Category Archives: First Chapter Reveals

First Chapter Reveal: Night in Jerusalem by Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Night in Jerusalem

Title: NIGHT IN JERUSALEM
Author: Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy
Publisher: PKZ Inc.
Pages: 246
Genre: Historical Romance

A bewitching love story that is also an extraordinary portrait of Jerusalem, its faith, spirituality, identity, and kaleidoscope of clashing beliefs, Night in Jerusalem is a novel of mystery, beauty, historical insight, and sexual passion.

David Bennett is invited to Jerusalem in 1967 by his cousin who, to the alarm of his aristocratic British family, has embraced Judaism. He introduces David to his mentor, Reb Eli, a revered sage in the orthodox community. Despite his resistance to religious teaching, David becomes enthralled by the rabbi’s wisdom and compassionate presence. When David discloses a sexual problem, Reb Eli unwittingly sets off a chain of events that transforms his life and the life of the mysterious prostitute, Tamar, who, in a reprise of an ancient biblical story, leads both men to an astonishing realization. As passions rise, the Six Day War erupts, reshaping the lives of everyone caught up in it.

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First Chapter:

Hail pounded the windshield of the sherut as it made its way through the night to Jerusalem. The driver pulled to the side of the road, startled. He peered at the windshield. It was fractured, but to his astonishment, still intact.“In twenty years I never see such storm,” he said in his best English.

He lit a cigarette and offered the pack to his passengers. David refused; the three Israelis accepted. Sitting up front, an elderly woman took out oranges, which she peeled, divided, and shared, using her dress to wipe the juice off her hands. The taxi filled with the pungent smell of oranges mixed with cigarette smoke. David cracked open a window.

The storm reminded him of the monsoon in India. Like many of his generation, he had gone there searching for revelation. He had hoped it would let him shake off the feeling of isolation that plagued him wherever he went. His upbringing had given him every comfort that money could buy, except the comfort of belonging in his own skin. At times the loneliness hid long enough to fool him into thinking it was gone, but then, like a familiar ghost, it would find its way back and fill him with despair. After a year of traveling, he had returned to England, only to discover that nothing had changed.

Now, stuck in a taxi on a desolate hilltop outside Jerusalem, enveloped by smoke while waiting out the storm, he regretted leaving Hampshire’s gentle slopes, which were always so green and welcoming, where sometimes after a rain, like a gift from heaven, the sun would come out followed by a sudden rainbow.

He was trying to ignore his reservations about coming to Israel. He wished he had not allowed his cousin to persuade him to come “just for a visit.” Although Jonathan, at twenty-eight, was only a year older, David viewed him as a more mature, elder brother, as well as his best friend. They had grown up together in the south of England in an aristocratic family, enjoying the privileges of great wealth, but subject to the remoteness from society that it can sometimes bring. When Jonathan had left for Israel, David’s loneliness had become unbearable.

After an hour, the storm stopped. The driver told everyone they would need another car to take them to Jerusalem, as he could not see out of his cracked windshield, and that their only option, given the hour, was to hitchhike. The passengers stood at the side of the road for what seemed like an eternity. David was certain he would be there until morning, when an army truck loomed out of the night and juddered to a stop. The driver, a young soldier, helped them aboard, before continuing cautiously down the steep, winding road to Jerusalem.

David was the last passenger to be dropped off. He thanked the soldier for stopping and delivering them safely, surprised by the informality of it all. Just after midnight, standing before a two-story stone building in Abu Tor, with only the moon shimmering through the clouds for illumination, he could just about make out the number of the house. The flat Jonathan had arranged for him was upstairs. He could not find the light and, after blindly climbing the staircase, he felt his way to the top-floor door and fumbled under the mat for the key.

Inside the flat, a lamp had been left on for him, with a note attached to a bottle of wine on a small, wooden table.

Welcome to Jerusalem. See you in the morning, eight o’clock at Cafe Cassis. It’s down the hill to Hebron Road, then right to Rehov (Street) King David, and right again on Rehov Ben-Yehudah. The cafe will be on your right, just a bit further up at the corner. It’s less than a fifteen-minute walk, Jonathan.

P.S. If you want a bath, turn on the red switch outside the loo an hour before. Hope you remembered to bring toilet paper.

The shutters on the windows and doors were closed. The room had a vaulted ceiling and contained a dark, birch armoire that matched the headboard on the double bed. A tufted, deep green armchair was the only other piece of furniture. The room felt as ancient as the city.

Chilled from the storm, David lit the gas heater, then clicked on the red switch for hot water. The bathroom had a commode with a chain flush and a small sink with an even smaller mirror above it. He felt the rough, brown toilet paper sitting on top of the commode and understood why Jonathan had told him to bring a suitcase full. He was grateful there was a deep bathtub with a hand shower.

Restless while waiting for the water to heat, he changed into warmer clothes and decided to take a first look at the city he would live in for the next month.

Outside, the narrow, winding roads of Abu Tor had been soaked by the storm. The stone houses were dark and there were no streetlights. The place seemed uninhabited, with only feral cats out searching for food. Wandering the neighborhood deepened his sense of isolation. He knew nothing of Israel, did not speak the language and, besides Jonathan, knew no one in the country. How could a month here relieve his despair?

Had Jonathan been there to meet him at the flat, he would have felt better, but Jonathan lived near the University of Jerusalem, where he was studying Judaism. Tonight he had gone to a seminar in Haifa and would not be returning until the morning.

David climbed up a steep road, unable to see anything but the stone wall beside him when, suddenly, at the top of the hill, Jerusalem’s Old City revealed itself. The lights peering from stone houses built neatly into its hills shimmered with golden hues against the night. It was, as Jonathan had promised, mysterious and beautiful.

Soaking in a hot bath gave him a restful night until he was awakened at six by a loudspeaker calling the Muslims to prayer, “Allah, Akbar…” Sleepily, he opened the shutters and doors which led onto the roof and there, again, was a panoramic view of Jerusalem. He felt the warmth of the sun as it rose from behind Mount Zion, with no sign of last night’s storm. The clear, blue sky amplified the city’s magnificence. He could see a crescent of cypress trees and, below it, the walled Old City with its minarets and church spires. He looked out at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque glittering in the sun. To the far left stood the King David Hotel. He felt a surprising surge of excitement.

He had an hour before meeting Jonathan at Café Cassis and, eager to get a feeling for the city, decided to take a leisurely stroll to the café. By seven o’clock, most of the businesses were open. He passed the King David Hotel and a small cafe where the smell of coffee and freshly-baked pita bread filled the street, already bustling with people, rickety buses, Volkswagens and Mini Minors.

Arriving at the café, he immediately spotted a bearded Jonathan sitting reading the Jerusalem Post. Jonathan jumped up and hugged him.

“Great to see you! I’ve been so looking forward to you being here. I can’t believe you’ve finally shown up. How’s the flat?”

“Fine, the views are spectacular.”

“Well it’s yours for two years, if you like. The chap who owns it is on sabbatical in Argentina. He’d be delighted to get the rent.”

“I’ve committed for a month,” David reminded him, so as to not get Jonathan’s hopes up. “You look very Jewie with that beard. Do you have to have one to study Judaism?”

“Very funny.”

“How are the studies going?”

“Really well, actually. How was your trip to India?”

“A bit challenging. After one of their downpours, my car got stuck in the mud and started sinking. I thought I was going to be swallowed up. I took it as my cue to leave.” David looked at the thick, muddy coffee Jonathan was drinking, “I hope they’ve got more than that to drink.”

“How about a cup of tea?”

“Perfect. Do they serve eggs with sausages?”

“Yes, more or less.”

Jonathan introduced David to Uri, the owner of the café, then, in Hebrew, ordered their breakfast.

“It’s good to see you, Jonathan. I’ve missed you,” David confessed.

“By the way, I’ve arranged for you to meet with the rebbe tomorrow.”

“I know how you feel about him, but frankly, I’m not much interested in meeting him,” David said, as gently as he could, not wanting Jonathan to feel his good intentions were unappreciated.

“David, I’m just asking you to be open-minded. The rebbe has helped so many people. They come from all over the world just to meet him. Why not give him a try? You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Why are you so keen for me to see him? What’s so special about him?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to find out for yourself, but I promise, once you meet him, you will be hungry for more.”

“More of what?”

“You’ll see. He’s helped me enormously,” Jonathan said emphatically.

David sat quietly, absorbing what Jonathan was saying. He felt envious of his enthusiasm and that he had found his place in the world.

“Jonathan, I don’t know if this is …”

Before he could finish, Jonathan interrupted, “Give it a try. There’s no harm in looking into your own heritage.”

“It’s not my heritage. I know absolutely nothing about it. You know how it is at home. All we do is make an appearance at the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, when of course, it’s a delight to spend quality time with the other closet Jews.”

“Sarcasm has always been such a part of your charm, David.”

“Have you forgotten that my mother thought you ‘troubled’ when you told us you were coming here? And how we were instructed ‘the situation’ was ‘best kept to ourselves.’ Heaven forbid it would jeopardize her luncheon invitations from the queen.”

Although it was all true, Jonathan reasoned, “David it’s what we were born into. Why not give it a chance. Nobody is asking you to commit to anything.”

“Good, because I have no intention of becoming more of a Jew, or anything else for that matter. This country is like any other country, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not here on any kind of pilgrimage.”

“I’m so glad you haven’t changed.”

Uri brought David his tea along with their breakfast of scrambled eggs, a few thin slices of salami and a crusty roll. Jonathan caught David eyeing the salami with suspicion. “Think of it as fine-pressed sausage.”

Reb Eliezer Ben-Yaacov, known to everyone as “Reb Eli,” sat quietly in the study hall of his synagogue in Mea Shearim while his Torah students debated the meaning of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The previous night’s storm had kept him awake, leaving him weary for today’s studies. Whenever the rebbe couldn’t sleep, he sat and read his favorite verses from the great Tzaddikim, those awakened souls who had come to such a tenderness towards the world that they saw only its beauty. But last night, despite his reading, he had been unable to stop worrying about his youngest daughter.

It had been ten years since his wife had died. Still, he felt God had been generous with him. He was blessed with five children. He had all that he needed, and, three years previously, to his surprise, he had been named Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Based on his growing reputation as a sage, people came from all over the world to seek his guidance. But he could not resolve his concerns about his own daughter. He lived among the Hasidim, and whenever he walked by, the women would become suddenly silent. He knew what they were saying about Sarah. “Blessed with beauty, cursed with misfortune, a woman born luckless, without mazel.”

Sarah was just twelve years old when her mother died. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, had taken on the burden of being her mother. She already had three children of her own. She did her best to look after Sarah as well.

Reb Eli was delighted when Sarah married Yossi, a kind, scholarly young man from a pious family. But after three years of marriage, she was still childless when her devoted husband was stricken with a rare form of cancer and died. All in Mea Shearim gossiped, “Poor, beautiful Sarah had so many bees, but no honey.” The sadness in his daughter’s eyes weighed heavily on him.

Reb Eli was brought back from his troubled thoughts by Chaim, a slight young man from a family of fourteen children whose curiosity and devoted scholarship made him one of the rebbe’s favorite students. “Chanukah honors those times in our lives when sun and moon, the direct light of God and the reflected light of our tradition are at their nadir. It is a time of trouble, fear and sadness. The work of Chanukah is to dispel darkness with the kindling of lights. That is what we must contemplate throughout these eight days,” Chaim said, answering the question the rebbe had forgotten he had asked.

The rebbe nodded his head in approval, grateful to Chaim for reminding him of the inner work to be done.

Ever since Yossi’s passing, Sarah’s nights had been restless. She woke often, feeling tired and dull. The storm the night before had awakened her with the sound of fierce rain and hail beating against the window. Watching the rain, she had remembered how her mother always said whoever is born or married in the rain will be blessed with mazel.

The storm had flooded the classroom at the girl’s cheder where she taught biblical studies. It had damaged the dilapidated roof and left the floor waterlogged. Her class was moved to her sister Esther’s room, where the two classes were combined. The students sat paired together at each desk, giggling. Nevertheless, Sarah was grateful when Esther offered to take over both of their classes so she could take the remainder of the day off, as she was feeling intense cramps from the onset of her period.

It was five months since her husband had died. A childless widow at twenty-two, she felt her monthly bleeding was now wasted on a barren woman. She returned to the courtyard where she lived just across from her father’s house. She climbed the stairs to the small flat she had shared with Yossi. After closing the drapes of her bedroom window, she removed her marriage wig, allowing her lustrous, auburn hair to spill over her shoulders. Undressing from the drab mourning clothes she had worn since Yossi’s death, she slid into her warm bed, wearing only her soft, white slip.

Sarah looked at the clock. She had a few hours before she was to bring her father his four o’clock tea. Catching an afternoon nap felt tender and peaceful. She fell deeply asleep, dreaming she was floating out to sea.

Late in the afternoon, Jonathan escorted David into Mea Shearim, where bearded men strolled the streets in long black coats and fur hats, with curled locks of hair hanging over their ears. The women were dressed in dark skirts and coats that covered them from the neck down to their clumsy Oxford shoes. Their hair was hidden by tight scarves or identical wigs. Walking separately, segregated from the men, they appeared weary, and old beyond their years.

The Hasidim stared suspiciously at David. His clean-shaven face, short brown jacket, jeans, and loafers screamed “outsider.” By their glares, it was obvious they didn’t like strangers coming into their neighborhood. Most of them belonged to the ultra-orthodox sect known as the Satmars.

David was repelled by the sight of “these people,” and told Jonathan he felt he was visiting a strange planet of clones. He wanted to get out of there right away.

Jonathan was disturbed by his reaction. “David, you know nothing about the Hasidim. Judging them by their appearance? That’s so shallow.” Trying to put him at ease before meeting the rebbe, Jonathan explained that Reb Eli, although orthodox, did not belong to any sect.

Alone in his study, Reb Eli thought about the promise he had made to his friend, Phillip Bennett. He had known the Bennetts since childhood when his family had sent him to England from his home in Germany.

In November 1938, five days after Kristalnacht, the renowned Reb Yaacov Wolfner had decided to send his youngest child, Eliezer, who was almost fifteen, to England through the Kindertransport, an organization that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany and found them foster homes in England.

“How strange,” he thought, “that we forget so easily what we did yesterday, but remember so vividly what the heart felt long ago.” It was now nearly thirty years since Reb Eli’s last Shabbat dinner with his parents and siblings. He remembered his father had invited two young rabbinical students as guests. He could still hear the songs and chants. He could still taste the sweet challah bread his mother had baked. He remembered how the Shabbat candles had magically turned their home into a haven of peace and beauty; how he had cherished the days when he was able to study alongside his father.

At Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station, Reb Yaakov held his son’s arm tightly, not saying a word. All around, families were tearing themselves apart, pushing their children into railway carriages under the hostile eyes of the SS, fearing this would be their last time together. Children cried out for their parents even as the train carrying them to England pulled away from the platform.

Several days earlier, his father had explained why he had to leave Germany. He was being sent to England where he would be safe. His father had assured him he would be well cared for, as his friend, the Chief Rabbi of the Emergency Council in England, would place him in a good home. He promised to send for him as soon as the Nazi regime was over and told him always to remember where he came from, and to live by the teachings of the Torah.

When young Eliezer arrived in Harwich he was driven to Hampshire, where the Bennetts took him into their home. He remembered the drive up the long road to their estate, how he stood there staring in awe at the majesty of it all. It was grander than anything he had ever seen. When the Bennett family came out to greet him, he was too intimidated to speak. It was only when their son, Phillip, reached out his hand, that he was able to say hello.

The Bennetts were generous and compassionate secular Jews, careful to keep their philanthropy anonymous, especially all they did for their fellow Jews.

Phillip Bennett and Eliezer were close in age and befriended each other immediately, despite their different enthusiasms. For Eliezer, it was the study of Torah; for Phillip, it was rugby. Their common interest was chess, a game at which Eliezer excelled. When war broke out, they would hike out into the fields in search of German paratroopers, missions which Philip insisted be kept secret from his parents.

Each time they went out, Eliezer would pray they would not run into any Nazis. Other than his fear of Nazis, Eliezer learned to enjoy their outdoor adventures. He loved Hampshire’s open, green fields and narrow, gushing streams, often writing to his parents about the English countryside. He looked forward to when they would come for him, so he could show them how beautiful it was. He also let them know the Bennetts had arranged for him to continue his religious studies. Phillip and “Eli,’” as he soon became known, became firm friends.

When the war ended, Eli learned of the fate of his family. They had been taken to Auschwitz and murdered. At twenty years old, he was left orphaned and bereft. He yearned for his family and the life he had known. Germany was no longer a place he could call home. As welcomed as the Bennetts made him feel, and as close as he was to Phillip, Eli desperately needed to return to his own ground. Like so many displaced Jews, he found himself drawn to a new beginning in the Promised Land. In 1946, with the Bennetts support, Eli left for Jerusalem, where he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi.

During the early, struggling years of the new state of Israel, and through its wars, Phillip had sent generous support, both to Reb Eli, who had started a family, and to the nation. Now, it was Reb Eli’s turn to be generous.

He had been taken by surprise when Phillip, who professed to be an atheist, told him of his nephew’s desire to learn about Judaism. Jonathan was the son of Eleanor, Phillip’s younger sister, whom he knew well from his time in England. She had married an aristocratic Jew, secular in his ways, yet committed to supporting Israel as insurance against an anti-Semitic world.

Reb Eli had become very fond of Jonathan, though he remained something of an enigma to him. He could not understand how a young man, coming from such wealth, without religious upbringing, could suddenly decide to come to Jerusalem to study Judaism. Was it a rebellion against his family, or was he simply searching for a spiritual path? Or perhaps it had to do with the loss of his father at a young age? Eleanor had told him how much the boy had suffered. For the past three years, Reb Eli had observed Jonathan closely. He appreciated his devotion to his studies, yet remained curious about his motives.

Then, two weeks earlier, Phillip had called asking for help for his only son, David. “My son is lost. He doesn’t know where he belongs. He can’t seem to find himself. Eli, see what you can do. Jonathan has promised to help as well.”

As much as he wanted to help Phillip, he doubted there was much he could do. So many families, especially from America, begged for his help with lost souls. Young people who had no roots were like trees that fall in the first wind. How could he give them the spiritual foundation their families had failed to provide? Most of the time, he could do no more than offer them blessings and prayers. But this was Phillip’s son. He owed Phillip so much. This would have to be different. Reb Eli prayed that the hand of God would guide him.

Promptly, at four o’clock, Sarah brought him his tea, with two biscuits. The rebbe’s heart ached at his daughter’s appearance. Her once sparkling eyes were now dull and empty. She moved like a woman who had been thwarted by life. Lost for words of comfort, the rebbe gently asked his daughter how she was feeling. “I’m fine, Abba,” she said quietly, then left to join her sisters in the kitchen to help prepare the evening meal.

You’re on your own now,” Jonathan said when they reached the courtyard of the rebbe’s house.

“I haven’t a clue what to say or what I’m even doing here,” David muttered nervously. “Aren’t you at least going to introduce us?”

“No need. Just be brave and honest. See you later.”

Other than what Jonathan had told him, and his father’s story of how he had lived with the family during the war, David knew little about the rebbe, except that he was now the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and had remained a close friend of his father.

He felt awkward and out of place knocking at the rebbe’s door. A young Hasidic man greeted him and ushered him into Reb Eli’s study.

