New Translation

Amara Jiskani first heard the voice of God as she stocked shelves in the bread aisle in the late shift at WalMart.

“Amara,” God said to her. “I need to ask something of you.”

At first, Amara thought her friend Jibreel, who also worked the late shift, was joking with her. Jibreel liked to play jokes. Sometimes, at school, he’d do impressions of popular cartoon characters. His impressions always made Amara laugh.

But it wasn’t Jibreel. It was God. God in the bread aisle.

“Am I crazy?” Amara asked?

“No,” God said. “You’re not crazy.”

“Are you sure? My best friend, Sara’s uncle Ted started hearing voices one time and HE got put into a hospital. He’s still there.”

“You’re not crazy,” God said again.

“What do you want?”

“I need you to share my scripture with the people. A modern translation from the dusty, old texts. I need you to create the most beautiful, modern Bible for the world to see.”

“Um,” Amara said. “I’m sixteen years old.”

“I know,” God said.

“I’m stocking bread at WalMart,” Amara said.

“I know,” God said.

“I’m also getting a D in English.”


“Isn’t there someone else?” Amara asked. “Someone more qualified?”

“There are lots of other people,” God said. “But I chose you.”

Amara thought for a moment.

“Are you sure I’m not going crazy?”

“Almost completely,” God said. Amara paused for a moment, and God spoke again.

“I was joking,” God said. “I am completely sure you are not going crazy.”

That night, Amara went home, and looked at the ancient books in her father’s library. The same ones she had looked at since she was a kid. She loved the leather bindings, the way the pages smelled, and way the letters all looked funny. Like tiny cartoon characters dancing across the page. She had no idea what the letters meant.

Amara frowned.

“I will never accomplish this,” she said. “I think you chose the wrong person, God.”

Amara Jiskani waited patiently for God to speak. But God said nothing.

*** *** *** ***

Ten years later, Amara and her husband Jibreel welcomed a baby boy into their family. Aaron, they called they called him. Aaron laughed and giggled more than any baby they had ever known. That made Amara and Jibreel laugh, too. The family was full of joy and laughter.

One night, after Aaron went to sleep, Jibreel stood in front of Amara. His face was sad.

“We cannot afford your schooling and the baby,” he said. “The margins at the store are thin and sales are down.” Amara and Jibreel owned a small grocery store downtown. Jibreel worked there day and night. Amara was with him as well, when she wasn’t studying comparative religions and ancient languages in school.

Amara kept a stack of Bible translations on the top shelf in her room. Pages and pages of written and rewritten manuscripts. Whenever Jibreel asked about it, she said it was “my special project from God.”

Jibreel did not understand, but what Jibreel understood about women was that somethings you will never understand. He did not press the issue.

“I need you with me,” Jibreel said.

They tried for a while to make it work. Amara cut her course load in half, took on more shifts at the store so they didn’t have to pay anyone. That helped. But raising kids is hard. Sleepless nights and never-ending days pile on top of each other. Eventually, Amara decided to focus on her family and the store.

“I will get back to school once the baby is older,” she told God. “I promise.” The pages on her shelf began to collect dust.

Amara waited a long time for God to speak, but God was silent.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

A few years later, Amara and Jibreel had started to make headway. Aaron was in first grade. The economy had turned around. Things were looking up.

Amara would sometimes pull her manuscript off the top shelf and look at the words. Some of them made sense. Most did not. But she could imagine. Once the translation was finished, she would design the pages in ornate calligraphy on thick, artisanal pages, leather-bound with many great illustrations.

Beautiful, just as God had asked.

Amara dreamed of returning to school, of finishing the great work God had asked of her. She shred her hopes with God and waited patiently for him to speak. But God did not speak.

Then, a pandemic came. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world got sick. People in Amara’s community, her church, some of her friends.

Amara said to her husband, Jibreel, “Let’s take some of the food and medicine from the store to give to the people in the community who need it.” Jibreel was worried, but Amara said God would see them through.

So they did. They took ripe tomatoes, thick loaves of bread, bountiful fruits, and all the medicine they could carry to people all over their community. No one they knew went hungry.

Word got out. People came to their store, begging for help and Amara helped them. Everyone. Always.

When the sickness passed, Amara and Jibreel’s store was empty, as was their bank account.

