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Denise Bartlett

Denise Bartlett Denise Bartlett began writing short stories when she was nine. Pen and paper gave way to word processors and typing, printing, reading and perfecting. A dreamer, she has always searched for deeper meaning and more vivid experiences in her everyday life. From hypnosis, training with mystics and spiritual people of many walks to tax preparation and gardening, her interests vary widely. The thread that runs through her life is imagination. Denise has written a variety of poetry, short stories and novelettes, as well as columns and articles on gardening and income taxes.

New Title(s) from Denise Bartlett

The Eyes Have It by Denise Bartlett Into the Fire by Denise Bartlett Through the Flames by Denise Bartlett
Order Through the Flames Print Book!

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Congrats to Denise for being in the top ten book/eBook editors in the
Preditors and Editors Readers Poll, 2011.

P&E 2011 top ten Book/eBook editor

Congratulations to Denise for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten
Novel (All Others) Category for Through the Flames.
 2012 P&E Readers Poll Top Ten Winner

The Eyes Have it by Denise Bartlett Liza Casey called in to report a double homicide today. Sheriff Bobby Knowles had a high-school crush on Liza's mother, Elizabeth, who disappeared without a trace, years ago when Liza was young. Liza's life has been a maelstrom of tragedies, and this seems to be yet another one. But what is behind the latest report? Liza says it's the green-eyed monster.

Word Count: 3496
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99

Into the Fire by Denise Bartlett  When a family works together to make a home and a life that works, the challenge of relationships and just getting along can be enough. The Allens live in the same household about half the year, with Dad making appearances when professional football season is off. Four teens and mom work as a unit until tragedy forces them Into the Fire.

Word Count: 21,500
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99

Through the Flames by Denise Bartlett Football—the Allen family plays it. Larry, the star quarterback from Bobby Layne High School has great prospects of following his father into the pros, but Larry has other goals in mind. For now, he just wants to make it through high school and marry his best girl, Patrice. The violence of football produces physical injuries and he begins to wonder what his future will actually hold.

Word Count: 98100
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $2.99
In-House Reviews

Through the Flames by Denise Bartlett  To order this book in print, please contact Charlotte Holley at


The Eyes Have It

Peace officer. Hah. Sheriff Bobby Knowles poured single malt whiskey neat into the same small Support Your Local Sheriff tumbler his father had always used. His father, Robert Knowles, Sr., had been the sheriff of Lane County, Texas, for years before retiring and backing his oldest son’s election to the spot. Easing into his recliner, Bobby pulled the remote out of the western-design saddlebags his wife had made for the old stuffed chair several years before. When he clicked the button, the pre-programmed CD player dutifully started through a stack of 20 George Strait and instrumental country music disks.

His back hurt, the worn out muscles sent spasms up his spine and he knew exactly where the pain originated. The desk chair at work was hurting his back these days, but that was his own fault. During his trip to the U. S. Law Expo in Washington, D. C. last month, paid for by the fair politicos of Lane County, he’d opted for the latest in technology―three new laptop computers equipped with satellite uplink and GPS―with absolutely no money left for new office chairs. Maybe he’d just have to set aside the money from the meager supply funds and get one. Yeah, right.

Sometimes he wondered why he had gone into law enforcement. As he mused, he smiled to himself. His mother had always said he had gone into peace-keeping. "It’s a worthy field, Bobby. Your father has kept the peace here for years." He'd thought―there is no peace, Mom―but had kept that thought to himself. He knew it was the only way she could justify allowing another of her loved ones to wear a badge and carry a gun. But he had not been able to keep the peace.

Being a peace officer had not been enough to keep cancer from ravaging Jill’s body, either. They’d been married only five years when she died. They had no children; he alone remained. He still lived in his parents’ rambling old two-story, built somewhere around the turn of the century.

Shortly after his dad’s retirement, a car accident way off in Minnesota had taken both his parents from him. Peace. He could not believe how much he ached from the times peace had been replaced by tumult in his life.

Jill. He’d met her his freshman year over spring break in Galveston. She’d been a fresh, vibrant sociable fireball of a girl. Her blond hair was straight and her blue eyes bright―and he’d loved that little birthmark at the base of her throat that seemed to tremble when she was excited. She’d often been excited―at football games, at parties, out late at night at beach parties and alone with him in his car. Those were the days....

Fun and youth and laughter. Going to Padre Island to look for shells, feed the sea gulls and watch the sun set on the dunes. Why did he feel so old and alone today? What was with him?

How he missed her. Jill. He sat staring at the brown liquid in his glass, moving it slightly to watch the waves swirl against the insides. He sipped again, letting the fiery liquid burn his throat as he slid deeper into reverie.

