if Jones came over again to record the conversation. I left the couple with as much support as I could, but my parting shot about “everybody has one” probably wasn’t helpful, even if empathetic.


Hatteras Island attracted extremes. There were many retired military families, who were the best. But we also attracted antisocial people who thought of Hatteras as a remote, lawless place where they could do anything they pleased. I suspected some had emotional or mental health issues causing them to run afoul in more populated areas giving them incentive to move here. It seemed most neighborhoods had one of those bad apples. I knew from the numerous calls we’ve received about lousy neighbors scattered all over the island.


Back at the station, I processed the notes for fingerprints but only got a hit on Bob Womble, whose prints were in the military file. Looked like he’d served in Vietnam.




Two months later I had heard no more from the Wombles and hoped they were looking forward to the upcoming holiday season without harassment. My son, Jared, was in his room playing video games until bedtime. Woody, my fiancé and fellow Deputy Sheriff, and his daughter, Cindy, were arguing through the bathroom door. I escaped the house to my dock overlooking Pamlico Sound, where I sat on the bench, trying to enjoy the night, but I could barely think. Typical of mid-November on the island, the temperatures were in the mid 70s and the windows were open. I could still hear Woody and Cindy arguing.


“Get out of the bath, Cindy,” Woody yelled. “Other people need to use the bathroom, too!”


Woody’s daughter was taking a long bubble bath. At twelve, she hogged the bathroom as much as she could. Unfortunately, my house had only the one bathroom. When we got engaged, a few years ago, we’d sold Woody’s house, which wasn’t any bigger than mine. The sale gave us a nice nest egg that we earmarked as the college fund, but I wished for a bigger house, at least one with two and a half baths. I focused on a star and made the house wish. “No, wait. I didn’t wish that—I take it back.” I slapped my thigh and expelled a breath. With Covid 19, at least my sanity had been restored.


Woody must have been successful because I could now enjoy the silence. Looking up at all the stars was a treat on Hatteras Island because we had little light pollution. I shifted my shoulders to relieve tension and leaned back, gazing at the stars. A shooting star streaked through the sky.


“Ahhhh,” I uttered, my gut twisted with a sharp stab. “No! I took back the wish, really I did.” I held my head with both hands trying to keep hold of my two-year sanity. But no, the streak was coming closer, and I knew it would land on my dock. Sure enough, the streak transformed itself into a yellow banana, which landed next to me, unpeeled itself with multiple side zippers, and out popped Pam, the Sprite of Pamlico Sound. As she stepped out, her bootie heel caught on the slippery peel. She crashed onto the dock on her butt.


“Are you okay?”


“Does it look like I’m okay?” Her voice was stroppy. “Put your finger here.” She pointed aside her. When I complied, she leaned on my finger, took her wand out of a pocket, propped up her other side, and levered herself to her bootie-clad feet. 


Her low-pitched voice still surprised me. For a pipsqueak, she wasn’t squeaky. I hadn’t seen her in two years, but then, we’d all been sequestered and isolated in the interim. Pam didn’t look good. All six inches of her screamed weary, like a deranged and beaten Tinker Bell. Her hair was in shambles, and her belted raincoat hem was ripped. If anything, her fashion sense had gotten worse. Her signature booties now matched her banana ride. Even in bright colors, she still reminded me of a female Marlon Brando playing the role of Godfather.


“It’s been a hell of a two years. No fun at all. I’ve been run ragged with all the delegated prayer requests. I keep telling management, I’m wishes, not prayers. There’s a difference. Do I look like an angel to you?”


“Hell, no!” I blurted out. Pam glared at me. “I didn’t mean to summon you. I wasn’t thinking.”


“No, you haven’t been.” Pam paced on the dock like she was itching for a fight. Her eyebrows formed a low straight line across her forehead like she was drawing a line. Had I made some breach?


“What did I do now?”


“It’s what you and Woody haven’t done.”




“I’ll have you know I went to a lot of trouble getting him to propose. Not that he didn’t want to, but he was gun-shy after his marriage and divorce from that woman.”


Unfortunately, our marriage had also been put on hold and never got resurrected. It was just a formality anyway. “We had plans, but when Covid hit, we couldn’t invite anyone. We wanted for it to be a celebration with family and friends. So, we delayed.”


