Monthly Archives: October 2014

Are Schools Really to Blame? The Truth About 5 Issues Blamed on Schools

I guess it is because I am a former educator, but I get angry and tired of hearing schools continually blamed for things they have little control over. I know there are issues where schools deserve the blame, but there is also a lot of undeserved blame going around. Recently I read an article about the child obesity epidemic in this country, and as expected the article placed a major part of the blame on poor diets in school cafeterias. I don’t discount that school breakfast and lunch menus have not always been the most nutritious, but I do have doubts as to the extent of their contribution to child obesity. Counting my years as a student in grade school and high school, as a teacher, and school administrator, I ate in school cafeterias for over 50 years, and I can honestly say that in spite of what the nutrition gurus say about school lunches, my weight problem has little to do with what I ate in school cafeterias. I wish it was that easy, but the real villain is the overweight person standing in front of me when I look in the mirror. I want all nutrition experts, health junkies, carb fighters, and food conspiracy lovers to listen closely for a minute; my weight problem and the weight problems of the vast majority of school children was not caused by eating tiny 1 ounce servings of bread, 2 ounce servings of vegetables and carbs and, and 2 ounce servings of meat or a meat alternative protein in the school cafeteria nor was it caused by the slightly larger servings of hamburgers, pizza and French fries served by school cafeterias. I agree that the 180 lunches and maybe 180 breakfasts a child eats in a school cafeteria in a school year have not always been the healthiest meals, but school cafeteria food is a minor contributor at best to child obesity. Like me, the major reason most children are overweight is the second and third servings of mama’s home cooking along with the candy bars, chips with salsa, cakes, cookies, sodas, and popcorn eaten after school or between meals while sitting in front of the television. Unfortunately, sitting in front of the television is the only consistent exercise most children experience (myself included) and that coupled with all the junk food they consume outside of school is the major reason behind child obesity as well as adult obesity. School lunches may be a contributing factor, but more likely, school lunches are just another easy target on the blame list for schools.

Please, do not get me wrong, I am all for children eating healthy, but it is time to get off the “let’s blame schools” bandwagon. Today, if there is a problem with something in society, the politically correct response is to point the blame finger at schools. Schools are continually taking left jabs to the forehead, right hooks to the jaw, sucker punches to the gut, and kicks to the groin. The list of societal ills blamed on schools grows every year. Schools are to blame for childhood obesity (cafeteria lunches); schools are to blame for the lack of discipline and bad behavior in kids (poor classroom discipline and removing the paddle); schools are to blame for the decline of the moral fiber of our nation (prayer removed from school); schools are to blame for the academic decline of our nation (poor performance as compared to other countries); and schools are to blame for students hating school and not valuing an education (school dropouts). I am sure I am leaving something out, but that is enough to make anyone with any common sense shake their head in disbelief.

Schools absolutely have problems that need fixing, but schools are not responsible for all the problems we are facing in this country. In most cases, the problems schools are blamed for are a symptom of bigger problems in society. Obesity for example is a nationwide problem wrapped in our addiction to junk food and lack of physical activity, so why not pick on the junk food companies and television and cable networks and leave schools alone? That won’t happen because the big boys will come out swinging whereas the mild mannered little schools will meekly offer the other cheek when the blame is dished out. Regrettably, the blame game escalates each year, and until a miracle happens or there is a major revolt by educators, it will continue to do so. If you need evidence, take a look at the following issues blamed on schools by society, the media, the politicians, and anyone else in need of a whipping boy:

  1. Schools are to blame for childhood obesity: (Even though I have addressed this one, here are a few more items you may wish to consider about the relationship of child obesity to the food served in school cafeterias) The real problem is not the combined 360 breakfasts and lunches a child may eat at school during a school year, but rather the 735 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners the child eats at home; the 365 days of between meals snacks the child eats at home; and the 365 days of sitting at home in front of a television with no physical activity other than operating a game control or TV remote. To put it bluntly, child obesity is impacted most by lack of physical activity at home as well as the endless supply of junk food children eat at home.
  2. Schools are to blame for student bad behavior: There are those who believe that poor school behavior can be linked to poor behavior in society. They reason if kids were taught in school to respect others, they would be better equipped to respect the law and other people when they finish school. Also, they argue that there would be fewer prison inmates if schools taught children the value of an education and to stay in school. Some people even claim society began its decline when corporal punishment (the paddle) was removed from schools, but the biggest reason for the overall decline in civil behavior in our society has little to do with our schools. The decline is more likely due to the transfer of parental responsibilities from the home to the schoolhouse. The lack of discipline in society today is a direct reflection of the tolerance level of parents/guardians and what they are teaching or not teaching their children at home. Although schools do their best to be surrogate parents, schools cannot replace the parenting children need at home to become productive well-adjusted citizens. Parents cannot abdicate their responsibilities and expect all to turn out well. It doesn’t work that way – never has and never will.
  3. Schools are to blame for the decline of the moral fiber of our nation:  “Our schools and society went to hell in a hand basket when they took prayer out of the schools.” For years, I have heard that statement almost word for word from well-meaning people, but contrary to popular misconception, children can pray in school. The reason children do not pray in school is not because they can’t, but because they do not pray at home. Any child can pray in school; it is a personal choice that is supported by the Constitution of the United States that cannot be denied by the courts, the government, or the political or personal ideologies of others. Prayer resides in the heart and soul of each individual and cannot be removed without consent of the individual; therefore, prayer can never be removed from school as long as it is embedded in the values instilled in the home. The moral fiber of a nation begins with mama and daddy, not with laws, policies or government and its institutions. Schools simply imitate the society in which they exist. For example, schools are a direct reflection of our society’s judgmental approach to life rather than an approach of compassion and understanding. In today’s society we are quick to judge anyone who does not think as we do, believe as we do, or live the life style we do. This same judgmental attitude is rocking our kids to the core in our schools. Judging of others breeds distrust, intolerance, contempt, and shallowness, which can be seen in such forms as bullying and social cliques in our schools. I agree prayer in school may help with such issues, but the answer to the moral concerns in society and our schools begins with parents teaching moral values and praying with their children at home. The moral foundation of society is founded and nurtured in the home, not necessarily in the school.
  4. Schools are to blame for the academic decline of our nation: No matter what the profession, there are individuals within the profession who need to do a better job or find a new profession, and the teaching profession is no different. However, overall teachers do a remarkable job considering the obstacles they face, but regardless of how competent a teacher is and how hard the teacher works, academic success begins at home. There are too many parents who are spectators in the education of their children; they depend exclusively on the teacher to educate their children. However, educating a child is not a spectator sport. Parents cannot be content to watch from the sidelines; they must get involved. The value of an education must be taught and reinforced in the home as well as at school. Children with parents who value education have the greatest chance at academic success because the parents make sure their children are in school when the school doors are open. Over the years, one thing I have noticed over and over again is that the children of parents who make sure they get to school on time and stay in school throughout the school day are more likely to do well in school. Teachers cannot teach a child if the child is not in school. However, it is common for the teacher to be blamed for the child’s habitual absence from school and poor academic performance – the teacher doesn’t like my child, the teacher is out to get my child, the teacher doesn’t know how to teach, the teacher has class favorites or the teacher grades unfairly. Rarely is it ever the child’s or the parent’s fault. Parents need to stop and think before laying all the blame on the teacher; they need to quit reasoning like a child, put on their big boy and girl pants and start using the reasoning skills of an adult.   If a child is doing poorly in school, it is most likely due to the child not coming to school, not doing the work when in school, not putting enough time into the work or the child needs extra help.
  5. Schools are to blame for students not liking school:  When children enter kindergarten, they come with an open mind eager and ready to absorb any and everything. They are like sponges; they cannot get enough. They want to be in school, and they enjoy school. Unfortunately, all children do not maintain their love for school. Why? Sometimes it is the fault of the school – a bad experience with a teacher, lack of success in the classroom, or lessons with no relevancy to the child’s life. Sometimes it is the parents fault – siding with the child against the teacher, continuously speaking negatively about the school or teachers, lack of interest in how their child is doing in school or too busy to pay attention to how their child is doing in school. Also, sometimes the fault lies with the student – they insist school is not cool, they think school is boring or they feel school is not fun. Guess what kiddos and parents, life is not always cool, easy or fun, and it is never too early for children to start learning that lesson at home as well as in school. It is better they find it out while in school and living at home than when they finish school and get out on their own. Granted, teachers should do their best to make learning as relevant and fun as possible, but that does not necessarily mean that school has to always be entertaining. The bottom line is that kids go to school to learn, and learning will quite often be less enjoyable than sitting in front of their Xbox, Play Station or playing some mind riveting game such as Angry Bird or Zombie Zappers on their tablet. Children need to be taught that school is their job regardless of whether or not it is entertaining, and that doing their best is the expectation for that job. However, for children to make that connection, parents must begin teaching that lesson at an early age at home. Parents must teach their children that school is important, and that going to school is not an option to be discussed or debated. There is nothing wrong with a child being told they are going to school whether they like it or not. Of course, teaching them early is the key. Parents cannot wait until middle school or high school to take an interest and try to teach the importance of an education; if they do, it is too late.

