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LONG STORY SHORT

William White-acre


Copyright 2018 by William White-acre

Smashwords Edition



white-acre.wixsite.com/photography


*other works by the author:


(Novels)

Surrounded By Mythology

I, The Hero

True For X

Forgotten Faces

Memory 2.0

Mysterious Logic

Follow The Contrails

Heaven On Earth

A Rush Of Silence

Federal Folkways

The Opening Is Closing


(Photo Books)

A2Z

Magic City

Sand People

Flesh

Dance

Little Fists

Human Condition

High School Rodeo















Table Of Contents:


Chapter 1: Lonestar Madness...Sadness

Chapter 2: Formosa

Chapter 3: Springfield 15

Chapter 4: Drownproof

Chapter 5: If You Knew Susie

Chapter 6: Bombing For Dollars

Chapter 7: Reunion

Chapter 8: The Date

Chapter 9: Saving The Sea Monster

Chapter 10: Loon On The Lake

Chapter 11: Crossing The Pond

Chapter 12: Over The Weekend

Chapter 13: Land Of Milk And Honey

Chapter 14: Dos Cervezas

Chapter 15: Demolition For Dummies




FAMILY BENSON


Chapter 1: Lonestar Madness...Sadness


August. Horn toads hid under the porch desperately trying to escape the harsh noonday sun. A half dozen dogs lay on their sides panting, with pink tongues hanging in the arid dirt. Tar bubbled on the road in front of the house.

“You know it’s your nap time,” Mrs. Benson called out again. “I’m not going to tell you anymore. I’d better not hear any more noise out of your room. Do you want me to tell Daddy you’ve been bad when he gets home tonight?”

There was silence from his room. Scott could just hear his two sisters mumbling, then suppressing giggles. “That goes for you two girls too,” his mother threatened.

There was sudden quiet in the house. Ice cubes clinked in her glass of ice tea as she took a long, slow sip. A fine patina of sweat formed on her upper lip as she concentrated on her sewing. If I only had a nickel for every button I’ve had to replace, she thought.

Scott lay there on his bed looking out the window at the china berry tree across the street. He wondered if Ooby-dooby was taking a nap too. Maybe not. His family was different. “Just this side of white trash,” was what his mother called them.

There always seemed to be loud noises coming from the Middy’s house, usually repetitious hillbilly music or, when Mrs. Middy was in the mood, the vibrating sounds of the new Rock and Roll. Ooby-dooby, Scott’s playmate, had gotten his nickname from a new Roy Orbison song Mrs. Middy liked to play. The song was named after one of the strange new dances the kids were doing.

The Middy’s only son somehow always had the same reaction when the 45 came on the radio. With little encouragement, the five year old would flinch, jerk, and sway to the beat, while his parents howled their approval. It wasn’t long before the entire neighborhood was calling him Ooby-dooby, or just Ooby for short.

Scott raised up on his elbow and stared out the window. Often times he could see Ooby-dooby’s sister, Shirley, sitting in the china berry tree. It was a huge tree that dwarfed their house. When it was windy the branches would sway dangerously close to the windows. Shirley liked to climb up as high as she could go and swing her weight on the supple limbs.

She was older, on the brink of her teens. Her blond hair hung way down her back. “There he is, my little boyfriend,” Shirley would always call out, reaching for him, grabbing, wanting to smooch his face, then hug him. Scott pretended not to like it, her attention, but secretly he relished being kissed by her, his blond beauty.

The Benson family was one of the few Air Force families living off Base. Caleb’s mom hated military bases. “Full of snooty brass types that think their shit doesn’t stink,” she liked to say. Mrs. Benson wasn’t too fond of the hick town they had to live in either, but then again she imagined all of Texas was populated by the same kind of places. She was sure Texas was the hottest, ugliest place on earth, and “deathly flat” as well. Both Mr. and Mrs. Benson were from the Smoky Mountains, a cool, scenic paradise in comparison.

Mr. Benson had found this three bedroom house near the Base right after he was assigned to his new duties. The Benson family was used to the frequent moves the military required. Everyone accepted it now after many transfers to various parts of the country.

The Air Force was their guardian. It brought them a certain nurturance, supplying them with everything necessary to live. In time, the family developed a hardened respect for the USAF; although they did complain about some of the conditions that came with living under the military’s care. “Sometimes I wonder if I can even go to the bathroom without them knowing about it,” Mrs. Benson like to say. Mr. Benson, on his part, was grateful. He was able to pursue what he loved most in the world.

“How much longer MOM?” Scott called out from his bedroom exile.

“Another half an hour, hon. Now hush. Don’t be bothering me or I’ll make you stay in there longer,” his mother replied, smiling, knowing her peace and quiet for the day was about to be over.

There was a loud whine overhead, then a stuttering and the unmistakable crackling of an airplane’s engine. “Damn him,” Mrs. Benson uttered, rising to look out the window. There was a stampede of little feet. In chorus: “It’s Daddy!” “He’s doing it again!” Scott sang out gleefully.

The Piper Cub banked off, turned, dipped its wings sluggishly, and made another pass. “Daddy!” Scott screamed out the window, waving frantically.

“He can’t hear you, stupid,” Karen, his oldest sister chided.

“If you all don’t get back in those beds now, I’ll make your nap time longer,” Mrs. Benson threatened.

“Mother!” Tina, the other sister, whined. “Let us go outside and wave at him. Just once, please,” she pleaded.

“You’ll only encourage him. He’ll be buzzing the house all day then.”

“He’d run out of fuel,” Scott said, grinning.

“Alright. Hurry up then. Just wave and get your fannies back in here,” she commanded, shaking her head wearily.

The tiny red plane disappeared in the distance for a moment before it climbed then did a lazy roll and headed back. The kids were jumping up and down on the front sidewalk, waving their arms and shouting. Mrs. Benson was sipping her ice tea and muttering about how she was going to have a word with her husband, the daredevil pilot.

She hadn’t forgotten five years before, in Florida, how she had agreed to go up with him. It was an old bi-plane. He had bought it for practically nothing, keeping it in a field in the Everglades. The wings still had some of the original fabric covering and there were no instruments. After many times trying, he had gotten down the start routine of a plane without an ignition. Prime the engine, rotate the prop, then run around and jump in the open cockpit and juice up the throttle.

