A Box of Apples

Lynette hadn’t said a word in weeks. Every morning, she arrived at her appointed time, sat down at her desk, and did nothing. This was hard for her as it was so very out of her character. She loved to talk. She had so much to say.

But lately, she would just think. About trees. Redwoods.

She’d stare out the window, imagining what it would be like at that very moment to be out from inside those four walls; to be laying on the mulchy floor of a forest, looking up at the sun smiling through the enormous boughs.

“How old and wise you are, tree,” she would imagine herself saying, “the things you could teach us if we’d only be still enough to listen.”

Usually these sylvan daydreams would calm her, but eventually her thoughts would always turn back to the only real love that she had ever known. Charles. And thoughts of Charles, although happy at first, would inevitably set off a chain-reaction in her mind. She would be reminded of his absence. How he was not being allowed to speak. Of the unjustness of the world. Her mood would sour incredibly.

On December 17th, 1975, when Duane Keys, U.S. District Attorney, was making his statement before the judge, Lynette was in such a sour mood.

“Your honor, because her heart is filled with such hate and violence, we beg the court for the most severe ...”

Before he finished his sentence, a Gala apple suddenly smashed upon the bridge of his nose, knocking the glasses from his face.

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, would-be presidential assassin, devotee of Charles Manson, was ushered from the courtroom.

For many years after, right before Christmas, Duane would find on his office desk a thoughtful present from his coworkers – a box of apples.


Bomb Frankie

It was about 10:20 in the morning on January 17th, 1966, and Francisco was leaning over the starboard rail of his tidy shrimper, the Manuel Orts, preparing to retrieve his nets. At first, he subconsciously took the sound to be thunder and didn’t even look up. A few seconds of reflection though, reminded him that the morning had been cloudless and he turned his gaze nearly 30,000 feet vertical, over the coastal village of Palomares.

“¡Dios mío!”

He only saw the end of the explosion, a few bright orange streams arcing out from an enormous ball of black smoke. Bits of debris were shooting off in all directions before succumbing to the pull of the earth and plummeting down towards the Manuel Orts.

Francisco ran back to the pilothouse, turned hard to port, and slammed the throttle. As he motored away towards safety, he kept his eyes on the spreading smoke. From it emerged five parachutes. Three of them were drifting on the wind out to sea.

The two others sent gruesome chills down Francisco’s spine, and were falling at a faster pace; the chutes were tangled. One seemed to be supporting the weight of a dead man. As for the second one, dangling beneath the white silk, Francisco only saw half a man; his guts spilling out.

Both bodies hit the water hard.

By the time Francisco managed to maneuver his boat on-scene, they were both already beneath the waves.

The good news, as Francisco soon found out, was that the two objects he witnessed falling into the Mediterranean were not men. The bad news was that they were halves of a hydrogen bomb.

Two months later, Francisco Simó Orts would lead the U.S. Navy to the lost bomb and be forever known as “Paco el de la Bomba.”


Et tu?

The king sat naked in his hut experiencing a disturbed sleep, a procession of unintelligible moans and grunts sporadically escaping his gritted teeth. Every now and then, a word could be deciphered – “mother”, “parasite”, “die”.

Since the death of his mother Nandi, the king had plunged into a bottomless depression. The woman to whom he owed his life, the only one in his entire violent life to have given him love, was forever gone. He had no wife. And he had no children – he killed them all years ago.

All he felt now was pain; incredible, intolerable pain. The only way he knew to cope with it was to share it. To make all of his kingdom taste the rot that filled his heart. To unite his people as one body of mourners.

Thousands were sacrificed to his torment on the day she died. Thousands more died of starvation in the succeeding months. Crops were burned. Every cow was slaughtered so the calves would know the loss of their mothers too. Milk was forbidden. He sent the entirety of his warriors off on missions of annihilation, destroying the land and every village in their way.

His descent into madness was nearly complete.

Three men outside had their ears to the thatched wall and listened for a moment, validating their suspicion of the king’s mental state.