To address these five issues with any hope of bringing about change, the key is to begin at home. However, many people refuse to believe that, especially when it is much easier and cleaner to blame schools. The blame pointers have few qualms about pointing fingers at schools or teachers and painting them as scapegoats for society’s ills. Why? The answer is simple; schools (teachers and school administrators) rarely fight back. They are easy targets who rarely stand up for themselves, so they continually get kicked around since society knows they will meekly nurse their bruises and quietly go about their business of teaching, loving, mentoring, and parenting the kids they teach. Schools are certainly not without blame, but the blame thrown at schools is quite often a symptom of a greater root problem; a root problem that most often can be traced back to the home.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, October 18, 2014

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Hoodwinked: The Fight for MAEP Funding

Recently former governor Ronnie Musgrove filed a lawsuit on behalf of 21 Mississippi school districts demanding the state pay 230 million dollars that the school districts claim they have been denied through shortfalls in MAEP funding. In response, Attorney General Jim Hood said the case is without merit and should be thrown out of court. Whichever side you are on there is one thing for certain, this is a case that will do little to mend the bad feelings and lack of trust and respect between state legislators and state educators. When all is said and done, even school districts not involved in the lawsuit may very well be left with a bad taste in their mouths. If the court rules in favor of the state, educators will no doubt feel they have been betrayed, and if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, a wedge will likely be driven between legislators and educators that will make future education funding even more difficult. This case should be about what is best for the children of Mississippi, but unfortunately that stands to get lost in debate and political theatrics when lawyers from both sides start butting heads in court. In the end it will not be about who is right or wrong, but who can present the most compelling case, and you can bet that money rather than children will be at the center of it all.

In question is the 2006 Mississippi law that says Mississippi’s school aid formula (MAEP) “shall” be fully funded. The 21 school districts filing suit claim the law mandates the state legislature fully fund K-12 education each year, but Hood argues that the 2006 law has no power to bind future legislatures. However, common sense would argue that if the law is nonbinding why have it? What good is a law or the funding formula it supports if legislators have the discretion to follow it or not? That is like saying people have the discretion as to whether or not they pay their taxes. When it comes to taxes, people “shall” follow the tax laws or face penalties and possible criminal action if they don’t. Why then shouldn’t state law makers be held to the same measure when “shall” is used in the 2006 MAEP law?

