Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 24

The transfer Rodger had requested had come through the end of September. A month by ship to Burma then onto China where he was reassigned to the Flying Tigers at the base in Chenkung, China.
Drumming his fingers on his desk, he re‑read letters from Adele and Ada.

Time. He had lost its sequence. It seemed so long ago that he had been home. And not even him, someone else. He folded the letters and put them back into the envelopes.

He riffled through the paperwork that pressed on him like rubber bands over too many sheets of paper. He pushed it all aside, then stood up and stretched. Men milled around the outer room, rumbling voices all around. He heard snatches of conversation; a poker game was in progress. Outside seemed quiet enough. But something was in the air; he could smell it, like ozone before a storm.

Rodger walked outside, around the building, listening. He strained his eyes against the night, slowly sweeping his head left to right. Then he heard the faraway drone of an engine. He wanted to go after that crazy Jap, still around after all these months. Sweat tickled down his armpit and his heart beat wildly, but he reconsidered and calmly called out orders.

“Pickens, get Jackson. Tell him it’s his chance to sack the Wolf. Hurry up! Keys, Mannor and Robins, we’ll crew the plane.”

Because Jackson was scheduled for first flight in the morning, he had gone to bed, blissfully sober. He came at a run, struggling into his flight suit while Stony Pickens, arrogant and self-possessed, casually walked behind him.

He’s good and he’s trouble, mused Rodger.

Jackson glanced up frequently at the men loading his plane with armament, hastily pulling on his gloves, and helmet, then checking his boots and zippered pockets. A tense grin played about his lips that Rodger envied. Once he caught Stony looking hard at Jackson, his jaw pulled taut and his eyes narrowed.

As Jackson prepared to board, one of the mechanics cried out, “Oh, come on, Stony, wish him well! Be a good sport!”

Stony attempted to smile, to wave off the implications. Rodger understood Stony’s resentment, how much he wanted to go instead of Jackson, to be the one who claimed the kill.

Jackson’s engines awakened, the intense vibrations stirring the night. Rodger and Stony stepped aside to watch the take‑off. Rodger flashed the victory sign.

Rodger whistled softly, swallowing down his own envy as he watched Jackson out-maneuver the Zero, concealing himself in cloud layers, filling the sky with his noise, dropping on top of the Zero. They tangoed in the sky. Jackson had the advantage, and then lost it. But neither could gain a position for the kill.

The take‑off aroused all of the pilots from sleep, and they stood outside to await the outcome. The men on the ground listened, wondered, and placed bets.

For several minutes, they could see no sign of Jackson in the sky. Rodger checked his watch, searched the sky again. The dark mantle of night began to pale into an azure line running across the horizon, as if it were turning itself inside out.

Rodger was the first to see the flaming plane approach the field. In spite of his crippled aircraft, Jackson made a skillful landing, earning the admiration of the whole group. The fire crew rushed out to extinguish the raging fire that had gutted the tail section. Jackson hopped off the wing and, fire extinguisher in hand, helped put out the fire.

A group collected around Jackson as he walked back to the barracks. Once inside the debriefing room he removed his flight helmet and gloves then paused in his silent striptease act. No one spoke.

Finally, Jackson shook his head from side to side.

Stony tried to suppress a grin as he clapped Jackson on the shoulder.

“Right nice of you to have your sport and leave him for someone else!”

There was chorus of laughter, of relief and gratitude.

Rodger trailed behind the group. He heard the Night Wolf’s plane returning and shouted,
“He’s back!”

They scattered, heading for the outermost bushes. The Night Wolf made one low pass over the outside perimeter of the airstrip. In the starry predawn, a piercing howl echoed. The wounded Zero left, leaving a smoky trail.

“Ya got him, Jackson!” cried his wingman. “He’s hurt bad, too!”

Rodger walked beside Jackson. The lean, handsome face turned to him.

“Mine was the first strike, sir. I should have made sure.”

Rodger clapped Jackson on the shoulder.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You did some pretty fancy flying. So did he. All’s fair, you know.”

And fair for me, too, he thought.

Captain Robins rubbed his hands together. “Sir, we’re starting a little poker game, it being so close to breakfast and all. Would you care to join in?”

 Rodger stopped short, inhaling the acrid night air, sucking in all of the stars above.