The rebbe was sitting by a large table, facing the door. “Please,” he motioned for David to sit across from him in the worn, upholstered chair. Reb Eli’s blue eyes were gentle and inquisitive. His head of prematurely white hair and his full salt-and-pepper beard added to David’s impression that he was meeting an Old Testament prophet. He sat in the chair and waited for the rebbe to speak, anticipating many questions. Instead, Reb Eli sat silently, periodically closing his eyes in meditation. Not knowing what to say or do, David remained quiet. After a while, a wave of peace washed over him. He became aware of the flow of his breath and the beat of his heart. He heard himself say, “I have so many questions.”

“Questions are good, they are all we have, because there are no answers,” the rebbe countered in a tone tender enough for a small child.

In the kitchen, Sarah and her sisters had been washing and cutting fresh-bought vegetables, when Esther asked if one of them would mind running to the macholet for some garlic. Miriam suggested Sarah should go because she had “had a long rest in the afternoon.”

Sarah left for the corner market. Outside the house, in the courtyard, she was looking down when she spotted a pair of brown loafers walking past her. She looked up, curious to see who belonged to these foreign shoes. David, engrossed in his thoughts, walked by without noticing her. Sarah glanced into his face and saw the refined shape of his head, how his hand gently brushed away the dark-brown wisps of hair that had fallen on his forehead. She felt a sudden queasiness in her stomach at noticing so much about a stranger. Trying to dismiss the incident, she rushed to the market, then back to the kitchen where she began mincing the unpeeled garlic cloves until Miriam cried, “Sarah, you forgot to peel the garlic!”

The setting sun covered the city in warm, mellow hues of amber and purple. David was glad he had decided to walk back to Abu Tor. The meeting with the rebbe had left him longing for things he could not name. He was baffled by the rebbe’s silence. Why had he not spoken? Was it because Reb Eli sensed he didn’t want to be there, or was it just that the rebbe had nothing to say? Perhaps this renowned rebbe was simply bored with one more seeker?

What puzzled David most was why he wanted to see him again. What for? More silence? The rebbe had already told him there were no answers, so what was the point of seeing him again? It would be best to tell Jonathan the meeting had served neither of them well.

At the bottom of the hill at Abu Tor, near the water mill, lay the border between Jordan and Israel, marked by a military post manned by Israeli soldiers. On the other side of the road, Jordanians stood watch at their post. Each monitored the other, day in, day out. Watching the sunset hover over the Old City, David couldn’t help but think how bored the soldiers must be, having to stand watch all day, with only each other for company. He saw one of the Jordanians signal for a cigarette. An Israeli soldier put one into a pack and threw it across the road, to a perfect catch. For the moment, their differences dissolved. They became simply two men watching a magnificent sunset, sharing a smoke.

David and Jonathan walked through the ancient tree-lined streets of Baka, a neighborhood of traditional stone houses where Jonathan’s girlfriend, Nilli, lived. The houses had been built with Jerusalem stone, a pale limestone with mixed shades of pink, sand and gold that were glowing in the sunset. David admired the buildings and asked where the stones came from.

“They come from local quarries. All houses have to be built with them, by law, to preserve Jerusalem’s antiquity. It’s why the city is known as Jerusalem of Gold,” Jonathan said.

He pried as gently as he could to find out how David’s meeting with the rebbe had gone. “He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he?”

“He said nothing. What’s so amazing about that?”

“He doesn’t have to say anything. His presence tells you everything you need to know,” Jonathan said, trying not to sound preachy.

“Is that it? I just get to sit there in his ‘presence’?”

Jonathan laughed. “Didn’t you have enough of good conversation in England? I should think by now you would have learned the limitations of language.”

“I don’t think I will be seeing him again.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s worth giving it some time,” Jonathan said in his older brother tone.

Jonathan was eager for David to meet Nilli and their friends. Feeling out of sorts, David was hesitant about meeting everyone and tried to excuse himself by insisting he was “too grubby” in his jeans and sweater and wasn’t properly dressed.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. Nobody here bothers about fashion. It’s considered gauche,” Jonathan boasted, not letting David off the hook.

Arriving at a small stone house with a painted blue door, David was greeted by Nilli. She had a lovely, open face and smile, with bright blue eyes. She embraced David with a warm hug, “Jonathan has told me so much about you.”

“I hope some of it was good,” David smiled.

Her warmth put him immediately at ease. The door opened into the living room, where three people sat on bright oriental pillows around a large brass coffee table.

Jonathan introduced Nilli’s roommate, Anat, and Nilli’s brother, Gideon, and his girlfriend, Ronit. Anat and Gideon were dressed in military khaki. They each had an Uzi lying beside them. Gideon shared his sister’s eyes and smile. Ronit seemed shy and awkward, traits David later discovered were due to her lack of English. Anat was a sensual beauty, with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She spoke English with a perfect British accent. David thought she looked amazing in her army fatigues. Her skirt came just above her knees revealing her shapely legs. The uniform accentuated her slim, curved body. Anat let David know immediately she considered herself smart, tough, and well-informed. When he asked if she had studied in England, she told him “I’ve never left Israel. I make it my business to learn a language in its proper accent.”

“Anat makes it her business to know about everything that interests her,” Nilli boasted about her friend.

Jonathan warned him, “Don’t be surprised if she knows more about England than we do. Anat is a phenomenon. She reads everything in sight, in four languages, and she’s got a photographic memory so she retains all of it. I wouldn’t bother challenging her on any subject. It will just make you miserable.”

“I shall play it safe then, and keep quiet,” David said with good humor.

Anat proceeded to prove to him that everything Nilli and Jonathan had said about her was true. She was not only beautiful, but brilliant and provocative.

The evening continued into the early morning. They had wine with Mediterranean salads, pita bread, olives, cheese, fruit, and nuts. Afterwards, Anat rolled some hashish into a cigarette, offering it to everyone. David, feeling at home with the group, was the only one who accepted. Jonathan had to get up early and left soon after. The rest of them continued talking until three in the morning. They all wanted to know about David’s travels and what had brought him to Jerusalem. The hashish relaxed him. He opened up about his adventures, and how Jonathan had persuaded him to come to Jerusalem to meet Reb Eli. Feeling that he had been talking too much about himself, he shifted the conversation.

He learned that Gideon was a high-ranking pilot in the Air Force. Anat was an army lieutenant, an atheist and an archeologist, studying to get her doctorate at the Hebrew University. Ronit was an army code decipherer and Nilli was a medical resident serving in Hadassah Hospital’s emergency ward. They were all curious about his meeting with Reb Eli, although none of them were religious. They knew that the rebbe was well-respected and admired for his plain-spokenness about the Torah and the Talmud and was known to be deeply immersed in the teachings of the mystics, which especially interested Gideon.

David didn’t know if it was the wine, the hashish, or just the early morning hour that made him feel a deep kinship with these people. Whatever it was, it felt good. Nilli made him promise he would come by whenever he felt the need for company. “Abu Tor is a short walking distance from Baka. You can stop by anytime.”

Gideon, who listened more than he had spoken during much of the evening, asked David if he would like to see Jerusalem from the air. He offered to pick him up on Saturday to go flying in a twin-engine Cessna that was available to him from the Air Force. David eagerly accepted.

The next morning, the phone rang at eight, waking David from a deep sleep. It was Jonathan asking him to meet at Café Cassis.

“I’m a bit sleepy. Didn’t get to bed until four. Mind if we meet later?” David mumbled.

“I won’t be around later; tied up all day at school. Why don’t you get up and nap later? You’re on holiday, after all. Come on. I’ll have Uri put the kettle on.”

David found Jonathan seated at the same table, reading the Jerusalem Post.

Uri, the owner, brought over a cup of tea, with a glass of milk on the side. “If you want more tea, I bring you.”

“Hungry?” Jonathan asked.

“I think I’ve had enough of the finely pressed sausage, thank you.”

“It’s an acquired taste. You’ll get there,” Jonathan assured him.

“I’m quite happy as I am, thank you,” David said, as he removed the tea bag brewing in his cup. “I wish you had told me to bring along some decent tea as well.”

“I didn’t think there’d be much room left, after the toilet paper. First things first, you know.” Jonathan whispered.

“Enjoyed last night,” David said, adding a little milk to his tea.

“Good. What do you think of Anat?”

“Smashing.”

“Any interest in getting to know her better?” Jonathan inquired matter-of-factly.

“Not particularly.”

“How come?”

“A lady who carries an Uzi is not my idea of a romantic date.”

“Don’t be absurd. Everyone carries an Uzi here. They all serve in the army.”

“I don’t, and neither do you,” David reminded him.

“You’ll get used to it.”

“God, I hope not,” David moaned. “Seriously, I think Nilli and all your friends are great and lots of fun. I’m just not ready for any sort of romance.”

For as long as Jonathan could remember, David was never interested in “romantic entanglements.” In England he’d had many girlfriends, but never a steady one. Jonathan decided to let it ride. He was concerned about David and didn’t want anything to become a source of friction between them. He was grateful he was in Jerusalem and had met with the rebbe. When Jonathan was growing up, his mother had spoken of Reb Eli with great respect and appreciation, telling him how much he had helped her find the strength to deal with the death of his father. Jonathan was also grateful to the rebbe for taking him under his wing. Reb Eli had become a great inspiration to him, and he hoped the rebbe would be able to help David, too, find his way in the world.

“Well, I’m glad you found Nilli and my friends engaging,” Jonathan said, keeping the conversation light and cheerful.

“Gideon has invited me to go flying with him on Saturday.”

“Really, that’s quite impressive. Gideon is not one for wasting time with insignificant others. Frankly, it took him a year to warm up to me. Must be he took a real liking to you. I have to admit, that makes me feel a bit put out.”

“Don’t be. I’m not the one sleeping with his sister,” David reassured him.

“I take your point. Thank you.”

“I like Gideon. I suspect there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.”

“There is.”

When Sarah brought in her father’s afternoon tea, he asked her if she would sit with him for a moment. Pleased to have her father to herself, she sat down on the old, worn chair, the chair she shared with so many others who hungered for his wisdom and guidance. Reb Eli was a man of few words. He never talked much about himself or divulged anything about those who came to see him. Idle talk and gossip were unwelcome. Everyone’s confidences were well kept in his inner world, which belonged to him alone. Even Sarah and her siblings knew little about their father’s past, other than he had spent several years in England during World War II. Like everything else, details about their father or others were never given or discussed.

He was used to counseling all sorts of people. He had given comfort to so many. It pained him that he could not find a way to reach his own daughter. He sat quietly praying for the right words to come to him.

Sensing her father’s concern, Sarah knew the best way to put him at ease was with a direct question. “Why do some people have more difficult lives than others?”

Sarah’s question was filled with loneliness and despair. It tore at the rebbe’s heart. He spoke to her in his gentle manner. “When it rains, you can shout for the sun, but neither the sun nor the rain will hear you. There is either your acceptance or your rejection. The first leads to peace; the second, to suffering. God pursues you with peace, offering each moment for your appreciation. There is no profit in rejection, but with acceptance comes tranquility and hope for the future.”

“How do you find tranquility and hope?” she asked.

“The mysteries are an open secret, Sarah. It is we who must come out of hiding. Some days are bright, others are dark. We should not make a drama of the light, or a tragedy of the dark. Just embrace each as it is, knowing that happiness comes when we live each moment in peace. The whole of life is impermanent; there is no certainty. There’s no salvation to lift us out of it, and no reward for suffering. Thinking otherwise is like pursuing the wind. You are a wise and learned woman, Sarah. You know these things. You must try to live them.”

“It’s not easy, Abba.”

“I know,” Reb Eli said quietly.

At that moment, Sarah longed to be five years old again, sitting in her father’s lap while he gently stroked her hair. Not since she was a child was that permissible. Being observant of the orthodox law, girls over twelve were not permitted to have physical contact with any male, even with their brother or their father. It was forbidden. By twelve, she had lost her mother to cancer, and she had lost her father’s physical affection. This would have to come from female family members and friends. The only man once permitted to touch Sarah was her now dead husband. Sarah wished she could find comfort in her father’s words, but she could not. Neither could she find solace in her sisters’ arms. Her loneliness weighed heavily on her body and her soul. She found comfort only in books. Books were her special friends. She loved the way they opened the outside world to her, leaving her imagination free to dream and experience whatever thoughts and feelings came to visit her. Sarah and her eldest sister, Devorah, kept secret her frequent trips to the library. When Sarah married Yossi, he too became her secret-keeper.

Yossi was not like any of the other young men among the Hasidim. He was more open and willing to give his wife the freedom to seek any knowledge she desired, even if it meant going to the city library alone. Sarah had known Yossi since they were toddlers. As long as Sarah could remember, Yossi and she were good friends. Although she was a girl, Yossi would debate the meanings of the Torah and Mishnah with her. Sarah and Yossi’s marriage had been arranged and both were content and agreeable to the match. Their marriage was like their friendship: tender, respectful and loving. Yossi agreed Sarah would not have to cut her beautiful hair, which is expected of married women. Luckily for Sarah, Devorah worked in the mikveh where Sarah would always arrive last for the Friday cleansing ritual. With her sister as the only witness, she would neatly tie up her hair, then immerse herself twelve times under the water, in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. Thereafter, her spirit and body would be cleansed.

Whenever Sarah left home, she would wear the customary sheitel, neatly tucking every strand of her own hair under the coarse brown wig, styled with bangs, just like the other married women. At night, Yossi loved to brush her long, thick auburn hair. Then, when it was permissible, they would be intimate. All other times, they slept in their separate twin beds.

Now that Yossi was gone, Sarah knew she had not only lost a husband, but her best friend. She knew no one would be as kind, gentle and accepting of her as Yossi had been. She tried to acquiesce to God’s will that she be left childless and alone. She understood the only suitor who would be willing to marry her now would be one of the elderly men who had been widowed, such as Itzhak, the loner across the courtyard, whom she had caught spying on her from his window. Sarah preferred her aloneness to being with someone old enough to be her father.

The rebbe knew his words had failed to soothe his daughter’s wounded spirit. He was at a loss. How could he bring comfort to her? All that was left for him was to accept his helplessness about it. He closed his eyes and did what he knew best. He prayed.

His thoughts shifted to David, who would be arriving shortly. He found David to be earnest and sincere. He wished he had come at a better time, when he wasn’t so preoccupied with his own concerns. Nevertheless, he would pray and ask Hashem to show him a way to reach this lost young man.

For his part, David had made up his mind to challenge the rebbe: no more sitting in silence. If the rebbe had no answers for him, he would not waste his time. He approached Mea Shearim determined to be a force to be reckoned with. He entered the rebbe’s study and sat down on the chair with a thud.

“Reb Eli, I’ve been thinking…”

“So have I,” interrupted the rebbe. “How would you like to join me every Thursday evening at eight? You will ask a question each week, then we will contemplate your question, which you will take into consideration until the following week, when you will come in with another question. Do you agree to do this for at least eight weeks?”

As if speaking with someone else’s voice, David heard himself mutter, “Yes.”

“Good, now take a moment and ask your first question.”

David felt himself go blank. “I can’t think of one just now.”

“Then I have one for you,” replied the rebbe. “Why is it a young man like yourself is not married or betrothed?”

Feeling as if he had been knocked off his feet, David tried to catch his balance, and mumbled, “I don’t know.”

“Do you enjoy being with a woman?”

“Yes, of course…,” David answered, nervously, wondering how the rebbe knew he had a problem. His shameful secret must be written all over his face, he thought. Every time David got intimate with a woman, he would ejaculate prematurely. Each relationship added to his humiliation and left him feeling more inept than before. David would repeatedly tell himself he would do better next time. Next time always proved to be the same. The women were just as embarrassed by his predicament as he was. They would ignore it as though nothing had happened, as if that would ease his shame. To avoid any further distress, he always found an amicable excuse for breaking off the relationship. Confronted by the rebbe, David sat quietly for some time. Reb Eli waited patiently, giving him the time he needed to gather the courage to speak. “I have trouble holding myself,” he confessed, in a whisper.

The rebbe was as astounded about his inquiry as was David. He had no idea why he had asked that particular question, and was just as amazed when he heard the answer come out of David’s mouth. Feeling this was divine intervention, he offered David the only assistance he could muster. “Can you be here Sunday evening at eight?”

From her bedroom window, Sarah spotted David walking across the courtyard, wearing the same brown loafers and jacket. Once again, she felt an odd twinge in her stomach. What was this modern man, dressed in European clothes, doing in Mea Shearim? Perhaps he was visiting a distant relative? There were several Hasidim who were visited by outsiders, but not often. This was the second time in two weeks she had seen him. She became preoccupied with what he was doing in Mea Shearim, and wondered why he should have such a peculiar effect on her. Then she caught herself and dismissed her thoughts as idle nonsense, caused by her unsettled state. She felt like a stranger to herself and a burden to her family. Nothing made sense to her anymore.

Every Friday night, all twenty-five members of the rebbe’s family gathered for Shabbat. They would sit in their customary places at the Shabbat tables, Sarah with her three sisters, her two sisters-in-law, and their children at one table; Reb Eli at the head of the men’s table with his two sons and sons-in-law and his three eldest grandsons. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, would light the Shabbat candles as the women covered their eyes and chanted the prayer welcoming the shechinah, the peace of the Shabbat bride, to their home and heart. At the conclusion of each Shabbat, the rebbe’s grandchildren would line up before him and he would place his hands over each of their heads for a special blessing.

Sarah felt bereaved. She would never bring forth a child for her father’s blessing. She was aware how her sisters, who knew of her anguish, avoided looking into her eyes.

At the end of the meal, Reb Eli gave Sarah a nod, her cue to start singing. Nothing pleased him more than the sound of Sarah’s voice. It created a peace that filled the room and touched his soul. Afterwards, the children sang traditional Sabbath songs, with all of the family joining in.

As the women cleared the table, Sarah heard Reb Eli ask her brother, Yaacov, to arrange for Shimon to come see him. She knew summoning Shimon meant a visit to the “House.” She wondered which of the young men was having personal issues and needed help.

After Shabbat, she went back to her flat. Since Yossi’s death, she had stopped going to the weekly mikveh. She preferred, instead, to light her own Shabbat candles, carefully placing them on the windowsill from where she could watch them flicker while she enjoyed her meditation. But tonight, her thoughts flowed to the first time she had followed her brother, Isaac, to the House. She remembered how her mother had wept copiously at the dining room table, the night Isaac was caught caressing his best friend, Moshe, in the shower of the men’s mikveh. Her mother, who was weakened by illness, had pleaded with her father to “have Shimon take Isaac to the House.” When her father refused, she begged until he became weary with guilt. Seeing the fragility of his wife, he could not deny her and, despite his reservations, arranged for Isaac to be taken there. Sarah had just turned twelve and wondered why it was so wrong for her brother to have shown affection for Moshe. She was also curious about the House and why Isaac had to go there.

The previous week there had been so much whispering between her parents that it piqued her curiosity so much that she decided to follow her brother and Shimon, secretly, keeping her distance. She watched them enter a house in the heart of Machane Yehuda’s open souk on Agripas Street, the main market in Jerusalem, which was a short distance from Mea Shearim, and deserted at night.

Her first glimpse of Madame Aziza was from a bench across the street where she sat looking up at the balcony, through panes of glass doors and windows that were draped with white laced curtains. She could see the silhouette of a woman who was elaborately dressed. It would be years before she learned who she was.

The lights from the House sparkled against the darkness of the night. When scantily dressed young women with flowing, bright scarves appeared, Sarah became mesmerized and watched spellbound as they danced sensually before Isaac. She watched her brother go off with one of the girls, but couldn’t see where they had gone, or what they were doing. She imagined the girl would dance for Isaac and, if he were nice to her, she would let him kiss her so he wouldn’t have to caress Moshe anymore and make her mother cry.

