Short Stories – The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories by Mark Twain (1872) – A collection of 30 short stories from one of the greatest American authors.  Twain is in many ways the most American of our native born writers.  His subjects, point of view and sense of humor are rooted in the still young nation he observed.  In these stories he explores a wide range of topics.  His storytelling style remains crisp even 150 years later.  Following the Civil War the nation is beginning to feel its oats.  Industry and business are beginning to boom at the international level.  The American begins to travel more, and be seen.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories

And Twain has fun with one and all.

My favorites here are:

  • “The $30,000 Bequest” – A married couple that there is a possibility of a great deal of money coming to them.  Just the promise is enough to put them off the rails.
  • “Italian Without A Master” and “Italian With Grammar” – Twain exercises his well developed sense of whimsey.  This is the bold American taking on the language of Italy as only a bold American might.
  • “General Washington’s Negro Body Servant” – The death of an old black man, reputed to have worked for the first President, gives Twain the opportunity to wield some subtle jabs at the growing American mythology surround our nation’s founders.
  • “An Entertaining Article” –  Twain takes the opportunity to publicly examine a less than flattering review.  An English critic took great exception to the American author’s “An Innocent Abroad”.  Many authors wish they had the wit, the writing skill and the outright gumption to do what Twain does here.
  • “A Humane Word From Satan” – “The editors of Harper’s Weekly have reason to believe this letter is from Mark Twain”.  That introductory note that went with the original publication of the short story tell you everything you need to know about the story.  Twain is preparing to puncture a few more pompous balloons.

I enjoyed almost every story here.  The places my attention stumbled were stories that went after specific public figures.  Twain assumes a base level of familiarity in his readers that I don’t have a century and a half later.  I enjoyed the writing, even if the details of the story eluded me.

Twain is the first great American writer from an America that begins to resemble ours.  He wasn’t born on the East Coast and his writing takes us into the everyday life in the nation.   Here’s a great collection to add to your list.


Writing – Afterwords


If you read my short fiction collection “Shorts” (and I would love for you to do that!), you will discover that I have a small idiosyncrisy.  I like including afterwords for each of the stories.  I have been told by some folks that this is a terrible thing to do.  The feeling is that a story should stand on its own, and once the author finishes the story,  nothing else should need to be said.

I don’t care.

I have read plenty of “classic” collections that are just the stories and enjoyed them immensely.  But some of my favorite collections include addenda from the author about the story.  What inspired it, stories about how they wrote it, or what happened after they wrote it.  So when the time came to publish my own collection there was no question what I was going to do.

There would be afterwords.

There is a decision there.  For AFTERwords rather than FOREwords for each story.  When you come into a story, I want you to enjoy it as it is.  Find the meaning that it offers up for you.  Sometimes that’s different from my intent.  Which is super!  After you’ve enjoyed it, then I’d like to start a little conversation about it.  Here’s where the story came from (in the case of the story “The Sniper Dream” it’s a little creepy), why I wrote it, what it means to me.  Maybe that makes you go back and look again, maybe it matches perfectly with your impression, or maybe it leads you to say “You were trying for WHAT?  Missed the mark on that one!”.  I’m OK with all of those answers.

My hope is that it adds a little something to the experience.  That you’ll feel like you understand me and my writing a little better, maybe feel like you know me a little better.  I don’t know if that’s the goal for any other writer on the planet.  It’s my goal.

The only goal I can concern myself with as a writer.

So I hope you grab a copy of the book, I hope you enjoy the stories, and I hope the Afterwords add a little something as well.



A Life In Faith, The Journey

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

Earlier this year, I had the chance to help build a labyrinth at my new home congregation.  Labyrinths have long history among spiritual folk.  They are well known features at places like the Cathedral at Chartres in France.  The one I helped create (in a very small way) is nothing quite so grand.  But it is beautiful, and I’m looking forward to my first chance to walk it.