Before Jill, there had only been one other love interest, a local girl, Elizabeth Casey. He had a huge crush on her, but he never knew if it was reciprocated. Sitting there in his lonely house, forty years heavy on his frame, he recalled those high school days. He remembered very well the long afternoons spent daydreaming that someday she would be his wife. Unfortunately, there was a significant block of his unexpressed ardor from the beginning.

Liz Casey, one of the most beautiful young women in the county, had the most domineering father Bobby had ever met―maybe the most domineering man Bobby had ever known. How many times had the teenage Bobby driven to the end of the driveway leading to the lonely cliff-top home of the Caseys and turned back after sitting, staring, wishing for an hour or more? Bobby knew the number was not low. The young Bobby Knowles had never ventured anywhere close to the old mansion.

To make things worse, the man Liz had married as the result of an arranged betrothal was not any kinder than her father to the way of thinking of the citizens of this fair town, Bobby among them. Straight out of high school, she was swept off to someplace off in the Eastern USA to be courted and married. The town had been abuzz with the news that Elizabeth had married one of her father’s old friends. Scandalous talk―rumors really, gossip shared quietly over the side fence for fear of repercussions―sizzled through the town's grapevine. Elizabeth’s father was not young when his daughter was born. Her mother had died in childbirth when her daughter was only ten years old. A housekeeper, Abigail Carlson, cared for the girl and her father, as old Naomi Carlson, her mother, had tended the Caseys before her.

Many believed hers was an unhappy marriage, for Elizabeth rarely came into town in the months after she and her husband returned to her childhood home. However, they had seen her blossom with the birth of her own daughter. For a short time, she had come out of her shell and spent time in town, showing off her child and adorning her in lovely dresses made by the local seamstresses.

Then, fifteen years ago, when her daughter was only six years old, tragedy had struck. Much to Bobby's horror, at midmorning of a windy, overcast fall day he was summoned to the cliff-side mansion. The girl's nanny was crying, almost incoherent in her worry. She haltingly reported that Elizabeth had disappeared. As they arrived, his men had spread across the land, working in a grid from the spot where they found her horse. An avid horsewoman, she always went for a morning run to exercise the restive Arabian mare, Katie.

Her beloved bay mare grazed on a long line. The animal was still saddled, its bridle hanging from the pommel of the saddle, a rope attached to her halter, keeping her close for the rider who never returned.

According to Mrs. Carlson, Liz sometimes came here, to the highest point of land overlooking the sea, to sketch scenes of nature―she'd always had a natural ability. They found a sketch pad with a riding jacket folded beside it, but not Liz. Teams of Search and Rescue dogs and their owners, familiar with the rocky coastline, were called in at noon. The afternoon wore on. When darkness approached, a sense of desperation settled in until one of the men shouted. Then it was a deep sadness which intensified in the hearts of the searchers when they saw him pointing down toward the turbulent, rocky waters.

Throughout the long day, Little Liza had refused to stay at the house, following the movement of the sheriff, as the others circled around him, watching from her seat on a big flat-topped rock. She was wrapped in a blanket the police had given her, but she would not give in to the exhaustion Bobby knew she felt.

It appeared the rocks on the side of the cliff bore some blood, but the rain and the waves washed it away before anyone could crawl down to gather it for testing. What had caught the eye of the man was a flash of color―one of the bonnets Elizabeth always wore clung below them, against the stark gray cliff side. Its bright red ribbons fluttered sadly from a crevice. Perhaps it had flown there on a breeze as she fell―or jumped―to her death. A storm raged through the night and the evidence, what there was of it, had washed away.

They spent a week searching for her, hoping against hope that the young mother would be found alive. After no additional evidence surfaced, Elizabeth Casey Skews was declared dead from accidental drowning. The conclusion the police and townspeople had drawn was that Elizabeth had slipped and fallen to her death. Wilton Skews and his daughter Liza continued living in the big manor house with only old Mrs. Carlson helping out as housekeeper. The nanny had been dismissed.

Wilton remarried three years later. And only three months after the wedding, the now nine year old Liza had come home from school to discover Wilton's wife and two stepdaughters brutally murdered where they had picnicked atop the cliff overlooking the ocean. Although Lisa discovered the grisly triple homicide, she didn't witness it. The murders were still unresolved. Bobby still wondered about it―had it been a random event? The women's jewelry had been taken, but the house had not been broken into.
Back to The Eyes Have It

Into the Fire

"Mom! Do you know where my silver belt buckle is?" Craig strode into the bright yellow and white Sunflower-designed kitchen. His tanned feet were bare and he wore only the new tailored black denim pants he'd bought to wear to the rodeo that evening. In his left hand, he held a length of hand-tooled black leather from which the buckle was noticeably missing. The snap... snap... snap... that accompanied his entrance came from the riveted fastener on one end as he opened and closed it.

