My Imaginary Friends: #1. Strangers on a Train

I am ALMOST done with The Animal Kingdom thread – Posts #39 and #40 are on the way! As 2020 comes to an end, I’m starting a new thread on where some of my story characters originated.

As a writer I’m guilty of borrowing (okay: outright stealing) experiences of people I know. Some become vehicles for me to muse about the world. Years ago, my father and his girlfriend came to visit me in Germany. I couldn’t spend every day with them, so one morning I set them on a train to Trier. They spent all of that day with a stranger, an American who was working in Germany. When they finally parted ways, the last words the man said to them were “I love you guys.”

The man was African-American.

I thought about this story over and over after that visit. Dad told me, the train stopped on the tracks as railroad workers cleared away brush from a storm the night before. The train was stuck and the three of them sat for hours, swapping tales as they waited for the train to start moving again.

I loved my father dearly. He would talk to anyone, and he enjoyed meeting people and finding out about their lives. He is the example I hold up, to anyone who cares to listen, about how travel turns us all into better human beings. My dad saw most of the world after my mom died. They spent the last year of her life in Italy, and I like to think that his later travels were an homage to that final, wonderful year. After decades spent traveling, my father Bobbo, a pretty typical older white male, became truly worldly in his outlooks.

But, a black man who tells an old white couple that he loves them? What an extraordinary human being he must be.

As open as my father was, he had all the privileges of time and place and skin color. What fired my wonder and imagination was that a black man in this century would have the greatness of heart to tell white retired folks something so profound. Maybe it was the meeting of like-minded souls. Maybe it was the setting: a temporary encounter on a train in Germany, a country that continues to work hard to overcome prejudices.

Maybe at some point in his life he had made a conscious decision to take people as he found them. I wanted to put myself into his head and heart. I wanted to learn from him.

He is  the kind of human being I aspire to be.

Can you tell that I was captivated and moved by my father’s story of this encounter? A decade later, when I finally (finally!!) became a writer, I discovered myself writing his story. His name is Gabe Burgess. He’s the head bartender at JJ’s Bistro in my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Gabe spends time every year traveling the globe.

He has secrets.

Gabe has a tender heart.

He retains the memory of a terrible experience which has refused to fade.

And in the chapter titled Waiting, one year he meets an old white couple on a train that breaks down on the tracks outside of Trier….

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020.

In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.

The following link get you there: Broken In: A Novel in Stories

Click here to learn more about me and buy my books.

 

Amsterdam

NOTE: I first published this post 5 years ago. I reprint it as a prayer for our world. —Jadi

The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.

I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m  American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.

A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:

Friday Buddha, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma
Friday planetary post, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma

“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.

An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.

A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.

The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.

The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.

In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.

“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”

Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.

He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.

The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland.  We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.

Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.

Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.

Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.

A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”

Bagan, Burma

NOTE: This post originally marked my first year of blogging. I’m still at it, 6 years later. Thanks for your support.  — Jadi © Jadi Campbell 2013. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Kyoto the Opaque

NOTE: The Jidai Matsuri, or Festival of Ages is held every year on 22 October, the date Japan’s ancient capitol of Kyoto was founded. Here is an earlier post from when we attended the festival and parade.  — Jadi

Uwe and I visited both China and Japan on a trip. We were startled when Japan felt  much more foreign than China. For a First World country, Japan is opaque and surprisingly difficult to grasp.

Huh?
Huh?

We made sure we had plenty of time in Kyoto, traditionally Japan’s cultural heart.* Tokyo is modern and young and moves swiftly. Ancient Kyoto also seemed to have an older population, although the Kyoto train station was by far the most wonderfully futuristic we’ve ever visited. Our autumn visit coincided with the Jidai Matsuri, or Festival of Ages, held every year on October 22nd.

For a millennium Kyoto was the country’s capitol. In 1868 the emperor moved his imperial court to Tokyo. The Kyoto Prefecture was afraid that Kyoto’s thousand years of history would fade from memory. To make sure this didn’t happen they built the Heian Shrine to house the spirit of Emperor Kammu, who founded Kyoto in 794. The Jidai Gyoretsu, a parade for the Jidai Matsuri, was first staged in 1895.