If you’re not familiar with walking labyrinths, there is one thing you need to know about them.  They are different from a maze.  A maze is designed to be complicated and confusing.  The labyrinth that is used in the Christian tradition (I try to speak only for my own tribe in these posts), is simple in its complexity.  Yes, the path winds back and forth, but there is only a single way in and a single way out.  Follow the path and you will get to where you want to go.

One of the historic functions of these paths is to offer a chance to do a pilgrimage for folks without the time or financial means to travel to the holy places.  This is why you will sometimes here the center referred to as “Jerusalem”.

The first time I walked a labyrinth was at a training event.  A Presbyterian church in Buffalo had a seminar for people who were looking into using one as part of their personal faith practice or within their ministry.  I was decidedly the latter.  It was a tool that sounded interesting.  That was all my motivation as I walked through the door.

In this case, it was a canvas labyrinth.  Painted on an enormous piece of heavy canvas, it was portable.  We went through our background training session on the history and practice, then were invited to walk the labyrinth ourselves.  It was a large group, so we set off at intervals of several minutes.  The goal was that we would not catch the person in front of us.

A fine idea.  Unless the person behind, me, walked quickly, while the person in front, a very nice older lady if memory serves, chose to walk slowly.  There is no passing lane on a labyrinth.

So I was stuck.

And fuming.

Until the thought ocurred – maybe this was the point.

It’s not about racing to the goal.  The object of the exercise is in the exercise itself.  I slowed, focused on what I was hearing, feeling, smelling.  The experience of walking the labyrinth became my purpose.  When I reached the center, I was at a level of calmness that is sadly unusual in my life.  The center was large enough for four or five to stand comfortably for a moment before beginning the walk back out.

It was a profound moment for me.

Because it solidified a concept about the Life in Faith.  It is a JOURNEY.

I hear lots of folk who spend all their time talking about the goal, the reward, the end.  Over the years I have come to believe that without the journey, the end will mean nothing.  If it’s only about getting to the end, then we should be looking for shortcuts.  Let’s get there and it will all be well.

But like anything that isn’t earned, it won’t mean much.

I believe that I will only understand what is waiting after I finish my journey.  I believe that we are pointed to the journey by the fact that our faith is based on “the way”.  As I noted last month, for me it is about trying (and often failing) to live in the moment.  Not in the future, but now.  Ministry is done here and now.  Love is shared, here and now.  Now is the journey, one that will take every second of every minute of every hour of every day of my life.

Faith is a journey.  May our paths cross or parallel along the way.



Writing – The Gathering

Mary Alice Johnson stopped in mid-transit between the kitchen and the living room. Crouching at the end of the hallway was her five-year-old son, Stewie. He was sitting back on his heels, knees up under his chin with his arms wrapped around his legs. It was an unusual position to find the boy. What caught her attention was that he wasn’t looking down the hall. He sat just past the edge of the wall, his shoulder at the corner, but he was staring across the opening. A locked in stare at … nothing. The dining room straight ahead, the hall to his right, the door to the kitchen to his left. Both the hall and dining room were dark, the light of the kitchen just dim from this angle. She could see the nervous tension in the boy’s body. She stood there for a moment, but he took no apparent notice of her. That was odd as well. His constant greetings, a day filled with “Hi Mommy!” every time they crossed paths was background noise to her now. All the more obvious by its absence.

“Honey, are you okay?”

Stewie’s gaze never wandered. A quick nod of head and a grim set to his mouth was his only response. He remained unnaturally still. This was the boy who wore her out on a daily basis with a supply of energy that seemed endless. Now he just sat and stared. Mary Alice watched him for a moment more. He didn’t seem distressed, just…focused.

“Okay, then.”

Her tone showed her doubt on that point. Mary Alice continued into the living room but didn’t take her usual chair. Shifting to another (less comfortable) one put her son in her eye line. Sometimes it was best just to let a child alone to do their thing. All the experts seemed to agree. At least the ones she liked. She tried to read but the boy’s stillness nagged at her.
An hour later, Stewie had shifted twice, seeming to ease the pressure on his legs but remained in place. When Peter Johnson walked through the door, she waved him urgently over.

“Hey, beautiful. What’s…” She shushed him and motioned for him to come closer.