Suzanne looked up from the pan of okra she was frying for lunch and a youthful giggle escaped her lips at the sight of her half-dressed fifteen-year-old son. When she spoke, her voice took on a loving lilt, "Honey, if you would just leave the buckle on there, you wouldn't have to search the house when you wanted it."

She carefully scooped browned okra out onto folded paper towels with a slotted spoon and moved to turn off the burner. Her dark brown apron had a big sunflower on it with You Light Up My Life imprinted in bold yellow letters; her blond hair was pulled back with a scarf held in place by a big sunflower tie; she wore summer sandals decorated with big silk flowers; the brown denim shorts and a yellow T-shirt accentuated her shapely figure.

Craig carefully threaded the buckle-less belt through the loops on his pants and then took a small bowl from the cabinet. Picking up the slotted spoon, he scooped the bowl full of crisp fried okra from the warming tray beside the stove. Crunching on it, he looked thoughtful. "Mom, I think you are the best cook in the world, but you need to keep up with my things better." He gauged her response, then with a chuckle, dodged the towel she snapped at him.

"Get out of the kitchen!" she said, laughing as well. "Put on a shirt and call the others to come to lunch in five minutes. Sharon is working at the library until five o'clock. Larry is in the garden with Patrice. She'll be joining us."

"Okay, Mom." Craig stuck the last of the small serving of okra into his mouth, set the bowl in the sink, kissed his mother on the cheek and walked through the house, calling out as he went, "Food. Five Minutes. Kitchen. Food for the starving. Drink for the thirsty. Five minutes." He poked his head into the family room and called, "Dad, food."

Upstairs, he opened the window in his bedroom, which looked out across the back yard. The May sunshine and warm air flooded in. "Larry," he said, leaning out, waving the shirt he had picked up. "Bring Patrice to the dining room in five minutes." He laughed and added, "And, for heaven sakes, wash your hands!"

Craig pulled on a T-shirt and smiled at the custom black boots, handmade ebony hat and dress-tailored silver and midnight western shirt lined up in his closet. The door was open so he could just see the clothing and it made him smile. He loved costumes and dressing up and the first night of the local rodeo was a great opportunity to get decked out. There was always a dance at the Spinning Spurs Dance Hall afterward. He couldn't wait.

Opening his dresser drawer, he began digging through the contents. He was rewarded with the sought-after belt buckle and his silver concho hat band, both partially hidden behind a stack of CDs. After he attached the buckle to the belt leather, he left the room. He walked past the upstairs central game room, fiddling with his watch band as he walked, and tapped on Brent's door. "Bro, did you hear me?"

The voice behind him made Craig jump. "Yeah, Craig, I heard you. I was watching the game."

"Wow, you scared me!"

Brent chuckled as Craig turned to face him. "You must feel guilty about something, Bro." Although he was the youngest of the four children, Brent was growing quickly and fast becoming the largest of the three brothers. Even at the age of thirteen he looked a lot like his father, Robert, who played defensive back for the Marauders. He was running a comb through his wet brown hair. He wiped the comb on his jeans and then reached past Craig, set the comb on the dresser and turned to lead the way.

"Who's ahead?" Craig and his brothers were interested in sports of all kinds.

"'Stros are leading in the bottom of the seventh. The score is 4 to 2." The brothers walked companionably down the stairs, where they met Larry and allowed Patrice to precede them all down the hallway. Robert was already in the kitchen with his wife. The small group of teenagers stopped in the doorway and watched the married couple smiling as they stepped apart.

"Just stealing a kiss for an appetizer," said Robert. "Everybody pick up something and take it to the buffet." He set the example by reaching over and picking up Suzanne, who squealed. "Oh, excuse me. I thought you looked good enough to eat," he said, laughing and setting her onto her feet.

Each of them took a bowl or dish and paraded into the dining room. When all were seated at the table, Larry said Grace over the food. After they had all been served, Suzanne looked over at Craig, who was sitting to her left. "Craig, honey, what was it that you wanted to talk to us about?"

"Okay." Craig looked at his father at the head of the table. "Dad, I got my scheduling stuff for the fall. I have to sign up for the required courses and fill the rest with electives. I'm being," he paused and cleared his throat, "strongly urged, pushed even, to graduate in December of this year. MIT wants me to start their courses at mid-term." He frowned and pushed his fork into a mound of mashed potatoes and gravy. "I don't want to graduate in December. It's bad enough to graduate before I'm seventeen, but I want to participate in intramurals with the Layne team in the spring. I can only do that if I am in high school."

Craig was a whiz kid. In the fourth grade, he had designed and built a computer that won top honors at the state science fair. That achievement, along with exceptional scores on aptitude tests, had moved him into the next higher grade that year. Although he loved programming and building computers, he was also an adept athlete and led a medal-winning comedy UIL debate team, which he'd organized two years before.