“You’re living in sin!”


“Come on, Pam. You’re the one dressing me up like Megan Fox, so don’t come off like you’re Miss High Morality.”


“It’s not just the immorality. It’s the responsibility and commitment part.”


“What are you talking about? Marriage is just the formality.”


“Oh really? And what about the kids? What happens if something happens to either of you? Do you have all the legalities in place to make sure your kids are okay?”


I opened my mouth but closed it again. “I agree, marriage would help in that regard, but it wouldn’t grant us guardianship of each other’s kids. We’d still need to have our exes sign off on guardianship or adoption.”


“True, but it would give you a leg up with a judge if you were married—legally! You know all this, Sue. What is the problem?”


I looked away. “It’s stupid.”


She put her hands on her hips and tapped a bootie on the deck. “Probably, but out with it.”


“It’s been two years since Woody proposed. I don’t even feel like we’re engaged anymore.”


Pam cupped her hands and yelled, “You want Woody to re-propose?”


“Would you shut up? The windows are open.”


“Don’t say.” She smiled. “Now that I got that off my chest, you can start planning a Christmas wedding and, in the meantime, get me a shot of whiskey and some pretzel crumbles. Guess it’s too early for Christmas Cookies?”


“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet. But I could use a shot, too.” Boy, could I, I thought, as I stormed back to the house, my mind zooming. I hoped Woody hadn’t heard that exchange. I hoped he didn’t ask me who I was talking with. I hoped neither our German Shephard, Dude, or our Corgi, Sir Lancelot, came charging outside to greet Pam, who was responsible for finding them their forever home. Pam was also responsible for Woody and I having to house train two puppies simultaneously. The things that sprite had put me through. I heaved a huffy breath out as I opened the house backdoor. I hoped I could get rid of Pam before I lost my mind—again! I paused my labored thinking. But she was right about Woody and me. It was now or never.


I walked into the empty kitchen, retrieved the Evan Williams from the shelf above the refrigerator. For Pam, I poured a shot glassful, and for me, a larger measure in a cocktail glass. After returning the bottle, I pulled open the snack drawer, grabbed the Snyder’s Pretzel bag, took out two pretzels, and put them in a plastic baggie. On my way back to the dock, I broke up one of the pretzels into tiny pieces.


I placed the shot glass on the dock and sat down, cross legged, beside Pam. She took a sip of whiskey and smacked her lips. “Now that hits the spot. Look, Sue, about the case you have. I need to warn you—you’ll have to stake it out if you want to catch this guy.”


Taken aback, I stammered, “Whoa—what case?”


Pam squinched her eyes sprouting a long vertical crease in her forehead. “You’ve always had a hard time keeping up, Sue. This isn’t the first case we’ve worked together.” She looked at me in exasperation. “The-Womble-case,” she said, one word at a time like she was spelling.


“You can’t get involved with my cases, Pam. You’ve helped in the past, but things happen when you’re around. Things I can’t explain.” I had to give her credit. Yes, she had helped me on a few cases, once resulting in the undercover Megan Fox disguise, but that could have been very embarrassing and unexplainably demented to fellow officers had anyone but Woody caught me dressed in that get up. Luckily, his appreciation was such that he never questioned why I was dressed like that. The drug dealer liked it enough to incriminate himself.


“You seem to forget I’m up to my eyeballs in your cases, Sue. They’re my jurisdiction, too. Remember those prayers and wishes I’m responsible for up and down Pamlico Sound, which is almost every bit of Dare County. The Wombles wish to remain in their house and that their neighbor decides to return to the mainland from wherever he’s originally from.”


“Womble’s got his property covered with high-resolution cameras.”


“Yeah, won’t help if the neighbor’s wearing a ski mask and gloves. Besides, he’s upping the ante. It’s getting dangerous.”


“The neighbor’s name is Rob Jones. What do you know?”


“I went over to the Jones’s house to see what he was up to. He’s going to almost saw through a stair tread going up to their back deck. At very least we’re talking about broken bones.”


“How do you know these things, Pam?”


