Beyonder Court

Should Children Gather at the Deathbed? What to Do For Kids When the Family is Grieving
A Word on thne Tragedy in Connecticut
Discipline For Small Children
Children are dogs, Teenagers are Cats.
Developmental Milestones
Practical tips on living with kids
meal ideas
games and trivia
sign the guest book, TAKE THE POLL

Pen name of Caryl Harvey



A lot of folks escape from Sunset West Care Center. They don’t go far, though, the Reason City Park being just across the street. In the summer, Reason families usually invite wandering old folks to join their picnics, then afterwards they take the nursing home residents back to their facility. In the winter, nurses’ aides know just where to look for their missing charges.

Sarah and Robert Stoddard had installed Aunt Willie in one of the end rooms at Sunset West. From the door just outside her room, Aunt Willie could see everything that went on across the street in the park. Sarah and Robert thought Aunt Willie would be happy there. She wasn’t.

The first week, when Sarah and Robert visited Aunt Willie at her new digs, they found her packing. She had tied the sleeves of her long pink flannel night gown together. Her hose and an old slip peeked from the top of the bundle.

“Aunt Willie, where are you going?” Sarah asked.

“Moving. Ed went to get the van.” Aunt Willie sounded determined.

Robert tried the other flank. “Aunt Willie, Uncle Ed has been dead for many years.”

Aunt Willie never turned around. She put a single shoe with the toe cut out, on top of the bag. “I wasn’t going to let him drive,” she said to Robert.

But after a few months, Aunt Willie settled down at the home and even seemed to enjoy herself. So Sarah felt safe in inviting Aunt Willie to her house for Christmas dinner. Later that night, breaking back into the facility to sneak Willie home, Sarah regretted her decision.

The sweet potatoes did her in. Cousin Joyce thought the alcohol would cook off, leaving behind only the heavy sweetness of the liqueur. They weren’t drinkers. They didn’t know. And how Aunt Willie loved those yams. She’d raved about them. But she grew more inert with each serving.

At first they thought she’d had a stroke, her mouth drooped and her arms hung loosely at her side. When Robert leaned to listen to her breathing, he knew different.

“She’s sloshed,” he said.

And the enormity of their problem became plain. How does a church deacon explain his aunt’s condition when he takes her home?

“Obviously, we have to sneak her in.” Joyce didn’t even try to sound remorseful. Her unmuffled giggles swirled around the now-snoring aunt. She was right, though.

“Well, how do we do that?” Sarah tried to sound calm, but Joyce wasn’t taking this seriously.

We?” Cousin Joyce reached for a sliver of cold turkey. “We didn’t invite her. You did. You’re the one who’s so big on family responsibility.”

She wasn’t budging, and neither was Aunt Willie. Robert and Sarah planned their commando raid on Sunset West Care Center.

The trouble started when Sarah leaned around the corner to spy out the enemy camp. A lone aide sat at the nurse’s station writing in a notebook. Sarah dropped Aunt Willie’s purse. The nurse’s aide jumped. Sarah froze. The girl stood and crept to the hallway, peering through the dark. Sarah flattened herself against the wall. The aide shrugged and returned to her charting. Sarah retrieved the purse, and signaled to Robert to bring in Aunt Willie. What a way to spend Christmas Eve: smuggling a drunken aunt back into her nursing home.

The aide’s rubber soles squeaked on the tile as she went to answer a call light. Sarah waved Robert on. He rounded the corner half-dragging Aunt Willie. Her tightly permed gray curls bobbed against his red Christmas sweater.

The squeaks came again, getting louder. Robert put his arms around Aunt Willie in a tight hug and tugged her into the dimly-lit day room just as the charge nurse padded past, pushing a two-tiered cart. Aunt Willie twisted in Robert’s grasp and stretched out her arms. A table lamp wobbled and Sarah dove for it, putting her fist through the lamp’s paper shade.


“Robert, what? I’ve got Sleeping Beauty, here.”

Aunt Willie grinned and pushed away from Robert.

“Ed?” She was waking up.

“Go back to sleep, Aunt Willie,” Robert whispered.

“Ed, what in the world are you doing out here in the barn this time of night?”

