Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gimmie Five!

Five Minutes.  How long is that?  Not long at all, right?  I mean, come on.  Five minutes is probably about the amount of time you spend in the restroom.  It's the length of about two commercial breaks.  It's about the amount of time it takes to go from laying in the bed to falling asleep for some folks.

So, what else can we do in five minutes?  I found out while reading "Immediate Fiction" by Jerry Cleaver.  Heck, these days, the book is even available on Kindle!  I digress.  In the book, Cleaver gets the writing juices flowing with a Five-Minute daily exercise.  The agreement one makes with oneself is that for 30 days, the writer promises to take just five minutes to write something. Anything.  Actually, when first starting out, the writer isn't supposed to write anything - just relax and let go for five minutes.

So, I am taking the challenge.  Each day during my lunch hour at work, I am taking five minutes to write.  So far, nothing of substance has materialized, but that's okay.  I am jotting ideas, exploring characters, writing jibberish in some cases.  But, I am writing.

I challenge you to try it yourself.  As Cleaver says in his book, by a year's time, you could easily have written 100-150 PAGES of text.  For someone who "can't" write or who "doesn't" write, you may find yourself face-to-face with the start of a novel or a collection of short stories or a book of poetry!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Word Play: Six-Word Headlines

If you enjoy writing, there's a pretty good chance you've heard of things like "The Six-Word Challenge." The most famous of these is Earnest Hemingway's "Baby shoes for sale, never used." It is amazing how just six words can bring such immediate and heavy emotion.

As a twist on that, I thought I would jot down a six-word headline in which the acronym tells a different story. This has three components to it: It must be six words, It must create a "non-jibberish" acronym, and The acronym must contradict the headline being touted. Don't ask why. This is something I do when the urge pops in my head.

So, quickly, I came up with this one:

Hero Escapes Deadly Ice-Encrusted Dagger

So, now you give it a try! Make up your own or feel free to improve on mine using the same six letters in your acronym!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


This past Sunday, our pastor talked about "hope" and used the men hanging on the cross on either side of Jesus as part of his illustration.  I thought I would share a story I wrote that's included in the collection "All This Digging."  This story is called "Forgiven:"

“Forgiven” (copyright David Henderson)

“Did you hear that, Jak?” Markus asked. “They're calling out to crucify someone, Jak.” Markus pressed his head against the wall. The crowds outside the cramped little room shouted and screamed as loud as humanly possible. Markus ran back and forth between the wall and Jak. He grew more and more excited the louder the crowd yelled. He pressed against the wooden door, but commotion on the other side prevented him from hearing any actual words. The whole building was in an uproar. From what Markus could tell, the whole town was in an uproar.

“Stop with yer fidgetin' afore I knock you one.” Jak made a fist at Markus, who cowered at the sight. Jak's massive frame took up most of the space in the room. It was only a room in the sense that it had a floor, four walls, and a ceiling. In reality, a prison cell. The only light came from a window high above their heads. Jak looked like someone had hung him out on the clothesline and forgot about him for years. His body and his face were heavily scarred, deeply bruised and severely beaten. He wasn't happy to be sitting in that cell, wasn't exactly sure how he got there, but knew he had to get out soon. He looked through furrowed brows at Markus, and shook his head. Markus bounced from wall to door and back again. He was much smaller than Jak, in both height and width. A simple-minded man, easily amused and easily controlled, which is why Jak liked him.

Jak and Markus met each other in a tavern not long ago. Jak convinced Markus that they should sneak into a neighboring town at night and take enough food to feed themselves for a whole month. Markus didn't like the idea of stealing the food, but the idea of getting the life beat out of him was much worse. They made a plan and hid out until dark. Markus went ahead of Jak to check for passersby and guardsmen and when he reached the shop where the bread baked, he signaled to Jak who burst the door open and the two of them took everything they could carry. Before either of the men knew what had happened, they were attacked. When they woke, they found themselves in this cell.