“Deal me in.”

The rustle and click of poker chips rang sharply as he came in the door. Six men sat around the table, waiting for him. Their boisterous talk filled the tiny room, and someone was bent down rummaging boxes, looking for beer. Finally, the short, balding mechanic in a rumpled uniform produced eight capped bottles of beer. Someone threw a metal opener that skipped and clanked across the table.

Rodger watched until four of the men had taken a beer before he reached for a warm bottle. As he uncapped it, foam spilled over in quiet rivulets, oozing down the sides of the bottle, over his hand, dripping onto the floor. He wiped his hand dry on the side of his pants. He swallowed the salty, welcomed beer quickly, then abruptly plunked down in a chair.

“Five card stud, joker wild.” He took the deck, handed it to the man on his right to cut, and began the deal. Cards landed in place before him. “Ante’s white, limit ten dollars. We’re playing with American dollars.” He slipped the cards together and then fanned out the edges to peek into them.

Stony watched each man look at his cards. Rodger had once heard him say he could find clues in the reflections of an eyeball. Rodger dropped his eyelids, shifting his loose change from his right pocket to the left side, then leaned back into his chair. He found his silver dollar. Throughout the game, he would touch the edge of his pocket.

“I’ll see you and raise you five.” Stony let the chips rain down. After fifteen minutes, he had lost three successive hands, as had Rodger.

“I’ll call.” Rodger laid down his straight.

Stony fanned out his club flush, snapping each card down onto the table. “Read ’em and weep, Colonel,” Stony smirked, raking in the chips.

“Last hand for me,” Rodger said, mentally reviewing the upcoming daily roster.

Daylight streamed through the dirty windows. Each of the six men frequently whisked away beaded sweat from their foreheads. Two folded their cards and waved good-night. Rodger had dropped close to a hundred bucks, but he still felt lucky.

Time dragged around each play made. Four were still in. Rodger upped his bet by five dollars, hoping to narrow the odds. Two men folded, leaving him pitted against Stony.

Rodger leaned forward, rotating his shoulders as if to work out a kink. Stony chewed on the end of his mustache. He threw in another blue chip. Rodger tossed in one, picking up a red. Stony squinted, slowly pushing his red one into the pile. His eyes focused intently on Rodger, then he smiled. Rodger smiled back. Stony added another blue chip. Rodger eased in a blue one, then scooted another blue one beside it. Stony continued to smile, playing contentedly with his blond mustache. He scratched his chin, then picked up two blue chips and tossed them into the center.

“I’ll call.” Methodically, he exposed his hand.

Rodger laid down his royal flush on top of Stony’s ace, king, queen, jack, and ten. Only by a hair’s breath, he thought. But then again, that’s all I need to win.

The two who had folded, dropped the legs of their chairs so that they could lean over and see the lay of the cards.

Robins whistled, rolling his eyes backward as Rodger raked in the chips.

“That was real close, yes siree, real close!” he exclaimed. “There ain’t enough odds in the world that’ll say a combination like that will ever be seen again!”

Rodger nodded. “That’s for damn sure.”

Stony chuckled. Stretching his long arms overhead, he arched his back and yawned loudly.
“Not my lucky day by a long shot. Guess I’ll get some shuteye. I’m not due out till three.”

He stood up to go, then casually challenged, “Play you Cold Hand for a hundred, Colonel.”

“You’re on.” Rodger shuffled the cards, giving the deck to the man on his right. As each man flipped the oncoming card up, he stared straight ahead into the other’s eyes. When all five had been dealt, there lay an eerie hush about the room. Rodger looked quickly at his cards, noting that he had three threes. Then he glanced over to Stony’s hand and recoiled slightly when he recognized the aces and eights. Dead Man’s Hand. No one said anything.

Rodger swept the cards up and compacted them into a neat pile.

“Clean up and let’s get to work,” Rodger ordered.

Superstitious nonsense, he thought as he walked to his office. As he passed the board, he pulled the flight sheet down and replaced Stony’s name with his own.

After lunch, Stony stomped into the office, his mouth compressed and eyes ablaze. Rodger continued reading the paper in his hand, until Stony cleared his throat.

“Sir, could I have a word with you?”

Rodger looked up “What is it, Pickens?”

