SHORTS - Stories From Around the World.

 


Welcome to the new addition to the Scribbler 

I love short stories. Hope you do too. 

Every Week you will find a new one, and as it suggests in the title – From Around the World. 






When Connie Cook of Ontario, Canada, is not working on her Diana Darling series, you might catch her writing short stories.

She’s been here before with other shorts and most lately chatting about her novel - Follow the Money. Check it out HERE.

 

Enjoy this week’s story. 

 

 

 

 

The Low Man on the Totem Pole

 

The tree was forgiving. Its’ shape came to life as he worked, filled his nostrils with the pungent scent of cedar.  Blisters bubbled on his hands from the repetitive action of the chisel, and the knife sometimes slipped and cut his fingers. He felt no pain. 

David knew in his head, the image he wanted to create.  His work was pure, emergent, a sculptured outline of an eagle at the top, a bear at the bottom of the trunk. It was a tribute, meant to capture the essence of the man who had changed his life forever. The base of a totem was the most important part, designed to support everything above, and he took special care. Wood chips flew in the air, dusk fell, and still he continued into the night. 

The artistry of totem pole carving, had been taught to him by his father, skills handed down from those who had come before. But, this time, it needed to be perfect. Perfect for the man who’d commissioned him. David bore a hole in the upper trunk, enough to hold the ashes of the man who’d been his mentor for over thirty years. 

It was the very least he could do, to repay Mr. Bennett, the teacher who’d taken him under his wing, taught him to never take things at face value, to never forget his heritage, and to look at the politics of business. It was one of the hardest lessons’ life had thrown at him. 

Since the call from Bennett’s niece, one week ago, he’d worked diligently. Sometimes the work was precise, and at times it was driven by passion; that unique moment when the mind transcends and takes over the hand.  Salty tears stung his cheeks and dripped onto the red cedar, forever embedded.

 

The Beginning

 

“David, you’ve missed school three times this week. Do you have a problem or anything I should know about?” 

Seventeen year old David hung his head and stared at the floor, avoided eye contact. “I’m, sorry Mr. Bennett. It won’t happen again.” He shuffled his feet, looked at his worn runners, afraid to look up. 

“You’re a smart kid, and it really annoys me when you’re off wasting your time with drivel. You’re better than that, and I reckon it’s time you realized it.”

  The teacher’s voice echoed in his head. David remained silent. How in hell could he answer? What should he say? It wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation. Sometimes, he wondered why his teacher even put up with him.  

 “This is your last year in high school. It’s your chance to get off the reservation, if that’s truly what you want. Do me a favour.  Don’t screw this up,” said Bennett. 

 David didn’t want to explain the reason for his absence. Who would understand that his father required the time for him to do totem pole carving? A wasted skill at this point in his life, and not one he totally understood or was even interested in. Besides, he wasn’t very good at it, and often injured his hands and fingers. If there was going to be any shedding of blood, he’d prefer it belong to someone else.

 “Sorry sir,” he said. As he cautiously lifted his head, Mr. Bennett rolled his shoulders and David heard a frustrated sigh.

  “No, I’m sorry if I jumped all over you,” Bennett said. “It’s just that rarely I have a student with the potential you have. Your scores in math and science are off the chart. You think outside the box, and your last project was exceptional. You could be an engineer, make a huge difference and impact the lives of others. I know and believe you are capable of that, but you have to show up for school and be on time. The scholarship deadlines are in the next three months. I want to be able to recommend you for them, but I need a commitment from you as well.”

 David squared his shoulders, stood tall, and looked Mr. Bennett straight in the eye. “Absolutely, I’m committed. I want to do better. And I promise you, that one day, you’ll be proud of me.”

 “That’s what I wanted to hear. I’ll put the recommendation forward.”

 In the back of his head, David knew, his dad would never understand. He loved his father, but the opportunity for moving off the reservation, following another path was not what his family would understand.

 As he took the high step onto the yellow school bus that would take him home, David practiced his speech to his father, over the hour long ride. His head ached, his stomach roiled and he wished he could throw up. As the bi-fold bus doors screeched open, there was his Dad, eager to greet him.

 “David, you must come. We’ve just finished a new totem, commissioned from the arts and native group. It will be raised tomorrow. I want you to be part of the celebration. It’s our heritage and you have been part of the carving.”

 “That’s great Dad, but I have school tomorrow.” How could he tell his father, that life on the reservation wasn’t enough for him? He had bigger hopes, bigger dreams. The words burst from his mouth without thinking. “I can’t do it Dad.”

