Where on earth does the time go? I mean seriously! School is nearly out in so many parts of the country and Harper Lu has already got a head start on summer vacation by taking a trip to New Hampshire. I remember that Kenny Chesney song, Don’t Blink. Man, he ain’t kidding!
The Sneezing Toucan continues to fly around the country and we did some local flying too! Dixon Road Elementary School, along with hundreds of other schools, participated in a Scholastic Book Fair event. The Sneezing Toucan made an appearance and did a book signing and reading for Family Night. Shout out to Miss Holly Mangum for coordinating this terrific event at Dixon Road!
Not long after the Scholastic Book Fair event, The Sneezing Toucan winged his way to Raleigh and the Sycamore Creek Elementary School. This was the schools first author visit in 2 years and I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to come and share with all six kindergarten classes! We packed the library’s reading corner with 2 classes each and those children asked some really terrific questions! I want to thank Miss Andrea Lyons and Miss Tammy Mims for all their assistance and coordinating all those classes! Great library, great staff and great kids! Those Crocs Rock!
Now if you will kindly indulge me a few moments of your time. I meet once a month with a writers group and our fearless leader is Linda Loegel. Linda is a gifted writer and author of several historical fiction books which are terrific reads and I would highly encourage you to check one out. I said she is fearless, but it wasn’t tongue and cheek. She has been hot air ballooning, skydiving, parasailing and flown in a glider and a bi-plane with a leather helmet and all. Almost all of that was done later in life and some after the age of 60 and more. Then, she recently got married, pushing the age of 80! It is with sadness that I write that her husband of only 2 years, Stewart Hemby, died of heart attack this past week.
Now Linda had always encouraged me to write and challenged me every month and then some, to write, even if it wasn’t a rhyming story. So, many months ago, the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) issued a bulletin that was calling all writers for a unique opportunity. Godwin Books, an imprint of MacMillan Publishers was putting together a collection of short stories to be included in a book title The Haunted States of America. They were still looking for stories from North Carolina and about 15 other states. I said, “Well, why not?” I looked up several stories about ghosts and goblins and legends in NC for some inspiration and one really stood out, the ghost of Mako. After some more research, my fingers started flying. The story was for young readers and could not be more than 1300 words. I took the story and made some modifications, writers liberty, LOL, which was perfectly ok with SCBWI, and after a couple weeks and before the deadline, submitted a story.
Back to Stewart. As I was writing the draft, of course I sent updates to Linda for her keen eye on grammar and punctuation and she told him I was writing a ghost story. He said “He needs to write about the ghost of Mako!” Linda about fell over and said “He is!” Little did I know that Stewart had been in Wilmington in his younger days and took several dates out to see the ghost. I immediately called Linda and talked to Stewart. Turns out, Stewart had seen him several times and gave me incredible details. Fast forward. I submitted my story and waited. Competition was fierce, but alas, the story was not selected. Yes, I was a little disappointed, but it felt pretty cool to write something out of my comfort zone and stretch my writing a little bit. I will not forget Stewart and Linda’s contribution to the story, as you will read.
I want to leave a couple of last thoughts. What do YOU want to do? Write a book? Go skydiving? Travel overseas? Go back to school? Design clothes? The list is endless. What are you waiting for? Just go do it, don’t wait any longer. Every tick of the clock is a second you cannot bring back. Challenge yourself, push yourself and let others push and challenge you too.
Thanks for indulging me. In memory of Stewart, here is my story….
Tar River Trestle
The late summer sun shone through the windows of the State History 101 classroom and J.B. was bored out of his mind. The testosterone flowing through his body and his short attention span didn’t help matters either. He could hear Mr. Patterson babbling on about ghosts and goblins along the North Carolina coast and all the folklore that passed from generation to generation. “Ghosts my ass,” he thought.
At the sound of the bell, he bolted out of his seat and quickly walked through the halls and out the front door of Bunn Middle School. After a short bus ride home, he entered his grandparents’ garage, grabbed his fishing rod, some bait and his ten-speed mountain bike, and headed down to the abandoned railroad trestle that spanned the Tar River. He knew those big catfish hung out near the pylons in the middle of the river and J.B. was determined to snag one before sunset.
Ignoring the old danger sign, he pedaled carefully over the rotted ties until he was halfway across the bridge directly between two pylons forty feet below. Baiting the hook with some chicken liver, which his grandfather always kept in the garage fridge, J.B. dropped his nylon line into the river and waited for that familiar tug of a monster mud cat.