“I think I’m entitled to an explanation about the change in the flight schedule,” Stony spat out, “Sir.”
“Right.” He tapped the sheet of paper in his hand. “I reviewed your flight time. You’re due for some time off. And I need a few hours. That’s it plain and simple.”

“I want to protest—-”

“So noted, Pickens. Get some rest.” Rodger picked up his pen and began to sign the x’d lines.
With a thud, a clump of bills hit the upraised sheets of paper Rodger held in his left hand. He pocketed the poker winnings.

“Thank you, Pickens. This change has nothing to do with the poker game. My logs are up for review, and I can’t let any minor infractions show up. Don’t take it personally.”

“No, sir, I won’t take it too personally.” Stony turned and stormed out of the office, banging the door.

During the briefing, Rodger forced himself to act more enthusiastic than he really felt. The flight plans were limited in scope and field, the usual from the brass. He resented it as much as his men, but he pretended it was all perfectly sensible; and he pretended not to notice when his squadron blatantly disobeyed the cockeyed mandates.

Once airborne, he became just another pilot, working as part of a team. Reno was his wingman. The others, Steve, Coolly, and Nick, wasted no time doing preflights and run-ups. Rodger felt the current flowing between the planes, uniting them, washing over them, as blood goes from the heart to all parts of the body.

They took off with a direct vector, climbing north with one hundred forty miles to reach the Burma border, a routine mission. The flight spread out at the bomb line; all eyes swept constantly back and forth for enemy aircraft, making sure the sky was clear.

Reno cried out, “Bandits! Nine o’clock high.”

“Red Leader. Advance throttle and climb to twenty‑five.” Rodger initiated a climbing turn and leveled off at twenty‑five thousand feet. All of the others followed. Sweat slid from his armpits down to his wrists. They were working men now. No thought for anything else.

“Holy smokes! Red Leader, look what’s comin’ in from the south!” Reno banked slightly for a fuller view.

“Increase right bank!” Rodger barked.

As fast as they executed the turn, the Japanese Nates were out of sight.

“Lost ’em all, dammit,” moaned Coolly. “Nothin’ to write home to Mom about tonight.”

Then at eight-thousand feet, coming from the opposite direction, a single Nate skimmed along the cloud cover. Rodger pulled a quick ninety‑degree turn with Reno right beside him, level with the Nate, six miles back, their P‑38s screamed after him.

Reno dived behind him, staying level, but the elusive Nate remained two miles out of range. Finally at one‑thousand feet Rodger lined up the red nose, red rudder, and mid‑section of the Nate in his sights.

There was a short burst of flames, and little holes popped out on the fuselage. One more longer burst, and the engine and wings took the strikes. In a graceful dive, the aircraft began its descent, smoke spewing out. Rodger lined up astern, very close this time, and fired again. Huge hunks of the aircraft, flailing as if imbued with life, flew into space with dizzying speed. The canopy shot straight up, hovered for a second, and then tumbled over and over. The parachute blossomed, drifting slowly down to earth.

Almost immediately Rodger and Reno were rejoined by the others, along with the rest of the Japanese force.

Reno yelled, “Red Leader, break left!”

Rodger twisted over left and up into the sun. Getting into position behind the enemy leader, he tailed him hard until he had him in his sights. He pressed the trigger; a line of holes burst into the enemy’s wing. With grim determination, Rodger executed a hard barrel roll, passed over, and came into him again.

He heard strikes against his tail, but didn’t allow his eyes to wander from the sights. Again he fired. Two long, one short. The fuselage and tailpipe danced with fiery colors and gray‑green smoke. Rodger looked over to the cockpit. The pilot was dead, slumped against the controls, forcing the plane into an erratic spiral dive.

“Hot damn, Colonel!” sang out Nick. “We done ’em all in!”

“Red Leader here. Any damage?” Relief and pride in his men mingled with a sudden exhilaration. “Well, the boys at home aren’t going to believe us when we tell them about the ones that didn’t get away!”

They headed back to base. Upon approach, in tacit agreement, they made a low pass in unison.
The last one out of the debriefing room, Rodger walked across the compound toward his office, where he met Stony.

“Congratulations, Lt. Colonel. I heard you had a very successful day.” Stony crossed his arms and stared daggers at Rodger.