Robert looked at his eldest son. He chewed thoughtfully on a bite of broiled steak as he listened. When Craig finished speaking, Robert swallowed and spoke in a gruff voice. "Haven't we had this discussion before? What does high school have to offer you at this point? You get bored so easily, son," Robert said. Suzanne reached over and touched his arm. He smiled and tried again, forcing his voice to sound more agreeable. "Have you made a list of courses to present to the counselor?"

"Yes, sir. In the fall, I'll take the last required courses of Algebra, History, Government, and whatever else I have to in order to get the diploma. In the spring, I want to take Physics and pre-Calc, baseball and round it out with a couple of electives. I know I've already placed out of some of them, but I want to take the courses."

"To show off?" Robert said.

"No, sir," Craig countered immediately, "to learn the stuff from a live instructor. I don't think a test can teach me everything in the course."

Craig," Brent interrupted abruptly, saying, "a test is supposed to show what you know. If you know the stuff on the test, they assume you learned it somewhere." Brent looked exasperated. School studies were not easy for him.

Craig spoke, a serious look on his face, "Brent, a placement exam can't possibly test you on everything you should have learned if you had taken the course every day for a semester." He looked at Suzanne and said, "Mom, do you understand?"

"Craig and I have talked about this at length," she said to the others, responding to Craig's plea. She looked directly at Craig and said, "You know I would like to see you graduate next spring with your classmates. You would like to play baseball as a senior and I understand that. I also agree with your father that you get bored easily. If you are sure this is what you want, I just want you to be happy." She turned to Robert, but said nothing.

Robert looked around the table and spoke, "Craig, I agree that you should do what you really believe will make you happy. You are too young to play collegiate ball, if you even opt for a school with a competitive athletic program. I'd like to see you wait until a year from the fall to start college courses as well."

"Thanks, Mom, Dad. I appreciate that." Craig breathed a heavy sigh and reached to take his mom's hand and squeeze it. She smiled at him and he went back to eating.

Larry, Brent and Sharon went to church together most Sundays. On Memorial Day the church turned her attention to honoring the country and the men and women who served in the Armed Forces of the USA. Seated with the pastor was a man in uniform and when he rose to speak, all eyes were on U S Navy Chaplain Grant Breyson. Breyson had served in Desert Storm with William Gibson, their church pastor.

"In the continuing saga of speaking when I am home on leave, I've come to share a few more of my life experiences with you and encourage you to show your love to others. I've been a chaplain with the Navy Seals for eighteen years now. Many of those years were spent outside the USA, and several in war zones. I have found friendship," he nodded at the pastor seated beside him, who smiled at him, "and encouragement from my fellow service people. Those things, along with the power of love and the strength of family ties, are the most important things to keep people in the Service of their country feeling appreciated for the sacrifices they make. Each of us needs to be a part of a church, a community, a clan, some sort of group of people who we know care for us. We need to feel we can drink from a very deep well of caring.

"One of the most important rewards I ever received was from my Grandma Shaw. I was the only son of her only son and we had a special relationship from the beginning. Grandpa Shaw passed through the gates of heaven when I was only two years old, so I never really knew him. My Grandma lived until just three years ago, I am happy to say.

"When I was twenty-five, I graduated from seminary and she attended the celebration. The next morning was Sunday and we were all staying at my parents' house. Grandma was up when I arose early. She had coffee ready and when I sat down, she hugged me good morning and placed a Bible in my hands. 'Grant,' she said to me, 'this is your Grandpa Melvin's Bible. I am sure he is smiling at you from heaven today, sending his blessings. Every time you pick up this book, I want you to remember those blessings and how proud you made me and Grandpa when you chose to follow in his footsteps.'

"This is that Bible," he said, holding aloft a worn volume for the church members to see, "and every time I open it, I feel warm and happy to be looking at the Bible he held many, many times. There's a list in the middle, and beside the date of my birth with my name and my parents' names, he wrote: 'What a proud moment for our family: The first grandson.'

"Beside each event is a special comment of the pride and joy my grandparents felt. This Bible is a vivid representation of love to me. It brings me closer to them to hold it, but it also sustains me as a vessel which holds the waters of love I may drink from.

"Think about your own life and the things that are meaningful to you. What vessels have you given out or received? Were they filled with love?

"Each of us can do something to help another person feel love. In the final analysis, in our hearts we know that in war and in peace, in youth or old age, in life and in death, our entire existence and the reason for it trace back to one common thing. Love.

"And knowing you are loved and showing others you love them is compassion. In the King James Version of the Bible, there were three things—Faith, Hope and Charity. Charity can be translated as love. The greatest of these, said Saint Paul, is love.

