Sam Hopper was a distant relative to the late actor Dennis Hopper, supposedly a 2nd cousin once removed or something like that.

Things had been kinda chill for awhile now. Just work and staying home playing on his Xbox. Sam was a gamer, but he wasn’t online all day. He had a regular 60 hour work week, but he loved his days off to play video games.

So when he went into the grocery store that Thursday afternoon, it took him by surprise to find his friend Martin also shopping. He hadn’t seen Martin, in like nearly two years, but the conversations seemed like the same ones continued from years earlier.

Martin seemed to be doing fine for his life, but he needed to ask Sam Hopper a question. More like a favor, was what Martin really needed.

Martin didn’t have a car, but he needed a ride to Fresno. Sam had an early three-day weekend off, and it seemed like a favor that Sam could help him with.

After Sam Hopper became a believer, it seemed he kept bumping into old friends that were in one of three kinds. The Genuine. The Fake. And the desperate.

It didn’t bother Sam that some of his old friends just took advantage of his new found Christian faith, basically taking his good nature for any thing they could get away with.
The drive down to Fresno wasn’t so bad. Sam took the 99 through. Hie hadn’t spoken to Martin in nearly two years, the business with the vetenary office had him slammed with work, he didn’t really think of his friend. Martin was still quiet as always, lost in his own thoughts.

“I really appreciate this Sam, you don’t know how much I needed the ride over here. I asked everyone I knew, but no one else was free. Kinda lucky how we bumped into each other at the store, huh?”
“So, what kind of court appearance is this now, couldn’t you take care of this over the phone or something?’ Sam asks.

“No, its more of an im person type of thing. Ya know.” Martin answers back.
Sam continues to drive while Martin falls asleep in the passenger seat.

Once they get to Fresno, Sam drops Martin off at the courthouse and Martin tells him to hang out at the park for an hour while he appears in the courthouse.

Sam sits on the park bench thinking about the events in the last 24 hours. How less than two days earlier, he didn’t even think of traveling to Fresno with his old friend Martin. Sam looked at the blue sky
above him, and thought of what his friend Sam Casalte said about God.

Sam Hopper remembered the time when Casalte tried to help him with a veternary case in Linden when first became a “farm doctor” as Casalte put it. Casalte was so squeemish as Hopper tried to figure out how to get the metal fencing out
of the cow who chewed parts of it. Hopper called up his senior partner at the vet clinic who told him to just inject a magnet into the cow’s mouth, which would in turn reach the second stomach of the cow and the metal would eventually just stay put. Even though Casalte was an insurance investigator and not a farm vet, he still liked vistiting the animals with Hopper on occasion.

When Sam Hopper finished day dreaming about the clouds in the park, he gets a phone call from Martin to pick him up at the court house. Martin is smiling and happy that the case went in his favor. In the whole 2 and a half hour ride to Fresno, not once did Sam ask Martin what the case was concerning.

“Okay, man you ready to go back home now? ” Sam says.

“Hey, do you mind if I make one more trip before we dip out, huh?” Martin asks.
Right then, Sam Hopper remembers there are three types of people in his life now.

The real. The fake. And the desperate. “Um, where man. I thought you just needed to take care of this court date? You didn’t even pitch in gas money for this trip out here.”
“Relax bro, I just gotta visit my girl since we’re down here. I hadn’t seen her in months. Is that okay?”

“”Fine Martin, just get me the directions, we’re not staying long though.”
After about 20 minutes of getting lost in Fresno, they finally get to Martin’s girlfriend’s apartment. Martin asks to borrow Sam Hopper’s cell phone. Sam doesn’t understand
why Martin can’t use his own phone to call the girlfriend.

Then the voice off the other end of the phone begins to cuss and yell at Martin.
Then out steps one by one, eight of the girlfriend’s family. Big corn fed looking brothers and cousins carrying shotguns, and baseball bats. They proceed to walk down the stairs to surround the tiny Honda accord. Martin’s girlfriend is walking slowly behind her brothers and cousins. Then Big Momma, the girlfriend’s aunt approaches the
car. Sam Hopper is scared.