The crowds outside the small room continued to yell and scream. Markus strained to hear the words they chanted.

“Barabas! Barabas? It sounds like they're calling for Barabas, Jak.” Barabas had killed many people before the guardsmen finally caught up with him. He stole from anyone and gave to no one. The people of the town held a celebration on the day Barabas was carted off to the prison. Now, it seemed the crowds wanted him freed. “Free Barabas, Jak. That's what they say, Jak. Free Barabas!” Markus scurried back and forth, twisting his hands together over and over, a mad scientist in search of a lab. His pacing made Jak nervous.

“Would ya stop that? Yer drivin' me nuts!” Jak picked up a handful of dirt and threw it across the tiny room. Markus cowered as if the specs of dust weighed hundreds of pounds. “Yer hearin' it wrong, boy. No one in their right mind would free Barabas.”
“No, Jak! That's who they want. They say 'Free Barabas' all the time, Jak. Now they are shouting 'crucify crucify,' Jak. They want someone crucified!” Markus made stabbing motions through the air as if murdering an invisible foe, then suddenly raced frantically back and forth in the tiny cell.

Frustrated and tired, Jak waved his hand at his cell-mate.

“So be it. Let 'em have whoever they want. They won't get me! We gotta get outta here! Do you hear me?” Jak raised his voice, and Markus stopped in his tracks, looked around, and then up to the window. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the light coming in from the outside and shook his head.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Window's too high. Door's too strong,” Jak pounded his fist against the wall. “Walls are too hard. I won't go down, Markus. They can't keep me!” Markus shook his own hand in reaction to the pain his friend should have felt. The crowd roared with approval then suddenly seemed quiet.

After a few moments of silence, Jak finally asked, “What's goin’ on out dere?”
“They're goin'. The crowd's leavin'. It's over, I guess. They've freed Barabas, Jak. He's a free man. I don't like it. Not one bit.” Markus sat in the corner opposite Jak, hanging his head in his hands. Jak spent the rest of the day planning a getaway, while Markus spent the day pressing his head up against the wall and the door. Finally, night came, and both men slept.

As morning light filtered into the cell, the lock on the door came to life. Markus leapt to his feet and cowered in the corner. Jak balled his fists and pulled back his arm. As the door swung outward, he ran to the door and forced it fully open. A scream and a grunt came from behind the door, but the door didn't open into the wall the way it was designed. Instead, Jak had pinned a guard between the door and the wall. Unfortunately for Jak, three more guards stood ready and immediately subdued the prisoners. The guards whipped them many times with leather straps sporting stone shards imbedded within, beating them until they were both just one gasping mass lying on the cell floor. Two of the guards grabbed Jak's arms and dragged him through the prison, the dirt on the floors filling his open wounds. Markus lay paralyzed through the power of his own mind so the other guard grabbed him, raised him up off the floor and pushed him down the corridor as the leader kicked open the door leading outside.

The bright sun blinded everyone coming out of the dark hallway and if Jak had been more fully aware of his surroundings, he probably would have gotten away from the stunned guards. Markus, recovering from his self-induced paralysis, cowered from the intense brightness but the guard behind him pushed onward. After a few moments, the two guards with Jak dragged his body up a steep embankment. Pools and streams of fresh blood painted the dirt road in front of the prison as they stumbled along the worn trail up the side of a hill. Many had come to this place long before these two prisoners and many would most likely come long afterward. Two young boys, in training to become guards themselves, carried large pieces of wood fashioned into a cross up the hill behind Jak. The third guard from the group, which had charged into the cell just moments ago, threw Markus on the ground and whipped him twice as he curled into a ball trying to protect himself.

“Get up! Get up and carry your cross!” The guard whipped Markus a third time and then a fourth for good measure. “Get up, I said,” and Markus stood wearily, reaching for his cross then falling under its weight as onlookers laughed and mocked him. He stood, stumbling as he dragged his cross up the hill.