Chairs are set up along the parade route and reserved well in advance. The parade  started at noon at the Imperial Palace. We positioned ourselves on the grass 4.5 kilometers away, not far from the giant red torii gates of the Heian Shrine where the parade would end.

D30_8413_DxO8

D30_8390_DxO8

The parade commemorates the continuous ages of Kyoto history with truly spectacular costumes and objects. It begins with participants dressed in the styles of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and then goes back in time to the Heian Era (794-1185). Musicians and buskers, riders on horse back and flag carriers all march.

D30_8375_dxo

The outfits are accurate from the samurai warriors’ headdresses and armor down to the last dot of face make up. Every detail has been researched.** Over 2,000 people take part in the parade.

D30_8358_dxo

D30_8295_dxo

The procession lasted for hours and Uwe took hundreds of photographs. Occasionally I made a run for bottles of water and snacks. We fell in love with onigiri, an ingenious salmon and rice treat wrapped in seaweed. It comes in a deceptively simple looking package that holds all of the ingredients separate until you open it.

D30_8433_DxO8

D30_8404_DxO8

I’ll need a separate post to talk about the shrines and temples we visited and the geishas we saw. Or to describe the cloths and scarves I bought, each with its special weaving technique and materials. Or the lacquerware bowls I fell in love with, first developed by monks as the perfect receptacle for rice…

NOTES: *Kyoto contains 17 World Heritage sites and is a UNESCO World Heritage City. **The methods used to make the costumes are traditional, too.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier post 8:15 A.M.to read more about our visit to Japan.

Additional information: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/travel-tips-and-articles/77406#ixzz2zEtAXf7i or www.kyotoguide.com

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

J’aime la Vie

No, the hotel walls aren’t an optical illusion. They’re the colors of the French flag

I’m a girl who moved to the damp Pacific NW from upstate NY, where it can snow in April. When Uwe and I first fell in love, it was springtime in Europe. Flowers bloomed everywhere, the sun shone, we sat at outdoor tables in cafés holding hands… Mid-April and I’m in a t-shirt drinking wine at lunch with my sweetie ? Now this is the life!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was falling in love with a way of life, too.

It’s twenty-five years later and I’m still here. I remain in love with the way of life. But we joke that if the weather had been different I might not have been so quick to agree to stay. Some years it snows here in April, too. On April 18 & 19, it came down hard and then melted.

Possible snow showers are in this week’s forecast.

Snow flakes and a cloud bank coming our way

But two weeks ago we were in Paris and the temperature hit 22° C (71° F). Everywhere the trees and flower beds were in bloom, and yes, we sat at outdoor cafés…

We made a day trip to Amiens’ magnificent cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in France. I was excited to discover that Amiens contains one of the few labyrinths still in existence. [1]

While I wait for the weather to decide if it really is springtime, I’m enoying the photos from the City of Lights.

Paris remains the most satisfying of cities.

It doesn’t matter if I’m in Paris for the art, the food, the shops, or the French way of life. Paris appeals to all of my senses. Whenever I’m there I fall right back in love with being alive. J’aime la vie!

I lost my head for love. I wonder what his story was

NOTES: We took the direct fast train from Stuttgart. In 3 hours, we were in Paris. [1] Go to my earlier post Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres to read about another labyrinth and the glory that is Chartres. © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see  Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

# 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 #

I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.

This is my 99th blog post.

I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….

My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!

My topics bounce all over the place like gleeful ping pong balls. I’ve written about current events like The Death of Robin Williams, Helping Refugees: Part 1 and Tunisia Without Terrorism, to the World Cup in The Year the World Came to Party.

I occasionally write about historic events, too. Several are 8:15 A.M.Amsterdam, and Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones.

I riff on artists in Meet the One-Tracks and art, like the sacred sublime in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres or sacred sexual in The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho. I profile art made by human hands Wine and Sculpture, Wildly Creative in Upstate NY: The Ferros of Little York, Egypt 1: We had the entire Valley of the Kings to Ourselves or found in Nature: The Music of the Heavenly Spheres, Steamy Rotorua! and It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°.