“Right. I expect the Night Wolf will be back tonight. You had better be prepared.”

Without another word, Stony turned and strode to the mechanics hut, issuing orders in a loud, surly voice; he looked like an emperor at the arena. Two mechanics scurried from the newly arrived ships to go to Stony’s, giving it a shakedown.

Rodger laughed aloud, wishing he had a picture. Then he shook his head, as if to brush off the lightness and good spirits. He went to the officer’s club, following the voices that led him to Banjo Billy in the poker room.

“Banjo, a word with you.” Rodger waved a flaccid salute to the other men.

His “Yessss, sir” was punctuated by the slapping down of cards.

“Couldn’t have come at a better time or to a better man.” He swept the jackpot into his hand, pocketed it, and saluted Rodger.

Rodger had cultivated a certain metallic edge to his voice while a captain on the high school football team, a voice that he knew how to use effectively.

“I have your request for a leave. Illnesses in your family.”

Squaring his shoulders, Banjo Billy replied, “Yes, sir. My mother and my wife. My mother’s in the hospital, and my wife’s having a difficult pregnancy.”

“There’s no one else that help out? No other family members?”

“Well, sir, no, but I’m, well, I’m an only son. The only man around. I mean; they need me.”

“Combat experience is at its lowest, and we need men with your background. You know that.”

“I know that, sir.” Banjo Billy frowned, distressed. “I’d only be gone a month leave, sir.”

“The war might wait for you.” Rodger shrugged. “Your request has been cleared by the Colonel himself. The transport leaves tomorrow, late afternoon.” He handed the orders to the and stared long and hard at the young officer.

Banjo Billy wavered. Rodger could see the captain’s resentment outlined in the clean-shaven, boyish face. But every opportunity he had, Rodger would pound home to his men: a man’s prime commitment, his first loyalty, is duty.

“Report to me at sixteen hundred hours.”

Banjo Billy looked around him. The guys were beginning a new hand of poker, each one talking to everyone in general. Rodger bet himself that he would not reach the count of one hundred.

“Excuse me, sir—but I’ve reconsidered. It’s probably more dangerous flying home. I’ll stay here and do my own, honest work.” He cast an anxious glance at Rodger. He ruffled the slip of paper, without actually tearing it up.

“Hey, Banjo, are you in for this hand or not?”

“In. But you guys don’t stand a chance in hell!” He quickly shoved the paper into his back pocket.
It was a bittersweet victory for Rodger. He went to the bar and motioned the bartender for bottle of half‑empty Jack Daniels and a clean glass. He left without a word to anyone.

Unlocking his office door, he remembered being twenty not so long ago. He sat heavily in his chair, pulling himself up to his desk, tipping the bottle into a glass. Without the lights on, the room had a gray cast to it. Rodger played with the shadow of his glass on the desk top. He lit a cigarette. His body tensed, and he strained to hear the noise. Yes, there it was.

He relaxed then, slouching back against the chair. He raised his tumbler, the amber liquid sloshing back and forth, in a salute as the beautiful screams of Stony’s Mustang split the still of dusk.

He told himself that Stony was not cursed; a poker’s hand had no meaning behind the game. Survival took skill, timing, and well, yes, luck. But you had to be good. Or lucky.

“Here’s to you. Go get ’em.” As the screeching tires left the pavement, Rodger downed the last mouthful of whiskey. “May the best man win.”


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Say it Again, Sam

Recent Report Shows Bullying Impacts Learning Center of the Brain

You may have thought that the subject of bullying is passé, but I assure you it is not.  Now there is quantitative evidence that bullying impacts young children, as well as teenagers, in many surprising ways, short-term and long-term, and may well have lifetime altering effects on the developing brain centers for learning. I came across an article in the Seattle Times, May 11, 2016, “Extensive study calls school bullying public-health problem”, about a study that was done on school bullying.  I downloaded and read the 300 page report, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control, “Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice”, that detailed through exacting methodology several aspects of bullying behavior and consequences, as well as several suggestions on how to address these bully issues in our public schools. You can watch Committee Chair Frederick Rivara’s overview of the report on YouTube.