On this fateful flight they had run out of gas over Homestead. He had brought the plane down in a farmer’s field. Mr. Benson had said to a surprised farmer: “Fill ‘er up, please.” After borrowing some fuel, they had taken off, narrowly clearing some telephone lines at the end of the field. “Raise your feet up, honey,” he had shouted out to her, as the landing gear wheels rolled over the wires. She had screamed, and screamed, sure they would be electrocuted.

“Can’t happen,” he had said later when they were safely on the ground. “Telephone wires won’t electrocute you. Now the wires might have gotten caught up in the landing gear and we would have flipped over and probably broken our necks,” he had explained, smirking. She was sure she wanted to strangle him, but he had that twinkle in his blue eyes that he got when he was being playful so she just laughed, relieved they had made it back.

At treetop level, Mr. Benson tipped his wings right overhead then banked off and was gone. “Did you see? Daddy tipped the wings. That means he saw us!” Scott exclaimed excitedly. “No shock--Sherlock,” Karen shot back and the two sisters laughed as they ran back inside. Sometimes Scott thought he hated his two sisters.

“Back to your rooms,” Mrs. Benson said, pointing down the hall.

“Aw mom,” the kids whined in chorus.

“Nobody said anything about naptime being over,” she stated. “Just because your father thought it would be real cute to buzz the house again doesn’t mean the rules around here are suddenly changed.”

“It’s too hot to take a nap,” Karen declared from the hallway. “I think I’m going to suffocate. And it’ll be your fault, mother.”

“I’ll be sure to call an ambulance for you, hon.”

The others laughed and trooped back to their rooms; while Karen glared at her mother and muttered, “Real funny.” Mrs. Benson sighed heavily, returning to her ice tea and sewing.


It hadn’t been that long ago. Scott had turned six. He had been promised. Mrs. Benson was dead set against it. The sisters were envious, and angry at being left out.

“Are you scared?” Tina had asked when they were playing in the front yard one day.

“I bet he loses his cookies as soon as they get off the ground,” Karen stated, laughing.

“Will not,” Scott shot back, knowing quite well there was a good chance of him vomiting. Just last summer he had thrown up on the roller coaster ride at the amusement park.

He had asked his father to take him up in the Piper Cub. His father’s reply had surprised him. He never supposed the answer would be yes. “When you turn six I’ll take you up for a spin in the wild blue yonder,” Mr. Benson had said, mussing his son’s hair, smiling; and there was that twinkle in his blue eyes when he was being playful.

Mrs. Benson had looked up from the table, where she was serving up helpings for dinner and said, “Your daddy’s just fooling with you, pumpkin. Aren’t you, honey?”

Everyone at the table turned to look at Mr. Benson. “Who’s fooling? Like father like son, right?” he chortled, smiling.

“That’s not fair,” Karen exclaimed. “I want to go up too.”

“You’re a girl,” Scott said flatly.

“And you’re a little turd,” she retorted angrily.

“Karen!” Mrs. Benson said. “That’s enough of that.”

“Oh sure, take his side. Just because he’s a boy. Make me sick,” she shouted, dashing out the door.

“Young lady, you had better get back in here right now or I’m going to tan your hide good. You hear me?’ Mrs. Benson shouted out. “Don’t make me say it again.”

It had been a Saturday morning. Mr. Benson called out from the garage: “Looks like a good day to go flying.” Mrs. Benson shot him a murderous look. Scott had almost forgotten about it. A steady throbbing of nerves began to pound in his stomach.

They drove to the Base in silence. The guard at the gate waved them through with a salute. A few fighter planes took off in formation, then separated and began to do graceful turns. Mr. Benson eyed them out the window as he drove, muttering.

The car, a black 51 Ford with a dented right front fender, sputtered to a stop. “Carb needs work,” Mr. Benson mumbled, then he turned to his son and smiled. “Ready?” “I guess so,” Scott said nervously.

They walked across the hot tarmac. Scott could see the Piper sitting off to the side of the hanger. It was the brightest, most beautiful color of red he had ever seen. A few of the ground crew joked with his father for a minute. “I’m taking my son up for a spin,” he explained. They said something in return that Scott didn’t understand and Mr. Benson laughed. “If he’s a Benson he’s got ‘em alright...big as an elephant’s.” More laughing.

The cockpit was a two-seater, one behind the other. His father helped him in his seat, adjusting the seatbelts to accommodate his small body. Then he climbed in and a moment later there was a painful whine, before the engine burst to life. The plane inched forward. A few of the ground crew waved, giving Mr. Benson the thumbs up sign.

Scott gripped the sides of the airplane and braced himself back against the seat. Hangers drifted by the cockpit windows. The Piper rocked gently to and fro as they made their way down the runway. Why did I ask my dad to do this? echoed in Scott’s mind.

“Ready, son?” Mr. Benson shouted over the engine. “Well, I guess you have better be because here we go!”

The engine roared as the prop became invisible, just a dizzying blur ahead of them. Scott planted his head against the seat and closed his eyes. Wind rustled by the cockpit. The Piper bounced along, each and every bump rattled through the aircraft. He was sure they couldn’t possibly go this fast and not crash. “Off we go...into the wild blue yonder!” Mr. Benson sang out as he pulled back on the joy stick.

There was a heavy thud and the piper lifted off. Mr. Benson banked off and started to climb. Scott couldn’t open his eyes. Maybe if I don’t see outside it’ll be better, he told himself. His dad was humming, then began to point out different landmarks below.

“Are you ready for a few maneuvers?’ Mr. Benson asked. Scott forced his eyes open. He could barely see over the fuselage. When his dad tipped the wings he could just see the treetops. “This ain’t so bad,” he mumbled. “Ready or not, here we go,” Mr. Benson shouted.

The Piper lurched slightly, then they were diving. Scott felt the seat belt against his body. An acid ping coursed through his stomach. He tried to catch his breath. Just as quickly they were climbing. His head fell back against the seat. “Going down?” Mr. Benson shouted jokingly, as he plunged them into a dive again.