After that night, Sarah imagined she, too, could dance with beautiful scarves in the same graceful way that would please men. Thereafter, whenever she heard about one of the young men having a personal problem who needed a visit to the House, Sarah would wait until her sisters were asleep, then dress and escape into the night and walk the narrow streets to Madame Aziza’s house to watch from the bench and marvel at the exotic dancing of the young women.

It was during that time that Sarah’s life changed forever. Her mother had been struggling with her illness for years. Watching her slip into the hands of death became unbearable. Toward the end, she and her brothers and sisters would take turns looking after her. Each afternoon, from two until four, her father would be with her. At night, when everyone was asleep, Sarah took to escaping to the privacy of her father’s study to lock out the world and pretend to be one of Madame Aziza’s dancing enchantresses. Alone, in the solitude of her imagination, she, too, became a beautiful dancer. She imagined being married, dancing to the delight of her husband, and giving him many sons, which would please Hashem who, perhaps, would spare her mother from dying. Sarah’s secret world was not to be shared with anyone.

God did not spare her mother. And at fourteen she discovered the truth about what was going on in the House. Her sister, Esther, explained that her husband, Yitzhak, was having difficulty performing his husbandly duties, so it was arranged for him to be taken to Madame Aziza’s house. Esther was not happy with the arrangement, but Yitzhak’s problem was keeping her from conceiving. She told Sarah that men went to Madame Aziza’s house where they paid women to help them overcome such problems. Sarah was shocked and embarrassed by how stupid she had been not to realize that Madame Aziza’s was a house of prostitution. She feared what her sisters would think if they knew she had been sneaking out after dark to watch and enjoy harlots dancing, imagining herself to be one of them.

Lying in bed, Sarah wondered if Isaac, with his four sons and two daughters, and her sister Esther, with her three sons and two daughters, were grateful to Madame Aziza. It was only she who was left devoid of children and without a husband. Perhaps this was beshert for having secretly stolen away to live vicariously as one of Madame Aziza’s seductresses.

Flying high above Jerusalem at sunrise, David looked out of the window of the Cessna, spellbound by the glistening light that bathed the city. “It’s magnificent,” he said.

Gideon smiled proudly, as though Jerusalem belonged to him personally. “For thousands of years, so many have fought over her.”

“Her?” asked David.

“Do you know of another city that has given birth to three such religions?”

“No, thank heaven. I imagine it would just cause more conflict and wars.”

“Perhaps, but none would be as Jerusalem.”

Gideon circled lower, giving David a closer view of the curving domes, soaring minarets, and the Western Wall of the Temple.

“There’s the Old City.”

“Do you think there’s any chance of peace?”

“That’s a question for our neighbors.”

“Surely they believe in peace?”

“They’re too afraid democracy and education will corrupt them, especially their women. Liberated women are their worst nightmare. Our own orthodox have the same problem.”

Gideon pointed into the distance, “Over there is Hebron. It’s where our patriarchs are buried.”

David asked, “Do you really think that’s what it’s about for the Arabs? Not wanting their women to be liberated?”

“Mostly. With the Christians it’s different. With them, we are a constant reminder that even though their God was born and died a Jew, we don’t go along with their story.” Gideon was quiet for a moment. “I believe that’s why they found it easy to kill six million of us.”

“You can’t blame the Christians for what the Nazis did.”

“And who were the Nazis before Hitler came along?”

“What about the Christians who helped save Jews?”

“Too bad the Pope wasn’t one of them.”

“The world has changed. You have your own country now.”

“Exactly, and we intend to keep it. Do you really believe being British excludes you from being a Jew?”

“Frankly, I’ve never given it much thought.”

“Being Jewish is not something the world will allow you to opt out of.”

David felt he had been insensitive and wanted to explain himself. “I’ve never had any desire to be part of a tribe. I think each of us has to find his own way in the world. I just wish I could find mine.”

David was pushed back in his seat as Gideon pointed the plane skywards.

“I understand,” said Gideon as he turned the Cessna upside down into a roll.

David felt his stomach rise to his chest. Queasy, he began gagging.

“Being in the world without roots, and not belonging somewhere, is like flying through life upside down,” Gideon said evenly, turning the Cessna back over.

“I see what you mean,” David said, grateful to have his stomach and equilibrium back in place.

“Feeling better?”

“Sort of.”

Tsipi’s was a dive in a back alley in the heart of town. Most of the people there on this Saturday night were young Israelis, drinking with friends, or dancing to their version of a rock band. The air was rank with cigarette smoke and David’s throat became irritated. He ordered a beer to soothe it. It was dark and tasted of malt.

Anat seemed to know everyone there and introduced David as “my friend from England.” She was dressed in a dark blue mini-dress, which David thought was nearly as seductive as her army uniform. He wondered if he had been set up to go dancing with her. Earlier in the evening, everyone had an excuse for not joining them. Jonathan and Nilli said they were too tired; Gideon and Ronit had to get an inhaler from the pharmacy for Ronit’s mother, who was sick with bronchitis.

Anat was a good dancer and made sure everyone knew it. She seemed to know every move he was going to make. Her body was right there, in rhythm with him. David wondered if she desired him as much as he did her. He suspected she had dressed up to impress him, which flattered him. He tried to keep up with her dancing until he felt weak with hunger, as he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He asked if she knew where they could get something to eat. She suggested Mickey’s. “It’s the only place open at night that serves good food.”

Mickey’s was a small, crowded restaurant with bare Formica tables. A couple had just finished eating and were leaving when they walked in. Anat introduced David to the proprietor, Mickey, a burly forty-year-old Syrian Jew who could barely speak English. By the way they spoke rapidly in Hebrew, it was obvious they knew each other very well, and shared a warm friendship. Mickey was a charismatic man with a hearty laugh. David felt an immediate liking for him. Within minutes, Mickey, who was also the cook, brought out salads, warm pita bread, chicken and lamb kabobs. Everything was delicious. Anat ate and drank like no one David had ever seen. She was insatiable. For dessert, she ate three flans that she washed down with three cups of Turkish coffee. Finally, David burst out laughing.

“What is it?”

“You eat like a bloody horse. I’ve never seen anything like it. Where does it all go?”

“I’ve been this way all my life. I just burn it off. In an hour, I’ll probably be hungry again.” She licked her lips, continuing to devour the last of her third flan.

“She eat always like this. Where it go, I don’t know,” Mickey said, laughing.

Walking through the city toward Abu Tor, the streets were empty and still. In the distance, near the windmill, all that could be seen were the lit cigarettes of the sentries at the border post, flickering like lightening bugs.

Given the provocative way Anat had danced, David thought she would expect to be invited up to his place. Although he desired her, her heightened energy made him anxious. He feared he was not up to dealing with her.

“How was flying with Gideon?”

“Amazing. I don’t believe I will ever forget it. He has quite a way of making his point,” David admitted.

Anat laughed, “So you’ve discovered Israeli men don’t have your refined manners?”

“Yes. I’ve gathered as much.”

Arriving at the house in Abu Tor, Anat simply followed him up the stairs to his flat, in continuation of their walk. There was no need for an invitation.

David tried to hide his nervousness by asking her if she was still hungry.

“I might be a horse, but I’m not a cow. Do you have any hash?”

“Jonathan made me promise not to bring any. He said I would be deported if I got caught with it.”

Anat laughed. “Jonathan takes his Judaic studies too seriously. He might find God sooner if he smoked some himself.”

“I have a bottle of wine, compliments of Jonathan. Would you like some?”

“Sure.”

While he searched for a bottle opener, Anat opened the doors to the roof, looking out at the city. “Great view. It’s a bit chilly, but do you mind if we have our wine out here?” she asked.

“Not at all. It’s the best room in the house.”

He brought out the bottle with two glasses. He poured Anat a full glass, his, only a third, as he had already had several beers at Tsipi’s.

“It’s bad luck not to have a full glass,” she teased.

“Only if your intentions are to pass out.”

Anat pointed toward Jaffa Road, a wide, winding road below the King David Hotel. “There’s Gai Ben-Hinnom where Jews, Muslims and Christians believe, on Judgment Day, the Gates of Hell will open and devour all us sinners with fire. It’s one of the few things they all agree on.” She pointed to the far distance, at the left. “Over there is the archaeological park. I was there today, on a dig.”

“Find anything interesting?”

“Only if you find used prophylactics interesting.”

“Could be, if they belonged to Moses or Jesus.”

“Two of history’s most sexually repressed men,” Anat replied, dryly.

“How do you know that?”

“Jesus, alias Yehoshua Ben Joseph, and Moses were both Jews who would have followed the tribe’s sexual laws.”

The wine was warming David, taking the chill off the night air. Amused by her audacity, he coaxed her on. “All right, but how do you know they were sexually repressed.”

Anat shot him a look. “Do you honestly believe a man who had great sex would bother running around trying to convince everybody he was the only Son of God, or had personally received God’s hand-written laws on top of a mountain?”

“Why not? Men can have ambitions as well as desires.”

“Not when they’re having great sex.”

David suddenly felt challenged. He stood staring out into the night.

As though she could read his mind, Anat said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to sleep together.”

David looked at her, not knowing what to say or expect.

“At least not tonight. I like men, but prefer women,” she said, shrugging.

He didn’t know whether to feel rejected or relieved.

David lay awake thinking about Anat. He was intimidated by her sexuality, but also fascinated by her free spirit and daunting intelligence. He had never met anyone like her. He wondered if Jonathan and the others knew she preferred women lovers, and why she had confided in him. He became anxious, thinking perhaps she sensed he had sexual issues and was someone she could easily manipulate.

Earlier, out on the roof, he had asked her why she preferred women. She had answered simply, “For the same reasons you do,” then adding, “I find women more interesting intellectually, as well as sexually.”

Her directness was equal parts frightening and exciting. He wanted to know her better. Perhaps, with her, he could get over his sexual problem. The truth was, he desired her as much as he found her intimidating.

The streets in Mea Shearim were busy on Sunday afternoon, when the shops re-opened after the long Shabbat. The men hurried about their business while the women shopped for the coming week.

The last rays of daylight came through Sarah’s bedroom window. She had been reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou throughout the Sabbath and couldn’t pull herself away from it. She pondered Buber’s premise that man separates himself from God when he views himself as “I” and others as “Thou.” Reb Eli had a great affinity for Buber’s work. His books were among the few non-religious volumes he kept in his extensive library. Sarah also loved Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories about Jewish life in Poland, and the heart-rending dilemmas faced by his characters. Singer had no illusions about the human condition, nor did he offer simple, happy endings. He presented the complexity and relentless challenge of being human, something she, too, had come to understand.

Just as it became dark, Sarah spotted a man striding purposefully into the courtyard. She immediately recognized him as the outsider who had aroused in her such unusual sensations. She moved closer to the window, hiding behind the heavy curtains so she could study him more carefully. She was able to see the angular features of his face, and, again, the way his hand swept the hair from his forehead. When she saw him enter her father’s house, she immediately sensed he was the reason for the rebbe’s summoning of Shimon. She was intrigued by this outsider. Where did he come from? Why would a secular man require a visit to the House? Sarah knew she lived in a confined religious society, and that there were many things she didn’t know about the outside world, beyond what she read in books. Her curiosity heightened as she waited by the bedroom window, in anticipation of seeing Shimon escort the stranger to Madame Aziza’s house.

Shimon stood five feet, two inches tall and had a big round belly and wispy red hair and beard. David thought he looked like an Irish elf. A man of good cheer, Shimon took his mission of performing mitzvahs like that of a general who had been given orders to lead his troops to victory. David was a new recruit who was about to assume his God-given, manly duty of bringing children into the world. Shimon, as the liaison with Madame Aziza’s house, discharged his task with honor and pride. He was most eager that David, the son of a friend of the rebbe’s, should benefit from his good deeds. Shimon’s English was limited, so to demonstrate his sincerity, in hopes of gaining David’s confidence and trust, he stood up and enthusiastically embraced David as soon as he entered the rebbe’s study.

David instinctively pulled back. Shimon’s goodwill gesture embarrassed him. David’s eyes pleaded for Reb Eli’s help. The rebbe rose and said simply, “This is my nephew, Shimon. He will take good care of you. Until Thursday. I wish you a good night.”

Bewildered, David stood looking at Shimon, who was smiling, saying repeatedly, “Don’t worry, everything good, everything good.”

He followed him apprehensively through the dark, narrow streets of Machane Yehuda’s Souk to the two-story stone house on Agripas Street. Shimon, still smiling, opened the door, ushering him in. Climbing the pitch-dark staircase, he cautioned David to “be careful, just count twenty steps.”

On the second landing, Shimon knocked briskly on the door. A woman in her late fifties appeared. She had long dark hair, with coal-black eyes. She reminded David of the fortune-tellers who roam India. Shimon introduced him to Madame Aziza, who graciously invited them in.

Burgundy velvet drapes with gold tassels adorned the windows of her parlor. A gold-leaf tapestry covered the walls. On the floor were oriental carpets in deep reds, blues and gold. The largest had corners containing dragons with snakes around their necks. David wondered whether this woman was going to read his fortune or perform some magic healing ritual that would keep him from coming every time he was aroused by a woman. Speaking in a soft, melodic voice, her well-spoken English was colored with French and Arabic accents. She offered them drinks from her cabinet of wine and spirits. Shimon requested Turkish coffee. To keep it simple and quick, David asked for the same.

Madame Aziza made polite conversation, inquiring where David was from. He told her he was visiting from England. She asked him if he was married or divorced. He said neither, wondering why all this concern about his marital status. He began thinking perhaps she was a matchmaker, when a young, exotic looking woman with red lips and nails appeared from the kitchen, carrying a brass tray with a finjan of dark black coffee and an assortment of small pastries. She served them with her eyes locked into David’s, then quickly disappeared. Shimon helped himself to the sticky pastries, which had the scent of cardamom. David slowly nursed the muddy coffee. Sensing he was not a Turkish coffee drinker, Madame Aziza offered him “English tea.”

David assured her he was fine with coffee.

Madame Aziza looked curiously at him. “You’re a handsome young man.”

Feeling self-conscious, David replied, timidly, “Thank you.”

“Please help yourself to some pastries. They’re very tasty.”

Accepting her offer, he reached for one with nuts in it. Feeling like the center of attention, he ate self-consciously.

Shimon sat grinning from ear to ear. He sipped the remains of his coffee, informed David that the number four bus across the souk on Jaffa Road would drop him off at Abu Tor, then left abruptly.

Soft, Middle Eastern dance music filled the room. Madame Aziza’s eyes flashed as she turned to an opening door and said, “Now, for your pleasure.”

From a narrow hallway, four young women floated into the room and began dancing. David sat mesmerized, not knowing what to do. He watched as they danced before him, swaying their hips, shoulders and arms like slithering snakes.

Madame Aziza put her hand gently on his shoulder. “Let me know when you decide which one pleases you the most.”

Finding it difficult to believe that Reb Eli had sent him to a whorehouse, David asked incredulously, “Is this a bordello?”

Madame Aziza smiled. “This is a house that nurtures men’s passions and desires.”

“I’m really not ready for this,” he admitted awkwardly.

“There is nothing to be ready for, just relax and enjoy,” she said, gently reassuring him.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take some time to consider your generous offer.”

Her voice took on a motherly tone. “There is nothing to fear here.”

“I’m sure. It’s just that I would like to think about it,” he said, adamantly.

Madame Aziza looked at him in her nurturing fashion. “You may visit us whenever you are ready. I will make sure you have the very best. I desire only what is good for your happiness.”

“Thank you,” David said, as he quickly left.

Walking along the Mount, near the University of Jerusalem, Jonathan howled with laughter. “The rebbe never ceases to amaze me. Why on earth did he send you to a brothel?”

David could not bring himself to reveal his sexual issues, but when Jonathan went on and on questioning why Reb Eli would send him to a whorehouse, David felt compelled to tell him.

“Because I told him I come too quickly,” David whispered.

Astonished, Jonathan repeated David’s words, “You told the rebbe you come too quickly?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you tell him that?”

“Because it’s true.”

Seeing that this was no laughing matter for David, Jonathan quickly changed his tone. “Why haven’t you ever told me?”

“What could you do about it?”

“Surely there are remedies …”

“There are no ‘remedies,’ so spare me any advice,” David said, becoming irritated.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I just wish …”

“There’s nothing you or anybody else can do. It’s something I have to live with.”

They walked on quietly around the Mount, looking out at the city.

“Look, David, perhaps if you had a steady girlfriend, it would just work itself out,” Jonathan offered, gently.

“What makes you think I haven’t thought of that?” David snapped.

Jonathan adopted an apologetic tone. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. I really want to help… For God’s sake, we’ve been closer than brothers.”

“Then let it be!”

They continued walking in an uncomfortable silence. David felt humiliated and angry, emotionally naked now that his long-kept secret had been exposed.

Remembering the Rebbe’s invitation and hoping to break the silence, Jonathan cheerfully announced, “Reb Eli has invited us for Shabbat dinner at his home.”

Going to the rebbe’s house for dinner was the last thing David wanted to do. He moaned, “Oh, joy.”

“I think you’re making more of it than it really is. I’m sure, given time, it will sort itself out.” Jonathan said, hoping to put David at ease.

David felt the remark was flippant. “How easy to say when it’s not your problem.”

Madame Aziza has helped many young men. Why should I be opposed to that?” said the rebbe. David looked at him in disbelief. Seeking help in a bordello just didn’t sit right with him. Perhaps these Hasids were comfortable with it, but he certainly was not.

Feeling the need to challenge Reb Eli, David argued, “It’s not a very holy approach.”

“When I first arrived here, I felt the same way. But when I saw how much she helped someone close to me, I came to a different understanding. After all, women who choose to sell their bodies come from the same source as you and I. They are just as holy as we are. The Torah tells us that to give pleasure is a mitzvah, but it is silent on how we should do it. It just tells us the no nos.”

The rebbe had done it again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that I was holier or superior to anyone. It’s just that using a woman that way doesn’t feel right.”

“One should never use another. The Torah teaches us to be kind and honor everyone, not just people we like or respect. There are things we can never know or understand about each other. The Torah recognizes this and gives us principles to live by that cultivate our happiness and wellbeing.”

Reb Eli muttered something in Hebrew, and then translated. “ʻThere is nothing on this earth that has not been here before or will not be here again.’ Do you know where that proverb comes from?”

David shook his head, humbly.

“King Solomon.”

“I know nothing of the Torah,” David admitted.

“You have the rest of your life to learn,” Reb Eli said, his eyes twinkling with warmth. He stood, cupped David’s hand into his, and smiled, “I hope you will honor us at our Shabbat table tomorrow evening.”

Looking out of her window, an hour before she was to bring tea to her father, Sarah saw David approaching for the second time in a week. Her curiosity heightened, she told herself she would go down to the kitchen, ostensibly to get a head start preparing the evening meal.

She could hear murmuring from her father’s study. To get closer, she decided to set the large table in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. As she carefully laid out the dishes, paper napkins and utensils, she could hear David’s voice. Making as little noise as possible, she was able to distinguish his British accent, which she found more eloquent than her father’s. She was enthralled by the tone and gentleness of his voice, and moved closer to the door, listening as he spoke of his reservations and concerns about going to Madame Aziza’s house. She found herself comforted by his direct but gentle manner of speaking. She continued to listen, unaware she was holding her breath. By the time she heard her father invite David for Shabbat dinner, she felt queasy and dizzy. She rushed to the kitchen and squeezed a fresh lemon into a glass of water to revive herself.