“Wishes tip us off, but bad intentions smell offensive to wee folk like me. He’s giving off big repulsive stink vibes. He wants to injure them so they won’t be able to live in their house. With the first floor elevated twelve feet and no elevator, they’d have to put their house on the market or rent it, neither of which they want to do. Putting in an elevator takes time and money they don’t have. Jones is hoping to induce them to sell during a health crisis so they’ll let it go below its market value and use it as a rental.”


“They can avoid selling to him.”


“He’ll make it hard. He lives next door and will act obnoxiously to potential buyers. They won’t make offers knowing the next-door neighbor is crazy or criminal.”


“Do you know when?”





After Pam left, I went inside to find the kids had gone to bed. Woody, tilted his surfer-bleached head full of blond curls and asked, “Who were you talking to?”


I closed my eyes. There was no way I could tell him about Pam, the Sprite of Pamlico Sound. Inspiration struck. “An informant.”


“Really. Do informants always give you hell for not getting married?” he asked, and then dropped to his knees. “Sue, would you marry me? And soon already.”


I smiled. “I’m sorry you heard that. But, yes!”


“Whoever she was, was right. Let’s get married at Christmas.”


“Okay—it’s only six weeks away, but we weren’t going over the top on the wedding anyway so we’ll have enough time to plan. I wish we could have it here, but the house only has one bathroom and with all the guests, it wouldn’t work.”


“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, too.” Woody stood up. “I’ve been wishing big time for a larger home. One with more bathrooms. I’m sick of fighting for bathroom time and with Cindy.”


“It will only get worse when she’s a teen. I’ve been wishing for it, too.” Between the two of us, we’d summoned Pam as if we’d used a bull horn. “Let’s see what’s on the market and ask around. Maybe someone is thinking of listing and hasn’t yet. We’ll have to get this house listed, too.”


“So, what did the informant tell you?”


“Stakeout time!” I proceeded to give Woody the details of what, when, where, and why. I’d told him before about the Womble’s problem, but that had been two months ago.


“How did the informant get the info?”


I hesitated, then told a whopper. “Friends but not friends with the neighbor, Jones. The guy bragged about how he was going to get them to sell.”




Woody and I planned the stakeout. After bringing our boss into the loop, our first step was to get a sitter for the kids. Woody called his sister, Nelly, who agreed to come over while we were gone. We looked at the property online at the Dare County GIS site, which had aerial and front shots of properties, to find the best places for us to hide and observe Jones doing his dastardly deed. Then, I called Bob Womble to ask him not to come out of the house or turn on any lights that normally wouldn’t be on. They were to follow their normal nighttime routine.


The evening before the stakeout, Woody was on night duty, and I was home with the kids. I heard tapping on the backdoor. Curious, I opened the door and found Pam.


“Sue! It’s going down tonight, not tomorrow night. Jones must have gotten impatient.”


“I can’t take him down alone, Pam. I need backup.”


“I’ll back you up.”


“How? I know you beat demons with your wand, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough to help me cuff the guy.”


“I’ll bring help.”


“Not Buck.”


“Not Buck, but you do have to admit that big deer did the job.”


I ground my teeth. When Pam had turned Buck into a man, he was big, goofy, and, ah, …uninhibited. “I’ll have to get a babysitter.” I called Nelly, who came quickly. I told the kids I had to go into work and to let the dogs out for a potty break before bedtime. Then, I called Bob Womble to let him know the stakeout had been rescheduled. Woody was my last call.


“Don’t try to go after him without me, Sue.”


“I’ll text once I witness him sawing through the step. Hang out in the neighborhood nearby. But not within sight of the house.”


“You’re still going in by boat?”


“Yep, my best bet to go undetected.”


Womble’s house had no foliage for cover. Taking my boat over and observing from it was our only option. We were afraid Jones would be suspicious or scared off seeing an unfamiliar car in the driveway. A boat tied to the dock would be harder to see, blending into the darkness hidden by the dock itself.


I tied off the boat and knelt in the bottom while peering over the side, hiding and spying simultaneously. It was my only recourse given it had the best vantage point of the staircase. I would not be able to react quickly since I’d have to jump off the boat and clear the dock before running after the jerk.