Above him the clouds were rushing away and Scott again closed his eyes, hoping to shield out the inevitable. Waiting, when would he feel the impact? The Piper slowly leveled off and they were flying low over a rancher’s pasture. Cattle were scurrying in every direction. “Round up time!” Mr. Benson cried out, laughing. “There’s going to be one pee-owed rancher.”

The Piper swung to the right and they were climbing again. Scott opened his eyes long enough to see dust flying up from the stampeding cattle. It seemed like they had been flying for hours, days. There was a soft, wonderful feeling to Scott’s stomach now. Maybe it’s over, he thought hopefully.

The serene sensation was abruptly replaced by a sudden jolt and they were back on the ground. When they finally taxied into the hanger area, and the plane’s engine groaned to a stop, Scott was thankful he hadn’t thrown up. He was fearful of what reaction his father would have. Was it acceptable for a six year old, and a pilot’s son, to get sick while flying?

“How did it go, tiger?” one of the ground crew asked, patting Scott on the head as he helped him out of the plane. “Looks a little green, sir. Might be a candidate for the Army.”

Mr. Benson stopped, turned, and looked at his son. “Better not be,” he declared.


Scott had been dozing. He woke up suddenly and felt groggy from the heat. There was noise outside. He heard his sisters saying something to his mother. Was naptime over? He looked out his bedroom window and could see a cluster of cars parked at odd angles in front of his house. A police car’s light blinked dimly in the bright Texas sun.

“Mom, what’s going on outside?” he called out, as he walked into the living room. “Mom, where are you?”

His mother rushed to the front door, holding the screen door shut. He could see his sisters standing behind her, staring out at the street. “Stay in there now, pumpkin, okay. Mommy wants you to stay right there,” she ordered gently.

Scott was confused. What was it? He could now see that his sisters were crying. He pushed against the screen door but his mother was holding it closed. “Mom,” he said, looking closely at her through the screen, “what’s going on out there?”

“Go back to your room, Scott. Please. Just do as I tell you.”

“But Karen and Tina are out there...why can’t I come outside too?”

“Go back to your room now,” his mother said in an angry tone, pointing in the house.

Sulking, he retreated back into the house, stopping at the doorway to his bedroom. From there he could see an ambulance arriving. Then he saw Shirley come running from beside the house. She was screaming. A moment later, he was sneaking out the back door.

He slipped around the side of the house and stood, watching. A policeman was holding Shirley back. She was fighting to get away. A group of neighbors had gathered beside a car that was parked in the middle of the road. He could hear a few of them exchanging angry words with the driver.

Scott cut across their next door neighbor’s lawn and walked up the street on the opposite side. He saw Shirley’s mother sitting on the ground with her head in her hands. Another policeman was standing over her, mumbling something. A neighbor said something to him as he walked by but Scott ignored him and kept going. “We’re gonna have to git this car moved,” he heard the ambulance driver say.

Then he saw it. Wedged up underneath the car parked in the middle of the road was a lump of tattered clothing. He heard Shirley scream out again. He walked closer. “You’ll have to git back, son,” the ambulance driver said. Peering underneath the car, he came face to face with the battered and bloodied face of his playmate. “Ooby,” he managed to utter. It felt like someone had kicked him in the stomach.

“Maybe we should jack up the car so we can git him out of there,” he heard one of the policeman whisper.

“Git that boy out of here!” the ambulance driver said angrily.

Scott was led away, where his mother latched onto his arm and dragged him back into the house. “Ooby’s dead, mom,” he said, dazed. “Run over like a dog.”

She hugged him and said, “Ooby’s gone to heaven, pumpkin. They’ll take good care of him.” He was trying to fight back the tears. “Why don’t you go back to your room and lie down.”

He sat on his bed looking at the ambulance lights flashing. Their parents were always telling them to look both ways before you cross the street. He was beginning to sob. “Ooby,” he whispered.

Scott woke up to the sound of percolating coffee, with its seductive aroma wafting in from the kitchen. A fine crust of tears had dried on his cheeks after he cried himself to sleep. He had struggled in his sleep not to recall the horror of seeing his friend’s death mask, a gnarled and scraped expression of bloody agony. He could hear his dad talking. Outside, his dogs were barking and Karen was shouting about something.

“He’ll be alright,” his father said in a hushed tone, trying to reassure Mrs. Benson.

“But he’s only six years old,” Mrs. Benson muttered.

“Kids get over this stuff,” Mr. Benson stated.

“Good-morning, pumpkin,” Mrs. Benson exclaimed cheerily, noticing Scott standing in the kitchen doorway. “Ready for some breakfast, sleepyhead?”

“I guess so.”

Karen then burst into the kitchen, shouting: “There at it again, mom. I can’t shoo them away. They’re his stupid dogs anyway,” she said, disgusted.

“You leave my dogs alone,” Scott threatened.

“I’m going to take a broom and whack ‘em good,” Karen declared, dashing out the door.

Scott ran after her. “Kids!” Mrs. Benson shouted. “Do something, honey,” she begged. Mr. Benson shrugged his shoulders.

Scott’s half dozen dogs, several years worth of collecting strays, were circling in the middle of the street. Karen charged them with the broom, momentarily causing the dogs to scatter. “Leave them alone,” Scott screamed. “They won’t stop sniffing at it,” she said, brandishing the broom again. “What?” he asked, looking down at the large discolored spot on the road. “I think I’m going to barf,” his sister said, running back in the house.

A few dogs drifted back, hesitantly sniffing the road. A crimson stain had made a mosaic on the hot asphalt. Scott looked down and saw where a button had gotten embedded in the tar. All of the dogs were now sniffing around his feet.

“Scott,” his dad called from the front porch, “come on back in here. Your mother’s got breakfast on the table.” And turning to his wife, he said: “I’ll get some bleach and pour it on the spot. That should keep the dogs away.”


“My little boy’s going to school,” Mrs. Benson sang out, smooching him on the cheek, where he quickly wiped it away with the back of his hand.

“Big deal,” Karen stated, pinching his arm.