Soon after David left, Sarah made certain not to look her father in the eye when she brought tea with milk and biscuits into his study. Sensing something was amiss with his daughter, Reb Eli invited her to join him for tea.

“I’ve left the potatoes boiling on the stove,” she said, hoping to excuse herself.

He asked if she would turn the stove off, then come and join him for a moment. There was something important he wanted to discuss with her. Sarah anxiously obeyed and returned to the study, fearing the rebbe had discovered her eavesdropping.

“Sarah, how would you like to go abroad for a holiday?”

The offer was so unexpected, she responded by asking directly, “Why?”

“You’ve always had a desire to travel. I thought a trip to Europe would please you. I can arrange for you to stay with good friends of mine and perhaps, if you like, Esther could join you.”

Feeling guilty and embarrassed at having just spied on her father’s private conversation, Sarah did not know what to say, and answered without looking at him. “Please don’t worry about me Abba, I’ll be all right.”

Reb Eli was left once again feeling at a loss with his daughter. He prayed every morning and night for guidance, assuring himself, “Everything comes with time and patience.”

Alone in his study, the rebbe sipped tea, which he always found soothing. He was grateful to the British for teaching him the simple pleasure of a good cup of tea. He thought about Phillip’s son, David, whose intelligence and sensitivity were more heightened than in most of the young men he had counseled. He remembered the many times Madame Aziza had been effective in helping them overcome difficulties they had with their sexuality. At first, he had dismissed having anything to do with her. He knew the complexities of human nature and doubted it was possible to change the focus of desire. It wasn’t until she helped his youngest son to be willing to marry and have children that he learned to appreciate her gifts. He, himself, had never met her and knew little about her, other than that she had brought with her from Egypt wondrous secrets for awakening and healing the senses of complex young men.

A more pressing matter from Egypt was on his mind. Abdel Nasser’s inflammatory speeches and the escalation of raids against Israel made him fear that another war was imminent. He prayed Hashem would remember how long the Jews had suffered, how long they had been exiled from their Promised Land. He prayed to Hashem to bestow peace and awaken the hearts of all of Abraham’s children.

About the Author

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.

She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.

I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.

I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.

Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.

Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

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First Chapter Reveal: Alan 2 by Bruce Forciea

Alan 2

Title: ALAN 2
Author: Bruce Forciea
Publisher: Open Books
Pages: 278
Genre: Cyber-Thriller

A brilliant artificial intelligence (AI) scientist, Dr. Alan Boyd, develops a new program that integrates part of his brain with a computer’s operating system. The program, Alan 2, can anticipate a user’s needs and automatically perform many tasks. A large software company, International Microsystems (IM) desperately wants the program and tempts Dr. Boyd with huge sums of money, but when Dr. Boyd refuses their offer, IM sabotages his job, leaving him in a difficult financial situation.

Dr. Boyd turns to Alan 2 for an answer to his financial problems, and Alan 2 develops plan Alpha, which is a cyber robin hood scheme to rob from rich corporations via a credit card scam.

Alan and his girlfriend Kaitlin travel to Mexico where they live the good life funded by plan Alpha, but the FBI cybercrime division has discovered part of Alan 2’s cyber escapades, and two agents, Rachel and Stu, trace the crime through the TOR network and Bitcoin.

Alan 2 discovers the FBI is on to them and advises Alan and Kaitlin to change locations. A dramatic chase ensues taking them to St. Thomas, a cruise ship bound for Spain, and finally to Morocco.

Will they escape detection? They will if Alan 2’s Plan Beta can be implemented in time. Or is ‘Plan B’ something altogether different than it appears to be, something wholly sinister that will affect the entire population of the world?

Watch the trailer at YouTube!

Purchase Information:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Publisher

 

First Chapter:

Bang! Bang! Bang! The flimsy apartment door rattled on its frame with every blow.

“Kaitlin, don’t even think of answering that!” Alan growled through his teeth.

Kaitlin shrugged her shoulders and moved away from the door toward the living room where Alan sat at a table full of electronics gear.

“Dr. Boyd, are you home?” shouted the voice on the other side of the door in an Indian accent. “I want to talk to you. I have a very good offer. Please, Dr. Boyd, it will only take a minute, and I think you will be quite pleased with what we have for you.”

“Go away; leave us alone,” Alan shouted. “I don’t want your offer.”

“But Dr. Boyd, we do pay very well. We are great admirers of your work.”

“I don’t care and I don’t want your money,” said Alan. “Now go away before I call the police.”

“Think about it, Dr. Boyd; I will be in touch.”

“Incessant bastards,” said Alan as his attention turned back to his work. “I’ll cherish the day they leave us alone. Kaitlin, come over here and help me with this injection.”

Alan rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt while Kaitlin picked up the syringe containing the gadolinium contrast. She pinched an ample section of skin and plunged the syringe into his arm. The needle stung like an angry wasp, causing Alan to grimace.

“Can’t you be gentle? You’ve done enough of these by now to get the hang of it. You shouldn’t jam it in like that!”

Kaitlin rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I think I do pretty well considering I don’t have any medical training,” she said while jerking the syringe out of his arm.

“Okay, okay. Just take your position at the console.”

She sighed, plopped onto a small task chair and rolled over to a makeshift wooden table holding a desktop PC and a large high-definition monitor. She had been through this process countless times before.

Alan entered a large metallic structure in the center of the living room. The box-like structure, made of aluminum, dominated the rectangular room which was devoid of furniture. Its dull silver hue contrasted the blank walls. He closed the door and climbed into a chair that looked like it came from an early Gemini spacecraft. The stiff plastic chair, sandwiched between two large metal discs, afforded a good deal of postural support but little comfort. He sat down and slowly slid his head between the thick metal and plastic arms of a large U-shaped device. There was just enough clearance as he wriggled his head to achieve the perfect position. He pulled down on a large metallic tube suspended above him so that it surrounded his entire head. He positioned the tube so that the rectangular slit lined up with his visual axis, allowing for a line of sight to the monitor located outside of the tube. The small fMRI scanner had taken a good deal of time and money to cobble together, but it was the only way to capture the needed information from his brain.

Alan viewed Kaitlin through a small round Plexiglas window in the door and signaled with a thumbs-up to begin the scan. She waved and entered the start sequence into the keyboard, sat back, slid an unlit cigarette between her lips and picked up a copy of People Magazine. He pushed his head back against the headrest and adjusted the monitor suspended on a boom so he could see the screen. The machine first hummed as it powered up and then made periodic knocking sounds.

Alan focused his attention on the monitor while the scanner began its first sequence. The monitor displayed a series of images designed to evoke emotions. Each image popped onto the screen and persisted for ten seconds before another replaced it. There was a small child holding hands with his father, a mother holding a baby, a couple admiring their child in a crib, and many more. All the images had been chosen to trigger emotional responses, causing changes in blood flow to certain areas of Alan’s brain. An image would appear for a few seconds and then the machine would complete a scan. The process repeated until all one hundred twenty-seven images had been displayed. The entire cycle then repeated two more times with random sequences of the same set of images.

This would be the final scan involving diffusion tensor imaging of Alan’s frontal lobes. Previous scans had involved the study of responses to a variety of topics. In addition to emotions such as sadness, joy, anxiety, and fear, there were cognitive studies that examined Alan’s problem solving techniques as well as his reaction to global events. In all, there were over one hundred fifty scans taken over the past two years.

About the Author

Bruce Forciea

Bruce Forciea is known for taking complex scientific concepts and making them easy to understand through engaging stories and simple explanations. He is an Amazon Best Selling Author and author of several books on healing and biology, along with science fiction thriller novels. His fiction writing draws on a diverse and eclectic background that includes touring and performing with a professional show, designing digital circuits, treating thousands of patients, and teaching. His stories include complex plots with unexpected twists and turns, quirky characters, and a reality very similar to our own. Dr. Forciea lives in Wisconsin and loves writing during the solitude of the long Northern winters.

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First Chapter Reveal: Dominion by Doug Hewitt

dominion

Title: DOMINION: FIRE AND ICE
Author: D.A. Hewitt
Publisher: Double Dragon eBooks
Pages: 372
Genre: Science Fiction

It’s the year 2075. Lunar mining and processing facilities have prospered near the lunar south pole, where the Moon’s largest city, Valhalla, rests on the rim of the Shackleton Crater.

Dominion Off-Earth Resources has beaten the competition into space and is ready to establish its monopoly with the opening of the orbiting space resort Dominion. But Pettit Space Industries has a secret plan to emerge as a major contender in the commercialization of space. The upstart company is training the first space rescue squad at a secluded off-grid site in Barrow, Alaska.

The rescue squad gets nearly more than it can handle when its first mission involves the Pope, who’s traveling to the Moon to establish the Lunar See. During the rescue attempt, they discover Earth is imperiled by an asteroid large enough to cause mass extinction. Using the unique skills taught during their training, skills emphasized by the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung, these Jungi Knights must elevate their game if they are to save both the Earth and the Pope—while not getting killed in the process.

Purchase at Amazon

 

Chapter 1

 

Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.

~ Joseph Conrad

The bus chortled as it slowed, the magnetic-drive treads slowing their frenzied snow-gyrating pace. “Barrow, Alaska,” the driver said cheerily enough. “Only five percent of the world’s land mass is as far from the equator. Average temperature in January, minus twenty-five Celsius.” White billowing clouds churned briefly from the exhaust. The engine cut off. The driver stood, facing his six passengers, and said, “We’re here.”

I grabbed my bag, slung it over my shoulder, and headed for the front, shivering reflexively.

“Last chance to back out,” the driver added as the last of us stepped onto the frozen snow. His breath lingered as white mist. He looked questioningly at us and played with the door control, flapping it at us, taunting us.

We were standing in front of a Quonset hut, bundled in parkas and survival clothing, enough to keep us warm for days in the most extreme climates. And I counted Barlow, Alaska, as one of those.

“Go on—get out of here!” the tallest of us barked at the driver. I didn’t know any of their names, but from what I’d gathered from the sparse chit-chat on the drive from Prudhoe Bay (no reason was given for why we hadn’t continued the flight from Juneau to Barrow instead of the drop-off and subsequent bus ride in), this guy was the most gung-ho among us.

The driver smiled. “I’ll be back to pick up any dropouts.” He closed the door, picked up his comm device, and spoke briefly into it.

One moment, we were staring at the bus—I can do this, I will do this—and the next we were all spinning in response to a deep voice projecting out from where the Quonset hut door had slammed open.

“The sheep have arrived!” the voice boomed.

He stood in the doorframe as the door banged against him in the stiffening arctic wind. For a moment, he seemed stuck there, his massive shoulders too wide, his girth too large to fit through. Then he took a step back, spun, and said, “Follow me!”

I’d been thinking my life was getting stranger and stranger as of late, and the next thing that happened cemented that thought-trend in my mind, because we stepped into a room heated to tropical temperatures, the ground covered in sand. The room took the entire width of the Quonset hut. One other door on the opposite wall from the door we’d just entered was the room’s only other exit.

“Throw down your stuff anywhere,” the bulky man said, dropping his parka, revealing himself to be wearing only green shorts and a white muscle shirt. His chest was enormous (ah, the booming voice), and he thumped it when he caught me looking at him. He appeared Polynesian. His skin was dark and his black hair was tied back in a ponytail, thick and scruffy.

“My name today is Mister Chenga,” the Polynesian announced. Whenever he spoke, everyone’s head turned to him as though his voice subconsciously demanded our attention. “Take off your clothes to your underwear and then take a seat.”

“Where do we sit?” one of the girls—the short blonde—asked with what sounded like a Russian accent. “There are no chairs.”

The Polynesian’s face scrunched up as though he had just tasted something awful. He began jumping up and down, repeating the question to himself with his attempt at a high-pitch voice, “Where do we sit? Where do we sit? Where do we sit?

The girl back-stepped cautiously.

The Polynesian stopped jumping and stared at her. In an oddly calm voice, he said, “On the sand.”

Da. I did not want to get you excited,” the girl said evenly.

Mister Chenga nodded slowly, squinting at her. I’m sure she felt she was being marked as a potential troublemaker. As we began undressing, he walked a few meters away from the group and faced us. “Listen up. I’m sure you don’t want to make me mad, so the first thing you need to understand is that there is such a thing as a stupid question.” He paused and stared at the girl.

The girl visibly gulped. She was attractive, now that I was getting to see more of her. Blonde hair, angular face, stunningly beautiful, petite body. I doubted she cleared much over a meter and a half. She looked to have a wiry strength, a tight, taut body like a gymnast’s. Her underwear was black.

How in the hell did she come to volunteer for this?

“I’ll get back to stupid questions later,” Mister Chenga said. “In the meantime, listen closely. For today, call me Mister Chenga. If today goes well, tomorrow you may call me Cheng.” He grinned and spread his arms wide.

For a moment, he looked friendly with a pleasant demeanor.

“It’s more efficient,” he explained. “In a rescue situation, shorter names save time.” He looked at the northern wall. Along the ceiling, a number of slogans were displayed.

Mister Chenga’s gaze lingered on the phrase Timing is everything before continuing. “If today doesn’t go well, tomorrow you’ll again call me Mister Chenga. Is that clear?”

Several of us responded.

“Yeah.”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

Mister Chenga’s forehead knotted up, as though concern rippled his skin directly via energy seeping out from the front of his brain. “It would be quicker, more efficient, if the group answers as one. I suggest a unified response such as ‘Yes, Mister Chenga,’ would serve you well.”

Everyone was as naked as we were going to get—in our underwear—and we were sitting in a semi-circle around the Polynesian. “Yes, Mister Chenga,” we mumbled.

“Good enough for now,” Mister Chenga said. He dropped to a knee, then somewhat laboriously rocked his weight back and settled into a sitting position. He shifted his butt from side to side, sweeping sand away, furrowing himself in. “It’s time we introduce ourselves. I’ll be checking for signs of grid‑loss syndrome.”

Most people never left the grid. With medical alert and GPS implants, medical response times had been cut to under thirty seconds on average for grid dwellers. The risk of death from an accident while off-grid was too great for most. Extended stays at sea? Caribbean cruises? No problem, the grid went with you, ready to stabilize any wound, any condition, until you could be ferried to the nearest medical facility capable of restoring your health.

Some people did leave the grid, though. There were two main groups of them—adventurers who traveled to extreme Earth climates such as Barrow, Alaska, and off-earthers.

The off-earthers worked in space and on the Moon, which in recent years had a rapidly growing population due to expanding lunar excavation and processing sites. The population was growing so fast that the first lunar bank had opened last year, which prompted financial institutions into a chaotic flurry of mergers and acquisitions. (The winners were the early investors in asteroid mining, especially palladium and other precious metals and rare earths. There were two of them—Pettit Space Industries (PSI) and Dominion Off-Earth Resources (DOER). The Vatican, because of its investments in DOER was also reaping rewards.)

I’d been off-planet enough to know being off-grid wouldn’t be a problem for me. The symptoms were jitters followed by profuse sweating and episodes of hysteria. Fairly easy to spot, especially now since we were all half naked.

Mister Chenga cleared his throat. “I don’t care if you introduced yourselves on the bus. We’ll do it again. Who wants to start?”

Nobody answered. I took the opportunity to examine the other recruits. Six of us in all. Two girls. The blonde gymnast I had already admired and another girl who was taller with black hair and a muscular body; in fact, it was so well muscled, I couldn’t help but think she was a wrestler.

Actually, there’s a wrestling hold I’ve been meaning to try …

Shut up and pay attention, I told myself.

The tall guy looked strong and quick, like he could handle himself in a fight. His eyes seemed to perpetually gleam like he was calculating odds of schemes that were constantly percolating in his mind.

The other two guys didn’t appear to be as strong as the tall, cocky guy. I figured them to be forest ranger types, people who fare well outdoors and who like to hike and climb and do all the nature crap. One of them wore glasses, wire rims no less. It was hard to imagine why anyone opted for spectacles in this age of correctable vision.

“You,” Mister Chenga said, pointing at the guy wearing the spectacles. “Introduce yourself. Give me a synopsis of your life.” His head swiveled as he examined his sheep. “And when I say synopsis, I mean, be brief.” He returned his gaze to the man wearing glasses. “And explain why you forgo the corrective procedure for eyesight.”

“Name’s Maxwell Lolande, but everyone calls me Max.” He took off his glasses and gently cleaned them with the bottom of his t-shirt. “Studies indicate a certain amount of blurred vision can actually increase reaction time for athletes. Something to do with mirror neurons, which react to anticipated visual stimuli, not actual vision per se. Do you see the difference?” He chuckled and pushed his glasses back onto his nose. “Never mind. Anyway, vision isn’t the only means by which to collect data.”

“Background?” Mister Chenga asked.

“Sensors.” Max’s eyes narrowed. “I may not be the quickest here, or the strongest, but I can guarantee I’ll have the best sources of information.”

Mister Chenga grunted. “What kind of information?”

“Whatever you want. I deployed a few sensors before we came inside. My outdoor drones are measuring every centimeter of this facility. From the outside, of course. I don’t want to press my luck yet.”

Mister Chenga jumped up, lunged forward, and ended up crouched in the sand by the belongings of Maxwell Lolande. He picked up Max’s backpack (crimson color, a tree intricately woven with golden thread into the back flap), rummaged through it, making sounds as though it were a bag of silverware, then dropped it and stood. “I rely on my eyes,” he said, returning to his spot. “And you sound French to me. Are you French?”

“No, Mister Chenga. American.”

Pffft. Aren’t we all.”

“I may have French ancestry.”

“Well, the French are good at helping others in battle, but on their own, not so much.”

“Yes, well, instead of going to battle, this is supposed to be a rescue squad, right? That’s what we’re here for—a high-profile team that rescues stranded people who had enough money to get lost in the Alaskan wilderness.”

“That’s the plan,” Mister Chenga agreed. “If you can pass this training course.”

“So far, so good,” Max said.

“You’re still calling me Mister Chenga, so I guess it’s still early. What’ve you studied? What’s your specialty?”

“Physics. Communications. Robotics. And of course, sensors.”

Mister Chenga grunted again. “Well, if I need a weather forecast, I’ll know where to go.”

I suspected—no, knew—Mister Chenga had files on every one of us and figured he must have a reason for asking questions for which he already knew the answers. I thought of asking him but didn’t want to be accused of asking a dumb question.

No matter. Ten weeks or so of basic training, and I’m out.

Mister Chenga looked to his right, where the blonde gymnast sat. “What about you?”

Her voice was high-pitched, her body slight in nature (and yet so … hmmm, limber). “Julia Lipniski. I go by Julia. I study general science. But Mister Pettit recruited me because my endurance is high. And I fit in narrow spaces. Good traits for rescue team, da?”

Or maybe he selected you because you’re bubbling with enthusiasm and a can-do attitude.

“Perhaps,” Mister Chenga said. “You cross-country ski?”

“I am Olympic skater. Skate more than ski. But da. I train to strengthen my legs by cross-country skiing. Kilometer after kilometer. I love it.”

I couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying cross-country skiing. Why not go to a mountain, take a lift, and then just blast your way downhill? But no, some people liked to exert themselves and sweat, kilometer after kilometer …

Mister Chenga turned to the other female in our group. “And our other lady representative?”

The dark-haired girl laughed. “A lady? I’m guessing you haven’t read my application.”

“It was a figure of speech,” Mister Chenga said. “So you think you’re tough?”

“Damn straight,” she said.

