Hidden Kingdom (Chapter 2-adding page 9)

To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/

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An Unexpected Gift 

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This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

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You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

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After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

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Blue Hope Returns

It has always been a hopeful sign for me when my favorite sports teams do well in the playoffs. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 and the blossoming of my novel-writing career began right after in 2012. The Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl in 2008, and though they lost, they came extremely close to winning, losing only in the final minutes, presaged my successful shift to the ESL teacher position at Naaman Forest High School in Garland, Texas. And now the St. Louis Blues hockey team won a first round playoff series for the first time in a while, against a top-ranked team that was supposed to beat them, and set themselves up for a deep playoff run that might turn into their first ever Stanley Cup championship of the NHL.

Oct 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) in action during the third period against the Calgary Flames at Scottrade Center. The Blues defeated the Flames 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Jaden Schwartz, a Blues scoring star, got three goals in one game, called a hat trick in hockey, in the final game against the Winnepeg Jets this last weekend. They are on the road to more victories, and even if they lose going forward, it is still a positive sign for me at a time when I desperately need something positive to happen.

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Tomorrowland

Here’s a movie review of a film that has disappeared from the nation’s consciousness about things I think are critical for keeping the dream alive. I want you to think about which wolf we are feeding at this time in history.

Catch a Falling Star

I am compelled to review this movie precisely because it has been a box-office disappointment and has been criticized for not being the best work director Brad Bird is capable of.  Other reviewers have said the set-up for the trip to the other dimension was wasted time and the plot is too slow…. they didn’t make enough use of the marvelous “other world” that they labored so intensively to create.  I think the main reason people are disappointed in this movie, which I saw for the first time by my lonesome self at the metroplex in Lewisville, Texas, is that people have either forgotten how to watch intelligent movies, or they have simply never learned.

Movie character poster Movie character poster

The thing I loved most about this beautiful, inspirational movie, is its basic intelligence and the wonderful way Disney/Pixar’s Brad Bird weaves complex themes of past, present, and future together into a…

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The Very Damp Night and the Following Dark Day

Texas weather is getting wildly wonky. For the third time, and also the worst time, it rained so hard that the water coming downhill from the neighbor’s yard flooded through cracks in the brickwork outside and endampened the family room carpet. It is a mess. And probably not covered by insurance, since we didn’t specifically have flood insurance, and if we did, we didn’t have downhill-racing flooding insurance rather than up-from-the-creek flooding insurance. The Princess’s bedroom had two inches of water on the floor where flooding had previously destroyed her carpet.

And since that wasn’t test-of-our-character enough, the electricity went out at 11:00 p.m. and didn’t come back until 11:00 a.m. this morning. Twelve hours of darkness, no air-conditioning, no fans, standing water everywhere, and a panicky dog afraid of the thunder… How can that not be good times? But we survived it. Better than a tornado. Right? That’s probably reserved for next time.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 16

Canto Sixteen – Uncle Dash

Mom loved to cook.  She could do wondrous things with a casserole.  In fact, her Tater Tot casserole was such a hit that it had spread to households all over the county and people from as far away as Illinois were writing her letters to get the secret recipe.  It wasn’t such a secret.  Browned and loose ground beef, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, Tater Tots from Ore-Ida, and real cheddar cheese went into her magical casserole.  But friends of friends and family were practically rabid about wanting to get their hands on the special secret recipe.  They didn’t realize until she told them that the recipe came from the label of a Campbell’s soup can to begin with.

So the house smelled wonderful because Uncle Dash and Valerie’s cousin Stacey were coming to dinner.

Stacy was college age now, and Valerie looked up to her.  She was smart and independent, and she knew how to dress up like a fashion model whenever there was an excuse to do it.  As Val and Stacy set the table, the two had a brief moment or two to catch up on cousin stuff.

“I hear the Pirates are re-forming,” Stacy said.  “And they tell me you are going to be one of them?”

“Well, yeah… so?”

“Don’t bring it up tonight.  Daddy will get mad.  I mean, more mad than he already is.”

“Uncle Dash is mad?”  Valerie was slightly taken by surprise.  Uncle Dash was the kind of guy who was always laughing, always joking.  Valerie had relied on his sense of humor and mature wisdom her whole life long.  She believed he was even wiser than Daddy Kyle.  He was a farmer.  He had the wisdom of the Earth.

“Your Uncle Dash is mad at me,” said Stacey.

“Why would he be mad at you?”

“I told him a secret today.  One I have to tell everybody sooner or later.”

“Really?  Tell me.”

Stacey was obviously biting her own lower lip for some reason.  Why would she do that?  It didn’t really make sense to Val.  There were tears in her cousin’s eyes. 

“I mean it, Stacey.  I love you.  You can tell me.”

“Well, I…”  Before Stacey could spill it, the adults came into the room.