Aunt Willie pulled herself upright, and turned blue-fogged eyes on Robert.

   “It’s Robert, Aunt Willie.”

   “Ed, you come in the house and quit this foolishness. Them babies won’t even know it’s Christmas. No sense killin’ yourself out here in the cold. Come in, Ed.”

   Aunt Willie struggled free, plopped down onto the sofa and slid to the floor. Sarah sank down beside her. The residents’ tree glowed, gold and red, in the corner. A stray cane stood propped against an end table.

   “Now what?” Sarah asked.

   “We’ve got to get her into her room.” Robert leaned toward Aunt Willie and whispered, “You’re right, Willie. I’ll go in with you. Give me your hand.”

Sarah giggled at Robert’s ingenuity. Aunt Willie let Robert help her to her feet, then leaned heavily on his arm. As they turned toward the hall, a pajama-clad man blocked their way.

“What you folks doin?”

Sarah’s heart drummed in her ears and a pain shot across her head, just behind her eyes.

“She’s sleep walking.” Robert smiled at the man and patted Aunt Willie’s hand. “We’re taking her back to bed.”

The man stood frowning for a moment, looking Aunt Willie up and down. “Appears to me she’s sloshed.”

He studied them a bit longer, then turned away, his slippers swish-swishing on the floor as he left.

“Henry. What on earth are you doing up?” The charge nurse had sneaked back to her desk without them hearing her. Sarah held her breath.

“Just talking to all those nice folks in the living room,” he said.

The nurse laughed. “Come on, I’ll help you back to bed.”

Sarah whispered to Robert that this was their chance, and Robert started around the corner, Aunt Willie in tow. They got her to her room, Sarah helped her into her night clothes, then into bed. Robert hid out in the shadows in the hall.

Afterward, they sneaked back up the hall and Robert pulled Sarah into the lounge again.

“What are you doing?” She asked him.

Robert went across the room and plopped down under tree. Sarah thought he looked like a little boy, his hair reflecting the red and gold lights.

“There are toys under here,” he said. “I thought I saw toys.”

“Well? So?” Sarah didn’t want to get into a big conversation. She wanted to go home. Her feet hurt.

But Robert was running his fingers over the smooth wood of a truck, evidently hand-carved. “What did Aunt Willie mean about the kids not knowing about Christmas and Ed being in the barn?” he asked Sarah

Sarah didn’t want to think about Aunt Willie’s kids—her babies, stillborn so close to Christmas, or Uncle Ed out there in the freezing barn sanding the tiny wooden cradles he’d built to put under their first tree. “Her babies died,” she said. “Aunt Willie never had any more, so she just loved everyone else’s.”

Robert put the wooden truck back. Something inside felt wrong. A little sad. “I want to have kids,” he told Sarah.

“You are a kid,” Sarah told him. There were lots of reasons she didn’t want to think about this either. Things Robert wasn’t considering…like midnight feedings and diaper changes and labor—labor was a big thing. She thought about telling him all that. Finally, she decided to appeal to his reason, or what was left of it. “We’re old enough to be grandparents, Robert.”

“We could adopt,” he said. “Or foster.”

They’d had this conversation before, but Sarah had always been the one who wanted kids. Or puppies. Like from the pet store in the Denver mall where they went Christmas shopping. Robert usually grabbed her coat sleeve and pulled her back to reality.

“We’d better get out of here,” she told him.

He resisted at first. He hung back. He wanted to talk out this thing about the kids, he told her. Sarah said they could talk at home. Yes, but would they, he wanted to know. Sarah’s nostrils had started to flare. If Robert could have seen them in the dim light, he wouldn’t have hesitated. He would have headed right for the door.

Sarah finally pulled Robert to the exit. She remembered the alarm, but not before Robert had grabbed the metal door handle. A loud beep sounded, over and over, and a red light swept back and forth. The nurse rounded the corner wide-eyed and breathless, followed by a male aide who swooped past Robert and Sarah and disabled the alarm.

A man in white long johns and bare feet approached them wielding a metal collapsible walker. The aide commandeered the walker and guided the man back down the hall. The old guy kept shouting something that sounded like “Make my day.”