“Watch your French!” Mister Chenga told her.

“I didn’t speak French. I swore. In English. If you don’t know the difference, I’ve got to ask myself what the hell I’m doing here.”

“I said watch your French!”

“You don’t want me to swear?”

“None of you,” Mister Chenga said. “Not yet anyway.”

“Fine. Why didn’t you say so? Have it your way. No more swearing. No more French.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “Name’s Kelly Cook. Bounty hunter. Some people say I work too hard on my attitude, but I say to hell with them.”

Mister Chenga sighed, mumbled something about dramatics, and turned to me. “Well, well, allow me to make this introduction. This is Doug Pettit, son of the late Harve Pettit, who founded Pettit Space Industries. He’s a bit of a loner. His educational background is scattered. His main employment is heading foundations.”

“Not any more,” I said. “Things have changed. It seems my dad figured he’d be doing me a favor by making me earn a living.”

“I know of the will,” Mister Chenga said.

“Right. I’m not in it. But I’ll be up front with you, Mister Chenga, because you seem like a straightforward kind of guy.”

A few snickers answered this assessment.

“You’ll get honest effort out of me,” I told him, “and I’m going to pass this boot camp, but then I’m taking the bonus and opting out.”

Mister Chenga smiled broadly. “Of course you are! Not a problem.”

I squinted, unable to detect any sign of deception. “That doesn’t bother you?”

“No. Everyone here signed the same contract. Everyone can take their bonus—enough to live on for ten years, I might add—and opt out after passing this training course. It’s either that or sign up for a five-year enlistment. Why should it bother me?”

“You’re going to spend a lot of hours training us. Seems you’d like to reap the fruits of your labor. Who wants to assemble a team only to see people quit?”

“I understand your concern, Doug Pettit. What I you fail to grasp is that I know something you don’t.”

“Enlighten me.”

“If you do pass this training course, this boot camp as you call it, you’ll be a different person. You’ll not think the same as you do today. I’d not make any future predictions based on how you feel at this moment. If I were you, that is.”

It was my turn to snicker. “Well, la de da. I guess we’re good then.”

Mister Chenga snorted and turned to the tall cocky guy on my left. They chatted after Archibald Blake Tannenbaum—just call me Blake—told Mister Chenga his name. Blake explained he was a test pilot and could handle any emergency situation with a cool precision that made disaster responders drool.

I tried to even my breathing. Mister Chenga had brought up the will. My blood pressure had been rising since, my breath growing shallower. Dad thinks he cut me out. He should’ve realized I may not be Harve Pettit caliber, but I can be resourceful when necessary.

Growing calmer, I casually looked around. The blonde skater—Julia—dug her heels into the sand as though conditioned to exercise her muscles during off-training hours. The others ran their hands through the sand, occasionally glancing down while sifting sand through their fingers, familiarizing themselves with this place by experiencing the tactile feel of the heated grit, making themselves at home. The sand was brownish, most likely reconstituted glass. It had the same feel as natural sand, the same as on a Carolina beach in August, with the heat pressing down, and the girl in the adjacent suite getting frisky with me in our own little Margarita-ville.

Shut up, I told myself. You and your stupid hormones will get us into trouble.

“And last but not least, introduce yourself,” Mister Chenga said, facing the last of the recruits, a thinner, blonder version of Blake. He had optimistic blue eyes but a gaunt face.

“Robert Montarro, but please call me Rob. I’m one of those new breed of environmentalists who actually travel outside the cities into the wildernesses they’re trying to protect.”

“Well, pat yourself on the back for that,” Mister Chenga said.

“I also have underwater experience, cold-water.”

“That could come in handy,” Mister Chenga admitted.

“And I’m eager.”

“We’ll see how long that lasts.”

Rob frowned but said nothing.

Mister Chenga stood and paced back and forth in front of us. “Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, I’m going to teach you your first lesson. If you aren’t complete knuckleheads, we should get through it in less than an hour. Afterward, I’ll show you to your quarters. Everyone pairs up in a room. You’ll freshen up. Dinner is in two hours. After dinner, you’ll meet your mentor for this training.”

“I thought you were our mentor,” Julia said. I liked the sound of her voice—like a songbird’s, high and melodic—and I wondered how a suggestion of bunking with her would be received.

“I’m your trainer. I am here to test you. Your mentor is here to help you.”

“What’s our mentor’s name?” I asked.

“Your mentor will introduce himself,” Mister Chenga said. He marched across the sand, through the door opposite the one we’d entered. A few moments later, he returned. Behind him, there was a narrow passageway with bulkheads. I could see the end of the passageway at the far end of the Quonset hut, where there appeared to be a dining area.

Mister Chenga lumbered toward us and tossed a baseball-size rock onto the sand in the center of our semi-circled group.

We stared at it as though expecting a beanstalk to emerge.

Mister Chenga returned to his position, just beyond the rock, sitting in the depression he’d made. “Before I begin the lesson, I want to be clear about what we’re doing here.”

“We all signed contracts,” Blake pointed out. “We understand why we’re here. What didn’t they tell us?”

Mister Chenga laughed. “There is much we’re not telling you, but you wouldn’t understand yet. You’re sheep. You can’t see past the ends of your noses. You’re all dogs chasing your tails.”

“Excuse me,” the bounty hunter, Kelly Cook, interrupted. “I’m not a dog.”

“And my sensors can perceive data well beyond the human range of perception,” Max noted, “well past my nose.”

Mister Chenga slowly shook his head. “There is power out there that your sensors won’t pick up.”

Max frowned and I almost laughed because his face scrunched up and his glasses moved up his nose, pushed by his cheeks as though in physical response to hearing something blasphemous. “What power?”

“The power of the mind, of the unconscious.”

Blake tossed a handful of sand toward the rock. “I’ve been through this before, Mister Chenga. I’m sure anyone like Julia who has gone through extensive physical training has, too. You’re talking about motivational tools. Will power.”

“Very perceptive, Blake. It’s more than that, quite a bit more, but let’s start with that. Yes, we’ll learn motivational tools to bolster, indeed to undergird, our will power.”

To me, it sounded like we were going to be subjected to a series of rah‑rah routines. We’d be expected to keep a stiff upper lip and to never quit even in the worst of conditions.

Not necessarily a bad mindset to have, though, in subzero temperatures, skiing cross-country in blizzard conditions, freezing wind shrieking through the pines as we race to save someone who fell off a mountainside.

“Contractually, you’re obligated to pass this training course or your contract is void. We have ten weeks scheduled. It’s a one-time shot. If after ten weeks you haven’t passed this course, we ship you back to Anchorage.”

Several heads nodded.

Mister Chenga smiled and spread his arms wide. “But if you pass, you get your bonus and we throw a big party!” He laughed. “And after the party, you get a two-week leave and then report to start your five-year duty.”

I cleared my throat.

Mister Chenga sighed. “Or take your bonus and opt out.”

“The ten-week training course doesn’t count toward the five years?” the environmentalist—Rob—asked.

“No, as clearly stated in the contract.”

Rob nodded as though confirming he remembered reading that particular passage, but the nod was too hesitant to be convincing.

“And so,” Mister Chenga continued, “it’s time we start. What you’ll be doing here in this training course is, for the most part, expanding on this first lesson I’m about to teach you.” He pointed at the rock. “Can someone tell me what that is?” He leered at us, his gaze wandering from one set of eyes to another, daring us to answer stupidly.

I’m sure if there’re dumb questions, there must be dumb answers.

“I don’t need a sensor to inform you, Mister Chenga,” Max said, adjusting the position of his wire-rim glasses, “that the object you’ve tossed into the sand is a rock.”

“Yes!” Mister Chenga said, clapping his hands. He appeared genuinely excited, as though our group had passed some kind of mid-term exam. He pointed at the rock, a rather unattractive piece of coal and lead. “A rock, indeed. Now, there are two kinds of objects in this universe. One of them is what we will call rock. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Mister Chenga,” we chorused.

“Anyone care to guess what the other kind of object is?”

“Living things,” I said.

I could feel everyone’s stare, but I simply looked at the sand in front of me, where I was tracing a series of short, parallel furrows.

“Let’s call them emergent beings,” Mister Chenga said. “Everyone agrees living things are beings. They are emergent in that their identity as such—who or what they are—is defined by conscious activity over time. Consciousness is emergent. If time stopped, you’d have a rock of a body and no consciousness. With the ingredient of time is added, consciousness comes into being.”

“Living things, emergent beings, same difference to me,” Blake said.

“And what am I?” Mister Chenga asked.

“According to your definition,” Blake answered, “a living thing, an emergent being.”

“Although,” I added, trying not to visualize the thought of Mister Chenga dead, with medical first responder drones blaring a waaaah sound of failure, “once you’re dead, your body will no longer be an emergent anything.” I nodded toward the rock.

“You’re body is a rock at that point,” Max added.

Da,” Julia agreed. “Dust to dust.”

“Right,” Mister Chenga said, “but until then, my body is part of me. It’s alive, as am I.”

I thought about asking if he thought his body and him were one and the same, but I had a feeling that was going to be a takeaway from a future lesson.

“Now,” Mister Chenga continued, “all of you emergent beings focus your attention on the rock, your conscious attention.”

We stared intently.

“Note its texture, see its color, sense its mass.”

As the seconds passed, I became aware of everyone’s breathing. The room was quiet. The sand on the ground and the snow blanketing the roof of the Quonset hut dampened the sound of wind outside. Time seemed to slow, and I relaxed.

This is like meditation. Maybe this boot camp isn’t going to be so difficult after all.

As though in a trance, Mister Chenga softly said, “I want someone to make the rock move across the room.”

I frowned. What kind of mumbo jumbo is this? I glanced away from the rock at the others. Julia, Rob, and Max were glaring at the rock as though directing their anger at it—trying to make the rock move by hating it?

Rob was looking at the rock, but his eyes darted occasionally back and forth as though confusion jabbed at him.

“I can do it,” Blake said, pushing himself up. “It’s a think‑outside‑the‑box lesson.” He stepped to the rock, picked it up, and walked outside the semicircle, where he placed the rock down. Returning to his spot, he asked, “How’s that?”

His smile faded as Mister Chenga responded, “I meant without touching it.” He rolled over onto his feet, returned the rock to its original position, and calmly sat back down.

Oh really? This I have to see.

“That’s going to be more difficult,” Blake said.

I reached over to my bag and pulled out a notebook.

Mister Chenga shook his head. “Or anything that is touching your hand, such as a notebook, while also touching the rock.”

Ah well, worth a try.

I returned the notebook to my bag and looked at the others, some appearing perplexed, others thoughtful. Max propped his head onto a hand and resembled a Greek statue.

This has to be some sort of game. Blake said it was a test for thinking outside the box. That means no assumptions, no preconceived boundaries.

Move the rock without touching it.

Move the rock …

Was it a game of words?

Maybe it was about emergent beings.

“Julia?” I whispered.

“Yes, Doug?”

“Do what I tell you, okay?”

Her poignant green eyes fluttered. She peered at me, a slight smile slowly bending her lips, which appeared naturally highlighted with a red fullness. “Okay, Doug.”

In a louder voice, I said, “Julia, stand up.”

She stood.

“Walk over to the rock, pick it up, and move it across the room.”

“Yes, Doug.”

She did as instructed and stood outside the semicircle, rock in hand, looking at Mister Chenga questioningly.

“Very good,” Mister Chenga said. “Return to your seat.”

Julia obeyed, tossing the rock back into the middle on her way.

Mister Chenga stood. He towered over the group. “This is your first lesson. We will be learning to harness sources of power of which you are unaware. It is not will power, although it fuels your will and strengthens it. You must always be conscious of this first lesson.” He wagged his finger at us, emphasizing the point.

“Excuse me,” Blake interrupted. “But what exactly was the lesson? I don’t get it.”

Mister Chenga shrugged as though capable of disseminating only so much information at a time. “The lesson is, although you can control your body and other emergent beings, you cannot move rocks with your thoughts.”

“You’re kidding me,” Blake said. “That’s all?”

“Do you think this is a trivial matter?”

Blake put his hands to his head as though trying to prevent it from exploding, then ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, everyone knows you can’t move rocks with your thoughts. Most people anyway.”

“And have you ever tried?”

Blake shrugged. “Sure. Actually, just now. But who hasn’t at some point? Everyone’s seen telekinesis in genre retro vids and probably tried it just for fun.”

“And what did you attempt after watching the genre retro vid? Was it a levitation attempt?”

“I tried making a ball roll across the floor. As I said, it didn’t work.”

“But you half-expected the ball to roll, didn’t you?”

Blake hesitated. “I wouldn’t say expected necessarily. More like wanted.”

“You anticipated the ball rolling,” Mister Chenga said.

“Part of me, I suppose.”

“That’s your ego part.” Mister Chenga walked over in front of Blake. “Sit down.”

Blake sat.

Mister Chenga paced back and forth in the sand, his hands locked behind his back. “As we train, your bodies will reach excellent physical condition. This’ll make you feel strong. And you will be. You’ll also learn how to marshal forces of nature.”

“Like wind?” Julia asked.

“No. More like the power of the mind.” Mister Chenga paused. “Figuring out what you want gets you more than halfway to the solution, but if your solution involves wanting a rock to move by way of thought alone, you’ll fail.”

He continued pacing.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “Our first lesson is that we have no power to move rocks with our thoughts?”

“Precisely,” Mister Chenga said. “But you do have power to control the not-rock things in our universe. And you were the one who illustrated that point in our first lesson, Doug Pettit.”

“Living things,” I mumbled.

Emergent beings,” Mister Chenga responded. “Emergent beings, humans in particular.”

“Are you implying we can control others with our thoughts?” I asked.

“As you showed us, it’s indeed possible.”

“I simply asked her. She complied. I didn’t force her to do anything.”

Mister Chenga stopped and stood hands on hips. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“I don’t think I am,” I told him. “Julia moved the rock.”

The Polynesian’s chest seemed to double in size as he drew in a slow, deep breath. He let it out equally slowly as though exercising an anger management skill. “My point is this. If you become aware of certain forces at your disposal and become adept at harnessing those forces, remember that you can use only those forces on emergent beings, most notably your self, and your body. But you can’t move rocks. It could become an illusion of your ego.”

Blake leaned toward bounty hunter Kelly and whispered, “I bet you could move my rocks without touching them.” He turned away before she could respond.

Sheesh.

“Fine,” I said. “Use power on emergent beings only, not rocks. I get it. Can we go home now?”

“Actually,” Mister Chenga said, “you summarized it very nicely, so yes, go to your new homes now.” He pointed at the doorway with the corridor and bulkheads beyond. “Take your belongings and find your bunks. They’re in the three rooms on the right. Double occupancy. There are lockers and desks, places to store your gear. Relax and wait for the dinner chime. The head is last room on the left. Don’t go beyond the head for now. Otherwise, move about freely.”

The six of us stood and gathered our gear in silence. Blake was first to go through, having already decided that if there was a position of team leader, he’d be first in line. Kelly Cook followed close behind.

“Tomorrow,” Mister Chenga added cheerfully, “we start with a five‑K cross‑country ski trip followed by breakfast and your next lesson.”

I followed close behind the Russian skater. “Julia, you seem pleasant enough. I don’t suppose you’d care to bunk together?”

She smiled, shifted her feet so that she was walking sideways, and slugged me in the shoulder. “Nyet—but nice try!”

Wincing, I rubbed what I was sure would be a bruise in the morning.

“I’ll bunk with you,” Max said, stepping to my side. “If you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” I told him. Max seemed like the quiet type, someone who liked sitting back and reading sensor data all day. That was his thing. Which was fine with me. I had a thing, too. It was called leave me alone and maybe we can get through this without too much grief.

We stepped toward the doorway, where Mister Chenga stood with arms crossed.

As I neared the door, Mister Chenga grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. “Just so we’re clear,” he said, “I’ll try not to be biased, but I don’t think you belong here. In my opinion, your presence jeopardizes the chance of others passing the course.”

“And why would you think that?” I asked, thinking, good question!

“It’s been my experience that people with hidden agendas cause others to stumble.”

“Mine isn’t hidden. I told you mine. And besides, in your experience, you’ve never come across me, so I’d say your education has been sadly lacking when it comes to knowing what I’m capable of.”

“I’ve seen your application. You’re as capable as anyone here, but what have you achieved with your life?”

“Well, I almost got married once.”

At first, I thought his insides were going to burst right through his skin. His dark skin actually lightened, becoming flushed, his blood pressure skyrocketing. Then he laughed. “At least you’re funny. Style points count here.”

“So we’re good?” I asked.

The Polynesian nodded. “I wish you good luck.”

“It’s been my experience that luck has very little to do with anything.” I turned and stepped through the doorway, seeing Max waving at me from the second room on the right, thinking I heard Mister Chenga snicker and say, “Sadly lacking …

About the Author

doug-hewitt

D.A. Hewitt is an award-winning author of four novels and over a hundred short stories. One novel was awarded a gold medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards for best regional fiction. He attributes his success to hard work, honing a skill and providing an outlet for his passion for writing.

Born in Michigan, he lived for 25 years in North Carolina before returning to live in his home state. In addition to enjoying sky diving and mountain climbing, he is a proud veteran of the US Marine Corps and has earned a degree in mathematics.

Mr. Hewitt admits to a fascination with the work of Carl Jung and of the Gnostic religion. He’d always thought intertwining these topics in a science fiction novel was a stretch, but one day the storyline of Dominion came to him. He wrote the novel in a stream of consciousness. “It makes sense, tapping into the collective unconscious,” Mr. Hewitt says, “very much like Carl Jung might have predicted.”

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

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First Chapter Reveal: Wild Within by Christine Hartmann & Giveaway!

Wild Within banner

Wild WithinTitle: WILD WITHIN
Author: Christine Hartmann
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Pages:
Genre: Romantic Suspense

A year after a family tragedy, Grace Mori embarks on the journey of a lifetime…

Two thousand, six hundred miles of blistering heat, wilderness, and soul searching—that’s what Grace signed up for when she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not a voyage for beginners, but with no husband and her family still recovering from her bother’s death, Grace is more alone than ever.

This trail meant something to her brother, and she’ll hike it in his memory, but she can’t do it alone. So with her brother’s gear and a small group, Grace takes the most important first steps of her life.

Grace finds something more than peace and magic on the trail…

When her first day of hiking ends in heat stroke, Grace is rescued by a handsome, red-haired hiker who calls himself Lone Star. Grace has an immediate connection with him, and their brief encounter leaves her fearing her soul mate has slipped through her fingers. Although he vows to keep in touch, Grace doubts she’ll ever see him again.

When fears become reality, the only people Grace can rely on may be killers…

Grace is surprised to find notes left at supply posts along the trail. Lone Star’s eloquent letters keep Grace going, clinging to the hope she’ll find him—and happiness—at the end of her journey. But as the trail becomes more perilous, menace grows within the group. And when Lone Star’s letters mysteriously stop coming, Grace fears the worst.

As tensions flare and a killer emerges, Grace must battle to survive…and reunite with the man she’s sure is her future.

For More Information

  • Wild Within is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

Early morning sun scorched the grimy car hood and forced its way through the window to burn Grace’s bare arms. She fidgeted as she watched the arid plane of sagebrush and light brown dust roll past. The landscape differed completely from the grassy hills, eucalyptus trees, and fog around her native San Francisco. Occasional yucca plants shouldered their way between low scraggly bushes with more branches than leaves. Small boulders peppered the area, looking like enormous grey cottage cheese curds among rolling, sere hills.

This countryside puts the wild in wilderness.