“Really,” Uncle Dash said with a frown on his face, “We could sell that sixty acres southwest of town and the big pasture along the Iowa River.  That would give us enough money to at least bargain for more time… maybe another growing season.”

“But, Dash, that’s all your land.  This is my debt.  I can’t let you sacrifice from your share.  It should be some of my land.”  Kyle sat down at the head of the table with a defeated-seeming kerplunk.  Valerie knew her dad’s basic onomatopoeias, the sound-words of his soul, and kerplunk was definitely not a good one.

“But it is some of the less-valuable land I am offering to sell.  All of your land is better, and we should be trying to keep all of it.”

“Yeah, well… I still don’t want you to make sacrifices to pay my debts.” 

Uncle Dash took the seat next to Daddy Kyle where Valerie would’ve sat if they didn’t have company.

Mom came in carrying a big casserole dish full of steaming-hot tater-tot casserole.  She proudly set her work of art down in the middle of the dining room table.  “Stacey, will you help me get the peas and the mashed potatoes?” Mom said.  Then she dashed back out to the kitchen.

“You’re my brother, Kyle.  You have to let me help you.  And it is all family land.  We have to work together, even though we divided the farms when Dad died.  It is all one large farm, really.”

“Well, yeah, but…”

That conversation died too as Mom and Stacey brought the rest of the supper to the table, and Mom insisted that everybody sit down and eat.  Valerie said Grace and food was passed all around.  Everybody at the table had a farmer’s healthy appetite, and soon mouths were too full to talk.  Conversation was suspended for the more important thing… at least until all were stuffed and satisfied.

“It’s a shame that Patricia couldn’t come with you this evening, Dash,” Mom said.

“She was sorry to miss it, but she really wasn’t feeling well.  She needed to take some medicine and go to bed.  Which reminds me…  Stacey has some new she needs to share with everyone in the family.”

Stacey looked at her father with a distinctly angry expression.

“Well, you may as well tell them.”

Stacey’s glare at Uncle Dash made Valerie suddenly worried for her cousin.  What could be wrong?

“I’m… not going to college anymore.”

“Oh, Stacey!” Mom said.  “Why not?”

“Well, I’m…”

The pause was unbearable.

“I’m pregnant.”

Stunned silence followed.  Uncle Dash’s face was so sad it almost made Valerie burst into tears.  Stacey did cry, and that was almost worse.

“How, I mean… who?”  Daddy didn’t know what to say.  He was kinda tongue-tied, right up until the answer hit him square in the memory.  “Not the Toad!  Oh, Stacey!”

“His name is Brom, not Toad.  I don’t know why everyone needs to call him that.”  Stacey’s tears were replaced almost instantly with fury.

“It’s the way he drives.  He reminds everyone of Toad in the Disney movie Wind in the Willows.  You know how recklessly he roars about in that yellow Ford Mustang of his.”  Uncle Dash was very direct and soft-spoken.  It was an argument Valerie had overheard before.

“He also has a big mouth like a frog,” said Valerie timidly.

“Oh, Val…”  Stacey shot her a wounded look.  Whose side was she supposed to be on, anyway?

“Well, I have to say, it isn’t such a big surprise.  You have been in love with that boy for a while now, haven’t you, Stacey?” Daddy Kyle said.

“Yes, I love him with all of my heart.”

“Is he going to do the right thing by you?”  Mom asked.

“He’s willing to marry me… if Daddy doesn’t forbid it.”

“Dash, you can’t forbid it,” said Daddy Kyle.  “That’s no way to start off a life… for Stacey or Brom either one.”

“You would take their side, wouldn’t you,” Uncle Dash said harshly.  “You know, as my little brother, it wouldn’t kill you to take my side once in a while.”

Daddy stared straight at his plate.  His mouth was a tense and very straight line.  “Stacey would be good for Brom.  As Mrs. Brown, she’s bound to settle him down at least a little bit.  Like the way Julie settled me down.  You remember what a wild kid I was, right?”

“We haven’t decided how it’s going to be, yet,” Dash said calmly.  “There is a lot to be decided yet.”

“You really can’t decide for her, you know,” Daddy Kyle said.

Uncle Dash got angry at that.  “How would you feel if it were Valerie in this situation?  Maybe with somebody like that Murphy kid… or Richard Martin’s little rag boy?”

“It’s not the same.  Valerie is still too young to be a mother.”

“And Stacey isn’t?”

“Kyle, Dash, please!” said Mom, “don’t discuss this in front of the girls.  They can hear everything, and I don’t think it helps anybody to hear you two argue about this.”

It was quiet for a few moments, but a very tense quiet.

“Julie is right, Dash,” Daddy said.  “Why don’t you and I go for a drive in your pickup, and the girls can spend some time together here.”