"In I Corinthians, Chapter 13, is a blueprint for love." He read the short chapter aloud, and then said, "Can you think of a way to give others a vessel filled with love? How would you go about making a daily, weekly or monthly statement of your caring to each person in your inner circle? It can be as simple as a flower, a box of candy or a card, or as complex as you wish. Include them in your thoughts and prayers and do something for them. When they are not at home any more, for whatever reason, continue the ritual. It will make a huge difference in your life and in theirs." He smiled around to the members of the congregation and choir. "Show God's love to those you care for in your daily lives."

Grant sat down and Brother William completed the service with singing and an invitation to join the church in her mission.

Back home on Sunday afternoon, Larry and Brent sought out their older sister. "Sharon, we want to talk about the sermon today."

Sharon turned from her desk, several colored pens and an opened sketchpad occupied the surface. "Yeah, that was something, wasn't it? I was just thinking about it. I want to do something for each of you, my family, to strengthen the ties after I move out."

"Like what?" Larry asked. The brothers pulled up chairs. Larry sat down on her left and Brent sat on her right. "I've been trying to think of what to do."

"I'm still working it out. Do you guys have anything in mind?"

"I have thought of one thing so far," said Brent. "I am going to give Mom fresh flowers every Saturday afternoon."

"Cool, Brent," Sharon cooed. "That’s great. Mom will love that. Have you thought of anything, Larry?"

"I want to make memory books. I've been wanting to do that for a while. With quotes from books or the Bible and a little note of what it means to me to have my family. I expect it will be something I pound out on the fly and rewrite into the books. Then I'd just like to share it. I guess with Dad, that would mean email. We never seem to talk too long on the phone." Larry frowned. "I always feel kinda lost on the phone with Dad," his voice trailed off and Sharon reached over and touched his hand.

"I know how you feel, Larry, I always want to ask when he's coming home." She forced a smile and went back to the subject at hand. "I think I’m going to write each of the people on my list a letter every Sunday afternoon. I'll include a little sketch or drawing I've made."

Brent spoke again, "Since the three of us are going to be doing something special, are we gonna tell Craig?"

"I might talk to him about it. I don't want him to think we are preaching to him. After Larry came home saying he wants to be a chaplain four years ago, he never trusts us." Sharon giggled and continued, "He thinks we want to trap him into coming with us."

"Yeah, it would be best if you talked to him. You are the closest, after all."

* * *
Hey, Sharon, we're taking Dad out for his Back to Camp party this Friday night. You're coming, right?" Craig met his sister at her little red Camaro and took her library books from her.

"Sure, Craig. What are we going to get him this year?"

"I don't know," he said, then stopped to get his cell phone, which was buzzing, out of the pocket of his cutoffs. "Just a sec." Into the phone he said, with the leaden metallic tones of a computerized robot, "Begin speaking, every word will be sliced and diced and served back to you." A smile came over his face and he chuckled, "Yeah, Jessica, I mean it."

Sharon rolled her eyes, shook her head and socked him lightly on the arm. "I'm going in."

He walked behind her, talking lightly into the phone. In the kitchen, he completed the call, moved in front of his sister as she opened the refrigerator, and pulled out a jug of Gatorade. "So what do you want to get him?" He turned, planted his feet and stood in her way.

Sharon looked straight into the eyes of her brother. They were the same height and both had blond hair and athletic frames. Her hair fell in a mass of long curls to her waist and his was styled short.

She reached up, clamped a hand on each of his shoulders and steered him out of the way, saying, "I want him to stay home. I know he has to work, but I wish he could just stay here. He leaves in July and I won't see him 'til Christmas, probably. I miss him when he's gone. What if something happens to one of us? What about the time we miss being together when he's gone half the year?"

As she spoke, she took several packages and jars out of the refrigerator and removed two slices of bread from a bag. While she fixed her sandwich, she occasionally stopped to slap Craig's hand away as he reached to intercept each slice of cheese, vegetable or meat. If he succeeded in intercepting it, it went directly into his mouth. Eventually, she snatched her sandwich up and took a bite of it. "Get away! You’re like a starved monkey!"

He laughed, imitating a monkey's screeching call, and moved away to perch on the counter and watch her eat. His expression became serious. "He has to play as long as he's good enough. You don't just quit professional football to stay home. Besides, Mom is the one who doesn't want to move to be with him during the season." He sighed, was quiet for a moment. Then he frowned and said, "I wish we could move and be close to the team. Then we could watch him in person instead of on TV."

"Well, Mom has her reasons. One of them is that moving her children back and forth during the school year would disrupt the family. She wants to live here. He should listen to her."

They had discussed this many times. Both knew there was nothing new to be said. "He listens. Then he decides what he thinks is best. I miss him too, Sis."

"Where's Mom, anyway?"

"She went to get her hair done. She says it has grown out too much. I love it grown out. I wish girls would let their hair touch the ground."