Art can serve as reminders to bring us together, as in Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones and The United Buddy Bears.

Of course, I write about writers: My Sister & Maurice Sendak and Baum, Bats, and Monkeys. I quote my beloved Shakespeare with Egypt 2: Along the Nile. Even Colleen McCullough gets a mention in The Outback!

And I write about writing itself: The Gift of Gab, Someone Burned My Book.

Food has been a topic: My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies, Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient, Adventures in China’s New Territories 3: The 100-Pound Fish, Deep Fried and Served with Sweet & Sour Sauce, The Fork is Mightier than the Sword. A Blog Post in Which I eat Paris, The Salt Pits and A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1 &  2.

Holidays have been fun, from You Rang? (the worst/best Valentine’s Day in history) to Happy Halloween!

My day job is as massage therapist, and sometimes I write about healing and medicine. Helping Refugees: Part 1,  Massage in Indonesia: Lombok, Adventures in China’s New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine, A Massage at Wat Pho are a few of the posts.

…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.

It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!

# 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99

The Town Volunteer Program. Helping Refugees: Part 2

When dangerous months on foot or voyages in unstable boats are your only options, things are bad indeed. Refugees may be met at borders by hostile police or herded in subhuman conditions. Criminal bands now make more money from human trafficking than drugs. Millions are making the exhausting trek, often cheated and robbed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared Germany will take in refugees, particularly those fleeing Syria. This doesn’t begin to meet the challenge of how to integrate all these newcomers. The scramble is on to figure out how to register, and house, and provide for over one million asylum seekers, all arriving at the same time.

My community will receive 300 refugees. Every empty building is being assessed for use as temporary or permanent housing. I live in a 1,200-year-old village – with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Strangers definitely stand out.

I began asking myself questions. What does it mean when an outside crisis brushes up against the everyday? Can I help? If yes, am I prepared for what that entails?

I called the Rathaus (Town Hall). “English is my native language and I’m fluent in German,” I said. “I can translate. We’ve got lots of household goods to donate. I’m a massage therapist: I can offer therapy if someone needs it.”

I was informed that my town has taken in earlier refugees from the former Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and other countries. The town runs a training program for volunteers (how to help the newcomers who suffer from shell shock and/or culture shock, what to expect, etc.). Translating services are in place; the town has more donations for supplies than they can use. But, the offer for medical services… They took my contact information to pass along.

The next morning, I received a phone call from A, the German liaison. [1] “Your offer is like hearing from someone from another planet,” she declared. “For months, a severely traumatized refugee has been requesting massage. How soon can we meet?”

I didn’t know it yet, but there would be no time for the training program.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of all persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only. Part 3 to follow.

Tsunami Cowboys

Tsunami Cowboys

Prepare to meet Todd, a hero with dangerous fantasies. Coreen, trapped in a cult. Ronnie, dreaming other people’s futures. Guy, waiting for disaster at a Christmas Market. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train with a seductive stranger. By turns terrifying and funny, this is the story of people riding life’s waves… the tsunami cowboys.

It’s official: My new novel Tsunami Cowboys is available in paperback and eBook versions. Look for it on Amazon around the world. The following links will get you there for the US and Germany:Tsunami Cowboys (for Amazon.com) Tsunami Cowboys  (Amazon.de)

I’m excited and proud and tired and floating on air. This book is the results of the last two years of writing. Thanks for your encouragement and support. It has made this journey a real pleasure.

 

Book Excerpt: The Hostess 2

“I’m Lynn.”

“Josh. Nice to meet you, Lynn.”

“You’re joshing me, right?”

“Yeah, as in, I’m joshing you.” His voice had a strange note as if he were thinking, that old chestnut again.

His gaze swept me up and down. I sum myself up as average weight, median income, medium length brown hair (graying and dyed to hide that fact), and better than average features. Still attractive enough… for middle-aged. But Josh’s frank glance was admiring.

Bemused, I registered the fact that I was flattered.

We began the conversational short hand of strangers. “Lynn, where you off to?”

“I’m heading home.”