“We have a lot to talk about, Kyle.  But it won’t do a lick of good if you don’t listen more than you talk.”

The two brothers glared at each other.  But they were family, and too much alike not to smash heads together like a couple of rams in springtime.  So they both went out and got in Uncle Dash’s Chevy pickup and drove on into town.

“Headed for Martin’s Bar and Grill,” said Stacey, blowing a stray hair out of her eyes to show disgust.

Valerie wordlessly snaked her thin young arms around her beloved cousin and gave her a distressed and tearful squeeze.

“It will all get worked out for the best,” said Mom in her most comforting voice.

“I hope so,” Stacey said.  Then after a long pause she repeated, “I hope so.”

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Human Beans

People are not really vegetables… even though I have seen IQ scores as a teacher that might say otherwise. But I often use the pun of calling them Human Beans.

Your basic human bean.

Western style beans

Of course, being a Texan means having a healthy appreciation for beans as a staple food. Cowboys used to live off of beans and beef jerky, and if Louis L’Amour is to be believed, they even made tea from mesquite beans. That makes your average cowboy made up of over 50 per cent beans. Of course the rest of him is mostly gas caused by the beans in his diet, whether it comes out as a fart or as a Texas tall tale… And yes, I admit it, I get a lot of my writing ideas from eating beans.

A Boston baked bean

We must also be aware that Texas has no corner on the beans market. We all know Boston baked beans by reputation. They, like the ever-hapless Cubs, had a habit of never winning the World Series. And now, in the last two decades, it has actually been difficult for the other teams to keep them from winning it all. But we shouldn’t mix up beans with baseball metaphors. Baseball is like life. Full of long and boring parts punctuated by intense moments of hitting, scoring, committing errors, and player versus player individual drama. And concession stand food! Beans, however, can taste good in chili draped over the ballpark hot dogs which cost more than a restaurant meal at most reasonable restaurants. And I promise you, you will never hit a home run over the fence by hitting it with a bean.

A Mexican style re-fried bean

And I wish to point out that this last human bean is not a racist cartoon. Beans are not part of the human race. They only have legs in cartoons and would come in last even when racing a snail. And all beans are created equal in the sight of God. Kidney beans, butter beans, navy beans, string beans… all beans are just beans, no matter what the color of their skin is, and no matter how they add flavor to a casserole. All beans are just in it to live life the best they can, and if that’s not enough… they can be planted as seeds to raise the next generation of human beans.

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The Headaches of Spring

A pink iris survivor of the mending of the wall.

Spring has sproinged on us, and springy-sproinged hard. We have had a wet March and a wet April so far. Pollen is heavy in the air to a record degree, and guilty of making my head ache blisteringly for the third day in a row.

I will also have to take a while recovering from my tax headache. I owed money again either because the overworked retirement system representatives didn’t figure the withholding tax correctly… again, or because Trump’s tax-cut bill required more money from pensioners and poor people… again. Either way, I have no emergency funds in the bank once again, one of the perils of bankruptcy and a source of headaches..

Another of the perils of bankruptcy is the lovely way the court treats me, sending me letters in the mail that suggest they are about to drop their bankruptcy order and allow creditors to swoop in and skeletonize my bank account like piranhas, just as they do to James Franciscus in that crappy man-eating-fish movie of the seventies. (Piranhas, not creditors, I mean, though the differences are small,) The skeletonization will strip meat off the bones of my financial health for about ten months at this point. And why are they suggesting such a personal Armageddon for Mickey? Because mortgage-payment-verification paperwork wasn’t confirmed for two days. Now there is another plan-adjustment hearing scheduled for the end of May. My lawyer says it is all routine. Don’t worry. But I still worry that I have tastier flesh on my bones than James Franciscus had on his in the seventies. (Never let it be said that Mickey doesn’t know how to flog a simile to death!)

Three Caballeros from Oz whom I rescued from Goodwill, repainted and restored.

So, I could potentially starve to death in the coming months, have my bank account skeletonized, and have my head explode from allergies. Somehow I must deserve all of that, right? And, meanwhile, Trump has survived the Mueller Report with the help of his criminal friends. He may even get re-elected to the Presidency, because there is no accounting for voter stupidity.

It is a springtime full of various headaches, and they have all got me down.

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Begging Off Again…

I am having trouble drawing due to arthritis and other illnesses all mixed together like witches’ poison. So, today I apologize with old drawings and a promise to do better next Saturday.

Let me also show you Firefang, a D&D character who may soon make her way into a novel, The Forever Boy. She’s supposedly a dragon traveling in human form. I don’t know if we can believe her, but I don’t plan to make her mad anytime soon. The dragon in the picture is what she says she looks like au naturel. Let’s not try to argue with her about that. Fiery temper, don’t you know.

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