Big Momma “We done told you Martin Reska, not to lay hands on my niece. You done recall that, huh Martin.!
“I love Anne! I only hit hurt that one time ma’am!” Martin yells out the window. ” just want to see her, the judge dropped all the charges against me like an hour ago!
There were very few things that Sam Hopper got riled up against, but domestic violence was tops on that list. Right then and there, he wanted to toss the dead beat Martin to the curb and let the goons deal with him.

The Honda accord was surrounded on all sides. Sam had to really think about the situation. Was he going to push his buddy Martin out of the car and get the heck out of dodge. Or was he gonna help his friend out. “What’s it to be Hopper?” He thought to himself. There was no question where his loyalties were.

He honked his horn twice, then backed his car out as fast as he could.  Martin begins to cry, declaring his unwavering love for Anne.

Who are the five sams?

February 6, 2016

Who are the five Sams?

Samson Johnson
Samuelito “Lito” Arroyo
Sam Hopper
Sam Casalte
Samuel Lirenzos

There were many things Sam Lirenzos wanted to do once he landed in Chicago, but he knew he needed to pace himself. After all, he would leave Stockton, California and never look back.

His friends and family said their goodbyes to Sam Lirenzos.

Sam Hopper gave him a fist bump.

Sam Casalte said “its been real” then prayed over him., putting his hand on Sam Lirenzos’ shoulder praying for traveling mercies on his new home..

Samuelito  gave him a tearful long hug and Samson Johnson also hugged him too

Sam Lirenzos boarded the plane while his family and friends looked on through the airport windows.

There was something kind of special about the idea of leaving his hometown to start a new life  in a new city, a new state halfways around the country. Chicago, Illinois.

He loved his family, friends and all of the memories that Stockton brought for him, but Sam  Lirenzos knew he must go on with his life and not be stagnant.

All the Sams knew it, though none wanted to admit it to their buddy Sam Lirenzos.

Sam Lirenzos was very excited about the move, prepparing financially, spiritually and emotionally for this day. All of his earthly possesions crammed into two suitcases.  Things he couldn’t liquidate, he out right gave away to the family and friends he made in Stockton in all his years living there.



A week before Lirenzos left, they were  all playing cards at Hopper’s apartment.

Lito was an action movie brought to life.  Whenever he and the five sams would get together to play cards or watch a game on tv, there was always a fight that Samurelito “Lito” Arroyo  would reminence over.  He loved going into a bar or wherever and push someone in the chest with his shoulder as he walked passed. 3 out of 4 times, he would get his butt kicked, but he loved fist fights. There was nothing more exciting in his life then laying hands on another human being. All his poker buddies thought he needed to try out for the mma cage fighting, but that simply wasn’t his style. He had a royal flush, but he didn’t show any emotions on his face.

Sam Hopper was the white Sam. That’s what people would describe him as, but he was a cool cat. Always got your back, he never could do anyone wrong. Once he loaned Sam Lirenzos  $558 with no questions asked.  Sam Hopper had a pair of threes.

Samson Johnson was the African-American Sam of the group, he had no good hand. Sam Lireenzos was bad at cards and still tried to remember the difference between texas holdem poker and straight poker. Lirenzos played his two aces, but lost that round and fifteen dollars. Sam Casalte looked atLito and raised him five bucks, seeing if he’d call his bluff. But Lito didn’t flinch one bit and took the whole lump winnings. Then Lito smiled.

Sam Casalte had become a Christian two months earlier, but still played  the weekly card game with the fellas. Slowly, but surely the gambling and hanging out with his old drinking buddies would stop due to the change in his faith,  but not this week.

Sam Lirenzos looked at his cards and knew he needed to fold, but he just stared at his friends for a few moments. Hopper, Lito, Johnson, and Casalte were his life long buddies since elementary school on the playground of Hazelton elementary, and a week later, he would never see them all together again like tonight.