Robert apologized for scaring the young nurse. After all, he didn’t remember any alarm when they came in. The nurse, who was breathing regularly again by that time, told him there was no alarm when the door opened from the outside.

Sarah hadn’t spoken to Robert on the way home.

“Well,” Robert said to Sarah as they pulled into their driveway. “I guess I might owe you an apology, too. But it wasn’t really my fault. You heard the nurse say there aren’t any alarms on the outside of the door, so who would expect—”

Sarah looked at him with one of those withering looks, the kind of look that probably caused The Prophet Elijah’s vine to shrink. “The door has no alarm on the outside,” she told him, “Because no one in his right mind would break into a nursing home. Except us. We broke into Sunset West.”

Robert thought about the break-in, and Aunt Willie. He thought about the great sadness that losing her babies must have cast over her soul, and yet she had the warmest hug and the biggest smile in Reason. He thought that it would be sweet to give that kind of love to children who needed it. They were selfish, he and Sarah, to spend their lives making only themselves happy. Robert thought about the advisability of bringing all this up to Sarah in her present frame of mind. Then he did it.

“Are you ready to talk yet?” he asked her.

She looked at him with frost in her eyes.

Robert was sure Sarah would eventually say yes. She’d wanted kids for a long time. But looking into her eyes at that moment, Robert thought maybe this was a subject best left for another day. A day in the future when Sarah had forgotten about the raid on Aunt Willie’s nursing home. And that was okay, because it would be better for the children if he waited to bring this up again. It was usually better when a kid’s parents stayed married.


And an excerpt from my middle grade mystery, co-written by a foster child:



A novel by Caryl Ann Harvey and Matt Barry


                                             CHAPTER EIGHT


Card put his head in his hands. His slumped into the chair and his shoulders shook. Matt reached toward him, but pulled his hand back and sat watching until Card finally sat up again.

“Sorry, partner. I’ve just been holding it in for so long.”

“I can’t believe it. I was going to just give it up. And now…I can’t believe it. How…why?” Matt sat on the metal step of the motor home and propped his elbows on his knees.

“Clyde called me. Said a kid was asking a lot of questions about the robbery. I thought maybe now was the time for folks to hear what really happened, but they wouldn’t believe me. So I figured I’d show up and kind of help things along.”

“Is that Timmy in the picture?” Matt leaned forward, trying to see the small square photograph.

“Yeah. Taken the last day I spent with him. His birthday. He’s ten, here.” Card handed the snapshot to Matt, sat back and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.”

The kid in the picture had a tooth missing. Behind him was the rear of an old car. Matt stared closer. “What kind of car is that?”

“Ford roadster.” Card didn’t look at Matt. “’39. There were two of them in town.”

Matt nodded. “Yours and Marshall Hadley’s.” Card’s head jerked up. Suddenly, an idea hit Matt and shivers iced his back. “It’s hard to tell in this picture. Was your car red?”

“Nah. Same color as Hadley’s was. Kind of dark purple. Only his was real shiny. That kid had bucks and I just had…well, Old Mr. Hadley let me use his tools and things and I was always real careful.

“Timmy looks like a neat kid.” Matt’s gaze was riveted to the photo, but he wasn’t looking at the boy.

Card’s voice sounded like his mind was somewhere else. Like he was talking in his sleep or something. “You remind me a lot of him. That first time you came out here, I’d been thinking about him. When I saw you coming, I just….”

“You thought I was him.”

“Not really.” Card smiled and rubbed Matt’s head the way Candy always did. “Just wishful thinking. How do you know Marshall Hadley had the other car?”

“Saw it at a car show. Hey, Card.” Matt turned the photo so Card could see it, too. “You said this was taken on the day everything happened?”

“Timmy’s birthday. Yeah.”

“Your car doesn’t have a broken tail light.”

“No. It never did. I can’t believe McCallum didn’t mention that to the police that night. It might have changed everything.” Card took the picture back and tucked it into his wallet. “Marsh’s did though.”

“An old lady hit him, right?”

“Yeah. He was steaming when he came into the garage that afternoon. Said some old biddy backed clear across the highway and hit the rear of his car. I told him he was lucky the tail light was the only damage.”

“What’d he say?”