Much of the report validated the literature on bullying behavior and consequences.  One eye-opener that took me aback was a practice called “teaming”, where children are put into smaller learning groups—I have been an advocate for smaller class sizes for years—yet it turns out that this is not a healthy environment for children who were not well-liked by their peers or bullied. These small groups “magnify the effects of being bullied…because the targets of bullying are more visible in less populated settings (Klein and Cornell, 2010, et al., 2013:“Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice”, page 83)”.  The targets, or the bullied children, cannot escape their tormentors if they are in classes with them all day, everyday.

Not all children are bullied, but there are certain groups that are more vulnerable. Certain kids take the brunt of it, including Asperger’s kids and others with disabilities, as well as minorities, immigrants, refugees, goth types, nerdy kids, or any others who occupy the fringes and are already uncomfortable in their own skins. Though it can start in the first grade, the really challenging stuff often crops up in the fifth and sixth grades, especially among girls. The ones being bullied are the very kids already at risk for depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, which bullying can worsen. Social media can exacerbate this by making it less obvious and visible. (ibid., page 83)

The physical and mental effects of being bullied are well documented:  depression, anxiety, delinquency, aggression, withdrawal, headaches, and stomach aches. One aspect being studied is how the stress of being bullied affects the learning center in the brain. Under stress, cortisol is released throughout the body for the “fight or flight” survival response; it is evident that bullied children often experience post traumatic stress syndrome and the constant pressure of being victimized, and presence of cortisol, alters the ‘mechanisms’ of the neural system in the developing brain. Cortisol also disrupts sleep and sleeping patterns, which can have severe repercussions for the physical and mental health of a child; ‘brain fog’ being a significant factor in loss of interest and desire to interact or learn. A child simply cannot concentrate or retain information if he or she is focused on survival.

An additional factor of stress for targets of bullies is peer perceptions. Going to a caregiver, teacher or mentor may not be an option if a child has pride and/or a sense of fear that he or she will be perceived as “weak”. Yet, it is documented that teachers especially have a great deal of positive influence on the overall peer group, where zero-tolerance policies that result in expulsion or suspension may not have any effect on bullying in schools. It boils down to this:  it is the immediate environment that the children are in, everyday, that makes the difference. The classroom, the attitude of the teacher, and subsequently, the students, determines whether or not bullying behavior is acceptable.

However, not all of the burden should fall on the shoulders of the educators. Parents must be the primary source of security for a child and responsible for a safe, secure home environment, both in the physical sense and as an emotional haven. I have written articles about cyberbullying, which has created a mobile hostile environment that harasses the target anywhere, anytime.  With the ubiquitous social media making cyberbullying prevalent and easy to do on the internet, the  social networking sites have a responsibility to enact anti-bully policies.  Parents, educators, and companies must ensure a safe environment for all children, taking meaningful steps to combat bullying at home, at school, and on the internet. More and more evidence is surfacing that indicates the problems associated with bullying behavior have lasting consequences and potential lifelong ill effects on the mental health, physical health, and learning abilities of children. They are the next generation, the ones we will be looking to for innovations, leadership, and care-taking. It is our moral obligation to provide them with the skills and opportunities to become leaders, inventors, and caring citizens of a global community.  If we don’t take action now for our children, who will?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bullying in the News

Neuroscience of bullying: Why do some find it rewarding?
Medical News Today
"There has been a great deal of study into the psychological and social reasons behind bullying. As neuroscience grows in strength, new findings are also adding to our knowledge about how and why bullying takes place. Researchers now believe that aggressive behavior is associated with an inappropriate activation of the brain's reward system." Read the entire article>>

3 Mistakes Parents Make When Their Own Kids Bully Them
by Sean Grover L.C.S.W., Psychology Today
"When testing turns to bullying, negotiation is off the table. When you negotiate with a bully, you set the stage for ongoing conflicts. Like surrendering, it rewards bullying and trains your child that bullying works. The next time your kid is frustrated by your restrictions, he will return to bullying because bullying leads to negotiation, and negotiation leans to getting what he wants." Read the entire article>>

If You Don’t Get Why Campus Rape Is A National Problem, Read This
by Lydia O'Connor and Tyler Kingkade, Huffington Post
"For many people, reading the Stanford University sexual assault victim’s powerful letter to her assailant was an entry point into the complicated, unjust realities of reporting and punishing sexual assault. While the attention the case — and similar ones at Baylor and Vanderbilt Universities — received is unusual, the attacks are not. Here are some of the most important things you need to know about the scope of sexual assault on college campuses. Around 1 in 5 women may experience sexual assault at college." Read the entire article>>