I bided my time devouring miniature candy canes, my usual Christmas treat. It was early in the season, but when I saw them for sale I couldn’t resist. My dentist wouldn’t be happy, but they kept me occupied.


It was painfully boring until two in the morning when a man I presumed was Jones sneaked onto the Womble’s property. He carried a small handsaw that fit between the steps. He started to saw, then stopped, listening if the noise he made had alerted the Wombles. He continued to saw in slow and measured strokes. I saw him push up on the step from the underside. Then, he climbed the stairs until he got to the sawed step. Holding his weight on his arms, hands grasped to the handrail, he lowered his weight gently onto the step. Satisfied the step would break under his weight, he slunk down the stairs and furtively walked toward the side of the house.


I hit send on a text to Woody and shot out of the boat—only to fall on my face.


Crouched in the same position on the boat, my legs were numb. Jones was almost to the front of the house. “Halt! Police!” I yelled while crawling to the yard. The guy was gaining ground and had no intention of minding me. As he advanced, I heard him say, “What the hell?”


I got to my feet and saw Pam flying toward Jones. Accompanying her were two men; one large with dark hair, the other, very short and blond.


The larger man jumped in front of Jones, knocking him to the ground on his back. Jones held up the saw as a weapon, waving at the large man. Suddenly, the man lunged for Jones’s hand holding the saw and bit. I heard Jones swear, “What man bites?” He dropped the saw, trying to yank his hand from the man’s clamped jaws.


The shorter man walked to the side of them. He waved with his index finger pointed at Jones. “When my mistress gives you an order, you obey! She said halt. You halt.”


When I approached, the large man detached his jaws and rolled off Jones. I knelt on the ground, pushed Jones over while taking one of his hands and cuffed it. “That was assault. I want to press charges,” he said.


I tried to roll Jones the opposite way to get his other hand cuffed, but he resisted. The large man assisted me in rolling Jones over. I got the second cuff in place while Jones remained faced down. “He didn’t even draw blood,” I told Jones. Pam came over and buzzed around the back of Jones’s head.


I stood and asked, “Who are they, Pam? Where did you get them?”


“You don’t recognize them?”


“Should I?”


“Are you sure you don’t know them?”




“Meet Dude, your German Shephard, and Sir Lancelot, your Corgi.”


















My jaw must have dropped. “My dogs?”


The large man bounced close to me. “Hey, Sue. Love the peanut butter bones. Get more of them, would ya’?”


The short blond frowned. “But don’t waste your money on those organic pumpkin treats. They’re terrible. More of the bison snacks. I think I could take down a bison so it’s a natural treat, like if we were hunting on the prairie.”


Dude rolled his eyes. “You might trip one, Lance, but taking one down—probably not.”


“I’m of royal stock. Quite capable!” He flounced, turning his back to the group, which would have been more affective if his cute butt wasn’t apparent clad in jeans.


“Tell Woody to teach me to surf. I know I could do it. I saw a program about surf dogs on Animal Planet. Please, Sue,” Dude begged.


“I’ll try,” I said, not knowing what else to say. Dude licked my face. “Arrhh, no, down.”


Sir Lancelot stopped pouting. “Glad Cindy finally stopped dressing me in hats and jackets. That was an awkward stage. But now she often serves dinner late. Really, I need a regular schedule. Five o’clock on the dot. Please remind her to be prompt.”


“Okay,” I said. Awkward situations arose whenever Pam was involved. I should have known I’d end up taking orders and relaying messages for my dogs, but then, they had taken down and lectured the perp so we were even.


Pam flew over. “Okay, boys, time to get you back to the house. Woody is on his way. Besides, the kids will be worried you’re gone. Come here.” They stood in front of her while she waved her wand over their heads. “Calacazak, calacazoo, turn these boys back into the dogs we once knew.”


My prisoner said, “What was that all about? Was a mosquito talking to you? I heard buzzing around my head.”