Sam Lirenzos looked at the empty pizza boxes on the side table and folded his cards. “I’m done  guys…”

And smiled at his buddies.










Sam Hopper was…

February 6, 2016

Sam Hopper was a distant relative to the late actor Dennis Hopper, supposedly a 2nd cousin once removed or something like that.

Things had been kinda chill for awhile now. Just work and staying home playing on his Xbox. Sam was a gamer, but he wasn’t online all day. He had a regular 60 hour work week, but he loved his days off to play video games.

So when he went into the grocery store that Friday afternoon, it took him by surprise to find his friend Martin also shopping. He hadn’t seen Martin, in like nearly two years, but the conversations seemed like the same ones continued from years earlier.

Martin seemed to be doing fine for his life, but he needed to ask Sam Hopper a question. More like a favor, was what Martin really needed.

Martin didn’t have a car, but he needed a ride to Fresno. Sam had the weekend off, and it seemed like a favor that Sam could help him with.

After Sam Hopper became a believer, it seemed he kept bumping into old friends that were in one of three kinds. The Genuine. The Fake. And the desperate.

It didn’t bother Sam that some of his old friends just took advantage of his new found Christian faith, basically taking his good nature for any thing they could get away with.

Cleopatra Ramires’ poem 2

February 6, 2016

She had a dream of what could’ve
A delta boardwalk built in 1991
off the waterfront blvd
Filled with rides, games, restaurants, and all types
of amusements

Called Pioneer Waterways
It was supposed to be
But not approved by the city council

Quite a shame to go to waste
Revenues filtering into this 209 city

While the citizens rejoiced
in having some fun

A place filled with laughter
Instead of the tears of murders
which it is known for


It was a spring morning
when the new signs went up

For one year, the dual signage of Charter Way/MLK BLVD were all along the watchways
Enjoying the privelege of having a dual personality
Charter Way or Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard!
Is what rang out forth

Telling his name a plenty.
Charter Way had its memories of long cruising Saturday nights
From Chevy Impala late 60s models to Honda Rice Rockets

Charter had drank up the blood of teen thugs from all sorts of sets
the groups and the hoodlums neighbor kids walked along side the vets
from wars fighting asians and all misery
they came home to walk the streets to Charter Way
While candle lit glasses stayed by hit and run victims

The people, not inanimate objects is what the street held
their dreams filtered on the the new name for Luther King junior

Just like his name, the new street has dreams
Of rising above this city’s poverty

Dentist offices, used tire shops, the taco trucks plenty
Still feed and helped customers that spring morning no fuss
The death of Charter Way was gone just like that.

Small business along corporate restaurant chains
still moved their commerce and goods
Few noted the sign change
It still was the hood.

Making an altar call was easy.

Actually going up to all those he offended was not so easy.

Some of his old enemies were long dead or in jail. Others, he simply did not know where they were.

Clyde Perry was not a good man.

But it was trusting in Jesus Christ, not his own works that would bring him to that better man in his reflection, the blood and only the blood could deliver.

First stop was to  really, truly ask his daughter Siobhan to forgive him for the mess of a life he put on her, mostly by being a neglectful father and run off half-ways across the country to West Virginia, for a large chunk of her life.

Clyde Perry was not a good man.

In all of  his 78 years of hard living, traveling the roads of America as a truck driver, he was still as stubborn and
hard headed as ever. Always trying to get his way or the highway. As a truck driver, it would be easy for him to do just
that-leave whenever things got too unfortable or he didn’t get his way in life.

Leave or cleave was his main theme and objective, yet this day in the church his daughter and ex-girlfriend attended, he was standing still in the

If only his buddies could see him now, they would’ve said that the church should’ve collapsed on top of him, the moment Clyde Perry walked right in for the dreadful
sinner he was. More of a lifestyle choice than anything. That’s what he would think.

But for some reason, Clyde Perry was still, as the Preacher spoke on unforgiving and being forgiven.

The chair felt stiff and it couldn’t possibly be good for his posture, but Sam Casalte knew things were in his favor. The interview went right on schedule, and the first
day on the job with First Eagle Insurance Incorporate, was as smooth as a hot butter knife over butter.