The car bounced past dry pastures and scruffy woods.

Maybe I should have spent more time reading those trail guides?

A glimpse of the Mexican border made her sit up straight.

Who cares? I’m here.

Grace bounced in her seat with excitement.

This is it.

Grace and her friend Celine were the only people at the five square wooden posts that marked the southern terminus of the 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail, a route leading from Mexico to Canada. A few yards away, wind forced its way through the steel border fence like the sound of screeching tires. Celine snapped a few pictures as Grace removed the spiral hiker register from its protective metal box. On the first empty page she wrote: Kenji, you’re with me.

She signed with more bravado than she actually felt.

Grace spurted back to the car. “I want to get going.” But her backpack, resting in the backseat, was in less of a hurry. She coaxed it onto her shoulders with much grunting and straining and stood, slightly bent, for one final snapshot.

“I’ve never lifted anything this heavy. What was I thinking? It’s not a trip to Macy’s where I can throw all the heavy stuff into the trunk.”

“You were thinking you might need some supplies.” Celine surveyed her. “Because you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere. For months.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” Grace straightened with effort. “I’ve been waiting almost a year for this. They say your pack gets lighter as you get used to it. So where’s the trail?”

Celine shrugged. Grace searched the monotonous sand and brush.

“I’ve got the map on my cell.”

But the phone wouldn’t turn on. Grace depressed the controls repeatedly. The screen remained as black as its case.

Come on. My paper maps are buried in my pack.

She took a mental inventory of what lay above them: a one-person tent, a sleeping bag and mat, a wide-brimmed sun hat, extra socks, the head of a toothbrush, all-weather matches, a travel-size deodorant stick, her mother’s homemade rice cakes, and Kenji’s apartment key fastened with a twist tie to the zipper of a first aid kit. The idea of spreading everything out at the base of the monument made her ill.

She pushed more buttons.

Don’t die now.

The screen flickered. She fiddled more and the contrast increased.

“Typical me.” Her hands shook a little as she pinched the trail map to zoom in on her location. “I turned down the brightness last night to save energy. For a second there, I thought I was going to faint. That would’ve made a good Facebook post. Grace Mori’s one second thru-hike of the PCT.”

Celine grinned and poked Grace’s arm. “It’s good to get all the mistakes out of the way at the beginning. Now try to make it through the rest of the day without any more.”

Grace stepped into the sparse brush.

“I already miss you as much as I miss your brother,” Celine called after her. But the wind whipped away her words.

On the trail, Grace’s pent up excitement gave wings to her hiking shoes. They floated across baked earth that meandered through scrub and around boulders. She raced securely down descents and sailed up ascents.

This is so easy.

She covered the next two miles in under an hour. Her initial destination was Lake Morena County Park, eighteen miles away. But her thoughts were of the Canadian border.

Twenty miles a day, for the next four months, before the northern mountains become impassable with snow. In this heat, that idea feels like a mirage.

She looked at her watch.

Nine thirty. Ten more hours of daylight. So I’ll get to Lake Morena with time to spare.

At first, the white circle rising in a cloudless blue seemed a happy part of the scenery. But bit by bit, the sun blazed an ever fiercer hole in the sky. Her short black hair melted into her head and burned her fingers when she touched it.

I should never have given up lightening my hair. Apparently blondes do have more fun, even in the desert.

Her legs pistoned in long strides that searched for cover. But nothing afforded shade.

A tree. A bush. A houseplant, for goodness sake. I’ll take anything.

The trail eventually crossed a highway and meandered through a grove of cottonwood trees. There, Grace slung off her pack, dropped beside it, and dug through her gear.

She squashed a cream-colored hat onto her sweaty brow. Her parched lips drained a water bottle. A rough trunk supported her back.

My shoulders ache. My feet hurt. And this pack weighs a ton. Why did I throw in everything I thought might come in handy? Pre-moistened body wipes? Am I really going to need those out here?

The previous night, she and Celine had discussed her strategy. “I read somewhere a person hiking in direct sun needs at least a gallon of water for every ten miles.” Grace laid out her water containers on the hotel bed. “But one gallon weighs eight pounds. I’ve got a two-gallon collapsible water container and two one-liter bottles. Do you think I should fill them all? That’s close to twenty extra pounds.”

“I think you should follow the rules.”

“That’s a lot of extra weight.” Grace hefted a container from the hotel sink. “Maybe I’ll fill two bottles and leave my larger container partially empty. I’ll drink a lot before I start. And Hauser Creek is on the trail. I can get more water there.”

Celine pursed her lips contemplatively and tossed an empty bottle to Grace. “What if there’s no water in the creek?”

“Then they wouldn’t call it a creek.” Grace chucked the bottle back at her. “It’ll be fine. Like I said, I’ll hydrate like crazy before we set out.”

In the morning, after a brief rest under cottonwoods, Grace continued her hike. She chased lazy clouds in search of shade. They vaporized before she reached them.

Why did I wear pants?

She longed for the hiking skirt in her pack. Then the trail narrowed, and waist-high chaparral brush clung and tore as she battled through. Rough, aggressive limbs and thick, unforgiving leaves pulled at her hiking poles. Grace held them above her head, unable to see her feet. After five minutes of struggle, she reached the other side. Her face dripped with sweat. She looked down.

I love you, pants.

Grace drained her second water bottle as she climbed. At the top of the hill, she paused. Perspiration dripped into her eyes and mouth, but she was too hot to care. In the distance, the border wall and Mexican mountains were still clearly visible. She thought of fishing out her phone for a picture.

Too much effort.

The path leveled out. Her pace slowed. The heat irritated her.

I should have had my hat on from the beginning. Why didn’t I start hiking earlier in the day? Where the heck is Hauser Creek? I need more water.

She wiped a hot tear from her cheek.

What a mess. But there’s no point in crying. Come on Grace.

Grace was the kind of person who prided herself on being someone people could count on. When her mother’s first attempt at baked Alaska set the kitchen window curtains aflame, teenage Grace doused the inferno in chocolate syrup, then helped her mother take down the gooey mess.

“People in Alaska originally lived in igloos. They probably didn’t have window curtains.” She wiped the counter with a Lysol-soaked dishrag. “Some desserts don’t translate well across climate zones.”

As an adult, Grace volunteered her services as a psychologist for the Friday overnight shift at the Berkeley women’s crisis hotline. There, she comforted agonized rape victims, beaten girlfriends, and conflicted housewives with a sympathetic ear, sensible advice, and a list of referrals she’d personally vetted.

“You’re ready to move out? Don’t forget to take his Rolex. He owes you big time.”

And when tragedy struck her family a year ago, it was Grace who negotiated with the funeral home and the florist. Phoned relatives in San Diego, New Brunswick, and Tokyo. Late at night, in bed alone, she lay exhausted but sleepless.

“How am I going to get through this by myself?”

That blistering day on the trail, she began to lose faith. The merciless, prodding sun became her enemy. It evaporated her enthusiasm, diminished her stamina, and gnawed at her judgment. Her feet dragged along the sandy path without any of their initial eagerness. She refilled her water bottles from the large container in her pack and ignored the voice that told her she would soon run out of fluids.

After another mile, the trail merged with a Jeep road. In the distance, Grace saw a disappearing cloud of dust.

That was a car. I could have asked them for a ride. Maybe they had air conditioning. Some extra water. Maybe they were on their way back to San Diego and would have taken me to a hotel. I could have started the trail again in a few days, when it’s cooler.

She checked the phone’s GPS. Four miles to Hauser Creek.

I’ll make it if I ration my water.

By the time the trail dove into Hauser Canyon’s shaded grove of oaks and sycamores, Grace hated the sun more than she’d ever hated anything. She squinted at the wooded valley. But the only hint that a creek had ever flowed across the parched land was a strip of slightly darker sand meandering through a pile of rocks. Grace’s knees wobbled.

Even in the shade, sweat poured down her face.

It’s past noon. I should eat.

She felt nauseous. Her head pulsed like molten lava in a live volcano crater.

I need to rest.

Her shoulders shrugged out of the pack straps and she sank to the ground. Before thinking better of it, she drank the rest of her water. A small Japanese folding fan, the parting gift from her sister, offered some relief. The hot desert air drew out the fan’s sandalwood scent. The breeze evaporated her perspiration.

She kicked off her shoes and socks, then changed into her skirt. But after thirty minutes of inertia, sweat still dripped from her chin. Sitting made her dizzy, so she lay down. The violent sun tortured her through the leaves, shafts branding her face and body like flames.

I need more water. Have to keep going. A road’s not far ahead. If I lie down in the middle, somebody will find me.

But the idea of crawling out of the partial shade into the glaring sun was too much.

Bees droned near her head.

What’s that? Airplane? Maybe they can see me down here. Call in a rescue.

Her mind drifted up, into the sparse tree branches. It hung there briefly. Then ascended into the smoldering, cloudless sky.

Later, another idea broke through her confusion.

I’m going to die. On my first day on the trail. Kind of a waste. All this equipment. All that money. Geez, I could have spent it on those cell phone-operated blinds for the living room instead. There was that coupon in the Saturday clipper magazine…

Her tongue ran along dry lips.

Hmm. I’m licking a lizard. I wonder if he’ll lick back.

Then Grace thought of nothing.

Giveaway!

Christine is giving away 2 $25 Amazon Gift Cards & 20 Wild Within Coffee Mugs!

Terms & Conditions:
• By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
• Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Amazon Gift Card & twenty winners will be chosen to receive one Wild Within Coffee Mug
• This giveaway starts April 4 and ends June 30
• Winner will be contacted via email on July 1.
• Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!

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Chapter reveal: Dying to Tell, by Tj O’Connor

DTT Cover 800 jan 2016 copyTitle:  DYING TO TELL

Genre:  Mystery

Author:  Tj O’Connor

Websitewww.tjoconnor.com

Publisher:  Midnight Ink

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

In Dying to Tell, the latest mystery by award-winning novelist Tj O’Connor, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire—is back for the case of a lifetime, or, rather, the afterlifetime. 

A former police detective who now solves mysteries from beyond, Tuck doesn’t appreciate just how perilous the past can be till his wife, Angel, is nearly killed and reclusive banker William Mendelson is found dead in a hidden vault.  Tuck knows there’s more to Mendelson’s murder than decades-old skullduggery. As murderers, thieves, and spies descend on small-town Winchester, Tuck joins up with Angel, old detective partners, and a long-dead grandfather still on an army mission from 1942. With the case unfolding around him, Tuck must confront haunting family secrets and the growing distance between his death and Angel’s life.  The outcome could be a killer of its own, but Tuck is set on solving this case. Dead set.  After all, some things never die…

 CHAPTER ONE

Dying is as perilous as secrets and lies. Depending, of course, on

who is keeping the secrets and who is telling the lies. Trust me, I’m

in the secrets and lies business—I’m a homicide cop. Well, I was.

Secrets and lies can lead to big problems—like murder—although

it’s not in the secrets or the lies themselves. It’s that someone always

wants to tell. The urge is like an addict needing a fix. You need to

tell—you cannot help it—you have to tell. Sometimes it’s out of

guilt. Sometimes it’s for revenge. Sometimes it’s just spite. No matter,

in the end, someone is always dying to tell.

And then bad things happen.

An auburn-haired beauty with green eyes—eyes that could hypnotize

vampires—walked down the outdoor Old Town Winchester

mall through a dusting of blowing December snow. She stopped

momentarily to adjust her long wool overcoat over her athletic legs

and curvaceous, bumpy body—a good bumpy. She looked around

the mall, twice back from where she’d come, and turned down the

sidewalk to the annex behind the First Bank and Trust of Frederick

2

County. When she caught sight of me, her smile—one that normally

could charm snakes—looked more like that of a cobra ready to strike.

I ran to catch up.

No, not because I’m obsessed with vampires or snake charmers.

And no, I wasn’t stalking this classy university professor on her way to

some mysterious early morning appointment. She was my wife, but

she was on her way to a mysterious appointment—and I didn’t know

where or why. So, being the former detective I was, I followed her.

“Angel, where you going?”

“To the bank.” She reached the employee entrance door and stopped.

“Why are you following me?”

Silly question. “Because you’re going to the bank at seven in the

morning. It’s closed.”

She checked her watch. “And it’s almost seven thirty.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of banker’s hours? Who do you think is

here this early?”

She rolled her eyes—a signal that my wit or charm had disarmed

her. “I’ll explain later at home.”

“I’ll wait. We can get pancakes.”

“You hate pancakes. What’s wrong with you lately? Are you spying

on me?”

I did hate pancakes, but watching her eat steak and eggs—my

favorite breakfast—was much more painful. “Spying, no. Me?”

“I didn’t think the dead could be so frustrating.”

Oh, did I mention I’m dead? No? I’m Tuck, formerly Detective

Oliver Tucker of the Frederick County Sheriff ’s office. Now I’m just

Tuck to my friends—those living and dead. I was a hotshot homicide

detective before I went investigating noises in my house late

one night. Those noises led someone to put a bullet in my heart.

3

That was nearly two years ago. And it’s taken me that long to come to

terms with it. Sort of. It helped to catch the bastard who shot me and

put an end to his killing spree. And it helps to have my wife, Angel,

and Hercule, my black Lab, around, too. Dead and gone are two totally

different things. I’m dead, but as Angel and Hercule will tell

you—well, maybe not Hercule, he’s a dog—I’m just not gone.

“Angel, listen, I …”

The steel security door at the employee entrance door burst open

and banged against the brick annex wall. A masked gunman—a tall,

strong-looking figure dressed in dark clothes and the traditional bank

robber’s balaclava—ran from the annex, turned, and fired a shot from

a small revolver. He slipped on the sidewalk, freshly adorned with an

inch of snow, and crashed to the ground. He cursed, jumped to his

feet, and locked eyes on Angel.

“Run, Angel. Run!” I yelled.

Too late.

The gunman scrambled the three yards to us and grabbed Angel

by the arm. “Come here!” He spun her around, pulled her to him

like a shield, and faced the annex doorway.

A bank security guard emerged through the door, gun first.

“Freeze! Let her go!”

The gunman fired two shots in rapid succession. One hit the security

guard and the other slammed safely into the wall two feet beside

him. The guard grunted, staggered back, and went down, striking

his head on a stone flower planter beside the entrance.

“Angel, stay calm,” I said. “I’ll get you out of this.”

“Tuck, help me!”

I dove for the gunman and took two vicious swings trying to free

her. Both blows struck him in the face and neither caused him to

4

flinch. I struck again—lashed a kick to his knee, a jab to the rib cage.

Two more body blows.

Nothing.

“Angel, fight. You have to fight. I can’t help.”

Angel was not a timid or slight woman and she erupted like a

wildcat, taking the gunman by surprise. She twisted and fought

against his grip and nearly broke free.

“Dammit, lady, stop!” He jammed the revolved to her cheek. “Or

else.”

“Tuck,” she cried out, “help me! Tuck …”

Rage boiled over and the explosion started inside me everywhere.

A second later, my fingers tingled and my body burned from

the inside. Seconds were all I had. I lunged forward and struck the

gunman in the throat with the heel of my hand. He staggered back,

relaxing his grip around Angel. I struck two more vicious punches

to his face and followed with a kick to his midsection.

“What the f—” He released her and turned in a circle, his eyes

darting around.

I struck two kidney punches and a sharp kick to the inside of one

leg. He umphed and crumpled sideways down onto one knee. I

crushed him with a two-fisted hammer punch to the back of his neck.

“Run, Angel—go!”

She was only four or five strides from the gunman when he lifted

his revolver and took aim.

A gunshot split the air from behind us, searing a lightning bolt

through me on its way to the bank robber. It struck him in the upper

arm and spun him sideways. A second shot followed but missed him

by mere inches. The gunman was stunned but regained his footing—

his injury wasn’t stopping him. He staggered back, lifted his

5

revolver, and pulled off a shot before he ran around the rear of the

bank annex and disappeared.

“Angel?” I spun around. “Are you all right?”

Apparently, she was fine.

A tall, square-jawed, distinguished man in a heavy wool overcoat

stood beside her now. He had one arm around her, speaking slowly to

her—consoling her—and his other arm hung to his side, a black, compact

.45 semiautomatic handgun in his grasp. He looked like a younger

Clooney, but perhaps better looking. I instantly distrusted him.

“I’m fine, Mr. Thorne, really.” Angel slipped from his arm and went

to the security guard lying on the snowy ground beside the annex

door. She moved over him, checked his wounds, and tried to wake

him. “Call an ambulance. He’s been shot and is unconscious.”

Thorne—a man I’d never seen before—pulled a cell phone from

his overcoat pocket. “Right, and the police. Is Conti all right?”

“I’m not sure.” She investigated a small, thin hole over the guard’s

left breast through his blue suit coat. From inside the coat, she pulled

out a paperback book and held it up. “Agatha Christie saved his

life—Murder on the Orient Express. The bullet hit this and didn’t go

through.”

I put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her—or perhaps, to

comfort me. The rage had passed, and with it, the last of my connection

to the physical world. “Are you okay, babe? I …”

“I’m fine. Go see if anyone else is hurt inside.” She caught Thorne

eyeing her. “There may be more employees inside, right?”

“Not at this hour, no. Let’s wait on the police.”

No, I wasn’t waiting.

6

A voice beckoned me into the bank and I followed. It wasn’t a

voice—not really—it was more like someone telegraphing words

into my head: “It isn’t over, kid, follow me.”

The bank annex was dark. The faint morning light was barely

enough to cast more than a dull haze through the lobby windows. I

went through the grand lobby, down a long, dark corridor into the

executive wing. At the end of the corridor were three offices. I stopped

at the suite of William H. Mendelson, Chairman of the Board, First

Bank and Trust of Frederick County—or so said the brass plaque

below the oversized portrait of a silver-haired titan.

The voice from nowhere whispered, “Hurry up, kid. Inside.”

I followed the voice into the pitch-black office and through a

second doorway in the corner of the room—a closet, I thought—

but it was the entrance to a stairwell leading down into more darkness.

Two floors below, in a sub-basement, the stairwell opened to a

wide landing at a heavy steel security gate that looked like a prison

cell door. Beyond the gate was a small anteroom lit by a dim fluorescent

light overhead. The gate was unlocked and open and the anteroom

beyond was empty except for a small metal work table and

two battleship-gray chairs. In the rear of the room was a monstrous,

turn-of-the-century steel vault door—the nineteenth century. To my

surprise, the door was cracked open, and a sliver of eerie light from

inside the vault etched the anteroom wall.

“Inside, Oliver.” The voice was all around me now. “Go inside.”

Oliver? “Who the hell are you?”

“Just go. Quit stalling.”

I turned and found a strange man—a fellow wraith—leaning

against the anteroom wall watching me—not in a casual way, but

trying to appear casual. He had one hand in a pocket of his leather

7

bomber jacket and he tipped a baseball cap that had a big “W” on it

off his brow with the other.

“Trust me, kid. This isn’t the way it looks.” He threw a chin toward

the vault. “Go on in. I’ve done my part. Now it’s your turn.”

Inside I found the Chairman of the First Bank and Trust of Frederick

County.

William H. Mendelson always reminded me of Lionel Barrymore’s

Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He was a starchy, arrogant

old banker who made rare appearances around town. When he

did, he never spoke, didn’t wave, and never, ever smiled. And to

those who knew him, he was never William or Bill—God, never

Billy, either. He was Mr. Mendelson—or more often, the Chairman.

Like he was Frank Sinatra or something, right?