“Ow! Mom!” Scott screamed out.

“Big baby,” she teased, running out the door, laughing.

“Now you have to go to school...have to go to school...have to go to school,” Tina chanted. “You’re going to hate it, it’s awful.”

They lived across the street from the elementary school. Scott had seen the adolescent rite of passage twice before when his sisters were led off to school. He had tried not to think about it.

“You’ll do just fine,” his mother reassured him.

“Wanna bet,” Tina challenged, smiling.

“Shush now,” his mother ordered, frowning. “Don’t listen to your sisters. They were all jittery too when they went off to school.”

“Were not,” Karen declared through the kitchen screen door. “He’s such a dumbhead. Can’t we change his last name so nobody will know he’s my brother?”

“Karen, where on earth do you get these ideas? Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with you. I really do,” their mother mumbled, shaking her head.

“Mother! the dogs are acting up again,” Karen shouted over the din of echoing barks.

“Pumpkin, go out there and straighten out those dogs of yours, will you. I don’t know why your father ever let you take in all those mutts anyway,” Mrs. Benson muttered. “Nothing but a bunch of flea bags.”

The dogs were in a knot, growling, snarling, and biting in an attempt to wrest a bone away from one of the other dogs. Scott waded right in the middle of them, smacking heads as he went along. They respectfully retreated, standing off to the side, glaring at the half German shepherd half husky who triumphantly chomped on the bone with his nose buried in the dirt.

Scott walked right up to him and grabbed the bone. The mongrel snarled through clenched teeth, not relinquishing the bone. “Let it go, Wolf,” he commanded, giving the bone a quick yank. Wolf growled and pulled away. The other dogs began to bark, a whole chorus of different types of barks, some guttural and some high pitched and plaintive.

“I’m going to count to three and if you don’t give me that bone...I’m going to...”Scott said, pausing for a moment to think of some suitable punishment, “to hit you over the head with a board or something.” Wolf turned his back to him and started to chew on the bone again.

Scott walked over to the dog and, straddling the mongrel, grabbed Wolf by the ears and yanked as hard as he could. The dog howled. Another dog dashed in to steal the bone but Scott was quick to hold him off, while he stepped on the bone. Wolf angrily started chewing on his shoe. “Leave my shoe alone,” Scott shouted, smacking him on the head. Wolf retreated a few steps. He bent over and picked up the bone, placed it in his mouth, then walked over to Wolf. Bending down, he offered it to the dog, who hesitantly sniffed at the bone.

Mrs. Benson watched from the kitchen door. My son the dog tamer, she thought, chuckling. On one occasion she had seen her son get down on all fours and challenge one of the new arrivals to the adoptive litter, a large, bony, part Labrador. Scott had charged the dog, snarling and growling. The dog had retreated, confused. She was sure one day he would be mauled by these hungry strays. Yet time after time she had seen him manage the pack, fearlessly ordering them to do what he wanted them to.

Scott stood up and patted Wolf on the head, yelling to the other dogs: “Nobody gets the bone.”

“You have Mrs. Tyler, oh no,” Karen and Tina exclaimed that night after dinner.

“What’s wrong with her?” Scott asked innocently.

Karen rolled her eyes and said, “She’s only the worst teacher in the whole school, that’s what.”

“Yeah, the worst,” Tina chimed in.

“She once made a boy in her class stay after school almost all night long doing arithmetic problems. He didn’t get any supper and he didn’t get to go to sleep either,” she said, winking at her sister.

“Mom wouldn’t allow that to happen,” he said, adding, “would she?”

“There’s nothing mom can do about it,” Karen replied ominously. “Once you go to school there’s nothing parents can do about it. It’s the state law of Texas.”

“Is not,” Scott said hopefully.

“Is too. Ask Tina. Isn’t that right, Tina?”

Tina fought off a grin and said, “Texas is one dumb state, Scott. They do everything different down here.”

“I asked Shirley and she said school wasn’t so bad,” he stated, wishing Shirley was here to refute his sisters lies.

“Shirley’s just trying to make you feel...uh...less nervous about going to school for the first time,” Karen explained. “She didn’t want you to be scared or nothing.”

“I laid out what you are to wear to school tomorrow, okay pumpkin,” Mrs. Benson called out from the kitchen, where she was finishing up the dishes.

“Pumpkin’s first day of school-ool,” his sisters sang out, laughing.

“Mom, I told you not to call me that anymore,” Scott pleaded.

Lying across his bed was a new button up shirt and blue pants, with a belt. Buttons were almost a novelty to him because all he ever wore were t-shirts; and a belt, he hated belts. Then he saw at the foot of the bed a pair of shiny new leather shoes. He stood there and stared at them.

“MOM!” he called out, “I’m not going to wear these stupid shoes.”

“Oh yes you are,” he heard his mother reply in a sing-song voice.

“Why can’t I wear my sneakers?”

“’Cause you are going to school now, little brother,” Karen interjected, standing in the doorway to his bedroom, grinning. “Boy are you going to have fun tomorrow. Loads of it,” she said, shaking her head.

“Get out of my room.”

“I can’t wait to tomorrow. How about you?” she taunted.

“If you don’t leave me alone I’m going to sic my dogs on you,” he threatened.

“You and your stupid dogs. Just like some hick in the woods somewhere. Nothing but an embarrassment to the whole family,” she said, as she walked away laughing.

The Mead Elementary School was laid out in a series of ground floor open winged hallways. Although Scott had been on the school grounds on many occasions, it all seemed different now, and vaguely intimidating. He was glad, thankful that Shirley had walked with him to school. His sisters had run on ahead, mortified that the Benson clan was showing up at school with a pack of hounds following them.

“I can’t help it,” Scott whined. “They want to follow me.”

“So what,” Shirley exclaimed, smiling. “What’s wrong with dogs anyway?’

“Nothing, I guess,” he said, turning around to look at his canine entourage.

Some of the kids were stopping to pet the dogs. A woman standing out front frowned disapprovingly. Scott shooed them away, demanding that they return home. A few of the more obedient ones slinked away, tails between their legs, while the others lingered on the school grounds happily accepting the kid’s attention.