“Told me to mind my own…my own business.” Card shook his head. “He left the place a disaster, and I told him to get it cleaned up. He said that was my job, but I made him clean it up anyway. He was hopping mad by the time he left.”

“He told you to watch your back.”

Card grinned. “I should have corrected Clyde the other day when he told you that. No, actually, it was Snake who said it. He was always looking for a fight.”

The hairs on the back of Matt’s neck raised and he shivered. “But, if it was Snake…I mean….”

“Yeah, I know. Snake’s dead. Dead men can’t talk.” Card stood. I’m about ready for a Coke. Know anyone who’d like to join me?”

Matt stood to clear Card’s way into the camper. “Yeah, thanks. Hey, Card, how come you changed your name?”

“Happened in prison. The other guys shortened everyone’s name. Packard just turned into Card.” Card re-emerged with the sodas. “It’s been so long, I don’t think of myself any other way.”

“I guess a lot of things changed in prison.” Matt took the can of pop and sat back down on the step.

Card sat and held the can in his lap. Little rivers of moisture ran over his knuckles and Card wiped his hand on his jeans. He spent a lot of time running his hand around the top of the can. Matt would’ve kicked himself if he could’ve for saying something stupid like that.

Finally, Card spoke. “I lost my boy. I think maybe those folks he stayed with convinced him I was guilty or something.”

“Maybe they just didn’t let him have anything to do with you so he’d settle into his new life.” Matt was reaching, but he was desperate to make Card feel better.

“So why didn’t he try to contact me when he grew up?”

“Maybe he didn’t know where you were. Maybe he thought you didn’t want to hear from him. I don’t know, Card. But from what he said in that letter, I know Timmy never would’ve thought you were guilty.”

“I’m seventy-eight years old and I don’t have a soul in the world except Clyde. When I got out, I wrote him to try to find Timmy. All Clyde knew was Timmy had gone up north. Since then, Clyde and me have been in contact. Made me feel like I still had family.”

Neither of them spoke for a long time. Matt bit his lip and his throat burned. He could imagine a ten-year-old kid, taken away from his home and his dad, told he couldn’t talk to him or see him.

Finally Matt got up. “I gotta go, Card. I promised Candy….”

Card only nodded.




No matter what Matt did, the image of Timmy Packard standing in front of that roadster wouldn’t leave his mind. And, Matt had wanted to hug Card when the man told him how lonely he’d been all these years. How he’d thought Timmy maybe believed he’d been guilty after all.

“It’s not fair,” he told Candy and Will at supper. “Somebody has to do something.” Matt stopped short of telling his foster parents about Card, that he was really Stan Packard.

“What changed your mind, sweetie?” Candy passed him a bowl of rice pudding. “The last time we talked, you seemed ready to give up the hunt.”

Matt’s thoughts raced around in his head and got all jumbled. What could he say that wasn’t really a lie? “I uh, that is…well, I guess I owe it to Timmy Packard to not give up. But I promise I’ll try not to…to…inconvenience anyone this time.”

After he’d helped clear the table, Matt went to his room. He paced his feet on the stairs so he didn’t run. His heart raced as he thought about the chart. Matt pulled it out from under his bed and unrolled it. Then he grabbed a pencil and, under SUSPECT, wrote “SNAKE.” Under MOTIVE, he penciled in “HE THREATENED STAN.” Under OPPORTUNITY, he wrote HE WAS THERE WHEN THEY ARRESTED STAN.

Then Matt sat back and looked at the paper. Maybe he should add Marshall Hadley’s name to the list of suspects. But that was stupid. Why would he rob his own dad’s station? Besides, Marshall had money. Fifty dollars wouldn’t have been worth all the fuss. No. Hadley didn’t belong on the list. Just the same, Matt wished he could pin something on the jerk.

On a hunch, Matt went downstairs and thumbed through the telephone book under “Davis.” There were five entries. The first two were the same person, a Jeff Davis, listing his town and farm numbers. The second was Davis, Dave and Susan. He looked out into the living room where Candy was busy with the latest episode of “Trading Spaces.” Will was asleep in his recliner. Matt dialed.

“Hello.” It was a woman’s voice.

Matt lowered his own voice, trying to sound older. “Yes, I’m trying to locate a Snake Davis.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Then the woman replied. “I think you have the wrong number, dear. There’s no one here named…Snake.”