Amara called out to God. “See? Do you see?! We’re broke now. I will have to work twice as hard to raise our son and pay the bills. Is THIS what you wanted?”

“I was not the right person for this,” Amara said to God.

Amara waited patiently for God to speak, but God was silent.

*** *** *** ***

Several years later, Amara and Jibreel’s son Aaron had gone off to college. He studied Biology. He wanted to be a doctor. He paid his own way by working shifts at the store and doing stand-up comedy at clubs around the city.

“I have been laughing my whole life,” he told his parents. “Might as well make everyone else laugh, too!”

Amara and JIbreel were very proud.

One night, while driving home from a comedy club, Aaron missed a stop sign. Red and blue lights. One cop car turned into three, turned into five. They pulled him out of the car, shouted strong words at him. Aaron was afraid. He laughed nervously.

That was enough. The gunshots rang out. Aaron was dead before he hit the ground.

Amara locked herself in her room and cried out to God in guttural wails. She wept until there were no tears left. Amara tore her manuscript to shreds. She did not wait for God to respond. She did not WANT God to respond.

The dashcam footage made it online. That spark ignited a flame that swept across the city, the country, and most of the world, burning cities, destroying communities, taking many lives.

Weeks later, when Amara and Jibreel returned to their store, it was a hollowed out, burnt shell. Which is just how Amara felt.

The police who killed Aaron were arrested and stood trial. Amara attended each. She wanted to see them face to face. She wanted them to hurt the way she hurt.

Many officers tried to justify their actions. “He went for a gun!” they said. “We feared for our lives!” they said. All lies.

One officer did not. He stood before the court and cameras with his head down. “We were wrong,” he said. “I was wrong. I am so sorry. I beg your firgiveneness.”

Amara stood in the courtroom. She remembered holding her son when he was a baby. She remembered his smile, his laughter. She remembered basketball games, and late night study sessions. She remembered the dreams she had for him, and how quickly and violently those dreams were taken away.

Amara wanted to bring the world down on this man. She wanted, she needed vengeance. But a small voice she had not heard in a long time held her back. Amara closed her eyes, lowered her head, and took a deep breath.

“You are forgiven,” she said.

*** *** *** ***

Many years later, Amara sat up in her bed. Her wrinkled hands wrote the finishing lines on the yellowed and cracking manuscript she had worked on for so long. It’s pages were stained with a lifetime of memories. It was not the kind of thing you would buy in a store.

“Is that for me?” God asked as he sat on the bed next to her.

“You know it is,” Amara said. “But I am ashamed.”

“Why are you ashamed?” God asked.

“You gave me my whole life to write a modern translation to share with the world, and this is all I could do.”

God took the manuscript, thumbed through some of the pages. He laughed in some parts. He cried in others.

“You have done a fine job, Amara. This is a good manuscript.”

God leaned in close and took her hand.

“But your first three translations – your family, your community, and your heart – those are some of the best I have ever seen. Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Amara smiled. Then she closed her eyes, and fell asleep.

Kathy Kexel Gets Biblical

It’s the last and final week of the Covid Chronicles Fre Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza, folks, and Kathy Kexel kicks it off with a great story about a storm and a prophesy. Click on the tree to check out “Summer Storm”

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett .

As it is in Heaven Part 2 – Paul Bennett

Dr Paul Bennett closes out Week 12 of the Covid Chronicles Free Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza with part 2 of his Story, AS it is in Heaven. Click on the baby car seat to read it.

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Things are looking up!

Dead Tree

Every year for Halloween, Dad dressed up the dead tree in our front yard.

The tree was dead when Mom and Dad bought the house in the ‘60s, had been for decades it seemed. The house behind it had been torn down, rebuilt, and torn down again several times before we even got there. But the dead tree remained.

The dead tree had a storied past, according to our neighbors. It held an air raid siren once. Then, a collection of decorative flags. For one family, it was one side of a clothesline. For another, it was a base for a series of tiny, artistic lights. It was the cornerstone of a makeshift, front yard greenhouse for a few years and, finally it became the base for a dilapidated basketball hoop.

This is how it was for my parents when they bought the place. Dad planned to teach all of us what he referred to as his “Naismith secrets.” He dreamed of watching us play in high school, maybe college on scholarship. But no one in our family had made it above five feet seven inches in all our long history. Those dreams never had room to grow.