“Young man,” the teacher called out, “are those your dogs?”

“Uh huh,” Scott replied in a low voice.

“Don’t sass her,” Shirley whispered.

“A school is no place for dogs. What is your name?”

“Scott Benson.”

“You must be Karen and Tina’s little brother. Well, I suggest you return your dogs home and get back here as soon as you can. You don’t want to be late for the first day of school.”

“Nope,” he said, as he dashed away, with the dogs in tow.

The bell was ringing as he made his way down the hall. Stopping, he looked back to see Wolf standing in the driveway to the school. A school bus pulled into the parking lot and the driver blew the horn. Wolf lazily moved out of the road. Scott shook his finger at him as he walked into the classroom.

His life, his world as he knew it, came to a stop. When the teacher closed the door behind him, he knew the freeform style of life was over. Ahead of him were years of regimentation. In just seeing those rows of desks Scott knew everything had changed.

The day passed slowly. Mrs. Tyler, a tall woman with a voice that seemed to reverberate throughout the classroom, bombarded them with new...things: vowels, letters, the entire alphabet and numbers. It was all strange.

At lunch, while a din of voices echoed all around him, Scott gingerly massaged his right hand. He could still see the letters before his eyes, floating, the pencil lead flowing out onto the paper like his own blood. “Too crooked, Scott,” he heard over and over again, a sibilant criticism coming just over his right ear. A girl seated next to him had given him a pitying expression, as if to say: It’s okay to be stupid.

The lunch room smelled different, almost evil. What were they cooking back in the kitchen? he wondered. He could hear older women talking loudly to each other, as the clatter of metal utensils drowned out their words. He had brought his lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, what else would anybody want to eat? Next to him a chubby boy was busy trying to cut some strange looking meat with his fork. The boy looked up for an instant revealing a white mustache from the milk had just gulped down, then returned to sawing away at the cafeteria food.

Scott knew no one here. He was surprised that there was this many kids out there beyond his neighborhood. Was his neighborhood block so small? Where had all these kids come from?

After an eternity it was over. The last bell rang. Kids flowed out into the open halls. Most of the boys immediately ran to the schoolyard, glad to be free again. Buses churned away from the curb, taking a mobile symphony of chattering voices away. And Scott trudged home.

The dogs met him at the corner, circling around and around him, barking and whining for his attention. He petted each one of them, offering a few affectionate words. He looked up to see his mother standing on the front porch. She waved.

“How was my little boy’s first day of school?”

“I hate it,” Scott replied as he walked past his mother, through the front door, and on out the back door. He retreated to the back yard where he and Ooby had built a small fort out of packing crates. Sitting there, with his dogs, he wished he could just go away, away from his sisters, the school...Texas. “Why did everything have to change?” he asked the dogs lying at his feet. Then he noticed there were only five dogs. Wolf wasn’t with the other dogs. Maybe he was running around the neighborhood, Scott thought.

That night, after dinner, he sat on the back porch and waited. He fed the other dogs. His mother had told him not to worry. He knew. They were strays. They would disappear just as suddenly as they had appeared. Wolf was his favorite though. Wolf had been the first dog he had taken in.

One morning he had walked out the back door and there he was sleeping on the back porch step. Mrs. Benson was afraid of him because he was so big, and he did look like a wolf. Scott had walked right up to him and patted the dog on the head. His sisters had screamed from the window: “Don’t touch him!”

“That dog could have bitten your hand right off,” Tina had said later, awed by her little brother’s foolish courage.

Scott fed him table scraps and convinced his parents to let him keep the dog. They were soon inseparable. After that, strays just seem to arrive at their house. Scott gave them all a home.

The school days passed slowly, marked by the monotony of repetitious learning, made more miserable by the Texas heat, which lingered in the classrooms into September. Scott found himself longing for the weekends. Yet he was adapting. Bits and pieces of knowledge were finding their way into his brain, although he didn’t know exactly how. Mrs. Tyler just one day began to make sense, and she was actually smiling sometimes.

“Will Scott Benson please come to the office immediately,” a stern voice commanded over the classroom intercom one morning. He froze. It seemed like thousands of voices were murmuring all around him. A girl beside him hissed something but he couldn’t understand her. He was suddenly deaf. A loud buzz was echoing in his ears.

“Scott,” Mrs. Tyler called from the front of the classroom, “I think you had better get going.”

He looked up from his arithmetic book. Everybody’s looking at me, he thought, wishing at that very moment in time he could just up and fly away, maybe just vanish into thin air. The girl beside him hissed something again and he turned to see she was rubbing her forefinger against the other to indicate: Shame on you.

He wanted the walk to the office to take forever. What did I do? he wondered. It was strange to be walking in the empty halls, passing by classrooms where he could hear the booming voice of different teachers and occasionally laughter. Laughter? Why don’t we laugh in Mrs. Tyler’s class? It didn’t seem possible that there would be anything funny about school.

He stopped by one classroom and peered in the tiny window in the door. There in the corner was Tina. She was reading aloud from a book. Her clear, precise voice penetrated through the outside noises. I should make a face in the window, maybe she’ll notice and start laughing, he thought. Then Mr. Tillis, the janitor, came walking down the hall carrying a broom, so he continued on to the Principal’s office.

“Yes?” the secretary said.

“I’m Scott Benson,” he said contritely in a low voice, steeling himself for whatever he was about to be punished for.

“Oh, that’s right, come with me now,” the secretary said, smiling. She’s smiling at me, Scott thought.

“Have a seat, young man,” the Principal said as the secretary led him into her office. “Scott, we have a problem and were wondering if you could help us out.”

“You do,” Scott blurted out, relieved that somehow he didn’t seem to be in any trouble.

“Yes we do. When they built these schools, with the open halls and all, they didn’t count on having to deal with roving dogs.” Did she say dogs? he wondered. “Every once in a while we get a stray wandering in here off the street and it’s a problem, you know. The dogs find their way into the classrooms and then the children start to fuss over them and all. Well, you know. Anyway, they’re a nuisance.