A recent statement from Jim Hood’s office read, “One session of elected legislators cannot dictate the discretionary budgeting and appropriation authority of a future session of elected legislators.” The MAEP law does just that, it dictates that MAEP “shall” be fully funded, but isn’t that what a law is supposed to do? Isn’t the purpose of a law to ensure equality of rights and protections for all people with the intent that those laws will remain binding for all subsequent years and generations unless amended or repealed? To imply that authority for budgeting and appropriations is discretionary and not binding for future legislative sessions is highly questionable. If what Attorney General Hood is saying is true, does that mean that all prior legislation is nonbinding for each new legislature or does it mean each new legislature has the discretion to pick and choose the laws they will support and uphold? Mr. Hood needs to be careful; his discretionary claim may actually open more worm holes for state legislators to wiggle through than he can possibly foresee.

The Attorney General says that the state’s argument in the case is based on a common sense principal. He writes, “If the principle did not exist, as the school districts’ ill-conceived mandatory appropriations theory here contemplates, the 2006 Legislature could have enacted a statute providing every subsequent legislature ‘shall never appropriate more than $1 to any school district’ in any given fiscal year.” Maybe the 2006 Legislature could have done that, but they didn’t because, as the Attorney General is well aware, there are checks and balances in place as protection against such arbitrary, capricious, and callously irresponsible legislation? Those checks and balances consist of a 174 state legislators in the senate and house, the governor, and the state’s citizens who would not tolerate such ridiculous appropriation legislation. Those same checks and balances were in place in 2006 when in an effort to quell the continuous bickering over MAEP funding, the state legislature, with approval of the governor and support of Mississippi citizens, passed a law requiring MAEP be fully funded each year. Of course, Mr. Hood argues that the law was not intended to bind or apply to future lawmakers, but hopefully, he is wrong, and the 2006 legislators had more integrity than to pass a law they never intended to follow. If not, there is a bigger issue here than simply the interpretation of the law. If there was never any intent to follow the law in subsequent years and the 2006 legislators did not intend to bind future legislative sessions to the law as Mr. Hood states, then the 2006 law as presented to the public and especially educators was nothing short of fraud. For Jim Hood to say the interpretation of the 2006 law by school districts is ill-conceived and a contradiction to the principal of common sense is ludicrous. If anything, Hood’s argument may wrongfully bring into question the integrity of the 2006 legislature as well as his own common sense.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 11, 2014

The Cabin

The medications carried me through my fits of despondency and lifted me from the pit of madness, but my doctor had still advised I take time from the pressures of business and family and book time alone as a final precaution against relapse. With my wife’s blessing, I retained a weekend at Chateau Fide–Fidelitate bed and breakfast in Biloxi where I hoped to complete my recovery. From the outside it appeared my life was blessed, and it was. I had an unbelievable wife who loved and supported me, two beautiful teenage daughters who tolerated me, and a business that made more money than I had ever dreamed of making. Nonetheless, my life had unraveled around me. For no apparent reason, I became entombed by long periods of depression that robbed me of my self-worth. If my thirteen year old daughter had not risen in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and found me wiping my tear shredded face with the barrel of a revolver, I most likely would not be here to tell this story.

The drive from Memphis to the Gulf Coast was long and monotonous, so I had hoped to stop for an hour or so in Hattiesburg and visit with an old friend over a cup of coffee. When I called and spoke to him before leaving Memphis, he jumped at the invitation, and offered his couch as a place to crash if I was interested. He reasoned there would be more time to visit if I stayed the night, and besides, he offered, what could be more therapeutic than toasting old times and conquests with a friend. Not being in a great hurry or excited if the truth were known about spending the weekend alone, I accepted his offer.

My friend, Malcolm, and I went to high school together and were roommates in college until he dropped out our sophomore year. He had an aversion to work and an acute indifference to making good decisions, which was a major reason he lived alone after three failed marriages and numerous failed business opportunities. Most who knew him would agree, he had in him a singular element of pride coupled with a touch of sentimentality for daring incursions into the realm of the consummate opportunist. He possessed a smile that could win him residence with the most cautionary and a demeanor that commanded attention from the gullible. To say he was a scoundrel would be putting it mildly, but he had always made me laugh in spite of his many flaws, and I, at that point in my life, I needed laughter in my life in the worst way.