“What do ya mean you can’t do it? Of course you can. School can wait. It’s not like you’re learning anything there. Just a certificate at the end and you’ll be back here, carrying on the family tradition.” He slapped him on the back, tried to hook an arm around David’s neck. “You need to do this.”

David struggled with his inner thoughts, tried not to cringe under his fathers’ arm. “Dad, it’s your heritage. I know it’s mine too, and I respect that, but I have other plans, things I want to do. It doesn’t involve totem pole carving. I have a chance for a scholarship, to continue on in school. I want to do it. I need to do it. Can you understand that?”

 He watched as his Dad’s eyes’ turned stormy, saw the disbelief, just before the scowl consumed his face, anger palpable.  He wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t the first time there had been a confrontation between he and his father, but at least there had been no physical blows this time. An awkward silence as they faced each other, then finally his father spoke.

“We make our paths. If your heritage is not good enough for you, then leave.  Leave now. Pack your bags, say goodbye to your mother. You’re not welcome here anymore.  You’re no longer my son.” His father turned his back and left.

  As David watched him head to the small trailer they called home, his Dad looked old, hunched over, his gait stumbling. Christ, what have I just done, he wondered?

 David packed a small satchel, hugged his Mother goodbye, walked five miles to the only place he thought he might be welcomed, and knocked on the door. His Mother’s tears were dried salty reminders on his cheek of what he was leaving behind.

 “Mr. Bennett,” he asked. “Can you put me up for the night?”

 The Middle

 

The scholarship had been a godsend. It paid for his tuition, and Mr. Bennett allowed him to stay at his home during the years of schooling he had to complete.  All he had to do in return was some gardening, cleaning and cooking on occasion. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and David knew his teacher had been instrumental in securing his spot at the university.  How on earth could he ever repay him? 

Whenever he asked, Bennett was always firm in his response. “First, never forget your heritage. At some point you need to make peace with your family, and that’s up to you to do. Second, just make me proud of you, and third, always look at organizational structure. You’re going to be involved with companies with tons of employees. Not everything is as it seems. You’re a smart kid and you’ll figure it out, bottom line, look at who has the most important job, those who keep everything else upright and functioning.” 

What the hell was Bennett talking about? David knew better than to ask, knew his teacher was making him think for himself, but for now he was happy they had a peaceful co-existence. 

Over the last year of university, the routine was easy. They’d greet each other at the end of the day, take turns cooking. Sometimes David roasted venison and even assaulted Bennett with his mother’s recipe for pemmican. “Just in case you get lost on a road trip with no fast food restaurant,” he laughed. “This stuff keeps forever. But, tell me about your students.” 

“They’re a bunch of loafers, only doing what they can to squeak out a pass at the end of the term. I have a couple of hopefuls that might be okay. What about you? What about your classmates in engineering?” Bennett asked. 

“They’re a bunch of overachievers, committed, competitive and way classier than me. But my marks are good. I’ve already had job offers from a couple of local engineering firms when class is finished next year.” 

“Just what I expected, and I’m not surprised.” 

 David couldn’t help but notice, Bennett’s voice sounded tired. Over the last year he’d noticed an increasing number of pill bottles in the medicine cabinet. Some, he recognized as pain medication, not the over the counter stuff, and others’ he had no idea. He didn’t want to pry, but he knew something was not right with his mentor. One day, he summoned up the courage to ask. “Are you all right?” 

 “Sure, it’s not something I can’t deal with.” In the meantime, do me a favour and connect with your father. I may need his and your help at some point. No more questions for now.”

As Bennett quietly turned and left the room, David felt as if he’d been slapped in the face. First his father had disowned him, and now his teacher wasn’t being honest. What in hell was he missing?


The End

 

 “David, you’re on in one hour. Are you good to go? Just make sure you make our company look good. There’s a lot riding on this presentation, and it’s worth a shitload of money. I know I don’t need to remind you of that. Throw the numbers at them and also remind them we’re turning the organizational chart upside down. That should impress them. It’ll make them think how valued our frontline employees are. See me in my office before you go to the boardroom.” 

The irritating voice of the Chief Executive Office for Pacific Engineering rang in David’s head. 

“As always, I’m prepared.”  His voice was cold, and a part of him hated feeling so detached. He adjusted his tie, made sure it was straight, inhaled and adopted the persona he knew would be expected. As an aboriginal, part of it had to do with his connections to the native society, the group they’d be asking to give up land rights to further the companies’ plans. If he pulled it off, there would be three million dollars for the company and he’d get a good percentage, but it would be a loss for the natives and one they’d never understand. Could he live with the betrayal? 