The gig was pretty straight forward, investigate fraud cases for discrepancies, and interview clients in his office.

After getting shot by Michael Styles six months earlier (whom they still hadn’t found) , Sam was ready to accept a regular desk job. His two sisters werer happy that
that he had steady employment, and nothing too dangerous.

A few weeks into the job, Sam began to feel bored with it, he longed for the late night stake outs, chasing after skip traces that jumped bail, and the heartbeats
of adrenaline was missing from this mundane office environment.

Asking the same questions over and over again to the same bunch of innocent people, who simply wanted to know they were finacially secure after their accidents, yet
the company always thought of them as potential criminal leeches off the system. He began to resent First Eagle Insurance Incorporate, wanting to leave, but
he felt stuck.

Stuck like Chuck.

And this was only in the first month.
Then she walked in.

Roses for Magdalena: Skip Trace

An elementary school classroom full of 7 and 8 year old children seated at their desks. A young boy has just finished his report and takes his seat.

TEACHER looks up at a young girl seated in the second row and nods for her to give her report next.

TEACHER, “Young lady, are you ready to give your report now?”
The young girl gets up out of her seat and proceeds to give her report.

GIRL ”My story is a fantastic adventure. It begins like any other
tale, with a magnificent journey…….”

The days melt to eight years earlier.

SAM CASALTE, a man in his early thirties is yelling at his girlfriend on the phone, pacing back and forth in the living room.

SAM” Look, I don’t care where you are, I deserved to know about this! What are you talking about, it’s not my concern! Are you serious! (mumbling on other
side of the phone). The phone disconnects.

Sam looks at the phone for a second, then shakes his head in disbelief. He walks over to the kitchen table and puts the cell phone down on the table. He takes a deep breath in, sighs, and stares at the phone. He begins to press redial and calls his girlfriend back again, with the phone busy signal ringing.

He puts the phone back down and stares at it again. A single tear rolls down his eye.

Chapter 2

Things aren’t always that easy, he looked up at his daughter Magdalena. Sam never realized how pretty her shoulder length brown hair looked. She was about seven years old, in his eyes.  Nothing could separate him from his daughter’s embraces. She was his baby girl and it was okay with him that he had a kid. It wasn’t always the case though, before she was….he never even wanted the idea of having children. But not now, little Maggie May, as he called her, was precious to him.

Chapter 3: Questions left unanswered

Forward in present day.
Sam Casalte was resting today, trying to watch the ball game on TV, but halfway falling asleep, when his phone began to vibrate.  Sam enjoying resting on his comfortable brown recliner. So soft,
“Should he let it go to voice mail, or pick up the phone?” He thought for half a beat, then pressed the talk button on the screen after the second round of rings.

“Mister Casalty, my name is Jeffrey Stiles.” the voice quietly soothed back to his ear.
“Yes.” Sam responded
“I am a friend of Roy’s. Roy Mendez, from Roy’s bail bonds.” the prospective client says.
“Yeah, I know Roy Mendez. I did a skip trace for him about 4 months back”

“He said you do great work, you come highly regarded, I’d like to hire you to help me find my lost brother Michael. He’s not safe. I mean, he needs help, he’s kind of mentally unbalanced, and not to put it so bluntly, but he may be in danger, and I can’t go to the police…”

“Wait, wait, wait…hold on a sec, what?”

“I can’t go to the police, there’s issues that I can’t tell you over the phone.. can I text you my address to meet up with you tomorrow afternoon? I’m willing to pay whatever the price to helping  Mike get back home…”

“Hold up, what do you mean dangerous? You should call the cops on this one. I’m sorry sir for your problems, but this might just be out of my jurisdiction.”

“Sam, I’m gonna text you a restaurant we can meet, and if you’re still interested in the case,  meet me there tomorrow.” Jeffrey Stiles hangs up and there is a minute of silence.