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Penny in Time Chapter 5: Soul Surfing (part 1)

I awoke with a jolt, squarely on my butt, not knowing where I was or if I were dreaming. Or what. The last thing I remembered was holding Sparky and a fistful of pennies and falling into a black hole. I examined my hands, empty, except for little bits of soft dirt, but no scratches. Still had the band-aid on my right thumb. My heart hammered like it might burst and I was panting like a dog. I guess I had to admit I was scared, because this place was like nothing I had ever seen. I listened and heard the stillness of nothing.

And here I was, in the middle of nowhere. Everything around me was a shade of gray: the sky was ashen, like the aftermath pictures I had seen of Mt. St. Helens; the dirt wasn't brown but ashy-colored and fine, and felt like old newspaper crumbling in my hands; and as far as I could see, a fog covered the ground. Even the bushes were drab and scraggly. No trees, but way off I could make out the outline of mountains.

I got up, and where I had sat were the five pennies. I picked each one up and pocketed them, wiping my hands clean on my jeans. I didn't know where I was or where I should be, or where I was going to go, but I thought I'd better start walking. I expected to stumble over headstones, for this had to be some kind of cemetery, for sure. But there was nothing but vast stretches of nothing. Maybe I was in the 'Twilight Zone'.

The mist swirled and curled around my legs, sweeping over my arms, but I felt neither cold nor damp like fog can make you feel. I felt nothing. I concentrated on counting my heartbeats. At least I'm alive, or I think I am.

I thought I'd better take my bearings, try to memorize my route. I turned around; behind me I saw the mist cover the path I had been walking. In front of me, maybe two or three feet ahead, there was a scrawny bush. It moved. Or did I just imagine it?

Well, I had to find out. When I approached the bush, the movement stopped. My skin crawled, like tiny ants moved up my arms and across my neck. Words froze in my throat, and the only noise that I made was sort of a stuttering hum. The bush chattered and I jumped back. I saw two tiny eyes peering at me, two specks of red lights in a furry face. I knelt down, close but not close enough to touch the creature. It hummed back the same sound I had made.

"It's okay, I won't hurt you," I whispered, wondering if it would hurt me. "Come on, come out. I won't hurt you," I repeated louder, offering my hand like you would for a dog to sniff. It burrowed down into the dirt, all but covered itself, except for those eerie little eyes.

It stayed beneath the bush, hidden by the crackling twigs for a long time. I couldn't leave it there, even though I told myself that I should be worried about myself. I felt incredibly lonely, like if I walked away from this creature, I'd be even more lost. Finally, it wiggled, shaking off the dirt and snapping off pieces of the brush as it ventured forth to almost-touching distance of my hand. It was small and cute like a baby koala bear! I waited, barely breathing, for it to come nearer. When it nuzzled my hand, I slowly brought my other hand over and started stroking its downy fur. "See," I murmured, "I said I wouldn't hurt you."

It answered me with a hum, the same soft monotone of my voice. "You like that, don't you?" I kept petting it and it kept humming, mimicking the sound of my voice.

"Poor, little thing," I scratched its delicate, pointed ear, and took a good look at it. It had a furry body with a face and hands more human-like than animal. "Are you lost, too?" I asked.

It whimpered, sounding just like a baby tired after crying too long. "Come on, then, I'll pick you up and we'll look for your parents." I scooped it up and it snuggled into my arms while I continued stroking it from its head down the middle of its back. It had no tail, but feet with thick pads and five toes. Surely, its mother and father were trying to find it. But where to look? Where to begin? Now, both of us together were in the middle of nowhere.

I don't know how or why, but I got the impression that it didn't have anyone who cared for it. The thought came so suddenly and so surely that I knew it was true. I felt a searing pain inside me, of loss and want and not knowing the why of it. "It's okay," I crooned, "I'll figure something out pretty soon."

I felt a rush of warmth as I looked down at this little creature in my arms, unsure whether the feeling was mine, or it gave the feeling to me. "Whatever," I answered myself out loud, "I guess we share and share alike."