“You seem to have a reputation about handling dogs. Your sister tells me you have six dogs. What I need for you to do is...well...round them up once and a while. Sounds unusual, I know, but Mr. Tillis...he sort of just doesn’t like dealing with them--the strays.”

“They’re just dogs,” Scott stated, shocked that he had spoken at all.

“Oh, I know that, young man,” the Principal said, standing up and walking around her desk. “It’s just that Mr. Tillis has his nerves to worry about and...well you wouldn’t understand really, Scott. Over in Korea he...anyway. What I need you to do is just get them out of the classrooms and on off the school grounds. Sound like something you can handle, Scott?”

“Yep. I mean yes ma am,” he answered eagerly.

“Good then. What we will do is just call you on the intercom when we need your assistance. You can go on back to class now.”

Three days later, as they were rehearsing the alphabet, the intercom crackled and Scott heard his name again. This time he was ordered to classroom 110. Mrs. Tyler stood with her hands on her hips and said with just a hint of disapproval in her voice: “Don’t be long now, Scott.” He passed by all the envious looks as he walked out of the classroom.

110 is Karen’s classroom, he thought. He could hear the commotion when he rounded the corner. The teacher, an older woman with a high pitched voice, was standing in the doorway waving her arms and saying: “Shoo-shoo, go on now.” The kids were all standing by their desks and laughing.

Scott walked right in and grabbed the dog by the back of the neck. The mongrel growled. A few girls in the class shrieked. The teacher retreated behind her desk. When the dog bared his teeth Scott smacked him on the nose, then led him out the door into the hallway.

There was a rush to the door to see what would happen next. The teacher was shouting for the kids to return to their desks but they had spilled out into the hallway. Scott gently rubbed the dog’s nose and loosened his grip. The mongrel stood and looked up at him.

A boy in the class then yelled out: “Dog boy!” Everyone snickered. The teacher began to lead her students back inside. A few of the kids were chanting: “Dog boy-Dog boy!” Scott grinned as he lead the dog away. Before closing her door, the teacher said, “Thank you.”

Later that day, after school, Karen burst into their house and screamed at her mother, “I’m never going back to that school again!”

“What ever is the matter with you,” Mrs. Benson wanted to know, amused by her eldest’s melodramatics.

“Oh nothing’s wrong, mom, just that my little brother embarrassed me to death today. I swear I am never ever going back to that school again. I mean it, mom.”

“What did Scott do now?” Mrs. Benson asked, as Tina and Scott walked in the door.

“Ask him, ask dog boy,” she spat out, shaking her fists at her brother.

“What went on today at school? Tina. Scott. Somebody tell me what your sister is going on about, please.”

“I’m too embarrassed to ever ever go back there again. Mother, you and daddy are going to have to send me to private school. I swear, you are going to have--”

“Oh shut up,” Scott exclaimed.

“You shut up, you little weirdo--DOG BOY,” Karen shouted at him.

“What is this dog boy stuff all about, Karen?” Mrs. Benson asked, puzzled.

“My little brother is now dog catcher for Mead Elementary School. I just know I am never going to be able to show my face in that school again,” she wailed, stomping into her bedroom and slamming the door.


It was a Saturday. Halloween was that night. Scott was going as a skeleton. His mom had bought him the costume at Sears. “What are you going as?” he asked Tina. “A nurse,” she replied arrogantly, as if her costume was better than his. “Didn’t you go as a nurse last year?” he asked. “So, is that a crime or something?” she shot back. Karen came into the room and looked at them trying on their costumes, then said disdainfully, “Halloween...oh brother, sometimes I forget how immature you two really are.”

There was a gunshot--loud, which reverberated through the open windows. Scott ran out the backdoor and stood on the porch. The dogs were circling around nervously. “I wonder where that came from,” Mrs. Benson said, walking out onto the porch. Scott jumped off the porch and was gone, running in the direction of the gunshot. “Scott Benson, you get back here this instant,” Mrs. Benson called out.

There was another shot. It was coming from the direction of the school. Scott turned and ran hard. He could see two police cars parked at the school. A car blew its horn as he cut across the street in front of it. He ran up and down the halls looking for the policemen, almost tripping on the pant legs of the skeleton costume because they were too long.

A few of the teachers still at the school afterhours were sticking their heads out of the classroom doors. Mr. Tillis had stopped mopping a hallway and was leaning on the mop. Scott stopped for a moment and listened, trying to control his breathing. He heard voices towards the back of the school. He turned and ran.

“Over here, Jim,” he heard one of the policeman shout. “I think I winged him.”

“Over where?”

“By the garbage cans. See him?”

The policeman was raising his shotgun into position. Scott ran around the corner and stopped. “Hey kid, git back over here,” one of the policemen shouted out. Scott was standing between the police and the garbage cans. Then he saw what they were aiming at. Crouching over one of the overturned cans was Wolf. “Wolf!” he cried out.

There was a thunderous boom and Wolf rocked back against the garbage can. His head twitched a few times from side to side and then he was still. “Finally got ‘em,” one of the policemen shouted.

“No,” Scott screamed, running over to where Wolf lay dead. He knelt down and started to stroke his bloody coat.

“Git back now, son. You shouldn’t touch ‘em.”

“It’s my dog! That’s Wolf. You shot Wolf,” Scott cried out, as one of the policemen led him away.

“Sorry son, but the dog’s got rabies. We had to shoot ‘em.”

“No he didn’t. Wolf was my friend--my first dog.” Scott exclaimed.

“Jim, git ‘em out here, will ya,” the other policemen ordered sternly.

“Rabies is a sickness, pumpkin. The dogs aren’t themselves anymore. They’re dangerous,” his mother explained later.

“Scott,” his father said, placing one hand on his shoulder, “those cops were doing what they had to do. Wolf caught rabies somewhere and he had to be dealt with. It couldn’t be helped.”

“It’s creepy to me,” Karen interjected. “Just like Old Yeller or something.”

“Karen, why don’t you help me in the kitchen,” Mrs. Benson said, motioning for her daughter to follow her.

“Aw mom, just when things were getting good you want me to leave,” Karen whined.

“Come on. You too, Tina. I’ve got something for both of you to do.”