“Okay. Sorry to have bothered you.” Matt cleared his throat, then dialed the next number in the book…Davis, James Allen. A man answered.


“Yes, sir. I am trying to find the family of a person named Snake Davis….”

A ten second silence followed. Finally, the man replied. “What do you want him for?”

“I’d like to…that is, somebody mentioned him to me and—”

“George is dead.”

This time it was Matt who hesitated. “His name was George?”

“He died almost fifty year ago. What do you want?” The voice had an edge to it.

“Do you suppose I could ask you some questions?” Matt squeaked.

“About what?”

“The gas station robbery the night he died.”

Davis hung up.



“Hey, Matt. Come look at this.” Lucas stood on the sidewalk in front of the Munsen house waving a large photo in the air. When Matt reached his friend, he saw that Lucas had several pictures.

“Get a load of this,” Lucas said. He held up a photo of Angela Robbins. The Angela Robbins. Only it wasn’t really her. It had her head, all right, but the body was like, out of Playboy or something. She was wearing this swim suit that…well, it definitely wasn’t Angela.”

Matt grinned. “Dude, where’d you get that?”

“Made it.” Lucas shuffled the deck of prints to a picture of a dog with a human hind end. “This, too. My uncle got me some really cool software for my birthday. We just got our printer fixed, so….”

Matt shook his head. “You are one sick puppy, Harper.”

“But cool, right?”


“Wanna go with me to show Chris?” Lucas was so excited he dropped one of the pictures. Matt bent and retrieved it for him.

“Naw. It’s Thursday. They’re comin’ to pick me up for visitation, and I’ve got an appointment with my social worker. It’s gonna take all day.”


Matt sighed. “Yeah. It’s okay seeing my parents and all…even my sister, but I hate talking to Miss Always Right Social Worker.”

“Why? What’s she do?”

Matt sucked in his stomach and walked in a circle on tiptoe. “This is her…Miss Bloom. ‘Now, Matt, you should try to think about why you ate the last bite of cheese instead of letting your sister have it.”

Lucas giggled. “And you say—”

“I say, ‘Because if I give her the last bite of cheese, she always cuts the cheese.”

Matt laughed until his stomach hurt. “Anyway, I can’t go. But I’ll try to see you tonight…call you at least. Chris, too. I’ve got something to tell you.”

A white Lumina sedan pulled up next to the curb.

“Okay, bud. Gotta go. See ya.” Matt got in the car. When he looked back, Lucas was waving.

The social worker was ticked. Matt arrived ten minutes late with a mustard mustache. He knew it was there, because he’d tasted it. Heck, he’d even saved it there to eat later.

“Sorry. The restaurant was crowded.” He smiled wide to make his dimples show. She didn’t seem to notice.

“It’s your responsibility to make these appointments on time. When you saw the restaurant was full, why didn’t you go somewhere else?”

“Cheese fries.” Matt grinned again. “No one else has cheese fries.”

Miss Bloom sighed. “All right, Matt. Let’s get started.”

The session was lame. Toward the end, though, she kinda seemed nervous.

“Matt,” she started. “I received a phone call from someone in Holyoke…someone who didn’t want to identify himself…who said you’d been terrorizing the older people in town, making prank calls and…well, Matt, I frankly don’t put a lot of stock in things like that…especially when the reporting party won’t even give his name and I’ve known you for a while now and I have a hard time imagining you doing anything like—”

Matt wondered how long Miss Bloom could talk without running out of breath. “I didn’t do it,” he said.

“Why do you think someone would call me like that?”

“I don’t know. How did they know to call you?” Matt’s stomach felt sick. The sick feeling lasted all the way home.

The ride back to Holyoke seemed to last hours. Someone was trying to get him in trouble, probably to get him removed from Candy and Will’s home. Did they know? If they did…no, if they knew about it they’d be raisin’ Cain at the social services office. When the case aide dropped him off, he forgot to thank her or to even tell her goodbye. He heard Candy’s laughter from the back yard.

“You’re gonna find out anyway, so I might as well tell you now.” Matt sat down at the picnic table where Candy and Will had just polished off their grilled steaks.