“I’m on my way to Portland,” Josh offered. “This is the tail end of a long business trip. I always take the train so I can work. I get a rental car after I arrive. But my God, this train’s packed!”

“I visit the coast the weekend before Thanksgiving, and bring back seafood,” I offered. “I barely fit my bags in the bin.”

The conversation stopped while we studied the menus the waiter brought. “Sea food stew,” I decided aloud. If the taste even remotely resembled the chowder I’d had at Mo’s Restaurant with my parents the day before, I’d be happy.

“The chicken,” Josh requested. “Can I talk the lady into joining me for some wine?”

“Actually, you can. I’d love a glass of rosé or white.” There’s something about train travel indeed… and it wasn’t like I’d be having airplane travel mile high sex with Josh in the bathroom. Is there a name for having sex on a moving train? I wondered suddenly.

Josh added, “…and the Semillon.” This time his smile was filled with promise.

I smiled back. When was the last time I’d flirted with someone?

The train staff had found their rhythms in the busy dining car. Our waiter was back almost immediately. He expertly opened a cabernet sauvignon. Josh swirled the wine in his glass and tried it, nodded his head. The waiter poured more and set the bottle down. Then he opened a second bottle, this one my white wine. “You don’t have to finish it,” Josh said when he saw my expression.

I decided to go with the flow. “Okay,” I nodded, and gave my approval. The wine tasted perfectly cold and crisply dry. The waiter set an ice bucket at the window. “Enjoy,” he said, and vanished back into the galley.

“Cheers.” Josh clicked his glass against mine and drank deeply. “Ah!” he set the empty glass back down and sighed with satisfaction. “So, are you getting out in Portland?”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fifth chapter is titled, The Hostess.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: The Hostess 1

“Time is the thing I am made of. Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that tears me apart, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” – Jorge Luis Borges, “New Refutation of Time”, Other Inquisitions, 1952.

Well Trained

We filled every car and our suitcases, bags and packs threatened to topple from the bins. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the entire West coast was taking the train.

I tried to read. The book I held dated me: it was three-dimensional and had paper pages. In the seats around me people bent over electronic devices or talked in muted tones. A young couple slept with their arms around one another and a blanket draped across their legs and torsos. The retiree in the window seat ahead of me dozed, his head gently rocking.

The doors to the train car slid open and a good-looking man stepped through. Perhaps in his late forties, he wore a sweater over slacks and loafers, and carried a slim brief case.

I watched him tuck something into his pocket. Small change, I guessed.

His aura called out, inviting me to look closer. He had the tan of a man who went on golf safaris in the Southwest. His well-cut clothes hid the extra pounds around his waist. Perhaps he’d consulted with a wardrobe coordinator; shades of dark green in the nubby sweater suggested understated taste and male power. He passed my seat and I was at eye level to his crotch.

Ooh! I thought. This guy really is a big man.

When he reversed directions and backed up, I bent my head and pretended fascination with the cover of my book. He looked at the purse on the next seat. “I think this spot is mine.”

I moved my bag and he sat down. His smile vanished when he realized there was no room for the expensive brief case.

He stood back up and pushed at a large blue backpack on the rack across the aisle. The hiking boots laced to it swung, but otherwise nothing budged. He turned to the bin above my head as the train jolted. The man lost his balance and a hand smacked my shoulder; it would have stung if he’d been wearing a ring.

When I looked up, I was back at eye level with his crotch.

“I am so sorry,” he apologized as he fussed with the luggage over our seats. Satisfied, he moved out of my personal space. “Stupid space allowance!” He spoke to the air, but a smile was back.

I picked up my purse as he looked a question at me. “Lunch,” I said. I swayed my way through the train to the dining car.

A harried waiter led me to a table for two and asked, “Ma’am, would you mind sharing your table? I know you reserved a table for one, but we can use any free seats. These pre-holiday trains are always totally booked.”

“Of course!”

“We’d sure appreciate that.”

“It’s really no problem,” I assured him, and meant the words. I enjoy the random interaction with other train passengers. And I never cease to be amazed at how much information people willingly reveal about themselves to perfect strangers.