It stayed a basketball hoop until the tornadoes of 1978 took the backboard. Rust took the hoop a year later. But the dead tree remained.

Dad found a particular glee in dressing it up every year. Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. For a while, it seemed like his 1950s childhood nightmares would forever crawl out of his mind and onto that tree.

One year, he dressed it up as Walter Mondale. Mom didn’t like that much. We didn’t know why.

As we grew, Dad started dressing it up for other holidays and special events. A turkey at Thanksgiving. Santa Claus at Christmas. He affixed a crossbeam to it at Easter, wrapped it in patriotic bunting for the Fourth of July, and affixed a large picture of Uncle Sam to it on Labor day.

“Get a job, hippies,” said Uncle Sam to whoever passed. Mom didn’t say anything.

We tried helping. We begged to help. But dad would never let us. I tried nailing boards to it to start a tree house. Dad took them down and gave me stern looks. Daniel carved his name into it and Dad made him scratch his full Christian name into his left palm with a needle as punishment. When little Sally drew a picture of her cat and glued it to the tree, Dad tore her picture to shreds and told her if she did it again, he’d take her cat. Dad described in full, graphic detail what would happen to the cat. Sally went to her room in tears. Dad went around the house, grumbling and turning off lights, then went outside to re-decorate the tree.

Arbor Day this time. The holiest of holidays.

From then on, Dad took a particular interest in us. If we poured a glass of milk, he’d say “That’s enough. That’s enough. You have enough.” We could color pictures, but we could only use the cheap crayons and, even then, only two colors at a time. Bed time was at 8, no exceptions. Birthdays included a cake with no ice cream. Candy was straight out.

Dad frowned. Mom looked out the window for long stretches. Dad finished each day, planning his next project with the dead tree.

When friends came over, they’d say, “What’s up with your dad and that tree?”

“I don’t know,” I’d say, and they’d laugh. I didn’t laugh. In case he heard.

I went to college. Met a girl. We got married, moved into a house of our own, and had kids. We began to feel the first stirrings of parental frustration. I switched off many lights and debated the volume of milk. I grew worried. But my kids had candy. My kids stayed up late on occasion. And also: no dead tree.

When we were all gone, he took to creating weekly, artistic flights of fancy with his tree. He dressed it in old winter coats and snow boots during a severe cold snap in the winter, covered it in thousands of poppies for Armistice Day, and built the world’s largest pair of sunglasses – which he hung from the branches no less than fifteen feet from the ground – in the summer, accompanied by Beach Boys albums played on a continuous loop at a volume so loud he must have broken several local noise ordinances.

Mom died from Cancer, leaving Dad by himself to make sure all the lights were turned off. The dead tree remained. He dressed it like the grim reaper each day for six months. After that, he covered it in handwritten love poems he’d never gotten around to sending her.

We would come to visit and find artifacts of our youth affixed to the trunk and branches at odd angles. My baseball card collection. Sally’s Barbie dolls. Daniel’s high school letter jacket. Mom’s makeup kit.

When the quarantines started, he increased his output. He covered it in cotton balls so we could have Christmas in July. He painted the entire tree blue once, but it was water color so the rain washed it away a few days later. He etched text from the unsolvable Sanborn Kryptos cipher into the trunk, then drew a door around it in Sharpie with a sign that said, “The answer lies within.”

Each day was a new masterpiece. Each day the tragedy deepened.

We’d stop to check on him to find he had drawn pictures of us as kids and left them out there next to letters apologizing for past mistakes, parental errors both real and imagined. He surrounded the tree in hardened peanut butter sandwiches, then added a picture of himself looking down.

One evening, as the quarantines had lifted, just as things were starting to open again, he posted a large sign that read “I can’t.” Then, he went into the house, sat on his favorite old couch, and died just as Wheel of Fortune came on.

We sold the house to a family with three kids. They cut the dead tree out of the ground. City services came to haul it away.

**** **** **** ****

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Turn that frown upside down!

Hail Baseball! – A Free Short Story by Rob Cely

I miss Baseball. If you know me, you know that’s a massive understatement. If you don’t know me, you should probably know that’s a massive understatement. I miss Baseball.