“Scott, I’m afraid we’re gonna have to get rid of those dogs of yours,” Mr. Benson stated in a firm voice. “Can’t take any chances. Rabies spreads fast. Before you--”

“Why? Daddy, they’ll be okay. I’ll watch out for them,” Scott pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Scott. The Sheriff’s Department said we should get rid of them.”

“No,” he yelled, running out the backdoor.

“I guess it’ll be harder than I thought,” Mr. Benson said to his wife.

“Maybe he’ll run away,” Karen joked.

“Karen, shush,” Mrs. Benson said. Turning to her husband, she said, “Hon, he’ll get over it.”





Chapter 2 Formosa

There had been plenty of turbulence during the flight. As the hum of the four jet-props droned, Scott sat looking out the window. He had seen the magical appearance of the Hawaiian islands below. For hours there had been nothing but wispy clouds and cobalt blue ocean, then, like a vision, angry sharp peaked mountains rose up out of the water. He had excitedly called his sisters over to look out the window.

The plane circled as sleepy, tired looking stewardesses clamored up and down the aisle, trying to prepare for the landing. With an ear maiming descent, the pilot banked against the trade winds and brought them into Honolulu. The non-pressurized cabin left its indelible mark on the group of passengers. They labored to walk across the tarmac with hopelessly stopped up ears.

It was warm. The Benson family was use to the heat after living in Texas, but this was a tropical heat--thick and moist. Palm trees rustled in the breeze. You could smell the ocean.

“Stay together now kids. You had better listen to me,” Mrs. Benson called out, herding them along with two out stretched hands.

“Look mom,” Tina cried out, “there’s some of those hula girls over there.”

“Don’t point,” Mrs. Benson said, slapping at her daughter’s hand.

Hawaii, pre-statehood, waited for them just beyond the gates. Two Hawaiian girls approached and stopped to put leis around their necks. “Aloha!” they said in chorus. “Thank you,” Mrs. Benson said, stammering, surprised.

“Let’s stay here,” Tina exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Karen chimed in. “Who wants to go to some old place called Formosa. Yuk.”

“I told you kids before, it’s--”

“Daddy’s job and we have to go,” they said in unison.

A few day layover rejuvenated them from the arduous flight from San Francisco. They stayed in a small hotel on Waikiki Beach. The sand, ocean, and vaguely Polynesian atmosphere worked to seduce them all. The end of their stay came too soon. They all felt they could have gone on living there forever. For the kids it was truly paradise, and no school.

Transpacific travel in the late Fifties consisted of a travel route that hopscotched across the Pacific until you arrived in the Far East. One of the more common routes was from the West Coast to Hawaii, on to Wake island, then to Japan. No one could have described Wake Island. Their next destination was a mystery, just another airport to land at.

It was barely that, an airport. The island had been an important ship depot during World War II because of its strategic location. There were rusting hulks of metal that littered the shoreline, testimony to the naval battles that had been waged to gain control of the speck in the ocean. Scott got a bird’s eye glimpse of one of the destroyed ships when the plane passed right over the beach as it landed. He could still make out the insignia of the Land of the Rising Sun, now faded and blistered by years of exposure to the tropical elements.

The Benson family stayed on the island only long enough for the plane to refuel. In the few hours they were there, they stood and stared out at the flat, barren nothingness that was Wake Island, amazed that the pilot could have even found the island much less landed on it.

“Mom, how do they know how to find this place when it’s out in all that ocean out there?” Scott wanted to know.

“Navigation, dumbhead,” Karen said condescendingly.

“Daddy does it all the time,” Tina added, smiling at her mother.

“Yes, he sure does, Tina,” Mrs. Benson agreed, secretly wondering how she was going to get her three kids all the way across the world to a place she had never heard of before. She had said to her husband when he brought home the news one day: “Formosa-what? I never even heard of it.” Mr. Benson had smiled and assured her she would like the place.

They weren’t prepared for Tokyo. The traffic congestion, noise, and sheer foreignness frightened them. As they were walking down the street they were bombarded by wave after wave of Asian faces, some wearing surgical masks. “Look at them, would you,” Karen exclaimed, staring. “Keep moving now kids,” Mrs. Benson cried out, worried, not quite sure if she knew where the hotel they were staying at was.

A non-descript hotel was their refuge for a few days. From here they ventured into the confusing city. “I’m hungry,” Scott whined. “Yeah, me too. Mom, when can we get something to eat?” Tina wanted to know. “Soon, you two, now hush up and let mommy think,” Mrs. Benson pleaded, knowing she was the one who had to get them through, all the while silently cursing her husband for getting her into this.

They stumbled on a rice shop near their hotel, a small cubicle size restaurant serving what they were sure was the strangest looking food in the world. “Yuk!” Karen exclaimed, shaking her head, declaring that there was no way on earth she was going to eat anything that looked like that. “Karen, either you eat it or go hungry,” her mother stated, as she clumsily tried to work the chop sticks. Cautiously, she took a bite of her food.

“It’s all mushy,” Tina said, wrinkling up her nose.

“I wouldn’t feed this to my dogs,” Scott said, pushing the plate away.

“Ooh, it stinks,” Karen said, pinching her nose.

“Eat or starve,” Mrs. Benson sang out, chuckling. “Better get use to it is all I got to say.”

“I don’t know how to use this stupid stick-thingies,” Tina whined.

Later, back at the hotel, as Scott knelt before the toilet bowl willing away another abdominal heave, the Benson family sat on their beds and fought off their first bout with group depression. One day in the Japanese capital and they were ready to flee, run back to the sanctuary of the States. No one could possibly live like this. Why us? they were all thinking.

“Are you okay in there, pumpkin?” Mrs. Benson called to her son.

“I wish I was dead,” he mumbled.

“If I get sick like him I’ll neve speak to you again,” Karen said, eyeing her mother coldly.

“Is it going to be like this in Formosa, mom?” Tina asked, hoping her mother could somehow change everything. “Couldn’t dad get transferred to somewhere in the States, like maybe California?”

“We’ll all get use to it. Just you wait. Really. It’s going to take time though,” she reassured them.