I started my journey much later than I had anticipated, but after over five hours on the road, I finally arrived in Hattiesburg a few minutes before midnight. Pulling into a dimly lit parking lot of a Motel 6, I stopped to stretch my legs and call my friend. My telephone rang before I could get it out of my pocket. Thinking it was Malcolm calling to check on my whereabouts, I answered. Crackling white noise sputtered from the phone speaker quickly replaced by the barely audible sound of heavy breathing. “Hello,” I said. A deep sigh and then silence. “Hello!” I repeated. Silence. “Who is this?” I asked. A voice whispered, “Get out,” and the phone went dead.

Unnerved, I leaned heavily against the car staring at the now black face of the phone. I clicked the phone on and looked for a traceable number, but “unknown” appeared on the screen. Suddenly, the phone rang again. Instinctively my finger reached for the talk button and froze. “Unknown” flashed on the screen. The phone rang several more times before I answered. “Hey!” Malcolm said. “Where are you?” If Malcolm detected how shaken I was as I apologized for the late hour, he didn’t let on. “Look,” he said, “there has been a slight change in plans. My Granny is feeling under the weather, so I need to stay at the cabin with her tonight, but I told her you were in town and she insisted you come also.” I tried to protest, but my friend would have none of it, so with the hour being late and not wanting to be alone at the moment, I agreed.

On occasion while in high school, Malcolm had taken me to his grandmother’s house, but it would have been no small feat for me to find her place after so many years, so I was thankful for the directions he gave. Her house was actually an old five room log cabin built by her first husband in the 1920’s and then modernized by Malcolm’s grandfather with electricity and running water in the 1950’s. A telephone was added around 1970. I recalled the cabin sat on a prickly piece of dismal ground amid a grove of splintering water oaks with twisted limbs that moaned throughout the night with the slightest breeze. The place had always given me the creeps, and I must admit without the confidence that Malcolm and his grandmother would be there with me, I would not have gone near the place.

The cabin was exactly as I remembered, but Malcolm’s grandmother was far older than I remembered. Her skin was chalky gray the same as her hair, and she had acquired a pronounced stoop. Her face drooped in folds without a touch of color giving her complexion an unnatural dead-white appearance, but yet, her eyes glowed with an uncanny fire that I attributed to a defiant spirit. Smelling of smoke with a tinge of sulfur, she hugged and welcomed me at the door where I observed a long thin line of ants moving steadily from the cabin toward me. With cold weather, I would have expected them to flow in from the cold rather than out to the cold, but for whatever reason that was not the case. As the old woman led me into the cabin, she paused briefly to grind her heel into the thin line momentarily disrupting the exodus.

The room was sparsely decorated with a gossip bench with an old rotary telephone to the left of the entrance, a single wicker rocker against the far wall in front of me and to my immediate right sat a worn walnut framed sofa with what appeared to be deep scratches gouged into the wood frame. Three interior doors led from the room. I remembered the door to my left led to the kitchen while the other two doors led to two of the three bedrooms. The bedroom door to my right gave passage to Malcolm’s grandmother’s bedroom while the door I faced led to the back two bedrooms where Malcolm and I would be staying. I asked about Malcolm. She smiled and said unexpected business had called him away, which I thought strange considering the time of night.

She led me into the kitchen where the warmth of a wood burning stove cut the chill of the October night. On the window sill above the sink, a roach clawed at the small crack between the casing and the window frame trying frantically to escape to the outside world, but to no avail. We sat at a small breakfast table near a door that led to the middle bedroom where for some time we engaged in unimportant conversation. Throughout our talk I was struck by her melancholy as if a prescience of death, but her attentiveness to perception was counter to any such premonition as she took my hand and stroked gently. “It is good we are not as we once were,” she said.

Her head began to nod after another fifteen minutes of idle chatter at which time I suggested we continue the conversation with the morning. She agreed, pointed to the middle bedroom as mine and without another word shuffled off to the far end of the cabin to her bedroom. My bedroom was small with a single bed crammed under a window that for some reason was boarded from the outside. Fresh bed linen was stacked neatly at the foot of the bed along with a candle and a box of matches. A standard Victor rat trap with the dried gnawed remains of a rat’s leg compressed under the corroded jaws of the spring lay in the corner to my right.