This was his favorite place to come when he wanted to get away from the pressures and drama of middle school. He had even left his phone on the kitchen table so he didn’t have to listen to the constant alerts of Instagram and Snapchat and all the TikTok wannabes making ridiculous videos. He reeled the line back in and found the hook empty and grabbed another liver. The sky above was changing from clear to overcast and way off in the distance he heard a small rumble. “Ah, perfect fishing weather,” he said aloud and eased the line down next to the other pylon below.
J.B.’s mind began to wander as he watched the river flow gently by. His eyes closed briefly, mesmerized by the sparkling water. The sound of a whistle blaring in the distance caused his eyes to fly open. He looked around and realized that his surroundings had dramatically changed; the sun had fallen behind the trees and now the clouds appeared ominous. Through the woods on the east side of the bridge, he could see a small light. As he peered into the maze of trees, he heard the ticking of his reel and then the rod began to bend with a huge mud cat on the hook.
“Holy crap!” he shouted pulling up the rod quickly to set the treble hooks. A quick look back into the woods and J.B. was sure he saw a small bright light making its way through the trees. His mind was whirling now as the whistle became louder and the light even brighter. “A train? There is no way it could be a train, this line has been deserted for years.” His mind continued to race and then from the end of the bridge he saw a figure emerge onto the tracks but something was different about it. As a brilliant flash of lightning rippled above, the figure came into focus, and it was running, arms flailing and legs pumping. At that moment, J.B. realized what was different and let out a hair-curling scream. The figure’s body didn’t have a head! But as frightening as the figure was, even more frightening was the headlight of a train behind it, smashing through the overgrown trees and thundering down the old steel rails approaching the Tar River trestle.
Completely terrified now, he dropped the rod and jumped on his bike and started pedaling like a mad man. He glanced back over his shoulder and screamed again as the train whistle blew and the distinct sound of the powerful locomotive filled the night air. The decapitated torso was still running wildly across the tracks with its arms reaching towards the sky as though he was trying to grab the stars above. J.B. felt the entire bridge shake and tremble as the oncoming train roared and bellowed toward him. He didn’t see the railroad tie sticking out and as the front tire hit, the bike suddenly veered to the right, heading over the rail towards the cold dark river below.
With one last look back as he began to fall over the edge, he saw the headless apparition in the bright lights of the oncoming train. It was only a few feet away and in the blink of an eye, he noticed that the missing head was severed clean and there was a trace of blood on his old denim jacket. His blue bib overalls had stains of grease and mud and his rubber boots reminded him of a pair of worn Wellington boots his grandfather had. The blast of the whistle snapped J.B. out of his trance and in slow motion, gravity took over.
As he fell with the bike, his arms flew up. Looking heavenward, he felt two hands reach down for him, tightly grabbing his wrists. He suddenly stopped falling and instead of landing in the water, was lifted in the air by the beheaded man who threw him over his shoulder. The chilling sound of the black locomotive howled as it raced onto the trestle. J.B. kicked, screamed, and pounded the back of the decapitated man, trying to free himself from his grip. He even took a swing at what should have been his head but hit nothing but air. It was then that he noticed on the back of the denim jacket in bright red letters against a dirty white background, a logo of the Atlantic Pacific Railroad, and right above the red R.R. were three scrawled letters. J…o…e.
“Joe” was now nearing the end of the trestle and the pounding, screeching, and churning of the train’s wheels and engine was deafening. J.B. was bouncing from shoulder to shoulder since there was no head to hold him on one side or the other. The angry locomotive barreled across the bridge and was only thirty yards behind them when Joe leaped from the tracks, gently landing on a soft patch of grass. J.B. looked up in time to watch the train roar by, blasting its whistle and shattering its way through the trees on the west side of the trestle, finally disappearing into the night. J.B. saw the headless man standing over him then collapsed back onto the soft grass.
J.B.’s eyes fluttered open as a gentle rain splashed his face. There in the grass next to him was his bike and fishing rod and the biggest Tar River catfish he had ever seen. He grabbed the rod and fish, jumped on the bike, and raced back to his grandparents’ home. His grandfather was on the porch. “I was just about to go looking for you. Are you all right? Come inside and get out of this rain. Hey Linda, come look at the size of this catfish J.B. caught!” As his grandparents stared at the monster mud cat, J.B. quickly told them what had happened, every detail etched in his memory. His grandparents looked at each other incredulously.
His grandmother said with a quivering voice, “Tell him the story, Stewart.”
His grandfather left the room and in no time returned with a well-worn denim jacket and slowly sat in the kitchen chair next to his grandson. He fingered a fraying patch and taking a deep breath, said, “Let me tell you about my great great uncle, Joe Baldwin, the Ghost of Mako.” (C) Jim Munroe, rhymes4life.com 3/2022
Until Next Time, remember the fallen….