On September 22nd, 1828, Shaka, the Zulu king who killed 2 million to create his tribe of 250,000, was lured outside on the pretext that his subjects were not mourning loudly enough. He didn’t see the faces of his attackers when the knives first plunged into his back. But as he fell to the ground and rolled over, Shaka succumbed to a moment of clarity and recognized the hate-filled but fearful eyes of his half-brothers.


The Gates of Hell

It was January 3rd, 1863. From the upper balcony of a run-down building in an outlying section of Paris, Father Eymard looked down into the garden at the recently arrived novice. He was alone and on his knees, reading a book.

Father Eymard sighed loudly and spoke to the priest beside him, “How is our Brother Augustin progressing, Father de Cuers?”

“Not well, I’m afraid,” he replied in a concerned tone, “He’s only here in honor of his sister, you remember... she was at the convent of the Community of the Holy Infant... died of peritonitis a few months ago... I’ve never seen such utter devastation in a man before. Such despair...”

“Such deep emotion is a sign of the love that he’s capable of, Father de Cuers. But do you think he has a calling?”

Father de Cuers stared down at the shiny white surplice of Brother Augustin for a minute before answering.

“If we could get him to focus... only then will we find out.”

Father Eymard squinted, his eyes on the book that Brother Augustin was holding.

“What is that volume he always carries with him?”

Father de Cuers shook his head in exasperation, “It’s Dante, Father, the Divine Comedy. He even reads it at adoration.”

“Okay then,” Father Eymard said, “it’s decided he must focus. He was a decorator before he came to us, no? A craftsman? Let’s have him work on his art... and take that book from him, the Gates of Hell shall not prevail!”

When it came time for Brother Augustin to make his vows for the priesthood, he instead departed once again as Auguste Rodin with the encouraging approval of Father Eymard. In his pocket again was Dante. In his soul was hope. And in his heart was a fire for creation.


And Moses Rose

Moses lay prostrate on the ground, his hands covering his reddened face. His position though, on that sandy and rocky field, was not in submission or adoration; he wasn’t praying. He was thinking.

“I can’t follow you where you’re going.”

He slowly raised his head.

Stretched before him was a motley gang of men, dirty and bloody; mostly white-skinned beneath their sun-baked exteriors, but some brown and some black too. They mingled together in a special brotherhood, sharing a common vision that was realized to be at its end, a trial almost having reached closure at the edge of the desert. There was an enthusiasm among them. But it was betrayed by the nervous quiet of a few them and the sunken eyes of all of them.

Some were like him, lying in the sand, but injured, with swollen feet or broken legs. There were women also there, standing sickened but proudly by their husbands. And children too, there were a few.

Moses rose and as he did, the people grew silent and all eyes fell upon him.

He scanned the crowd from left to right and back again and then peered down at the ground. At his feet in front of him was a line cut clearly into the sand. He took a step backwards from it.

“You don’t seem inclined to die with us, Rose,” said his friend Jim Bowie from a stretcher.

Battle-hardened veteran of Napoleon’s war in Russia; French Legion of Honor recipient; he had watched for ten days as Santa Anna increased the besieging army around the Alamo to 2,400 soldiers.

It was March 3rd, 1836. He was fifty-one years old.

“No,” Louis Moses Rose said, “I’m not prepared to die ... I’ll avoid it if I can.”

Within minutes he was over the wall.


Becoming Strangers

The deacon was in the sanctuary of the Church of Holy Wisdom when he heard the western doors swing open with a bang. He poked his head from behind the iconostasis to see who was so rudely disturbing the silence before Divine Liturgy. A cold sweat broke across his forehead when he recognized the trio fast approaching him with heavy steps. Two of them wore the red zucchettos of cardinals and the third the violet of an archbishop. One of the cardinals carried a plain scroll in his right hand.

The group crossed the three steps leading up to the bema and the deacon rushed out to meet them.