There were also two other doors in the room. The door directly across from the kitchen led to the corner bedroom where I had assumed Malcolm would be staying the night. Strangely, it was barricaded with an old wrought iron headboard jammed under the knob making the door unusable without some effort. The second door directly across from the bed led to the living room where I had first entered the house, but it too was blocked. A large cedar wardrobe had been shoved against the door making the only access to my bedroom through the kitchen. I could not imagine why the doors and the single window were barricaded, but I suddenly had the feeling I needed to be elsewhere – that I needed to get out. The only thing that separated me from the resurrection of the undesirable madness of the past year was the open kitchen door, but even that slim connection to sanity came under suspicion when I detected a gentle tapping from the bedroom next door. The tap, tap, tap was insistent and in my awakening despair, it did not strike me as the tapping of a human hand seeking admittance, but rather the tapping of an agreed signal that all was in place.

I called out, hoping to hear Malcolm or maybe his grandmother answer from the other side. I received no response other than the scrapping of water oak branches across the tin roof of the cabin. Fighting back my growing anxiety, I determined to go to the old woman’s bedroom and inquire about the tapping when she suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway causing me some degree of fright. The aged crevices in her face danced wickedly in the interaction of the dull incandescent light from the bedroom and the faint red light emitted by the glowing wood burner. I struggled out of respect for my friend to see something earthly in her face, but sadly I could not. “I neglected to tell you,” she said, “for the safety of my guests and the sanctity of my rest, I do not allow anyone moving about outside their bedroom during the night.”

“I was coming to see you about the tapping,” I said.

“Field mice or their cousin the rat,” she said. “Sometimes there is almost a degree of intelligence to the noises they make, but as long as you stay put, they will most likely do their bidding elsewhere. Good night.” The door closed and clicked. I stepped to the door and turned the knob, but to my horror the door was locked. The tap, tap, tap resumed with the same slow steady persistence.

Field mice or rats may have been the logical explanation, but I had never heard of an animal acting so mechanical. Due to my ebb in lucidity, I found myself dignifying the incident with more significance and importance than I in a more rational state would have believed it deserved, but I could not recuse myself from the mystery. I was strangely impressed and drawn to the tap, tap, tap. The reassurance of my host as well as the silence associated with my growing inquiries as to who was there should have been sufficient to prove I was alone, but my curiosity would not entertain such explanations, so the tapping followed by rhythmical spaces of silence needled my resentment to the point of bringing me to the edge of insanity.

“Who is there?” I asked. Tap, tap, tap. “Please stop!” Tap, tap, tap. “No manner of animal could be so diabolically cruel!” I cried. Tap, tap, tap.   I could feel myself slipping deeper into the shadowy recesses of my mind – deeper than man was ever intended to go, but I could not break free. Panic swelled as the walls began to pulse and close in about me. I collapsed on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands as I struggled to fight back my mounting despair.   With deep breaths, I struggled to calm myself. Tap, tap, tap. “Why do you play with my sanity?” I asked. Tap, tap, tap. “Why do you harass me?” I shouted and sprang to my feet. I grabbed the iron headboard to jerk it aside so I could face my tormentor. The tapping stopped, and the doorknob turned.

It was not much of a turn, and in of itself it manifested little alarm. “If human,” I said, “say your name and I will pull the iron from under the knob you so delicately turn, and embrace you as my brother.” There was no name forthcoming, only the return of the heckling tap, tap, tap. “Do you not have a name?” I asked. The tapping stopped, and the doorknob turned once more. “Do you not know I am a sick man in need of calm and rest?” The sudden splatter of rain against the tin roof deadened the resurgence of the tap, tap, tap. The whine of the wind caught along the upturned corners of the rusting tin and whistled a hollow tune that turned into a howl as the breath of night prowled along, under, and around the eaves and corners of the cabin.