As David headed to his office, he felt a blow, like a thrust to his chest. Then, Bennett’s voice caught him.  It was surreal, like a spirit whisper, brushing against his inner thoughts. Remember your heritage. David shook his head, struggled to remember how he’d come to this place. He’d started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, the low man on the totem pole, been the one who got no respect, but tenuously climbed his way up. 

As a gofer, he caught the eye of a supervisor. He’d worked his ass off, worked overtime, weekends, and pretty much given up a personal life, but the guy took credit, presented David’s ideas as his own. It was a hard lesson to learn and David knew in his heart, he would never allow that to happen again. Sure he’d gotten a small promotion out of it, but Mr. Bennett had been right. 

The most important people in an organization were those at the bottom. If it wasn’t for them, there would be no company, no business. Hell, they were the ones who kept all those upper management dweebs employed. And he’d become one of them, sucked in by the lure of money and false promises. 

Over the years, he’d been through countless restructuring and styles of organizing. First it was management by objectives, then it was continuous quality improvement, and finally some bright eyed ass had suggested turning the organizational chart upside down, so it appeared the frontline workers were being touted. It was all lip service as far as he was concerned. He knew where the big pay cheques landed, and they sure as hell weren’t going into the pockets of the real workers. 

David’s rumination left him feeling disgusted. There was only ten minutes left before his presentation, but in his heart, he knew it would never happen. It was time to stop. As he headed to the CEO’s office, his phone buzzed in his pocket. The voice caught him off guard. 

“David, I know you haven’t seen my uncle for a while. It’s Natalie, Mr. Bennett’s niece. He’s passed away. He’s had cancer for a while, and this was his time to go. He wanted me to remind you about an earlier promise, something about his ashes going into a totem pole. Do you know what he meant by that?” 

His heart caught in his throat. He and Bennett had often joked about it, the burying, embalming, versus cremation and David hadn’t understood, thought it was just one of those morbid conversations older people have. Now he did understand, and the message was clear. Always Bennett had felt like the low man on the totem pole, but he’d encouraged others, given them opportunities. Totems were structured for a specific reason and always the base supported everything above. Being on the bottom was an important job.  But, it was time for Mr. Bennett to be on top. 

“Don’t worry, Natalie. I have it covered. Just a couple of things to do here and I’ll see you at your uncle’s place in the morning.” 

 First he found the CEO, submitted his resignation and walked out of the office. For the first time in a long time, he knew he was doing the right thing. 

Next, he picked up the phone and called his father. “Dad, it’s your son.” 

David heard and felt the silence on the other end of the phone.  Then at long last a raspy voice that said, “Hi Son. What took you so long?” 

 “I’m so sorry Dad.” David struggled to keep his voice controlled. But then he broke down and sobbed.  “You were right all along. There’s so much we need to talk about. I feel like I’ve let you down, but now, I need your help. It’s a promise I made, and one I need to keep.”  As he recounted the story of how Bennett had changed his life, he felt like a burden had been lifted. 

“Don’t worry David. I’ve always loved you. I’ll start the base today. Together we’ll make sure Mr. Bennett soars with the eagles.”


 


Thank you for entertaining us with your story, Connie.






Thank you to visitors and readers. 






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For those who may be interested, the Third Jo

 Naylor adventure - Shattered Dreams - is now

 available. Go HERE for more info. Thank you.

 



We'd love to have your feedback and comments. Scroll to the bottom of the screen. Thank you.

59 comments:

  1. What a lovely stort that brought a tear to the eye. Thank you.

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    1. I agree, Angela. When Roger sent me the story, I felt the same as you after I read it. Thanks for stopping by and your comment.

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  2. What a beautiful story from Roger, so rich in detail and poignancy... It touched on so many interactions we share with others, both close loved ones and those who drop in and out of our lives. Combined with the emotional context, it is very moving. Looking forward to being featured Allan and thank you again for the invitation.

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    1. Thank you, Sally. So glad you liked it. It's that old Welsh hiraeth, exported to Canada, and brought back to haunt us.

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  3. Thank you so much for publishing this, Allan. I think your idea of publishing regular short stories is a very good one. There are so many great writers out there, some of whose voices are so seldom heard. All best wishes for your success with this venture, thank you for your kind words, thank you for your support, and thank you for being here.

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    1. You're quite welcome Roger. I also thank you for sharing it. Great guests like yourself, make this a wonderful and fun project for me.