“Jak! What're we gonna do Jak? Jak?” Markus barked out, but the only response he received was another shot of the whip.

“Shaddup! Keep movin', boy! Now Git!” The guard whipped him again and as he fell, the crowd erupted with cheers.

At the top of the hill, the two boys placed the cross they had carried onto the ground near a deep square hole. The two guards dropped Jak near the cross, rolled him over onto it so that his back was against it. Once his hands and feet were tied tightly, a guard grabbed a mallet and three spikes. He placed a spike at the place just below Jak’s wrist where his two forearm bones joined. He struck the spike once, twice, and it was through the arm and into the wood. The pain caused Jak to cry out loudly from his whip-induced stupor.

Despite feeling like a magician’s assistant in a trick gone awry, he tried wrestling himself free from the cross. The more he struggled, the more it hurt and the less he could move. The guard then repeated the not-so-delicate procedure on the other arm and finally at Jak’s feet. Several guards and the two boys lifted the cross and set it into the hole, and once again Jak screamed in pain.

Markus witnessed all of this and decided he wanted no part of it. As he turned to run, however, his guard whipped him several more times such that Markus was bleeding from every limb and from his back. He fell once again, and the other guards and the two boys picked him up and carried him to the place he would die. Two more boys charged up the hill and carried Markus' cross to the top. Markus twisted and turned, fighting the guards pinning him down. Despite struggling, he was finally attached to the cross just as his friend had been. And like Jak, he screamed and shouted in pain and horror as the boys picked up the instrument of death and plunked it down in its hole. The crowd lined the path to the hill as guards brought out yet another prisoner.

“It's the ‘Christ!’,” the horde yelled out.

“Save yourself!” They yelled.

“You're supposed to be from Heaven. Why don’t you call your 'father' down? Where are your angels now, you 'Messiah'?” The multitude continued to call out, dancing around, raising their hands toward the skies, mocking him as he struggled up the hill.

Blood ran down his face leading from a crude crown made out of ring of thorned vines that had been pushed down into his head, and his clothes had been ripped and torn on every inch by the guards’ whips. He looked as though he had been trampled by a thousand horses on their way to a watering hole. Markus called to Jak as best he could, barely above a hoarse whisper, “Jak. Jak. That - that's the one.”

The words hardly escaped his lips and above the noise of the crowd, his friend did not hear him. Jak, with sweat and blood in his eyes clouding his vision, struggled to see the man dragging up the hill. Exhausted from trying to breathe, he dropped his head and closed his stinging eyes.

When the other prisoner reached the top of the hill, the guards stripped off his clothes and tossed them aside. Some of the crowd raced over and began fighting over the torn fragments. Someone in the group yelled, “Cast for ‘em!” and another person tossed a couple small ivory-colored squares on the ground. The crowd quieted in anticipation and the procession halted until one man leapt to his feet, grabbed the pile of blood-stained clothes and danced around with the prisoner's clothes trailing through the air behind him. As he twirled his prize in the air, drops of blood splattered the faces, necks, and clothes of those standing nearby.

A few moments later, attention turned back to the activities at hand. The new cross was placed on the ground between the other crosses on the top of the hill as guards attached this captive just they had the other two. As the prisoner cried out in pain, another man bent over and nailed a large wooden plaque to the top of the cross. It read, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” Three guardsmen slowly raised the cross to a standing position and a moment later it dropped into the hole. The crowd surged forward.

Jesus, as he was called, tried to lift himself by standing on the spikes driven through his shins just above his feet. His neighbors on either side of him could have told him it was no use, that it wasn’t going to work, but they were too exhausted themselves from their own struggle to fight impending death. His chest heaved rapidly as he struggled and his face contorted in a mass of confusion, pain, terror and sadness. When his legs could no longer bear the weight, he relaxed his muscles and hung loosely by the stakes dividing each of his wrists like stumps in the middle of an open field.