"Oh, yeah, you would, Craig. I notice you keep yours short and easy to wash and comb out. It's a big deal to keep hair like that. Not all of us are Crystal Gayle. As a matter of fact, my hair would probably fall out if it was that long. I'd definitely have a headache."

"Your hair is beautiful and Mom's is beautiful. And Jessica's and Rachel's and..." He dodged a roll of paper towels, which was the only thing Sharon had at hand to slap at him with, other than the sandwich she was eating.

"And where are Larry and Brent?"

"Larry is at some church thing or other. The guy is addicted to church."

"There are worse things to be addicted to, like computer games, Craigie," Sharon said.

"Hey, computer games sell for money! Money buys more computer games." He laughed at her expression. She held up her hands like she was going to throttle him. He said, "Brent is playing ball at the YMCA. He should be home around dark. I think he and some of his friends are coming to watch some movies upstairs.

"Mom has declared this Pizza night. She has already arranged with Yuskie's Pizza to bring it by at 8." He looked at the clock. "My friends and I have staked out the living room. They should be here around 7, I think. Mom wants everybody at home and the house empty of all non-family members by one in the morning."

"Well, that shouldn't be too hard. Larry will probably breeze in at midnight or so from the Coffeehouse. Y'all will just have to watch the clock, I'm staying over at Cindy's." She had finished her sandwich and tidied the kitchen while they spoke. "What are you doing home?"

"I have an idea for a new game." He stopped and made a face at her, since she'd made the game comment before. "I've been messing with the programming for the battle sequences." He smiled and said, "You might like it. It has dragons and unicorns and stuff, but they don't get killed. Just the heroes and the bad guys get wiped out."

"Well, I'll come see it in a little while. I found a book on design I want to look at. Cindy and Lisa and I have been toying with the idea of living in an old house close to campus. What do you think about me moving out?" She picked up her books and left the kitchen.

"I want to live with you forever, Shari," he said in a whining voice, as he followed her across the hall and into the living room.

She flipped on the light above the couch, set the stack of books beside her and stopped to look at him. His look was somber. As she held out her hand to him, she said, "Craig, come here and sit down."

He sat beside her and looked into her eyes. Her dark sky blue eyes were bright and happy and they met his sad dark oak brown ones with a straight gaze. "Yeah?" he said.

"Craig, I'm not leaving you. I'll be here in town. I want to be close to Mom and you guys, but I want to spread my wings. I want to see what it's like to live away from home." She saw him flinch slightly and her heart went out to him. "We already have the Christmas holidays planned to spend together. Craig, you'll be welcome at our place. You can drop by after school. You're always busy with sports during the semester anyway, but we'll spend time together on weekends." She giggled. "Maybe you should take up church. Larry and I see each other at church quite a bit."

"Aw, Sharon, you know I'm not the churchy type. I never enjoy sitting still that long to listen to someone drone about going to hell and all that." He put out his right hand and she placed hers in it. He traced the lines on the back of her hand with the fingertip of the first finger of his left hand.

Sharon giggled, her strawberry blond hair flipping behind her shoulders as she shook her head. "Craig, they don't just talk about hell. You may hear it, because it may be what you need to hear. If there's ever a time you want to talk about that kind of stuff, let me know." She leaned forward and touched the hand that was moving on hers. "That tickles, Craig." She paused, and then continued, "What else is bothering you?"

He stopped tickling her hand and sighed. "I'm not ready to have you move out, but I'll live. It's not like you're moving far away, it's just that I won't be able to find you and talk when I don't think anyone else understands."

"Now, you know Mom tries real hard to understand your idiot-synchrocities." She smiled at him then and touched his face with the hand he held. "You'll be fine and I won't be moving until the end of August." She stood up, saying, "So, now, do you want to show me your new game? Do you have the illustrations up yet?"

"Yeah, I'm using the graphics I made from Mom's fantasy drawings, the ones in her high school sketch books. She was really good." He stopped, pondering, then continued, "I wonder if she'll ever take the time to do more of her art." He stood. "I've done computer renderings to make them move and beefed up the males and made the females daintier, but still strong." He took her hand. "I worked on the computer upstairs, but it's networked to the den. Come on in there."

When Suzanne came home, she found them in the den, laughing and competing at one of the many action games Craig had installed on the computers. Her own voice held a smile as she said, "I could hear you two giggling when I was still in the driveway. Who can have that much fun sitting still and punching away at a game?"

"Sharon can. I just sit here and try to stay interested." Craig said with a sly grin, leaning forward to take the controls for his turn.

Sharon reached into her glass, got a piece of ice and then dropped it down the back of his T-shirt. "Yeah, right, Mister Please Just One More Game," she said.

He reached under his shirt, got the piece of ice and popped it in his mouth, then continued playing for just a moment. "Hi, Mom," he put down the game control without pausing it and stood up. "So, show me your new hair."