“Stewie has been sitting there”, she motioned to their son, “for an hour now. He hasn’t moved. I asked him if he was OK and he said he was, but he hasn’t moved. I’m starting to worry.”

As she spoke, Peter considered the boy. A normal day ended with Stewie rushing him as soon as he walked through the door, tales of the boy’s adventures pouring out. He noted the look of tension there as well. Almost as if the boy were waiting for something.

“Was he OK the rest of the day?”

His wife nodded.

“Just a regular day, till I found him there an hour ago.”

He walked over and knelt next to the boy.

“Hey, Stewie-Be-Doo. What’s up? You got Mom worried.”

The childhood nickname, now much despised, got him a sideways look of reproach. That’s good, Peter thought, he’s not off in never-never land.

“I’m watching. For Grampy.”

Grampy was Peter’s father Robert. A year ago his health had started to fail. After much negotiation with both his father and his wife, Peter had moved the old man into the spare bedroom. It made the house a little cramped, but Robert worked to be useful to the limits of his ability. Mary Alice came to appreciated having some help with her son in the following months. While the older man couldn’t run an play, he served as a perfect audience for the youngster. Always willing to “Watch this!”, and with the patience to endure endless stories, “Grampy” gave her free time in her schedule almost every day now. Grandfather and grandson had formed a bond that touched Peter. He and his father had spent years banging heads and the boy had strengthened their relationship, too. It had been a wonderful change for them all.

“You know Grampy is always glad to see you. You don’t have to wait here. Go check if he’s awake and go see him.”

Stewie shook his head emphatically.

“I’m not lookin’ to see Grampy. He don’t feel good. So he’s sleepin’. He told me to keep my eyes open. To watch.”

Peter Johnson frowned, looking towards the door at the end of the hall. The boy tired the old man most days. It wasn’t unusual for Peter to find him taking a nap just before dinner. This watching game was new, however. His father liked to tease the boy, but it was always in fun. This felt mean and that was worrisome in a completely different way. Peter kept an eye out for any further changes in his father’s health, especially mentally. Since the move, and the interaction with the boy, Robert had seemed to improve mentally. During a discussion with the older man’s doctor, Peter had been told that these changes can happen suddenly. He turned his attention to the boy again.

“Watching for what, big guy?”

The boy’s eyes flicked to the side to look at him for a second or two. Then back.


Peter was back to his own childhood in an instant. Gremlins. He was roughly Stewie’s age when the old man had told him that story. When Peter walked past the end of the hallway, or through any dimly lit place, he thought he saw things. Just in the corner of his eye were faces. They grinned and made faces at him from corners and doorways. If he looked toward them, they disappeared. Finally, he asked his father about the little faces he could see out of the corner of his eye. He expected to be told it was nothing, but to his surprise, his father took him seriously.

“You can only see them in the corner of your eye, right. If you turn to look they’re gone.”

He remembered, nodding solemnly. Exactly. Robert Johnson told his son they were gremlins, small spirits that lived where people did. They were mostly harmless, just playing tricks like moving things around so you couldn’t find them when you need them. A gremlin would try to distract you so you might stumble or forget what you were doing. It became a family joke when things went wrong. “Damn gremlins!” He still caught himself saying it sometimes. He nodded to his son.

“Little guys, in the corners of your eyes, right?”

Stewie’s eyes grew larger and he nodded vigorously. “Grampy told me about ‘em. He says I need to watch.”

Peter smiled. Thank God, nothing worse than that. “Yeah, he taught me about them, too. I was just about your age.” He ruffled his son’s hair. “But they’re just silly little troublemakers. You don’t need to stand guard.”

Stewie’s face grew determined. He shook his head firmly as he settled back into position. “Grampy says they’re starting to gather. I have to watch for that.”

When gremlins gather. He hadn’t thought about that part of the story in years. One day when Peter was a few years older, his father had sat him down. There was a serious look on his face.