The lights flickered with the growing intensity of the rain railing against the tin roof. The tap, tap, tap continued at the bedroom door. The lights sputtered a second time, and the tap, tap, tap was given accompaniment from behind the wardrobe. In unison the tapping played at the two doors shoving me closer to madness. Black! The lights failed. I floundered around the bed feeling for the candle and matches I had seen earlier. The tap, tap, tap kept time at the two doors, the rain chimed against the tin roof, the wind sang its melancholy song through the overhead rafters and gradually I became aware of a continuous susurration, not unlike the limited canon of childhood musical rounds. In the darkness, I dropped to my knees, “Please God get me out!” I prayed. The tapping played on in rounds with one voice ending when another began until the tapping from the bedroom door, the tapping at the living room door behind the wardrobe, and the tapping at the locked kitchen door fit harmoniously together. My mind began to flail in the most insidious directions as it struggled to make sense of things that made no sense. “Please God, get me out,” I begged. The lights flashed on, hissed, and exploded the room back into black.

From this point all that I say may not be entirely clear; madness has a way of playing with the mind. At some point after the lights went out, I must have dragged the bed away from the window for I found myself lying on the floor in front of the window where the bed had once stood. I lay there in the darkness with my eyes wide open, and my hands pressed against my ears trying to filter out the never ending rounds of tap, tap, tap. I longed for relief. I longed to escape the nightmare that was slowly and surely devouring my soul, but my condition was irresoluble. The evil that waited behind the tap, tap, tap of each door had reduced me to shameless fatuity effectively retiring any effort to escape. I found myself laughing hysterically at my circumstances, resigning myself to whatever fate lay in store for me. Maybe seeking a better position in which to die, I rolled onto my side and in doing so felt an object beneath my shoulder – the candle, and when I reached to retrieve it, the box of matches was at hand as well. Gripping the candle between my teeth, I scratched a match across the scratch pad on the box. The room burst into the half-light of the flame, and in that moment I saw the bed shoved tightly against the kitchen door and next to me a box that had been hidden under the edge of the bed.

By candlelight I opened the box, and there lay my salvation. The box contained a single hammer and saw that I knew instantly fate had provided for my escape, but death does not take defiance kindly. With the first blow of the hammer against the boarded window, the outcry of hell let loose around me. The tap, tap, tap erupted into the fists of the devil himself pounding at each door. I slammed the hammer harder against the boarded window sending wood splintering to the floor. The three interior doors began to bulge and split under the weight of Satan’s knuckles. My hammer sent the first board end over end to the ground beneath the window outside. Rain pelted my face. The doorknobs behind me began to rattle and shake violently as I freed the final board from the window. I glanced over my shoulder as the iron headboard sizzled and melted as the wardrobe and bed were pushed inwards by the hordes of hell. As I climbed into the window opening, the three doors exploded into the room.

The old woman rushed me from each door, her lips rolled back exposing black teeth rotting at the gums. I had all but one leg outside the window when the three sisters of Dante descended upon me, grabbing hold of my leg and pulling me back into the cabin. I fought with every fiber of my being, but I could not shake the demons from their hold. Then fate once again intervened on my behalf; in the corner of the room I spotted the rat trap with the gnawed leg, and my resolve to live grew stronger.   I began to struggle with renewed vigor.  I was determined not to lose my soul on that night. I intended to escape, and the witches of Satan were not going to stand in my way. Maintaining hold of the window with one hand, I reached for the saw with the other.

*****

Until now I have never revealed what actually happened that night at the cabin. It was not until much later that I learned that Malcolm’s grandmother died his sophomore year in college, and that Malcolm was killed in a late night car crash on a business trip ten years prior to inviting me to stay the night with him and his grandmother. Other than weekly therapy for insomnia and occasional depression, my life is pretty much back to normal. My daughters still don’t know how to take me, but my wife and I are closer than ever. This past year, I even took up running 5K’s with her. I do pretty well for a man with one leg.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 5, 2014