“Cardinal Humbert!” the shaking deacon shouted, “His Holiness is not yet here!”

“I care not where he is!” replied the cardinal in Greek, and slammed the scroll down onto the altar.

The men then abruptly turned and departed as quickly as they had arrived. Before exiting though, Cardinal Humbert stopped at the doors and exaggeratedly stamped his feet several times as if they had been covered in dirt.

“Let God now look and judge!” he thundered and disappeared outside.

The color drained from the deacon’s face as he looked down at the Papal Bull. Instinctively, he snatched it up and ran outside, catching up to the legates across the street.

“Please, you must reconsider!” he begged and the frantic deacon grabbed the cardinal by the elbow and pushed the paper back into his hand.

“Away, heretic!” Cardinal Humbert screamed. He violently shook his arm free, letting the scroll fall into the dirt at his feet.

For years, the divide between East and West had been growing and this invalid excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople on July 16th, 1054, only fostered what would come to be known as the Great Schism.


A Secret Weapon

One thousand boats sailed out from the Dnieper River and into the Black Sea, the sky above them ablaze in a swirling maelstrom of fiery-orange clouds. Aboard each vessel were forty armed Varangians swelling with confidence, for the most experienced among them took the fearsome sunset as a good omen. They laughed heartily at the thought of the magnificent treasures that would soon be theirs.

Their object was some 380 miles away at the mouth of “the passage of the cow.” Constantinople.

Aboard the flagship at the head of the fleet was the man upon whom these Vikings placed their trust, Prince Igor of Kiev. He stood near the bow and stared up at the supernatural display. Symptoms of deep thought were etched upon his low brow. He didn’t share the exuberance of his men.

The city surely had advance warning of their deployment but Igor knew that the entire Byzantine fleet was away at war against the Saracens and Constantinople was utterly defenseless.

It was foolish to entertain any thought of failure but the prince couldn’t help but feel that the heavenly fire before him was somehow a foreshadowing of events to come.

On June 30th, 941, against all odds, fifteen rotted and leaking barques pushed into the Bosphorus and met the thousand-strong force of invading longboats head-on. It was a pitiful site. Jeers and growls and hideous, mocking laughter rose from the wet lips of the marciless Varangians.

The laughter very quickly turned to screams of horror though when plumes of fire spurted from the siphons positioned bow to stern on the fifteen meager Byzantine hulks.

This “Greek Fire” burned wood and sails, and stuck to the flesh. It was inextinguishable. The water itself ignited and Prince Igor was fortunate to escape with a third of his fleet.


The Nearest-Run-Thing You Ever Saw

Just after 9 p.m. on June 15th, 1815, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, scribbled off a note to be sent back to England: “It has been a damned serious business. Blücher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing, the nearest-run-thing you ever saw in your life, by God!”

The battle of Waterloo was final. The French were retreating to Paris, harassed by Marshall Blücher’s Prussians. Napoleon Bonaparte would be captured within a month. Europe would be safe again after 22 years of nearly constant French incitement.

Yet, the outcome was so close; so narrow. French cavalry had sliced through the center of Lord Wellington’s lines with aggression and surprise, cutting the allies in half. The 17,000 infantrymen under Napoleon’s hand-picked second, Michel Ney, had suffered heavy casualties though, and replacements were needed.

In an advantageous but precarious position upon a ridge, Ney called upon his Commander to send him reinforcements. “Some troops!” Napoleon replied, “Where do you expect me to get some? Do you want me to make some?!”

Indeed, Napoleon did have troops; some 10,000 more. They were, however, unable to respond to the call. They were bogged down in a tortuous guerilla war against the “Chouans” in the northwest of France, in the hedge-country called La Vendée.

These Chouans, these wild men of the Vendée, were both peasants and aristocrats, but royalists all. They had sacrificed their homes and safeties, had lived and been slaughtered like animals, but had fiercely resisted all revolutionary authorities since the Reign of Terror began.