There was something he hadn’t told Peter about gremlins. He was too little then, but it was time for him to know. How many gremlins had Peter ever seen at once? The boy thought for a moment. Three. The most he had ever seen was three. His father nodded. That was good. He needed to notice; if he ever saw them start to gather in larger numbers, Peter should tell his father. Peter nodded solemnly again. What did it mean when they gather? Robert crouched in front of the boy, putting a hand on each shoulder. That moment, which he hadn’t thought about in years, was suddenly vivid again. His father looked him straight in the eyes.

“When gremlins gather, someone is about to die.”

A chill ran down Peter’s spine. “Tell me what happened today, Stewie.” The boy turned and looked at him.

“I walked by and saw about six of them. So I ran down to tell Grampy.”

Peter could see his son was upset.

“That’s when Grampy told me to watch.”

Peter stood up, staring down the hall.

The dark and empty hall that led to his father’s room.

“Tell me what you see now, Stewie.”

Please say nothing, please say nothing, the thought repeated in his mind as he stepped into the hallway.

“There are lots of them, Daddy. Dozens and dozens…”

Peter Johnson took a step into the hallway.

“Not that way, Daddy.”

He looked down at Stewie who was looking back at him now, tears streaming down his face. The boy’s arm was pointing toward the kitchen. Peter was confused for a second, then turned toward the living room. Mary Alice was gone. She must have moved while he was talking to the boy.

There was a crash in the kitchen.

Peter Johnson turned and ran.

Writing – For The Love Of…Reading

My guess is that most of us, perhaps all of us, began our love of writing from a love of reading.

I do not remember a time when I couldn’t read.  I do not remember a time when I was not surrounded by books.

My parents were both readers.  Bookcases were always part of the decor of our home.  Growing up in the ’60s that included the classic brick and board version.  We had to have a place for the books.  They ranged from the Colliers Encyclopedia, Time/Life books on the physical world and American Heritage books on history to all kinds of fiction.  My mother was a fan of popular fiction and romance novels.  She would check them out at the library by the grocery bag full.


Which brings us to the real “hero” of this story.  The library.  My first memory of a library that impressed me was the one at Gouvenour P. Hance Elementary School in Gibsonia PA.  The room was the size of a small classroom, but it held more books than my fourth grader eyes had ever seen.   And I could borrow them.  All of them (eventually), if I wanted.

It was an epiphany.

From that moment on, libraries have been one of my favorite places on earth.

Later on, I would discover a larger library at both Pine Junior High School and Richland High School.  I would explore the wider selections at the Richland Public library (now the Northern Tier Library).  I’m not sure I have ever been without a library card with some or several, libraries at any time in my life.  At least not by choice.

My love affair with books and libraries continues to today.  When I move to a new area one of the first things I do is to find the local temple of books and gain admission.  I was blessed to live near the Prendergast Library in Jamestown, NY for three decades.  Today I can access both the Chesterfield County Public Library System and the Richmond Public Library. With ready access to ebooks, I am never out of reading material.

But there is still something special about sitting in a quiet library, surrounded by books.



Time To Change – Setting The Starting Parameters

Some people are not going to like this post.

I understand that.  There are lots of ways to approach the process of losing weight and getting into better physical shape.  If a certain way works for you, I would expect that you will have an emotional attachment to that system.  There is a lot of passion that is generated by discussions of this sort.  It’s all good.  Remember that my criticism is of the system and not of the people who use it.  My approach is very simple.

Did it work for you?  Great.

Here’s what works for me.

You will never find a popular/fad diet here.  You will never find a diet that requires you to completely eliminate any particular food group.  You will never find a diet that requires unusual eating patterns (I’m thinking of regular fasting here).  You will never find a diet where you buy pre-packaged food.   The reason is simple.

I don’t believe in them.  I don’t believe they are based on good science that will help people in the long run.  I do believe that most of them can help you lose weight in the short term.  Possibly a lot of weight, possibly in a short period of time.

That’s not the answer I’m looking for on this journey.  I’m less than 20 pounds away from my goal.  I could jump on one of these quickie diets, drop those pounds in a couple weeks, get my “Damn, don’t I look good” photos taken and then begin the inevitable slide back up the weight chart.