Suzanne smiled and turned in place slowly. Her hair was layered in soft waves around her face and went in longer curls until it swept her shoulders. The longer sides and back were gathered into a big red, white and blue bow. Craig stepped toward her when she stopped and grinned widely. "I have to admit, it is a wonderful way to wear it. I like the way it's still long and pulled back over your shoulders; that is nice. I love you, Mom."

"Thanks, Craig. I can always expect a compliment from you. You know how to turn a girl's head." She focused her attention on the computer monitor for a moment. "You lost your game."

"It's just a game, Mom. You're the real thing." He grinned at her and queried, "Is there anything you need carried in from the car?"

"Actually, there is. I bought out the sportswear department at Macy's." She reached out and took her daughter's hand, "Come on, Sharon, I got you some new things. This nice young man can help us carry them in." Craig reached for her other hand and they went through the kitchen and out the door. 
Back to Into the Fire

Through the Flames

Unnecessary Roughness
Friday, October 12th, 2nd Quarter, Homecoming Game

After fifteen seconds that seemed to last forever, Larry Allen saw Clay Beckmeyer break free from his coverage and turn downfield. Time to put it up there. Larry drew back, fired a perfect spiraling pass and smiled. Oh, yeah, that one just felt right.

He never saw the completion.

Wham! A helmet dug sharply into his back, blindsiding him in the ribs. Instinctively moving with the force of the other player, he hit the ground hard—pinned to the turf by 250 pounds of angry defender. The impact drove the air from his lungs; he saw stars hovering in a matte blackness and for a long moment, he struggled to breathe.

Pain. As he drew the first clear breath of ice cold air, a voice whispered low and harsh into his ear, “Your mother is a slut, Allen.” He felt a knee track and find the injured back and ribcage and punch it. The anger built in him and he shoved off the ground. The weight moved.

He twisted to see who had slammed him and met the glaring black eyes of Saunders, the big middle linebacker from Kendall, a star player from the opposing team. The other man turned and trotted away.

As Larry rolled onto his side, he realized his helmet had been partially ripped off. He became aware of the rhythm skipping a beat around him. The noise in the bleachers dropped significantly as the students and fans of Bobby Layne High School held their collective breath. The loudspeaker blared, “Defensive penalty, number 26, Saunders. Roughing the passer, automatic first down. Larry Allen is still on the turf.”

Larry lay there on the icy dirt and grass for the space of one more ragged breath, reached to pull the helmet straight. A big pair of shoes stopped in front of his face, filling his vision. He looked up; BJ, the center, stood there gazing down at him, his hand extended to help him up.

“You okay?” queried BJ, in his slow southern drawl, “or do I call 9-1-1?”

“Can’t beat Kendall from here.”

On his feet, he checked the sideline for the play and got a thumbs-up from the athletic trainer. He forced himself into a trot and moved to gather the offense into a close pack. Crouching on one knee in the middle of the circle of the offensive huddle, Larry added a touch of the frustration he felt to his tone and spoke loudly enough to be heard over the crowd. “Time to show ‘em how it’s done.”

The announcer’s voice rang out over the crowd. “The home team doesn’t have much time before the half, folks. Seven minutes left on the clock and neither team has scored. Layne has not been held to zero points in any game the last five seasons.”

They broke the huddle and trotted to their positions. As he turned to line up behind BJ, Larry felt dizzy for a moment, stumbled and went down to one knee. He came back to his feet, but not before he heard, “Time Out!” from Coach Parker on the sidelines. He frowned, trotted to the sidelines and loosened his helmet. “McKean, you’re in. Allen, take a break.”

“No, Coach!” Larry exploded.

“Get off the field. Follow Kelly.”

“But Coach, I’m okay. I just stumbled. Kendall wants me out of the game.”

“Of course they do, but you gotta get checked.”

“You never did this before! Please, Coach, you’ve let me stay in with worse than a stumble.”

“Don’t remind me—meet us in the locker room at the half. You’re wasting my time. Cut your losses and follow Kelly.”

Fuming, Larry removed his helmet and followed the team doctor to the locker room. Morgan, one of the assistants, went along behind him.

“Okay, let’s get on it, Larry.” The coach pointed to the Heads Up Poster taped on the glass of his office door. “Read me the symptoms and tell me which ones you have.”

Larry frowned, “Headaches isn’t fair—I had a headache when I got here.”

“So that’s a yes?”

“Yes, sir. Nausea or vomiting. No. Balance Problems or Dizziness. I was just a little shook up. I stumbled. Well, I was a little dizzy, saw a few stars when I hit the turf.”

“So that’s a yes?”

Larry frowned and said, “Yes, sir. No on all the rest—I am confused as to why I got pulled, but no confusion.”

“Let me go through the questions with you.” Doctor Kelly went through a series of questions, which Larry answered correctly.