William sat behind a square steel counting table in the middle of

the vault, facing the door. He was dressed in the same blue doublebreasted

suit he must have worn yesterday—from the smell, he’d

been here a while. A dark blood stain ruined his starched white shirt

and expensive silk tie—the result of a small-caliber bullet hole in his

heart. Both hands rested on the tabletop like he was waiting for a

sandwich—or pancakes—and they were stuck to the blackish gooey

remains of his life.

And hanging in the vault air was the heavy, pungent odor of

smoke.

The bomber-jacketed man—strangely familiar—said, “Remember,

kid, it’s not what you think.”

“Hello, William,” I said, looking at the murdered chairman. “I’m

Tuck and I’ll be investigating your murder. Perhaps you can tell

me—what should I think?”

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First Chapter Reveal: Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup: A Memoir of Marriage, Mime and Moving On by Elisabeth Amaral

Czar Nicholas 3Title: Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup
Author: Elisabeth Amaral
Publisher: iUniverse
Pages: 324
Genre: Memoir
Format: Paperback/Kindle

The mid-1960s through the mid-1970s was a heady, turbulent time. There was a lot going on back then, and author Elisabeth Amaral was in the middle of it all: the fights for women’s rights, racial equality, a music revolution, be-ins, love-ins, riots in the streets, the rage against the Vietnam War, and sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It was an amazing time to be young.

In Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup, Amaral shares her recollections of those times. She and her husband gave up their jobs in New York City, relocated to Boston with their infant son because of mime, unexpectedly started a children’s boutique, and opened a popular restaurant in Harvard Square. Most of all it is a coming-of-age story about herself and her husband as they embarked on an improbable and moving journey of self-discovery.

With sincerity and humor, Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup offers a personal and revealing account that reaches out to those who find themselves striving to make a relationship work that, by its very nature, may be doomed. But this story is also one of friendship—and of finding the courage to move on.

“A truly wonderful memoir that reads like great fiction. The characters come alive on the page.” – Elizabeth Brundage, author of The Doctor’s Wife and A Stranger Like You.

“The story of how Liz Amaral and her husband became successful at the epicenter of counterculture businesses near Harvard Square / Cambridge from 1967-1975 with their boutique and restaurant is told with humor and insight. Swirling around them are all of the entrapments of the era, the drugs and free love and betrayal, as well as the politics that defined the times.

With a fierce dedication to her son and husband, Liz Amaral triumphs in this stunning memoir where she discovers that, while love isn’t always what we think it is, it remains, in all its multi-faceted transformations, the driving force of who we are and how we live our lives.” – P.B. O’Sullivan, writer and mathematician

“In her intimate and humorous memoir, Liz Amaral reveals the challenges of a young family establishing a home in Cambridge amid the tumult of the late 1960s. You will discover the disconcerting truth about her marriage and the painful path she takes to find herself again. A true adventure of the heart.” – Kathrin Seitz, writer, producer, and coach

For More Information

  • Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

You Want to WHAT?

People move all the time, for many reasons. When Orlando first discussed moving from the city, the reason was mime. You think that’s hard to believe? You should have seen me, way back in 1967, smack in the middle of the Summer of Love. We were walking down Second Avenue with our son, Nicholas, ten months old. He was already walking, but that day I was carrying him in a pale-blue fringed sling that sat on my right hip. It was a beautiful day, and I didn’t have a care in the world. We passed ‘our’ elderly Ukrainian woman sitting on a wooden folding chair, a faded babushka covering much of her gray hair. This was her spot, outside a tiny storefront between East Sixth and Seventh Streets, and whenever she saw us walk by with Nicholas she would smile her almost toothless smile and wave us over. That day he was sound asleep, yet she silently clasped her hands in joy, her sweet, wrinkled face beaming. “Bubala,” she whispered and then looked at us with large, heavily lidded pale-blue eyes. What stories she must have. The strong sun accentuated the many long, thick white hairs on her chin, and I felt a responsibility to find tweezers and pluck them out, the way I might need someone to do for me one day.

We continued our walk. “I love living here. It’s perfect,” I said, feeling happy and right with my world.

“It’s dirty,” Orlando said, and then he turned to me. “Elisabeth …”

Uh oh, I thought and kept walking.

“I think we should move up to Boston for a while.”

“Yeah, right,” I said.

“Just for a few months,” he said. “So I can study with those mimes I worked with last year.”

I stopped and stared at him before responding. The realization that he was serious stunned me. “Leave the East Village? So you can practice mime? That’s crazy.”

“It’s not,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity. And we’ll have fun. We always do. Besides, it’s getting edgy around here. The vibes are changing. Let’s do it for Nicholas, for three months. If we don’t like it, we can always come back.”

For Nicholas? As if Boston could possibly be better for a baby than the melting pot we lived in. I’d have to be nuts to leave, because nothing could be better than living on the corner of East Tenth Street and Second Avenue. Well, maybe an apartment in Paris or a houseboat in Sausalito but not much else. Certainly not Boston. What Orlando was asking me to leave was a two-bedroom rent-controlled apartment over the 2nd Avenue Deli that cost us one hundred thirty-five dollars a month. He was asking me to leave the Deli with the best chicken soup in the city; Kiev and Veselka, two local restaurants that sustained us with their pierogi; Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Restaurant (I still have the cookbook); Veniero’s Pastry Shop; and Pete’s Spice and Everything Nice. And what would I get in exchange? Scrod, baked beans, and freezing winters. Not a chance!

“How can you even think of asking me to leave all this?” I spread my free arm wide, encompassing the overflowing garbage cans on the sidewalks, the tenements, the uninspiring Mom-and-Pop stores, head shops, St. Mark’s Place, and Gem Spa, home of the best egg creams in the city. We were kids with a baby, living in the throbbing heart of the East-Coast counterculture, surrounded by artists, writers, poets, hippies, Ukrainians, Puerto Ricans, and Hell’s Angels. Life could not get richer than this!

“All what, Elisabeth? The creepy guy who keeps following you and Nicky into our lobby saying ‘Ay, mami’? The bullet hole in our bedroom window? The filth? It’s changing down here. The whole mood is changing. It’s getting ugly.”

He was right. The vibe was changing, from love and peace to something else, and I couldn’t wait to see what that something else was going to be. I wanted to be part of it. At the same time, I wanted to be reasonable.

“Okay. Three months,” I said. “I’ll give Boston three months, but that’s all. Not a day more. We can leave in November, after my birthday.” I started walking again.

“That’s months away,” he said.

“That’s the deal,” I said.

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First Chapter Reveal: The Art and Science of Healing – With Light by Dr. Mark J. Rogers with Nike Azoros

The Art & Science of Healing 3Title: The Art and Science of Healing – with Light
Author: Dr. Mark J. Rogers with Nike Azoros
Publisher: Dr. Mark J. Rogers with Nike Azoros
Pages: 442
Genre: Medical
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions but it is not a disease. Chronic pain is a genuine physical problem and its epidemic is being spread by the very treatments the doctors are prescribing. Over thirty percent of patients across the world present with back, neck, or head pain, the majority of whom are in chronic pain, but all doctors offer is a prescription for painkillers and a referral for intensive physical therapy. The patients never improve, in fact they get worse. Instead of receiving empathy and understanding they are often accused of being dishonest about the severity of their pain. Some are even sent for psychotherapy. ‘The Art and Science of Healing – with Light’ breaks that vicious cycle. Within it is explained to patients how they developed chronic pain in the first place and how to begin to heal their migraines, back pain, neck pain, tinnitus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and all forms of chronic pain in general.

Doctor Mark Rogers bases the healing process on his 7 Principles of Healing Chronic Pain. His methods are all based in science, are common sense, pain free, drug free, have no painful exercises, and no ‘mind over matter’ meditations for coping because the problem is not in the mind of the patients, it is in their bodies at a deep cellular level. The 7 Principles have a conservative efficacy of eighty-five percent. As long as the Principles are followed the patient will heal. It is the medical system that is keeping patients in pain through ignoring the origin of the pain. Pain is not a mystery, it is not a disease, it means you are being hurt. Chronic pain means you are still being hurt. Written in a clear easy to read style with minimal medical jargon it is designed for patients to finally give them understand what happened to them and gain control over their healing processes so they can start healing today.

For More Information

  • The Art and Science of Healing – with Light is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

‘It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it – the life of that man is one long sin against mankind’

W.K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief” Contemporary review 1877

‘…make a habit of two things: to help; or at least, to Do No Harm.’

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, 460 BC – 377 BC

Chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions but it is not a disease. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have a disease called Pain. Pain is always a symptom of another problem. Pain means you are being hurt. Chronic pain indicates you are continuing to be being hurt.

Acute and Chronic Pain

Whenever we feel pain our brain knows that something dangerous is happening and it needs to take protective action. When pain persists our brain activates our bodies systems to take the necessary steps to protect us. The overly active nervous systems cause large amounts of signals to be sent to the brain sending us into a state of hyper-vigilance, which is why the chronic pain patient becomes jumpy and has great difficulty falling asleep.

The patient is not only in pain but is tired in the extreme yet what the doctors see is that the pain is persisting when the injury should have well and truly healed. On the outside the body will indeed appear normal, scans and X-rays show nothing. The actual problem is at a deep cellular level but in the absence of any obvious reason for the persistent pain the complaints of the patient are often dismissed. The patient is offered medication for pain relief and told to exercise and have physical therapies.

When these don’t work, as in the vast majority of cases, the response from the doctor is to do more of the same. Chronic pain patients are placed on endless repetitions of ineffective treatment, yet their condition worsens. Instead of questioning the treatment it is the patient who is viewed with doubt, their very sanity is questioned and often psychotherapy is prescribed.

It is not your imagination. Your pain is real. It is the way the medical system repeatedly enforces harmful actions upon your body that keeps your pain alive. Pain is produced to protect us but the longer we feel it the more our brain and body systems become locked into a sensitised state. The 7 Principles outline in detail why and how this happens and how to reverse it so the brain and body can gradually de-activate the protective processes and instead activate the processes of healing.

Acute pain is often defined as sharp pain with a duration of less than 3 months, while chronic pain has a duration of longer than 3 months. When we take into account the belief that pain relates directly to tissue health and most tissue injuries resolve within 2-3 months, it has always been felt that any associated pain should also resolve in that same time.

Acute pain by its sharp, hurtful nature motivates us to take protective actions that will keep us from re-injury and help our tissues heal. One of these actions is the inbuilt withdrawal reflex that makes us recoil automatically away from any source of pain, identical to when you pull back your hand from a flame so as not to get burnt.

In chronic pain your withdrawal reflex has been overridden because of the constant state of stress in the body reinforcing the hypersensitive responses of our bodies systems which make certain adjustments to help us manage. These limit recovery, and they are caused by the standard recommended treatments prescribed by your own doctor yet pain patients are told they are beyond help and that they must now learn to live with the pain.

Not anymore. The 7 Principles will guide you through making re-adjustments which will faster activate healing.

My Personal Experience with Chronic Pain and How I Healed.

I had been suffering migraines since I was 8 years old. I also had ringing in my ears, known as tinnitus, and ongoing neck and lower back pain.

I had 8 successful medical clinics across Australia, and was aiming to have many more. It wasn’t because I was a dedicated doctor, it was because I was driven and determined to be successful. It would take me years to understand the direct connection that these attitudes, common to doctors, have on the way we treat patients in pain. The instant I understood the connection that behaviour changed but up until then it was all I knew.

I’m the son of a Medico. He was very successful, well respected, and my role model, but he was rarely home because he had to stay at work until he had seen his daily requisite of one hundred paying patients. That was the number he needed to see in order to maintain his doctor’s lifestyle, and it was how most doctors operated, by numbers, not by patient outcome. When I got together with other doctors all we talked about was how many patients we saw in a day, not how many we had healed. The noble dictum of Hippocrates, ‘Do No Harm’ was never discussed, it was ancient history.

Looking after those eight clinics and all that entailed, my young family, and trying to keep up a lifestyle while having regular migraines was debilitating. The tinnitus was driving me crazy and I was plagued by the back and neck pains.

When I was at medical school my neurology professors had no answers either. They all knew my father and that he was also a migraine sufferer so they said it must be genetic. Another suggestion was that there was something wrong with my brain.

For the more than thirty percent of my patients who also had at least one of the same problems the best I could do was to offer some sympathy as I handed over a prescription or sent them down the hall to the in-house physiotherapist of the clinic. The struggle with my own pain meant I often needed to race back into my room for a quick lie down before seeing the next patient. It was a vicious cycle. I couldn’t help my patients and I couldn’t help myself.

One morning I awoke with a painful stiff neck, commonly known as wryneck. As if the pain of that wasn’t bad enough on the way to work I could feel I was developing a migraine. My day was booked solid but being the newly graduated doctor I felt it was important to stay at work. The physiotherapist noticed my condition and beckoned me over. He didn’t know anything about me nor did he ask any questions other than if I had woken up that way.

Before I knew it with one aggressive action he had wrenched my neck. The misguided application of brute force was really the performance of a classic ‘magic trick’. My chronically inflamed pain nerve fibers had been shocked into submission thereby inhibiting the constant pain-inducing muscle contractions. At the time it seemed like an instant cure. I didn’t know it was only a temporary state.

I felt orgasmic relief. I let out a sigh of satisfaction and was able to get back to work and finish the day. For a few hours I thought he was a genius but the next day I couldn’t get out of bed – or the next day. The pain was so bad there was no way I could go into work. When I went back to see him again it was not for any further treatment but to confront him about his methods. I will never forget what he told me. He said,

‘If I had told you what I was about to do, you wouldn’t have let me do it.’ He knew that it was harmful, and he did it anyway. He also knew it was innately wrong to me personally, and to all humans. To protect our own necks at all costs is inherently ingrained within our natural hardwiring for the survival of our species. It is pure lunacy to allow another human being to freely attack our neck. I learnt from a horrified friend that he is still doing it as therapy to his paying patients.

He had put temporary severe pressure on the nerves and I got the equivalent release that acupuncture provides. What I now know, and what medical school never taught me, is that he had just made the pain nerves go numb only to stir later, angrier than before.

His dangerous ‘therapy’ increased the severity and frequency of my migraines. He took me from significantly injured to broken. It changed me from having frequent terrible headaches to suffering every day. I had been blithely sending off my pain patients to have twice weekly physiotherapy when I had no understanding of the consequences. I believe that in general the vast majority of medicos refer pain sufferers for such physical manipulations because they haven’t witnessed what is inflicted upon the unsuspecting.

I was twenty-six years old when I had that shocking physiotherapy experience. From then on, for the next nine years, my migraines became a daily hell that made me feel like chopping off my head.

The incident happened in my first clinic, in it, and in every clinic I opened after that, I always provided plenty of space for the physiotherapists. I mindlessly went along with the medical practice of sending pain patients to physio because it meant more income for the clinic.

It was all about the money, but it was done guilt free as nothing was taught in medical school of how to manage back pain. It was conventional medical wisdom that the physiotherapist was the appropriately trained health professional for treating pain. For the next 20 years I was reminded again and again that I was never to question the establishment, they knew best. In my mind I thought I was looking after the patients and the business, I would send those pain wracked patients down the hall to get manipulated and put into traction and was proud of it.

In 1997 the meteoric growth of my clinics was halted when the government changed the rules of how clinics could engage doctors. My multiple clinics suddenly didn’t have enough doctors and profits were negatively affected, as was everything else, from my relationships to my health. My response to it all was to keep up appearances and I did that by working harder, which in turn put more strain on my relationships and health. I couldn’t seem to get away from those vicious cycles, and a new problem arose – depression.

In Principle 3. Reduce the Inflammation I will explain how depression is one of the consequences of inflammation, but of course I didn’t know it then. I didn’t seek any help and looking back it was probably just as well. If I had followed standard procedures I would have been sent for psychotherapy and been told it’s all in my mind, or taken anti-depressants. No one knew or would have even believed that depression is very real repercussion of the spread of inflammation from unhealed injuries.

My father would say, ‘bite off as much you can chew and then work out how to swallow it’, so I did. The trouble was I had bitten off so much I was choking. I worked harder and harder, borrowed more money and then worked even harder. And my migraines were murderous. It never occurred to me to slow down or simplify anything, I was one of the many who thought that maintaining the aura of prestige was of the utmost importance.

NASA came to town

Everything changed when I was introduced to the Science of Light, phototherapy. Like most doctors I receive invitations to attend seminars and conferences, only a few of which it is possible to accept because of work, and frankly the ones to more glamorous locations get priority so as to make it feel like a vacation as well.

One such invitation was to attend a presentation by two scientists. It meant a trip interstate to a suburb of Sydney called Castle Hill. If it had been located within the city of Sydney with its beautiful harbour and exciting buzz I might have given it some thought but being stuck in a suburb had no appeal. It barely seemed worth my time so I declined, I was far too busy. The organisers had targeted me as a potential major customer because of my eight not so booming clinics. They called to ask me to reconsider and I declined again, but they persisted. I finally accepted more for the weekend away than out of any real interest in some science presentation.

It was on LASER. I knew nothing about laser therapy when I got that invitation. I knew there was a lot happening in the medical field with lasers being used in surgery, dentistry, dermatology, optical, and even the beauty industry. I couldn’t see how lasers could assist general practice patients. Back then I was just like any other general practitioner, I was unquestioning of the conventional mainstream methods but I went prepared to listen with an open mind; thankfully.

It was July 1998 when I attended that seminar given by Professor Edmund Wong and Dr Garrett Lee. They had travelled from the U.S.A to educate interested health professionals in the pain relieving benefits of Low Level Laser Therapy, (LLLT) also known as cold laser therapy.

It was at NASA that Dr Garrett Lee was introduced to laser. He worked as a cardiologist monitoring the astronauts upon their return from space missions and was involved in finding ways to help them recover more quickly from the altering effects of being in space. Zero gravity wreaks havoc on the body. When the astronauts return to Earth they temporarily cannot walk due to severe muscle atrophy. They suffer daily from nausea, are full of lymphedema, and they are in pain. The astronauts recover eventually but there is significant danger of permanent damage occurring until they do. Faster healing was needed.

Lee, while part of the NASA team, witnessed it was chronic swelling, lymphedema, causing the pain and that laser light was very effective in its reduction. The astronauts were surrounded with infrared cold lasers and the pain went away. As a result lasers were built into the space suits to prevent the no gravity lymphedema. This was over thirty-five years ago. Lee introduced Wong to laser who spent the next twenty years applying LLLT to chronic pain patients.

Edmund Wong was a professor of dentistry originally from Beijing but residing in Hawaii for over twenty-five years. He was an expert in head and neck pain, which included migraine, temporal mandibular joint disorder (TMJ), jaw clenching, and teeth grinding.

It was all interesting stuff and the science of it all was fascinating but it was of no use to me – until he said they used laser to alleviate the pain of migraine. Suddenly they had my full attention. The simple words spoken next instantly shed light upon the mystery of chronic pain.

‘An injury starts it all.’ A physical injury of any form, from a fall to a sporting accident, dental procedures, even an over-stretch could cause microscopic and/or macroscopic tears in the soft tissue. The injury for some reason has never healed so the body does what it is designed to do in such cases, it keeps on producing pain. They also emphasised that bad posture aggravated the injury, which in turn aggravated the pain.

Everything I had just heard presented as a scientific finding was also sheer common sense that every doctor knew about, yet somehow through the machinations of modern medicine it had become uncommon sense.