Candy went into the house and returned with a plastic glass. She filled it with iced tea and handed it to Matt. “Find out what, sweetie?”

“Miss Bloom’s gonna call you. Someone from Holyoke phoned her about me. They said I’ve been…terrorizing the old people in town and making prank calls and everything.”

Matt turned to his foster dad who sat stretched out in his plastic chair. “Honest, Will, I didn’t do it.”

“I believe you, Matt. But who would call…who would even know who to call…I mean, there is a confidentiality law that prohibits anyone from giving out that kind of information….” Will was looking at Candy.

She shrugged. “I can’t figure it out. But we’ll get it fixed, Matt. Don’t worry.” Candy kissed his head and put her arm around him. Matt leaned into her, smelling her perfume and the scent of charcoal.

Matt didn’t sleep that night. First, the sheets bunched up under him and made his side ache. Then it got hot in the room. Then he itched. All over. It seemed like morning would never come. When it did, his eyes burned and he wanted nothing so much as he wanted to just stay in bed.

The phone rang, and Candy called him. “Matt, it’s for you.”

It was Chris. “So, dude. What did you have to tell us?”

Matt held the receiver in one hand and rubbed his eyes with the other. “What?”

“You told Lucas you had something to tell us. So give, man.”

Matt let his mind settle over Chris’s words. Finally, he understood. “I can’t tell you on the phone. Meet me out at Card’s. At the rest stop, you know?”

“Okay, dude. When?”

“In an hour, okay?” Matt listened as Chris talked to someone else. “Chris? Hey, man, come on…I gotta go.”

Chris giggled. “Not for an hour, right?”

Matt started thinking maybe he wouldn’t make another minute. “No, man…I gotta go, now.”

Chris hung up. Matt barely made it.




Card’s face darkened when Matt told him about the call to social services. He said something under his breath that Matt didn’t catch. From Card’s tone, Matt figured it was a good thing he didn’t.

The guys arrived together. Matt opened the camper door and motioned them in. “You guys remember Card.”

They nodded.

“Well, Card is really just his nickname.” Matt let his voice fall and took several deep breaths while the room got quiet. The boys stared at him. Finally, Matt finished. “His real name is Stan Packard.”

The guys sat, almost not breathing. Then Chris spoke, but he talked fast, in his mosquito voice again. “Yeah right. Like we believe that.”

Matt looked at Card and smiled. Neither of them responded.

“Dude,” Chris said at last, and whistled through his teeth.

Chris and Lucas sat, wide-eyed, while Matt brought them up to speed. “So,” Matt said when he’d told them about everything except the call to social services, “We need to find out more about this Snake guy. What he did that night, how he fits in to all this. We’ve gotta prove that Card was railroaded by someone.”

“Well, there’s that Freeman guy.” Lucas leaned back on the couch and folded his hands over his stomach. Matt frowned, and Lucas sat up.

“Motive?” Matt said.

“You know, I’ve had my suspicions all these years,’ Card said, “about who did it. I never did figure Freeman for the one, but I’d bet you a dollar to a doughnut he knows more than he’s said.”

“How about Joe McCallum?” When no one answered right away, Lucas continued. “Maybe he was only in their gang…Hadley and Snake and Freeman and all…because he supplied their booze. I mean, If he was the only one who could buy it legal…. Maybe he didn’t have any money.”

Matt shook his head “And he’d chance stealing it from the dad of the guy he was trying to impress? It doesn’t wash.”

Chris had his face all scrunched up, like he always did when he had to think. “ So maybe it was this Snake guy. He had a kegger right after. Maybe it was him who needed the money.”

Card nodded. “I never did like that kid. Too much of a follower. But we’re forgetting about the cars—”

“And the cigarette butt,” Matt added. “We found the other one at Freeman’s, remember?”

“So we’re back at square one.” Chris shook his head as if he could loosen up the answer and it would just float into view. Like one of those magic eight ball toys.

“Not quite.” Card stood up and went to his refrigerator. He tossed cans of Coke to the boys. “We have more clues now, and some of them have to fit together. We’re just missing the straight edges.”

“Huh?” Lucas wrinkled up his nose and looked at Card.