He took a stopwatch and a green folder with the word BESS on it from a nail and pointed at a taped square on the floor. “Shoes off, stand there. We’re gonna do the six balance tests. Morgan’s gonna spot for you. He’ll step in if you lose your balance, but only then. He is also allowed to help you get back into position. Hands on hips, feet together—like this, close your eyes. I’m gonna start timing twenty seconds when you close your eyes.”

Morgan nodded and went to stand at Larry’s right side.

“Yes, sir.”

“Close your eyes. Begin—Twenty seconds. Okay, which foot do you kick with? The right. Then stand on your left—like this. Hands on hips. Close your eyes. Begin—Twenty seconds. Stand on both feet. Okay, put your left foot behind the right one in a line, toe touching heel, stay on the diagonal inside the square. Begin—okay, we’re gonna restart. Begin—Twenty seconds. Morgan, put the foam block in the square.”

Morgan picked up a thick foam block and put it inside the tape marks.

“We’re gonna do ‘em all again, Larry. You okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Step onto the pad, stand on both feet. Hands on hips. Feet together. Close your eyes.” A few minutes later, Doc said, “That series is tough. You did as well as your baseline last summer, so you pass. Thanks, Morgan. Go on out to the team.” When the door closed behind him, Doc said, “So, I need to know who to contact. Has your home situation changed?”

“No, sir. It’s still just Craig and Brent and me. The three musketeers. The contact is still Doc Lance.”

“It’s a big responsibility for you boys, no adults around.”

“Yes, sir. But we’re okay. The Lances are right down the street, Craig is eighteen. We talk to our parents every week.”

The doctor sighed, “Okay, I am relying on you to go to the Lances if you need help.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, remove your shirt, sit on the table—you know the drill.” The doctor placed the stethoscope against the warm skin. “Deep breaths.” With each breath, the doctor moved the scope. “Pain?”

“Yes, my back on the right.”

“What kind of pain?”


The doctor prodded the swollen ribs of the young man’s lower back, digging his fingers around where the arc of bruising started. “Here?”

“Yes, sir.” Larry winced with a sharp intake of breath.

“He hit you with his helmet?” One of the posters on the door read: Your Helmet Is NOT a Weapon. Use Your Brain.

“Yes, sir.”

“Both arms over your head.”

Larry reached upward.


Poking again, right where it hurt.

“Yes, sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

“Okay, I’m gonna release you to play after half-time, so get cleaned up. I’ll wrap those ribs for you before you put your clean shirt on. That was a savage hit you took.”

“They wanted me out of the game. Thanks for letting me go back in, Doc.”

Chapter One
Friday, October 12th, Halftime

Friday October 12th. Halftime at the Homecoming Game, the most important football game of any season at Bobby Layne High School. The bright stadium lights shone across the field; the marching band strutted across the goal line. As the band took the field, the steaming football players moved off of it at a trot, retreating from the frosty turf to the moderate temperature of the locker rooms. They quickly peeled out of their muddy uniforms, washed up and dressed again in clean, dry clothes for the second half of the grueling duel.

Lifting their helmets from battered lockers, the embattled team moved to sit on the aging grooved and pitted oak benches around the chalkboard. These long flat seats, which had been smoothed by the rears of countless players, held the emotions and stories of dramatic plays, last-second wins and sudden-death losses by almost a half-century of tough and not-so-tough athletes.

The assistant coaches went over a few plays, then a whistle blew and Coach Parker walked in and waved for them to gather around. Silent, the team crowded in to hear the words of their mentor.

“Men, the scoreboard is showing nothing accomplished in the first two quarters. You lulled the crowd and even the collegiate scouts and reporters into a peaceful sleep. They’re all wondering what they are doing at a football game on Friday night when they could be out dancing the polka at Oktoberfest.”

“Wake ‘em up. Get the ball. Make the plays. Take some chances!” he bellowed. “Larry Allen,” he said to the auburn-haired young man in the number 11 jersey, “Kelly says you can go back in.”

The team applauded and yelled encouragement.

Larry nodded, walking up to the front row of athletes.

“You are the star.” Coach Parker paused and spoke clearly. “This is your chance to shine or fade into a black hole. Get these bozos out on the field. You’ve got three minutes, meet me at the ramp.” He turned on his heel with military precision and left the room.

“Yes, sir!” The answer came in enthusiastic tones, belying the speaker’s frustration. Larry moved to stand in front of the team. “This is your captain speaking,” he intoned, his voice mimicking a commercial jet pilot at takeoff. “Please put your seats and serving trays in an upright position. This flight will be leaving in exactly three minutes, make sure you are on it.” He met the eyes of several of the other players, and then spoke urgently to the group. “Get back out there and take control of this game. Make the school proud of us. Let’s play ball.”
Back to Through the Flames