So why is it that, after nearly three months of Covid Craziness and Free Flash Fiction-ing, did someone other than me write a Baseball story? I don’t know, bubba. Maybe some things in life are just too painful to look at. For you, that might be the social unrest, the unraveling of constitutional liberties, or the fact that some politicians like to pander to people online so much, you wonder if they are capable of original thought beyond “how can I manipulate this group to vote for ME! ME! ME!”

For me, though, it’s baseball.

Which makes today’s Free story from Rob Cely all that more sweet. It’s about baseball, and it makes me smile. Here’s “Hail Baseball!” by Rob Cely. Click on Joey Votto to read all about it.

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . There may be no Joy in Mudville, but there is Joy here today. Where is YOUR joy coming from?

Joe Courtemanche Hates Your Expectations

There are people who subvert expectations, and then there are people who take your expectations, beat them to death with a 2×4, run them over with a cement truck, light them on fire, throw them off a cliff, and shoot them with a rocket launcher on the way down.

Joe Courtemanche is the latter.

Every time I read a story about Amish people, I expect bonnets, King James style vernacular, and a story so bland it makes you snore yourself awake before you finish reading it.

That was my expectation. Joe successfully subverted that. With a mule.

Check out “The Bishop’s Son, The Mule, and The Maiden – An Amish Story.”

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . I miss Amish Cheeses. Do you miss Amish Cheeses? Because I miss Amish Cheeses. However! If I run into Puzzle the talking Mule, and Puzzle tells me I can find some Amish Cheeses if I just follow him … Man, I ain’t goin’.

Secrets Part III – by Kathy Kexel

We’re getting down to the wire on the Covid Chronicles Free Flash Fiction Explode A Ganza. Ladies and Gentlemen: the exciting conclusion to Kathy Kexel’s story, Secrets.

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . It can’t all be a big conspiracy, can it? Can it?

Best Day of my Life – by Rob Cely

Rob is a BIG IDEAS kind of guy. That’s what I like about him. Today, he’s got some BIG IDEAS about how this pandemic might affect us as individuals. Check out “Best Day of my LIfe.”

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . What was YOUR Best. Day. Evar?

Special Deliveries – A Free Flash Fiction Short Story

 A shaving kit to Christopher Ellis on Newbury Lane, two bottles of almond cherry shampoo to Tirzah Amrein on Cromwell, four sets of furnace filters to Kumar Ramdatz on Eagle Lake Dr, and six whole cases of black, Sobranie cigarettes, straight from Russia, to Mr. Collins on Burns Avenue.

Daniel Peterson delivered it all.

Each morning, before dawn, he drove downtown to the Amazon fulfillment center, loaded up his truck, and started his deliveries. In the mornings, he covered the East end of town from Washington Boulevard to 14th Street. In the afternoons, he hit the West side, from Second Avenue to the river and even some of the suburbs beyond.

But in the evenings, when the rest of his deliveries had been made, Daniel Peterson made his special deliveries. These, he liked most of all.

In the old times, before the pandemic, he’d been a business intelligence manager for a large bank. He worked in financial analytics. Optimizing Growth Opportunities for High-Value Clients is what the mission statement said. The job came with a nice paycheck. He drive a nice car and wore a nice suit to the office. Most days, he enjoyed what he did. The job was nice. Nothing more. Just … nice.

But, when the pandemic hit, upper management used it as an excuse to cover over their past financial mistakes, and furloughed half the company. He got a job delivering for Amazon to fill the gap and found that he liked that much more.

The kids had grown and gone. It was just Daniel and his wife Lisa on lockdown together. He’d leave in the morning, make his deliveries (he hadn’t started his special deliveries yet), then come home to share dinner with the love of his life.

Then, Lisa got sick.

Her cough turned into a fever. They couldn’t go to the doctor, so they tried the hospital. He dropped her off at the Emergency Room entrance, said “I’ll be right in,” and went to park the car. When he got to the door, they security folks said he was not allowed in. “Quarantine restrictions,” they said. “You understand.”

It took almost a full day to find out where in the labyrinthine maze they had taken his Lisa. By then, her cough had become much worse. They had intubated her and left her in a wing in the emergency ward. The doctors left her cell phone next to her on the bed. She could not speak. He spent the next two days telling her how much he loved her over the phone. Over and over. She died sometime between three and five am. He had fallen asleep with the phone in his hand.