“When you do a jigsaw puzzle, dude, it makes it easier if you can lay out the straight edged pieces first.” Matt looked up at Card. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it, Card?”

Card didn’t respond right away. When he did, he spoke really slow and quiet. “That’s it. Timmy and I used to leave a puzzle out on the coffee table all the time. We’d put in a piece when ever we walked by. Sometimes it took a month to finish a jigsaw.”

“Well,” Matt said. “I don’t think I have a month. I may be going home in just under two weeks.”

Card took a quick breath. “We’ll have to hurry then, Tim…Matt.”

All the way home Matt thought about that…about Card calling him by his kid’s name. For some reason, it made him glad










Beyond the railraod tracks and the elevators is
Railroad tracks near grain elevator
the place they call SKULL GULLY

Television Circa 1950





Rabbit Food



Lydia tossed her duffel onto the twin bed nearest the window. Her back twinged in response, and she massaged it as she surveyed her surroundings through the double-panes. Pine-studded peaks rose in the distance, sliced by wide ski runs. Between them and the lodge, a turquoise lake mirrored the late-morning sky. Not bad for a fat ranch. She took a small picture in a metal frame from her bag and placed it on the nightstand. If she lost weight, maybe Phil would change his mind about moving out.

“Hi.” The greeting came from a graying woman whose navy sweat suit pinched her in at the middle like a sausage, and rolled with her flaccid thighs as she crossed the room to the other bed. “I’m Susan.”


Her roommate lumbered over to the bed, turned around and huffed as she let herself fall onto it. “Nice to meet you. Can you believe this place?”

“Pretty posh, isn’t it?” Lydia sat on her own bed. “Where’re you from?”

Denver auditions. They took two of us. How about you?”

Lydia grinned. “San Antonio. Judging from the ski vacation ads, I didn’t believe there were two fat people in Colorado.”

“Believe it.” Susan rummaged in her purse, then swore silently. “I forgot they took my Marlboros.”

“Well, I guess they’re hedging their bets. Do you think we’ll be on TV?”

“Only the news. ‘Cause it isn’t a reality show, really. It’s more research. But I’ll bet someone, somewhere, is lining his pockets.” Susan grunted as she dug out a single cigarette and lit it. “Ha. The gods laughed.”

Lydia shook her head. “So, are we teammates?”

Susan closed her eyes, took a deep drag, then shrugged. “I don’t know how that works. I know it’s not men against women, because men lose weight faster.”

“Maybe they’ll tell us at dinner. Anyway, I think I’m gonna check out the place. Join me?”

“No thanks.” Susan took another drag. “If this is anything like that TV show, some ditsy blond, anorexic coach will push our tushes up and down those mountains five times a day. I’m gonna rest while I can.”

The lodge was smaller than Lydia first thought: maybe seven bedrooms, a dining area and great hall, plus kitchen, storage and maintenance rooms. Impressive, though. Outside, paved paths meandered around the lake. The air had a Christmas smell to it. And there was another odor. Something pungent and sweet.

At dinner, Lydia met the rest of the group. Ten in all, five women, five men picked from fat people all over the country.

A teenager in a white uniform wheeled a double-decker cart into the dining room. “Dinner,” she announced.

Susan’s head popped up. “Salad. Oh boy. They serve in courses.”

“No, ma’am,” the kid replied. “This is your dinner.”

“Salad?” Steve, a two-hundred-pounder wearing designer sweats and Nikes, leaned forward in his polished pine chair. “I can’t survive for a month on rabbit food.”

“But that’s the point, son.” A deep-voiced man in a golf shirt and khakis took the seat at the head of the long table. “To see if the body can be reprogrammed. You folks are going to be our guinea pigs, so to speak. He waited until the rumble of voices subsided before finishing. “If you looked in the outbuildings, you probably saw our rabbits.”

Rabbits. That was the odor Lydia hadn’t been able to identify.

“The rabbits don’t like what they’re getting either. Pure protein. Animal protein. The experiment is to measure the effect of this change of diet, no protein, on human obesity. The rabbits are a sort of…control. Your objective is to lose weight, of course, but beyond that, you will be tested for physical stamina. One team will win each week’s contest, determined by your ability to accomplish certain feats. The losing team will vote off one player.”