Throughout the presentation they explained the pure science of cold laser therapy. Albert Einstein laid the foundations of laser in his Nobel Prize winning discovery of the law of photoelectric effect. Atoms of light can be stimulated to emit photon energy in a steady beam of radiation. That’s what LASER means, Light Amplification Stimulated Emission of Radiation. There were many more Nobel Prizes won along the way as scientists worked on the law and brought LASER to fruition and enhanced its uses.

Cold laser causes accelerated recovery of injuries through the phenomenon of photobiomodulation. The light that is synthesized by the LASER device is cool to the touch, it does not cut or burn but its light penetrates into the cells just deep enough to reach the mitochondria, the energy producers within our cells. This triggers a cascade of processes that results in the acceleration of the healing of wounds through cell and tissue repair. Every word they spoke of light was true and undeniable.

I knew light was used in healing because that is how we treat babies for jaundice. Infrared ray lamps became highly popular for a while and proved to assist in healing but a few people placed them too close to the body, closer than the recommended greater than twenty-three centimetres distance. Some nasty burns were incurred so it was broadcast on television that it was dangerous.

Instead of making the minor adjustment of keeping it greater than twenty-three centimetres from the body an inexpensive and effective healing tool that recreates the laws of nature was rejected. In its place the patient in pain is given a prescription for drugs, or is sent for physical therapies.

Light is therapy. Over one hundred and fifty years ago Florence Nightingale, the brilliant nursing pioneer also known as The Lady with the Lamp, knew that the patients nearest the windows got better faster than the ones in the dark corners.

It’s been known for many decades that the human body transforms light into electrochemical energy. We need light to function, a bit like a plant with photosynthesis. All doctors know that light is essential to activate the chain of reactions within the cells that stimulate metabolism and the immune response. In spite of that knowledge mainstream medicine has so far chosen to ignore the power of cold laser therapy to heal, which is like declaring science to be impotent and even shambolic. The science of light is obedient to the laws of physics, which are the laws of Nature. It is eternal. It is irrefutable.

And so it was science, not medicine that provided me the answer to what is the source of chronic pain; an injury in the soft tissue of the body that was never allowed to heal properly.

The presentation progressed into a demonstration. Patients were wheeled in. Everyone in the audience was some form of health professional so we could all tell that these patients were clearly in pain. We looked on as cold laser therapy was applied to each patient and each one was soon able to stand up and walk with ease.

There was no evangelical zeal that we had witnessed a miracle. There was no whooping for joy, and no Hallelujahs. It was just a calm and logical explanation that the light had relaxed the muscles, stimulated the cells and reduced the lymphedema, which meant pain free movement. If applied over longer periods the results would be permanent.

I quickly stuck my hand up and said,

‘I suffer migraines can you do anything for me?’ They used me as an example of how to treat a migraine patient by applying the laser to the back of my neck.

‘But the pain is in my head.’

‘No’, they replied.

‘You think it’s in your head but the pain has spread to the surrounding scalp, from the swelling in your neck.’

I dwelt on that statement as I enjoyed the laser therapy. It felt good. It was like a massage without the pressure. A wave of euphoria swept through me as my muscles took in the laser light and relaxed. It was the best massage I never had. I could feel my muscles relaxing but I wasn’t being hurt, snapped or cracked. The light was doing all the work.

I was so excited about this life changing medical discovery that when I left for home it was with the laser kit tucked tightly under my arm.

I became my own human experiment. I had some misadventures to say the least but when I applied the laser to a certain spot, at the right hand side of the base of my skull, on the nuchal line, I felt something. The laser light had found the micro tear in my neck. I’d hit a nerve, literally. The nerve of the ice pick man, a term only migraine sufferers can understand, the nerve of sensation, the occipital sensory nerve.

When I hit that spot on the back of my neck the sensation followed the path of pain that I experienced when I had a migraine. It shot up from the back of my neck, over my scalp and up through to the front of my head, to the temple, right in the spot my head throbbed when I had a migraine. It was the moment I defined migraine as being not a head or brain problem but a musculoskeletal problem. My head flopped back and I let out an involuntary sigh of relief.

As with neuralgia of sciatica, the ligament sends nerve pain down through the sensory nerve of the leg, migraine behaves the same way. It was an epiphany. Migraine is neuralgia of the scalp. I would later patent the process of finding that sweet spot to provide evidence of diagnosis, something that had not happened before in history. When that spot is found and treated all of the muscles relax, the entire jigsaw of the superficial posterior movers, from the forehead to the toes. I was experiencing full release of body tension, and it felt wonderful.

Lady Diana

Before cold laser therapy cured me of migraines I always walked stooped over. My head would be bent down low as if I was ducking for cover. I kept my head in its ducked down position as if I was tucking in my chin.

I had often noticed photographs of the late Diana, Princess of Wales because I knew she was a migraine sufferer too. Every time I saw a photograph of her on some magazine cover I noted her stooped over posture and the angle of her head, it was like mine. Our profiles were the same. Originally it had earned her the famous moniker of ‘Shy Di’ but as her fame increased it made her look coy, other times it made her look provocative. Being a fellow migraine sufferer, I knew she was in pain.

After I had the muscle release experience from the laser I caught sight of myself in the mirror and stopped stock-still for what seemed like an age but was probably a milli-second. Thoughts of Diana’s profile rushed into my head. I sped to the computer and began searching for photographs of her. As soon as they came up it was obvious. Our profiles weren’t the same anymore. I had straightened up.

I rubbed my forehead as I thought on the seed that Doctor Wong had planted, that it all starts with an injury. In some cases it could have happened so long ago that it has been forgotten. My fingers brushed along the scar above my left eye triggering the memory of the accident I had when I was 6 years old. I was at a playground playing a chasing game with another boy. I was right behind him running fast to catch him. He pushed a swing out of his way as he ran away from me, causing it to swing up high.

Its metal corner struck me in the face as it swung back down. The force made me fall backwards and smash the back of my head onto the ground. The blood streaming from my face was what got all the attention. The trauma to my head got none. I was taken to hospital for stitches and for a while there was a real fear that I might lose my eye. Another quick search online on Diana revealed that she had fallen off her horse and hit her head when she was a young girl. On that day, looking at Lady Di, I learnt that if pain from injury alters posture then proper posture must play a role in recovery.

I darted from the computer screen to the mirror to confirm the change. Pain from injury alters posture. It might have been stating the obvious. You don’t need to be a doctor to see when someone is in pain, they walk differently and with difficulty, they sit differently, gingerly, they wince when touched, and they have a sullen look in their eyes.

It is right in front of us but we doctors are not looking at them. We are too busy looking at the screen making sure we are taking enough notes. It doesn’t matter if the patient does not get cured as long as the notes get taken, otherwise we face punishment by the medical board.

Medici, The Art and Science of Healing.

The biggest ‘discovery’ I made in that week after learning about the healing power of LLLT was that the human body is beholden to the laws of physics. It’s how and why we evolved. Science is the study of these natural laws. Physics is Greek for ‘Nature’. Applying these natural laws is the art to which all mankind should strive, especially doctors. When those laws are followed a normal body functions at its peak and is in perfectly good health.

The laws of gravity play a major role in our health. When we have correct posture we are in a state of equilibrium. When we have distorted posture as in the case of a pain patient that equilibrium is disturbed and the result is more pain.

It’s natural, it is science, and medicine is an applied science. The art of it is where the practitioner hones his or her skills in order to apply them for the maximum benefit of the patient. In the case of the pain patient no science is being applied and no art is being honed. No skills are put to use. Instead doctors are blindly following guidelines and protocols that while being profitable to their clinics are causing the patient more harm than good.

Goldman’s Cecil Medicine 2004, puts it perfectly in the next few paragraphs.

‘Medicine is a profession that incorporates science and the scientific method with the art of being a physician. The art of tending to the sick is as old as humanity itself. Even in modern times the art of caring and comforting, guided by millennia of common sense as well as a more recent systematic approach to medical ethics remains the cornerstone of medicine. Without these humanistic qualities, the application of the modern science of medicine is suboptimal, ineffective or even detrimental.’

‘The essential humanistic qualities of caring and comforting can achieve full benefit only if they are coupled with an understanding of how medical science can and should be applied to patients with known or suspected diseases. Without this knowledge, comforting may be inappropriate or misleading, and caring may be ineffective or counterproductive if it inhibits a sick person from obtaining appropriate, scientific medical care.’

‘In the pain patient any therapy must improve the underlying condition not just attempt to suppress the symptoms.’

‘To care for a patient as an individual, the physician must understand the patient as a person. This fundamental precept of doctoring includes an understanding of the patient’s social situation, family issues, financial concerns, and preferences for different types of care and outcomes, ranging from maximum prolongation of life to the relief of pain and suffering. If the physician does not appreciate and address these issues, the science of medicine cannot be applied appropriately, and even the most knowledgeable physician will fail to achieve the desired outcomes.’

Medicine does not apply any of that eloquent logic to chronic pain patients, especially if they are trying to make an insurance claim. Instead they are treated as neurotic, or downright dishonest. Modern medical methods for treating chronic pain contain zero science; and science is the understanding of Nature.

The natural laws that shaped us, that created us, are being ignored in the unnatural way medicine is currently treating pain.

Doctors are not observing patients properly and I had been equally guilty. Medicos have stopped looking at patients as people and only see a symptom to be treated in isolation. That is not medicine that is crisis management.

Another undeniable truth is money directs medical decisions. We are overly influenced by the powerful marketing of pharmaceutical companies and we want all the divisions of our clinics to be profitable so we refer patients on for physical therapy when they should not be having any.

I had long been doing all those things wrong too but once I knew they were wrong I stopped doing them. The accepted ways might have been working well for the doctors but they were not helping the patient. I decided I had to learn other things that are simply not being taught to medical students. I took myself back to medical school.

I went to see the heads of the faculty and told them I wanted to return to study anatomy. Not for the regular classes that all the medical students do, they were nowhere near thorough enough. I wanted to work one on one with their most senior professor. A deal was struck and I paid the hefty fee for the private tuition.

Once that was organised I asked my next question.

‘I think I need to learn biophysics. Please enrol me in those classes?’ They couldn’t help me. There was no class in biophysics anywhere in Australia and at the time of writing there still isn’t.

I was as driven to progress my learning as I had been previously about opening clinics. Laser could help speed up the process of curing chronic pain. My patients needed this.

‘Okay then, please direct me to someone who can teach me everything about cold lasers.’

Again they couldn’t help me. There was no one teaching anything about cold laser in the entire university. I was advised to try the Australian National University (ANU) in our nation’s capital, Canberra. It was over eleven hundred kilometres away and a twelve-hour drive from my home town of Adelaide.

I called the ANU. They had a laser department but it was mostly about surgical or defence lasers. One of the directors was a man so esteemed the ANU named a building after him, the Emeritus Professor of atomic and molecular physics, Erich Weigold. He was not the man to help me. But – I was told his son Adam was, and he had offices in Adelaide.

Adam Weigold PhD, is an atomic and laser physicist who was then working as the Australian distributor for some of the world’s biggest laser companies. I made the appointment to see him.

Whereas my anatomy tutor was the quintessential nutty professor with wild hair, in his senior years and with a narrow focus on his subject, Adam Weigold looked like a male model. He was young, good-looking and had a rare and expert breadth of knowledge on all aspects of laser. An added bonus was we discovered our sisters were good friends, by the end of our first meeting, so were we.

I began to explain to him that cold laser therapy could heal wounds and therefore ease pain. The NASA scientists had done amazing work but I needed to take it further because by their own admission their efficacy was mid-range. I wanted him to teach me more about laser so I could develop an efficient healing method using it and Nature’s laws. I sat back and waited for his reaction. I was afraid he would think I was a nut case.

I asked him, ‘Do you think I’m crazy?’

He looked at me and said,

‘Well Mark, you might be crazy but your ideas aren’t.’

He knew about light healing pain! All physicists did. The scientists were more up to speed than the doctors. Adam didn’t need any convincing that I had learnt something important. He said,

‘Mark, it’s biophysics. It’s not just light we are talking about, it is biology.’ Doctors would never have even thought about biology and physics crossing paths. I never did anyway. Adam said that scientists had been trying to introduce cold laser therapy using infrared light to medicine for the past twenty years. There had been barely any interest at all.

A few physical therapists had given it a try. They had bought tiny, low powered units of 30 milliwatts, the current models are more than ten-fold that at 450 milliwatts, and applied them for two minutes. They might as well have been shining a torch. Because of that uninformed introduction cold laser therapy had been deemed ineffective.

I knew laser light could heal. It had healed me but I didn’t want to be the medico who holds a laser in his hand and points and shoots it like an instant camera. I wanted to know everything. To get the most out of the patient I needed to get the most out of the laser. Adam made it clear that I needed to gain a better understanding of physics before I could learn anything about laser.

He guided me through quantum physics and photons, the source of light and energy. I began to understand how light could heal by the effect it has on the human body.

We cannot live without light, much like plants absorb the energy of the sun to survive, as in photosynthesis, sunlight, or the energy of the laser light. To humans it is just as essential. If the sun were to disappear we would have just a fraction over eight minutes to live. Light truly is a matter of life and death.

For the next six months I spent every morning and lunchtime with Adam going over things like the infrared spectrum, wavelengths and frequencies. Every afternoon was spent with the anatomy professor and me leaning over cadavers as I learned every millimetre of the intricate wonders of the musculoskeletal system of the human body.

Soon I had the grounding of the art of the anatomy of the body and how every ligament, tendon and muscle are all links in a chain, and any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When there is a problem in one element of the chain before too long the entire chain is compromised.

I am still no expert in biophysics but at least now have enough understanding of its laws to know its role in the health of the human body. Every movement our bodies make follows these laws, such as the law of gravity. Every movement we make follows the laws of gravity. When we work with gravity we move well and get stronger. When we attempt to defy gravity Nature bites.

Days were taken up with study and so were my nights. Every evening I scoured the Internet for anything and everything about laser to make sure the word was spreading. I didn’t care if it wasn’t me spreading it just as long as someone was. I was relieved to find there was some action. In Europe there was a lot of research and application taking place. Laser was definitely doing some good, but not enough. The efficacy, like that of the men from NASA, was averaging out at around forty percent.

Adam and I discussed in detail what we could do to increase its efficacy. Over the next few months we experimented with frequency, power density, wavelength and doses. The laser I needed didn’t exist, so we built one, and then another. We ended up building many. The advancements I was able to achieve in healing could not have been possible without the re-education I was given by my two brilliant tutors. Going back to school to get re-educated was one of the best things I ever did.

Doctors Don’t Like Change

The only thing that would impede the spread of the healing science of light would be the minefield of medical bureaucracy. I know the history of medicine and how it reacts to anything new that questions the doctors methods; badly. History is full of examples of medical hubris at the cost of the wellbeing of the patient.

In 1615 William Harvey discovered that the heart pumps blood to circulate through the body. Prior to that it was believed that the liver transformed food into blood. Other physicians criticised and rejected Harvey’s findings. Over one hundred years ago patients feared going to hospitals. So many of them developed terrible fevers and died. In 1843 the esteemed American writer and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes came up with the theory that it was doctors themselves who were spreading disease from patient to patient and even causing their deaths, all because they would not wash their hands. He wanted doctors to sterilise their instruments, change the clothing they had been wearing, and of course to wash their hands. There was outrage at Dr Holmes’s recommendations with one opponent, Dr Charles Meigs, claiming, ‘Doctors are gentlemen and gentlemen’s hands are clean.’

In 1849 the Hungarian physician Dr Ignaz Semmelweis also proposed that it was doctors who were causing disease and death. They performed autopsies and afterwards, without washing their hands, delivered babies. They rode through muddy streets and across manure-riddled fields and then without changing clothing or washing up would tend to wounds. When Dr Semmelweis insisted doctors implement hygiene he too was met with such derision and ridicule that he was sent to the insane asylum where he was beaten to death. His findings however formed the basis for modern medical hygiene.

In the 1950’s Dr Jonas Salk had to battle to get a decent lab and any funding to find a vaccine for polio even though the disease was crippling children at epidemic rates. When he was ready to start vaccinating he was almost shut down. According to some medical researchers he was not putting enough detail into his notes and they tried to declare his work ineffective.

In the 1960’s Professor Graeme Clark, here in Australia, was determined to find a way to help deaf people hear. He engaged in intense research in the way the brain responded to coded sound. He believed he needed to find a way to electrically stimulate the auditory nerve. Mainstream medicine thought he was just another nutty professor – until he invented the cochlear implant.

Up until 1981 if you developed an ulcer it was deemed to be your fault. You created it by stressing too much. Dr Barry Marshall, from Western Australia, couldn’t bear the dismissive attitudes of the treating doctors towards the helpless patients. He and Dr Robin Warren noticed that lab results showed that all the ulcer patients had the same gut infection, Helicobacter pylori, which meant basic antibiotics would cure them. It was simple and it was obvious but mainstream medicine dismissed his finding.

Ulcer patients continued to either have their stomachs removed or bleed to death, all because the medical elite would not concede they were wrong. In desperation Dr Marshall drank a cupful of the bacteria, gave himself ulcerous symptoms, and then cured himself with antibiotics. As a result not only are ulcers now a thing of the past but stomach cancer too has virtually disappeared. The two doctors won Nobel Prizes.

The spreading of the danger was iatrogenic, Greek for ‘born from the doctor’. The doctors were the ones spreading the epidemic. Some things never change. In the case of chronic pain it is still the attitudes of some within the health profession that is the greatest cause of patient suffering. The very people who design the medical system are the ones perpetuating the problem and this personal stake, this conflict of interest to use a business term, means the medical system is ill equipped to even begin to address let alone eliminate the problem.

The innate trust my patients had in me, as their doctor, was when my real work began. The fact that I was showing genuine interest in their history and my explanation of how cold laser was safe and non-invasive led to them asking if I would apply it to them. I started using it on patients with back injuries and as they got better other patients asked to be treated. If it weren’t for my patients trusting me not to harm them I would not have gained the knowledge I have as quickly. I could have sat in a lab for years looking at rats or monkeys but I chose to teach my patients what I had learned and they wanted to learn along with me.

Others at that presentation back in 1998 might have seen what I had seen and gone back to their regular practice and changed nothing about their approach to chronic pain. I saw it and saw the future, and I had healed myself.

Soon after I realized I hadn’t had a migraine since the day I hit that sweet spot, the site of my original injury. I recall saying out loud, ‘I think I’ve cured migraine.’ A few weeks after that I noticed the ringing in my ears had stopped. It was then I made the connection. It was perfectly clear that the laser had caused the inflammation to subside therefore tinnitus must be a by-product of inflammation. It was the most exciting time in my entire medical career to know that science continued to deliver answers to mysteries mainstream medical methods had long stopped trying to heal.

But I was not prepared for the resistance and ridicule from within my own profession. When I started using laser some doctors complained to the medical board. Physiotherapists were sent in from other practices to pretend to be patients, and then go online to disparage my work. But I was not deterred. I would let the results speak for me. My methods were achieving an average efficacy of eighty-five percent. Pharmaceutical companies become delirious with joy if any of their drugs achieve an efficacy of thirty percent. Of the patients who are diligent and follow the Principles precisely, there is one hundred percent positive resolution.

Enough about me. The 7 Principles of healing chronic pain will provide the knowledge you need to have a healthier, pain free life.

The Seven Principles of Healing Chronic Pain.

Principle 1. You are Injured

Principle 2. Do No (Further) Harm

Principle 3. Reduce the Inflammation,

Principle 4. Homeostasis, the Art of Self Preservation

Principle 5. You Need Light

Principle 6. Posture

Principle 7. Nobody Heals You but You.

 

 

 

 

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