Had Napoleon but learned the lessons of his predecessors and left these determined liberty-loving peoples to themselves, history could have easily been quite different. But for the want of those 10,000 men, Napoleon’s one hundred day return could have been extended.


Juana la Loca

Twenty-seven years old; beautiful; pregnant with her sixth child; Queen of Castile, Aragon, Sicily, and Naples. Daughter of the most powerful monarchs in the history of Spain, it would have seemed that Juana had it all.

But things aren’t always as they seem.

What Juana didn’t have any more was her handsome husband, Phillip. Without him, she was lost, oblivious to the famine and revolts that were quickly spreading across the faltering country.

Technically though, Juana still did have her husband. He was in the black box at the monastery in Burgos. It was October 30th, 1506, and she had just had him disinterred after five weeks underground.

Juana hoped and prayed for those five long weeks that God would repeal the death sentence placed upon him. That somehow, Phillip might again rejoin her, freed miraculously from all of the horrible effects of Typhus. That he would come back to her, contrite, with the love for her that she knew he was capable of but never showed.

As the lid was lifted from the coffin, Juana shook uncontrollably, expecting her lover to rise up full of life and sweep her up in his arms. The corpse, however, lay still.

When the cloths were removed from the body, Juana still hoped to see the face of her refreshed King break into a smile that would repair her broken heart and wipe away her veil of tears. The ashen complexion though, only spoke to death.

It took several men to tear Juana from her dead husband when she began kissing his rotting feet. After this, it seemed there would be no cure for her madness.

Eventually, her first-born son, Charles V, would implement his own cure for her, locking her in a windowless cell for the remaining thirty-five years of her life.


... and let slip the dogs of war.

It was just before dawn on August 14th, though it could well have been any other day on the calendar, and a group of men huddled together in a trench. The exact location of this conflict among men wasn’t important, it could have been anywhere.

They, young and old, nervously fondled their weapons, anxious for the coming battle. Groups of them knelt to pray, calling upon their god to see them to safety. Those who had no god to which to pray thought one last time about their families, their friends, or their fortunes.

There were those who spent the last few minutes arming themselves by filling their hearts with hate; a hate that would carry the day; that would utterly annihilate not only their enemies but the last vestiges of humanity left within themselves.

For some, it was to be their first experience of combat, real and bloody and horrific. For others, it was merely another battle among many. It would be the last for multitudes of them.

At the command to advance, each of these men sung out at the top of his voice a call that was meant to inspire heroism and brotherhood, but also to wipe away the fears of the moment and fling them at the men they now were bent on killing:

The cries of havoc would all be unique to the men and their times but the results were always the same. Upon these words, blood would be spilt.



The old monk on duty at the Tiflis Orthodox Seminary on the night of November 5th, 1896 was keeping a close eye on the second floor of the dormitory building. He suspiciously glanced up at a particular door, under which he swore he kept seeing a little shard of light. It was well after hours and none of the students should have still been up.

The monk had spent most of his life on the grounds and had ushered through many young men on their way to the priesthood. Recently though, he had noticed a certain brazenness, a worldliness altogether unholy, in the students that were appearing.

“Undisciplined little… revolutionaries!” he thought to himself as he made his way up the flight of steps at the dorm.

Inside the cell, a sixteen-year-old boy lay on a musty straw bed. An oil lamp turned as low as could be was smoking by his head. He was quietly reading, lost in a book – “Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo.

He was not so lost though, not to notice that the rats that kept him company at night had stopped their scurrying and were standing up on their hind legs, sniffing at the air by the door. A few footsteps outside broke the silence.

The rats suddenly bolted and the boy sat up, closed his book, and slid it beneath his little pillow. He reached down and picked up another book from the floor, a primer on Old Church Slavonic. He placed it open on his chest and closed his eyes.

The door opened slowly with a long creak.

“Djugashvili!” the old monk spat as he entered and held up a bright lantern, “I know what you’re doing!”

This wasn’t the last time that the young seminarian, Joseph Stalin, would be caught with banned books.