“Just like that TV show.” Susan’s voice rose, her interest obviously piqued.

“Yes. Well, we took our premise from that. At any rate, at the end of four weeks, each member of the team winning the final contest, will receive one hundred thousand dollars.”

Steve squeaked his Nikes on the tile floor as he leaned back in his chair. “Whooee. I thought we divided that much. We each get a hundred grand?”

“Each member of the winning team.”

“I’m in.” Steve shoveled a huge spoonful of greens into his mouth.

The man in the golf shirt smiled again, and picked up his fork. “I thought you would be.” He was eating steak.

The next week was hell. Fruit for breakfast, lots of it…veggies for lunch, and a combination for supper. Seven mile runs every day. Susan cried for a smoke, and Lydia wanted to burn Steve’s squeaky shoes. At the end of the week came the weigh in. One of the other team lost out. By the time the evening meal was over, he was gone.

The second week was worse. The trainers pumped incredible amounts of lettuce and collard greens down them. Everyone had gas. The teams competed to see who could drag a log the fastest through the forest, down steep slopes, to the river. Susan turned her ankle, but didn’t give up. She had to be dying for a cigarette. At the weigh-in, Steve had gained a couple of pounds. He got ratted out for some hoarded chocolate and he got booted. When he left, his Nikes squeaked all the way to the front door.

Lydia turned Phil’s picture to the wall. No man was worth what she was going through. Besides, she’d get any man she wanted with her winnings and she’d never eat rabbit food again. By Tuesday of the third week, Susan wasn’t talking to her. Or to anybody. She’d refused to eat the Brussels sprouts on her dinner plate, and the team was furious. Then that little witch of a trainer made them bicycle over the pass, and down into the next valley. Maybe her little butt fit on that bike seat. No one else’s did.

That night, after the ride, Lydia found Susan hiding out in the rabbit barns.

“Sorry I’ve been such an—” Susan had a tiny nub of a cigarette pinched between her fingers.

“It’s okay. We’re all jumpy. But if we can just hold out…. Hey. Where’d you get that?”

Susan held up the smoke, and shrugged. “Found it back there, along with Steve’s asthma inhaler prescription. Man, I didn’t know he had asthma. He must have hauled tail out of here when he got voted out.”

Lydia’s stomach turned. Something just…. “He left his prescription? Does that seem right to you?”

Susan answered with another shrug.

Blurred movement caught Lydia’s attention. She got only a glimpse of it— something small, and furry. “I think one of their rabbits is loose,” she said.

Susan didn’t appear to be listening. “What’s that?” She stepped over a roll of wire and leaned down beside a gunny sack. “Hey, Lydia. Look at this.”

A Nike shoe lay on its side, the upper ragged, torn or…maybe....

“Steve’s?” Lydia’s stomach churned again. “You think that’s Steve’s?”

Susan tugged at the burlap bag, twisting it to read the writing on it. United States Army Alternative Weapons Project.

“Alternative weapons?” Piled in a stall, crates bore the same label. Lydia gagged down the sour stuff in her throat.

A squeal rose from the rabbit cages.

“Something’s hurting the rabbits.” Susan jerked to her feet. “They’re terrified.”

Lydia was having a hard time breathing. “I don’t think it’s terror. More like…excitement.”

The blur appeared again, scurried closer to them, then crouched, quivering, a few yards away.

Susan crept toward it. “Oh, the poor little bunny. Somehow it’s gotten out of—”

As she knelt, the animal bared long. razor-sharp teeth and squealed again. It lunged at Susan and she fell back, barely evading the bite.

Lydia kicked at the rabbit, and connected with its head. It lay still for a moment before staggering off into the shadows. “Alternative weapons.”

“What?” Susan shook her head and struggled to her feet.

“This is an experiment in alternative weapons,” Lydia repeated. “We’re not here to lose weight. We’re….”

The squeals began again. Shrill. Frenzied. Cages rattled in the dank barn.

“We’re what?” Susan’s eyes widened and she moved her hands to her mouth.

“You don’t understand? They fed us the lettuce to make us more appetizing. We’re—”

Two or three more furry things skittered among the bags. Lydia backed toward the open barn door. “We’re…rabbit food.”







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