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  4. Thank you Allan for including my story with these amazing writers and for creating such a lovely feature. Sally

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  5. I'm happy to have you share your story Sally. You are always a welcome guest.

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  6. Hi Allan. Thrilled to read one of Sally's heartwarming short stories featured here. :)

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    2. I love Sally's stories too, Debby. Thanks for the comment

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  7. Thanks for visiting Debby. I'm like you, always happy to read Sally's stories.

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  8. Fab seeing Sally here, Allan. Thanks for featuring her. She is such a fab support to us all and it is nice to see her as a guest for a change. xx

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    1. I agree Jane. Sally is a tremendous lady. Thank you for visiting.

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  9. I agree Jane. Sally is a tremendous lady. Thank you for visiting.

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  10. HI Allan, this is a lovely story of Sally's. Hers are always terrific. Thanks for hosting her here.

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    1. I agree Robbie. I too enjoy Sally's stories.

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  11. Great story from Angella, today. Thank you.

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    1. I like it too, Angela. Glad you stopped by.

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  12. Thanks for adding my short story to your collection, Allan!
    I love your idea of sharing short stories from around the world - so great for writers and for readers too.

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    1. I'm thrilled to have this delightful tale as part of the series. Thank YOU, Jo, for sharing it with us.

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  13. Great story, thanks Alex Hudson and Allan.

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    1. Gald you enjoyed it Angela. Thanks for visiting the Scribbler.

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  14. Another great story from Steve. Thank you.

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  15. I love how she found her stars in a new family- beautifully written.

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    1. I like the way the story went
      Thanks for visiting, jbiggar.

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  16. Thank you, Allan, for sharing this short story. The Power List is a one-off, and may have become orphaned, had you not picked it up. I don't write many short stories but thought this one might be interesting to some. I had a conversation with a young genius, Noel, who happens to be a patterns specialist, and this is what came of that chat. Please be assured the events are all fiction, with the exception of the poem, which my son wrote while in Grade two.

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    1. I'm pleased to be able to share the story Chuck. Thank you.

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  17. Wow, Chuck! I didn't know if this was fact or fiction. Good story.

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    1. I liked the story too, Susan. Thanks for visiting and your comment.

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  18. Such a wonderful, poignant story, emotional and captivating at the same time. So well written. Congrats.

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  19. A lovely story and particularly poignant as my grandfather's name is also on a monument and in a grave in France. Thanks very much Heather and Allan for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for visiting Sally and your nice comment. I enjoyed Heather's story as well.

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    2. Take comfort that there are many people who visit those grave in solemn and respectful thanks to those who gave their lives so our Boys are never forgotten. Thank you for sharing that, Sally.

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    3. I have a great uncle whose name is on a grave in the military cemetery in Meaulte, France. He died in 2016 of wounds. Until I did family research none of his family (he was my grandmother's brother) knew where he was and had never visited. A cousin went over and took soil from my Nan's grace and placed it on his and took soil from his and took it to my Nan's grave. It was so sad.

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    4. There were too many that were lost in the Great War. Unfortunately, it never ends. Thanks for visiting Jane, and your nice comment.

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  20. Lovely story. Thanks very much.

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    1. I agree Angela, it's well told. Thanks for visiting.

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  21. Interesting piece of writing. Thanks, Allan.

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    1. It's a subject I found troubling and wondered if any German soldiers felt that way. Thanks for visiting.

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  22. A troubling but poignant tale. Thank you.

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    1. I agree Angela. Thanks for visiting and your comments.

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  23. It's like the song, in five minutes, your whole life can change. Really enjoyed this story.

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    1. Yes, it can change quickly. Thanks for visiting the Scribbler.

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  24. A heartwarming story that deeply touched me. Thank you for sharing, Allan. Lovely, Jacquie! Hugs to you both! Xx

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    1. I thought it was terrific also. Thanks for visiting and your comment..

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  25. Heartwarming story that was touching. Thank you for sharing! Lovely story, Jacquie! Hugs to you both! Xx

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  26. Thanks, Allan and I hope you regular readers enjoy the story.

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    1. I think it's a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it with us, Angela.

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  27. Hi, Jane, great story abd thank you.

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  28. Allan, thanks so much for hosting me with The Letter. I hope your readers enjoy it.

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    1. You are most welcome, Jane. Glad to have your stories on the Scribbler.

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  29. Great to be back with Beans and Chops. Love the characters and the story

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  30. Lovely story, great characters. Congras.

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