“I hate this family,” Karen muttered. “Why couldn’t I be born into a normal family, one that has a regular home, with a regular daddy?”

“Karen! If I ever hear you say that again I’m going to slap you silly. Do you hear me, young lady?” Mrs. Benson said angrily.

“I hear you,” Karen said sullenly.

“Spoiled, nothing but spoiled, that’s what all you kids are. It’s down right disgusting to hear you talk that way.”

“Karen’s the one that said it,” Tina said in a whisper, while Scott moaned from the bathroom.


MAG had requested Mr. Benson’s transfer. He had flown to Washington. It was all top secret, so said an Air Force Colonel, who led him to an underground garage where a car was waiting. They drove out into the Virginia countryside, where they were met by a man wearing a dark blue suit.

The tentacles of the Cold War reached all parts of the world, so he was told. A tenuous co-existence survived the Korean War in the Asian theater of operations. Red China was a potential menace, a beast, that happened to have a painful thorn in its side: Formosa.

It was to be an interdisciplinary/interagency joint effort. Forget the old rules. Matters will never be what they seem. Tell no one. Not even the wife. Secrecy is of supreme importance. After the esoteric pep talk, Mr. Benson was assigned to training.

“You’ll be going in dark,” his superior informed him. “Dummy corporation cover. Different passport. You know, the usual.”

He didn’t know the usual. This was new to him, secretive and exciting. This was an extension of his service to his country, spanning the time frame from World War II to the Korean War to the present. It was ongoing. The Communist menace had to be stopped.

“I don’t understand this, honey,” Mrs. Benson had said, confused.

“It’s a promotion, a good one,” he explained, non-committal.

“To what?”

“What do you mean?”

“The promotion. What kind of promotion is it? What rank?” she asked, looking in his face to better judge his answer.

“Not a rank exactly,” he replied evasively. “Ranks don’t really apply anymore.”

“Honey, you got to have ranks in the military,” she countered, unable to understand anything having to do with the military devoid of ranks.

“I’m telling you this now, and I’m not going to repeat it. I’ve been assigned to a special division, which means a good promotion for me. Leave it at that,” he said, now irritated by his failure in devising a plausible story for his transfer.

That was three months ago. Mrs. Benson hadn’t seen her husband in all that time. Letters arrived periodically, post-marked San Francisco. She knew he wasn’t in San Francisco. In the letters he said little. How are the kids? Are your folks okay? I miss you and the kids alot. One handwritten page of nothingness. At night, she would feel the emptiness, the ache of wanting, and try not to cry.


Taipei, another frenetic city full to overflowing with Asians. “Here we go again!” she cried out to her kids, herding them around her for the assault on the Taiwanese capital. “Mrs. Benson? Are you Mrs. Benson?” a young Airman asked politely. The Caucasian face appeared out of the sea of foreignness. “Yes, yes I am,” she answered, smiling. “I’m here to take you to where you’ll be staying. Got your bags yet?”

A wonderful sense of relief swept over her. Finally, now she felt better, almost safe. The Air force hadn’t forgotten them. They followed him out to where a blue sedan with US Air Force stenciled on the front doors was parked. The big American car seemed to dwarf the other cars parked along side the Arrivals area.

“We’ll be driving to Yang Mang San,” the young Airman said over his shoulder, as he put the car in gear and started out through the chaotic traffic.

“Are there more Americans here?” Tina asked hopefully.

The Airman laughed and said, “Sometimes I think there’s too many.

“I doubt that,” Karen muttered.

They referred to it as the Compound, a neighborhood of military housing, a sub-division built for the families of the military personnel stationed in Formosa. They were beautiful homes built of stone, with fire places and a screened in porch. Each house had a separate servant’s quarters in the back by the garage. Mrs. Benson liked them immediately.

The kids were given their own rooms, which went a long way to appease them. Their furniture was being shipped, but Mrs. Benson was soon to learn that in the Far East of 1957 almost anything could be purchased for next to nothing. By year’s end, their house would take on the distinct decor of the Orient, with brass tables, straw woven rugs, aboriginal artifacts, and Chinese brush paintings.

Mrs. Benson wanted to settle the kids in as quickly as possible. They couldn’t miss anymore school. It was going to be difficult. Changing schools in the middle of the year could be traumatic. She only hoped they could adapt quickly.

Eena then arrived to help in the transition. Mr. Benson had mentioned “living the life of Riley” to her before he left. Now she knew what he was referring to. She appeared one morning at the back door, knocking timidly. “Mom, some Chinese person’s at the back door,” Karen had yelled out from the kitchen.

“Who is it?” Mrs. Benson asked, puzzled, as she came in from the living room.

“I Eena, Mrs. Ben-shon. Mr. Ben-shon ask me work here. O-kayee?”

“My husband talked to you about working for us?” Mrs. Benson asked skeptically. “When? I mean did he say it was alright for you to work for us?”

“Doing what?” Karen demanded from the kitchen doorway.

“Shush now, Karen. Come in. You can’t very well stand out there in the carport,” Mrs. Benson said, opening the screen door.

“Thank you, Mrs. Ben-shon. I work good...ding hao...you see. Do ev-vey-thing. House. Food. Clean-clean,” Eena said, smiling, trying to avoid eye contact.

A neighbor filled Mrs. Benson in on the living arrangements they would all come to enjoy for the next half decade. Servants did everything. Houseboys, amahs, coolies comprised the workforce, laboring away as butlers, nannies, and groundkeepers. While the Benson family had not suddenly been ordained the idle rich, they were certainly leaning towards being idle.

Mrs. Benson was quick to adapt. The compound afforded them all sorts of diversions, to include tennis courts, a small cinema, and a nearby golf course. Little America didn’t travel light.

The kids entered school shortly after arriving on Formosa. A school system had been set up exclusively for them. The children of the Air Force, Navy, Army, CIA, and embassy personnel were to be educated in the closest semblance to a United States system as possible.

Scott’s first day of school was an eight hour nightmare. The new school Scott was enrolled in was considerably more advanced than his previous one. He was hopelessly lost. The foreign material had swamped him by the second hour of school. He fought hard to stem the tears that were welling up in his eyes.


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