Just. Not. Interested.

Here’s what my “program” is based on.  The sure knowledge that I eat too much, often of the wrong food and I sit on my butt for too much of each day.  I don’t need someone to prepare my meals for me.  I’m a grownup, I ought to be able to feed myself.  I don’t need someone to tell me I need to go outside and play.  I’m a grownup, I ought to be able to maintain the base level of activity to keep my body healthy.

I just bent some people’s noses out of shape.  That’s fine.  Remember, I’m describing my process.  The only one I’m responsible for on a daily basis.  That means learning what my body needs.  A body in late middle age.  A body with T2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s really not that complicated
  • But it’s still hard
  • People who want to sell me something should be treated with a LARGE dose of skepticism
  • It’s about a balanced diet
  • It’s about regular exercise
  • As long as you’re willing to put in the work, it doesn’t require anything fancy or expensive
  • If you’re not willing to put in the work, it doesn’t matter how much you spend
  • Success or failure is mine.

Your journey is different.  Even if you’re a late middle-aged, T2 diabetic with high blood pressure.  My way will almost surely work for you.  But I’m not offering a guarantee.

My job is to succeed on my journey.

My hope is to share what works and to inspire you on your journey.



(Some folks face different issues than I do.  It is possible to have additional medical conditions that make weight loss more difficult.  Their journies will be very different and more difficult.  My belief is that the majority of us don’t fall into that category.)

My resolution remains:


want to am going to be The Guy again.  The Guy weighed 175 pounds and looked good and felt good.  And his blood pressure was good and his blood tests were good.



Active Minutes – Goal is 150/week

Steps – Goal is 10,000/day

Watch my activity on my Fitbit page

Biking Mileage – Winter Break

I track my mileage with MapMyRide

The next milestone is getting back below 185.  I will get there and go on.

Official Weigh-In Weight

192 pounds

Weight Change this week: -1.0 pounds

Total Weight Loss To Date: 1.0 pounds– Goal is 17  pounds

Goal Weight and Total to Lose – 175/35

Photo – Back To My Roots

In the beginning, there was black and white.  That’s where you began.  It’s where you learned.  I skipped over that part.  I have no formal training at all.  I picked up a camera and started to play.  And I played in black and white.

It was never my primary film of choice.  I was a slide guy (and that is an enormous pain in the ass today.  Somehow I have to come up with the money to get hundreds of slides digitized.  Sigh.  Prints I can scan quickly).  While I love shooting in color, I continue to be fascinated by the unique artistic and creative challenges of black and white.

So I’ve been playing with some shots recently.

This one is almost cheating.  The keyboard is black and white except for some orange icons on the “f” function keys.  But the original color version just felt blah to me.  So I flipped this to black and white and cropped it a little.  Everything seems to pop a little more for me here.

This one started as a much wider angle view of the washing machine at the laundromat.  If you spend much time in such places, you know that boredom is the one constant.  So it can be a great place to try and find some way of being creative.  Because I didn’t want a perfectly centered picture, I took this from the side.  That resulted in an image that looked titled and no amount of simple cropping fixed it.  So I zoomed in tight on just the door.  The blur in the window is my laundry underway.  Laundromats give me a slightly disoriented feeling, and the blur of the clothes plus the slight blurriness on the edge of the door give me that same feeling.  Again, almost a cheat because the majority of the item is silver.  But what little color there was in the image was distracting, so the B&W works here again.

There was plenty of color here, but again it felt like it distracted.  This is my writing desk set up.  The dual screen is a new experiment that I find intriguing.  The lighting has a noir feeling to it that is offset by the whimsey of the rubber ducks and Wrimer, my writing companions.

Just as when people ask writers where our ideas come from, the answer for photographers is the same.  Ideas are everywhere.  You just need to keep your eyes open for them and be willing to experiment along the way.  Play with something new, go back to something old.  The process of playing is a large part of the process of creativity.

All images are the property of J.D. Phillippi.  All rights reserved.

Copyright 2018