"Do you have a name?" I held the creature at arm's length and stared into its eyes.

"You go!" ripped every thought from my mind, making me gasp in shock and pain.

My head throbbed and I felt like crying. I pressed the creature closer to my chest and waited for the flood of feelings to subside. For a few quiet moments, I tried to come up with a logical explanation for what was happening. As if anything here made sense! But if, and I thought it pretty far-fetched, if we were sharing thoughts, it could be that "You go!" was the only thing it had heard before I had spoken to it. At least it made some sense and gave me the feeling that I was right.

"Well, let's see." I stroked it, using every ounce of good feeling I had to impart as a means of comfort as I ran through a list of names, but none suited it. "Okay, how about Yugo?" I suggested in my nicest, softest voice. "Maybe we can change the bad feeling into something good, what do you say?"

The tangled mess of feelings in my gut unraveled and I relaxed. "Good, then Yugo, we've got one problem solved!" Which made me feel wonderful, except we were still at the same spot we were five minutes ago.

Yugo yelped. I felt his fear like a bolt of lightning through me. I don't know if I heard it, sensed it or saw it, but I do know I was running as fast as I could. Then in a fast glance back I saw a lot of mean something after us. I bolted, putting distance between us and some nasty fangs hot on my heels.

I clutched Yugo tight to my chest and dashed for the mountains, making out a possible hiding place. I ran, gasping and with a stitch in my side. It seemed like a hundred miles later I wedged us behind a big boulder. Whatever that thing was, big, four-footed and ugly as a rabid dog, snarling and pacing around the rock, it wanted us, but couldn't get at us. I told myself that I should be really afraid, but I wasn't. We could wait it out, and it would go away soon. It did.

"Yugo, that was close," I peered out, inspecting our surroundings. "Whatever is that thing?"

‘Not good!’ Punctuated my thoughts.

"Not good," I repeated aloud. Yeah, I guess it wasn't good. "Where do we go from here?"

But I got no answer on that one. Yugo was sound asleep. Me, I was too hyper to sleep, yet exhausted, too. So I sat on top of the flat part of the boulder and rocked Yugo while I looked over the horizon. I really had become attached to this little guy, like he was a part of myself that I understood on a gut level. He wasn't the least bit heavy or hard to carry. I thought how strange, like my arms should be tired by now. But hardly anything made sense here on this forsaken planet without moon, or stars, or for that matter, day or night. I recapped what I did know, very little at that: I had Yugo, who had me, and we had between us, a sharing. But practically, we had nothing. No food, water, or shelter. I didn't feel cold, hot or hungry, just all these crazy, mixed-up emotions.

Yugo must have had parents and a home at one point in his life, but he wasn't saying if he remembered. Maybe it was best he didn't remember, for the pain might be unbearable. Didn't I know how it felt when someone you loved suddenly stopped caring for you?

"Are you awake, little guy?" He stretched, tensed and relaxed, then nodded off again. "It's not going to be easy for me to find some place for us to go, unless you can help." But he didn't seem to hear, or least he didn't respond.

Where do you go when you don't know where you are?

I did know I had left nothing behind me, and as far as I could see, there was nothing to the right or left of us, except a huge mountain. I had to scale the steep slope and look around. What would I do with Yugo? I had to have my hands free. Then it hit me! Of course, I could wrap Yugo in my scarf and use my scarf as a carrier.

I woke Yugo when I put him down beside me. "It's okay," I answered his whine, "I'll show you what I have in mind." I unwound the scarf, scooped him up and gently placed him down on it, criss-crossing the ends. "Look, I’ll carry you while I climb over these rocks to get to the top and see if there is a place for us to go." I hugged him close as I could without smothering him and tied the ends.

I could tell Yugo didn't much like my idea, but he did understand we didn't have much of a choice. I had hoped he would remember something useful and relay it, but he didn't and I began the long, hard climb over the dark side of the mountain towards the top with Yugo mewing all the way.

"Listen! This is no picnic for me," I huffed and puffed, pulling us over another rock. The closer I got to the top, the further it seemed to be. We were getting nowhere. Finally, I had to stop and sit down to rethink a new plan.

"Is there no light?" I asked Yugo once I had unstrapped him and stuffed my scarf into my pants pocket.