Passersby held their arms out and hung their heads as they passed by the three men, mocking their gestures. Jak tried listening intently to the voices floating above the sounds of the crowd. He heard one woman cry, “He is Lord! He is Lord!” A deep voice bellowed, “Praise you, Jesus!” Jak hung there concentrating on this newcomer and his friends so as not to think about his own pain. Markus simply watched as the crowd yelled, his breathing labored and heavy, like a spear ramming through his lungs with every breath.

“Come down from the cross, if you’re a god! Save yourself!” The crowd yelled at the middle prisoner as they pressed onward.

“Come down if you're the SON of God,” others barked.

A solitary voice belonging to a boy of about ten years old called out, “He saved other people, but he can’t even save himself!”

Markus’ eyes darted around, taking in the scene of the crowd while sweat and tears rolled down his face and crossed his parched lips. He licked at the salty drink, hungry for more in the tension building around him, enjoying the crowds and the sneering laughter of the people. Despite the pain in his legs and arms and lungs, he drew a deep breath and called out, “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself,” then quickly added, “and save us, too!” He stared wildly at Jesus, eyes still darting from left to right, to the crowd and back again.

But, Jak, swooning in and out of the periphery of consciousness, shook his head slowly back and forth, his chest feeling like it would burst outward or suddenly collapse inward, and his arms were tearing at the shoulders and the wrists. The salt from his tears and sweat ran down his body in streams which converged on the wounds near his ankles. He thought of the prison cell, the night at the tavern, the stars in the sky, and of wide open grassy fields with deep pools of crystal clear lake water, and of his mother; he thought of life and he thought of death. For a moment, his eyes focused on Markus.

He drew in a deep breath, battling pain and fear and anguish, then yelled louder than a child riding a coaster for the first time, “Don't you fear God!? We are the crucified!” The crowd cheered, not taking in any of the words except ‘crucified,’ and Jak released his breath.

The crowd hissed and threw rocks at him and he coughed and arched and spit a mouthful of blood at the crowd. Although he had no strength left and losing the sense of his surroundings, with one last raspy breath, he whispered, “Jesus, remember me.”

Jesus drew a deep breath, and despite the throbbing, answered, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Then Jak's head dropped to his chest and the crowd roared with approval.

Somewhere, a woman called out, “One down, two to go,” and the mob cheered. Markus drew in a great breath and gathered all the blood, sweat, and saliva he had in his mouth. Turning to the man hanging next to him, he spat on the “King of the Jews.” A roar of applause filled the air causing Markus to straighten himself on the cross and yell with all he had left inside, “Where is this Jesus?” The crowd pushed forward and Markus' body slumped but he refused to leave the ceremony.

Two guards came forward and struck his friend’s legs with a large club-shaped chunk of wood. Jak’s body, now devoid of any support, dropped from the cross, ripping his hands off at the wrists. Blood gushed and sprayed the crowd as his arms fell down and forward in front of his limp body. Then, the guards turned to Markus and did the same. He tried holding himself up by his arms and again the crowd cheered him. He felt proud and actually managed to spread his lips in a bloody smile, but weakened and beaten, he breathed his last. His lifeless body hung from the cross, suspended by his limp wrists.

The guards moved back toward Jesus, but his body was already limp, remaining on the cross only by the spikes piercing his wrists and feet. One of the two guards took a spear and stuck it into the side of Jesus. Blood and water and something that smelled like vinegar spilled out of him onto the ground. He made no sound and did not move any muscles.

“This one is done,” the guard shouted over his shoulder to the crowd.

After a brief applause, the crowd of onlookers turned around and started their journey back down the hill, slapping each other on the back for the job they had done so well. A small group of people remained at the top of the hill. They sat, wailing at the base of Jesus’ cross. They leaned on each other, held each other, and consoled each other. There were fewer than a dozen people gathered there. Except for those few, no one showed any sorrow for the lives lost or sadness that the ritual was over. For they knew tomorrow would once again bring others to the top of the hill.