Daniel Peterson tried to go to work that day, but he had misplaced his keys. He spent the day wandering from room to room, looking for them. He looked all day, watching the sun push shadows across his living room, his bedroom, his kitchen, and back again. But he couldn’t find anything.

The special deliveries started shortly thereafter.

Daniel Peterson got to know several of his regulars the longer he delivered. Some folks would run quick to the door to sign for a package, standing on the porch to discuss the weather, the news, anything. Others held back and waited for him to leave, venturing out in masks and protective gear only after he was more than a safe social distance away.

Mr. Tim Johnson, who lived in an apartment building on Andover Street told him all about how this COVID thing was a plan by the radical Left to bring Socialism to THESE United States. He regularly ordered books with angry people on the cover. All the books talked about secret societies bent on world domination.

Jana McCullough, mother of five, stood on her porch, nervously smoking a cigarette as she signed for another case of red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon. Her children screamed like banshees in the house behind.

“The schools might be remote again in the Fall,” she said, taking a long, silent drag. She started crying.

You learned people’s tendencies when you delivered. That’s one thing Daniel Peterson really liked.

The Bossley family on Hickory must have been struggling with their new baby because they ordered case after case of newborn diapers. The expensive kind. They said thank you from behind decorative glass doors a couple times per week. He smiled and waved back

Shirley McPherson on the East side ordered two new sweaters a day at least. She was like clockwork. Mrs. McPherson was either attempting to dropship her way to financial security, or she had a rather odd shopping addiction. She opened the packages right in front of Daniel Peterson, pressed the sweaters to her face, and breathed in deep.

“Thank you so much,” she’d say, as if he had given her a long sought after and well-loved Christmas present.

The problem, for Daniel Peterson, was what happened after his work ended. He climbed back into his nice car to make the trek home, and the memories and the loneliness hit him like a tidal wave. There was the park where his kids had played. He remembered pushing his daughter on the baby swing on bright, Saturday mornings. Here was the ice cream shop where he and Lisa had their first date. They sat in the park together, not saying much to each other.

“So,” Daniel Peterson began. “Are we a thing now?”

“I guess,” Lisa said. And that was that.

It was worse at home. The scenes of his past life played on an endless loop, presenting him with long-forgotten memories every time he entered a room. The silence in his house was deafening. He stayed up late most nights, streaming odd documentaries on Netflix just to keep his thoughts at bay.

One day, he noticed the regular deliveries of children’s books he delivered to Betty Sawyers on the West side had begun to pile up. Betty had 25 grandchildren in 15 different states, and she liked to give them away as presents.

Betty was old and hard of hearing. Perhaps she hadn’t heard the doorbell, Daniel wondered.

Daniel Peterson checked the doorknob just to check in on Betty. It was unlocked. He entered the living room, and saw Mrs. Sawyers lying dead on the couch in her living room. He called the police who, in turn, sent people to collect the body and notify family.

When no one was looking, Daniel Peterson took her recent delivery of books and loaded them into the back of his truck. That night, when his regular work was done, he drove to Charles Ave on the west side.

One of his regulars had spoken about a family member who had lost his job to layoffs and could not afford, among other things, children’s books for their kids. He located the house, and left the packages on the front porch with a note saying, “for the kids.”

He rang the doorbell and started to walk away when a woman in sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt stopped him.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “We didn’t order anything.”

“I know,” he said. “But these are still for you?”

She opened the package, and began to cry.

“Jim,” she said. “Jim, come here and see this.”

Her husband stepped onto the porch, looked at the books, and read the note. They hugged each other tightly, wiped away a few tears, and turned to Daniel Peterson, who stood silently on the sidewalk.

“Who sent us this?” Jim asked.

“It was a special delivery from a nice, old woman who loves kids,” Jim said, and turned to leave. He could hear squeals of joy from the children as he walked away.

Daniel Peterson drove home that night with a smile on his face.

A new package of socks. A case of imported, Japanese beer. Mint condition Spiderman comic books. A new office chair. Daniel Peterson delivered it all. His memories of his life from before became bright, and he slept soundly that night and many nights thereafter when he had occasion to make special deliveries.

**** **** **** ****

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . What’s on YOUR Amazon Wish List?