“Are you on drugs?” I asked. I didn’t know or care what the neighbor had seen. Served him right. I saw headlights come up the road and helped Jones to his feet. “You are being arrested for Reckless Endangerment, Trespassing, Prowling, and Resisting Arrest. You have the right to remain silent…”




The next day, I compared Jones’s fingerprints to those I’d taken from the notes Womble received. I got a match and added Harassment to the other charges and called the D. A.’s office. Then, I called the Wombles to let them know how it had all gone down. “They’re all misdemeanors, but added together and showing an escalation in his tactics—I think he’ll be in jail for a good six months with fines. The prosecutor’s office will be in contact.” He thanked me, and I felt good about how we solved his problem.


About a week later, Bob Womble called me. “You’re not going to believe this.”




“Eleanor fell down the front steps and broke her hip.”


“Oh no. I’m so sorry.”


“Looks like we’re going to have to move anyway. I was in denial. Those steps were too much for Eleanor. If I had been honest with myself, she wouldn’t have gotten injured.”


“Hindsight is always great.”


“After Jones was arrested, we thought about living next door to him. It was bound to be difficult at best. At least with Jones in jail, we won’t have interference from him when buyers come to look. I called to let you know we won’t be on Hatteras Island. Even if we could get Eleanor up the stairs, if a fire broke out, I couldn’t get her out in time. We’re going to our son’s house in Greenville. Call me if I have to testify.”


I didn’t want to appear mercenary, but I had to ask, “When are you going to list the house?”




“I might be interested. If you keep it off the market and sell it without a real estate agent, that will save about six percent on commission. What price are you asking?”


He named a price that was doable for us, but given the six percent, I negotiated. “I liked what I saw of the house, but my fiancé and I need a detailed tour. We’ll also need to get an inspection, you understand. How can we access the house?”


“I’ll call my friend, the camera whiz, and you can pick up the key from him.” He gave me his friend’s number and address in another island neighborhood. “I won’t list the house until I hear from you.”


“I doubt we’ll change our minds. But I will consult my fiancé and let you know.”


Bob chuckled. “Having his arresting officer live next door seems like justice to me!”


“Yes—and we have two kids and two dogs, who are very protective. I doubt they’ll like him. Perhaps he’ll realize his best bet is to sell.”


Woody and I walked through the house. It had not only two bathrooms, but two half baths as well. We were thrilled, and when the inspection report revealed nothing but a torn screen on the porch and a cut step on the back staircase, we were full steam ahead. I thought maybe we could close before Christmas and have our wedding at our new house, but that didn’t happen. Too much, too fast—so we decided to get married on New Year’s Eve instead. We closed on the house a week before Christmas and moved in immediately.


We were married at sunset on the dock of our new home on New Year’s Eve. After the ceremony and dinner, we watched fireworks over the Sound that were fabulous even if set off illegally. I was glad Woody and I weren’t on duty.


 On New Year’s night, I wandered out to the new dock with a glass of wine, a shot glass full of Evan Williams, and a bag of leftover wedding cake crumbles. After sitting on the bench, I wished to see Pam, wondering how she would answer my question.


“What is it, Sue?” Pam asked, after landing her banana and carefully disembarking. She looked at me suspiciously. “First time you ever directly summoned me.”


I handed her the shot glass and cake crumbles.


“Bribes, too?”


I let out a breath. “Do you have to deny someone’s wishes for others’ wishes to come true?”


“You want to know why the Wombles’ wishes weren’t granted and yours were.”


“Yes. I feel bad about that.”


“Sometimes the boss has plans for people that they can’t conceive. In two months, the Womble’s son will announce that their first grandchild will be born around Christmas. By then, they’ll be in a new house nearby, close to healthcare facilities. Eleanor’s hip will be mended, and the light of their lives will be born. No need to worry.”


My shoulders released the tension I’d held. “I’m so thankful. We really needed to move. The house is big enough for us and has a dock. I know we’ll be happy here.”


“I know you will, Sue.” She held up her glass for a toast. “Let’s toast to new beginnings. To the end of illness, isolation, and hope for the future.”


I touched my glass to hers. “Amen!”

The End




Links to previous Sue Stories


2014    “The Christmas Tree”


2014    “The Christmas Cookie Conviction”


2015    “Christmas Wishes”


2016    “Pam vs. The Demon”


2017    “Puppy Christmas Passage”


2018    “Mixed Blessings”