Dining on board a moving train as the landscape glides by is somehow magical. Who’d claim the chair across the table? Someone heading back home for the holidays or making a long trek cross-country? Or someone like me, visiting the coast?

Five minutes later there he was, sitting across rather than next to me: the man with the good clothes and big body. “Well, well. We meet again,” he said.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fifth chapter is titled, The Hostess.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 3

They encountered air turbulence two hours into the flight and the pilots lost time. Air traffic was backed up when they reached European airspace. At last they landed in Frankfurt, ninety minutes late. Guy slumped over in a deep sleep and noticed nothing.

He woke to a strange sensation that was the absence of motion. Denice and Tia wore anxious expressions, waiting for him to rouse. Someone had gotten his carry on suitcase down for him.

Tia clapped her hands while Guy looked around and tried to understand why the plane was empty. “Mr. Guy, you were awfully brave! We hit bumpy air! I thought it was going to be bad, my mommy even got out a barf bag, just in case.”

“Tia!” Denice sighed.

“But Mommy, you didn’t use it. You were fine.” She drew the word out, fi-yine. “Mr. Guy, you slept like a baby, like there was nothing to worry about. That really gave me courage. You were zonked! I watched and did just like you.” Tia put her head against the side of the seat, closed her eyes, and snored loudly.

“I snored?” The child was informing him that he’d passed out.

“Like a trooper! No, that’s for when someone’s swearing! It’s okay, Mommy,” she added serenely. “Mr. Guy snored like a… a brick house. No, that’s not it. Like, a house on fire.”

Guy and Denice laughed and Tia joined in, all three laughing as if they’d never stop. The Lufthansa personnel watching in the aisle laughed too, relieved that they didn’t have a dead drunk – or worse, much worse – dead international passenger on their hands after all.

Denice and Tia retrieved their luggage at Baggage Claim and all three stood before a destinations board in the terminal. “Thanks again for waiting for me,” Guy repeated; he was still groggy. As he stared dispirited at the board, Guy knew he couldn’t face another flight, no matter how short.

They were taking a train on to Landstuhl. “I’ll walk you to the train platforms. I missed my connecting flight so I think I’ll just catch a train. Hey, I’ll go to Stuttgart. Aren’t Porsche and Mercedes Benz there? I’ve always wanted to go to the Porsche factory.” He lied, suddenly inspired. He and his therapist had worked out alternate plans in case Guy reached Europe too jittery to fly on. He’d arrived days before the conference began, so that he might take his time getting there. Progressive, systematic desensitization, he reminded himself.

They followed airport signs to the connected train station. Tia rode on top of the luggage trolley as Guy pushed. “So,” he asked, “will you get to see much in Germany?”

“It was planned as a family vacation. Our trip here.” Denice glanced up at Tia, perched humming. “Joe’s in the hospital,” Denice explained softly. “An IED; they’re telling me his condition is ‘serious but manageable’. Whatever that means. For his sake and Tia’s, I’m trying to stay optimistic. I want to wait until I see him before saying anything to her. It’s bad enough how much I worry.”

“Good heavens.” As they continued walking Guy held Denice’s hand in his for a long minute, a therapist unable to think of a single comforting word to say.

“I have to believe,” Denice’s eyes were tender as she checked again on Tia, “this will have been worth it. Joe still believes freedom to worship and vote and live as you choose are worth fighting for. Regardless of the deeper reasons for the war. My husband’s motivated by wanting a better world. They’re helping local groups rebuild.

“He was standing outside a school for girls when the explosion happened.” She looked at her daughter. “It’s the second time that school’s been destroyed. Like I said: whatever the other dynamics going on, we both hope for a better world for everybody’s children. They feel insurmountable at times, the problems,” she admitted. “But it’s all one world now. We have to believe that, because we’re parents ourselves.”

They reached the train station and Denice and Tia departed on the next train. Guy felt forlorn once they were gone, but he ignored the cold and his sense of foreboding. He tried to be stoic as he waited on the platform. No matter what, he wasn’t climbing on another plane! Maybe, just maybe, I can afford to sail home. I hear the QEII’s nice, he mused as a white and red ICE train approached.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.