Casalte looks at his cell phone and just stares at it. A text with an address is blaring out his location tomorrow and Sam is dumbfounded. What was he getting himself into? He had done bail jumping situations before, but never bounty hunter level stuff, merely assisting in locating dead beat dads not paying child support and what not. This was something completely off the charts, his family warned him about becoming a private investigator. It wasn’t like the movies, it was real people getting faces bashed in situations for low money or even worse.

Then again, this Jeffery Stiles guy said that he was willing to pay whatever the cost to get his brother safely back.
What did Sam get himself into. Was it gonna be worth the money?

Chapter 4 Sam Casalte is eating scrabbled eggs.

Sitting in the dinner, waiting for the guy, Sam Casalte is eating scrabbled eggs and toast. He eats with a spoon in one hand and a fork in the other. Not too anxious, just eating his eggs, when pouring ketchup on the side of the plate. Scooping up eggs into his mouth, Sam contemplates his family’s last name. Originally, the family name was Casalta almost 150 years back, but his great-great-grandfather killed a man in Bohol, Philippines and he changed his name and moved to Hawaii.

It really bothered him that he had a murderer in his family, but at least he knew his past and it was better that he knew what was in his past. How one letter in his name, changed so much for his future, his life.

Chapter 5: Why am I Looking for your brother?

Sam drank the glass of water as he looked at the side of the glass. He still was trying to figure out the exact reasoning behind looking for Jeffrey Stiles brother Michael.

“Mike has some issues, that are very delicate, do you understand me, mister Casalte?” Jeffrey Stiles looked up at the private investigator.

“Yeah, I know you said he was locked up in an institution and escaped two days ago, but why not get the cops involved, if you do say that he is violent?” Sam responded, still taking another sip of water.

“I’m trying to keep my family out of the public eye, due to my recent business merger with Nethco Distributions. I’m the CFO of my company, if it leaks out that my insane brother has escaped the looney bin, right before this lucrative business venture, I’m done. The whole deal with the Neth brothers is finished, and all the hard work would’ve been for nought. Do you understand me, sir?” Jeffrey Stiles looks at Sam more intently.

“So it’s about the money, then. You could care less for your brother.” Sam looks at a customer entering the front door.  He always liked the corner booth in the back of the room, it gave him a good vantage point to observe things.

“I care about Mikey, its just that business is business.”

Sam didn’t believe a word of what Mister Stiles was selling, but he needed the money and the case didn’t seem too hard. Except for the part where he was told the missing person is violent with a history of assaults.

How Michael Stiles wasn’t put in a real prison somewhere instead of a minimum security half-way house in the middle of a residential central Stockton neighborhood was beyond his comprehension. Jefferey Stiles was right on one point. ‘Business is business’, and keeping Mike out of jail time and time again with a whole lot of hush money paid to the victims/victims families was part of the deal.

There really was no reason why this Stiles family still lived in Stockton, California, except for the fact that they were one of the oldest founding families in this city. Along with Captain Weber and Commodore Robert F. Stockton, the Stiles invested so much wealth into the first community in California to have an English name.  With all the money, came the comfort of calling Stockton theirs.

Sam smiled and shook Mister Stiles’ hand as he accepted the case, knowing that he definitely would get paid for this skip trace.

Chapter 6 He started with what little info he had.

What was there to go on, Michael Stiles had been in a halfway house for the last year and a half. Rather than institutionalized, as some medical professionals had advised, his brother  the big shot, was able to set him up in a home in the middle of Stockton, California.

Sam decided to go there and ask for himself.

The caregiver was named Imelda Rodriguez, middle-aged Mexican-American CNA with a promotion to being in charge of the home.
“He was supposed to return by 8:30 pm, curfew is then. But he never returned.”  Imelda proclaims.
Imelda looked at him, he looked like he had a few rough couple of weeks. He had gone through some terrible personal news, breaking up with his now ex-girlfriend Jennifer Rojas, but he hadn’t shared any of this info  with anyone since the breakup.
Imelda looks up from folding the bed sheets and out of nowhere, says to Sam.

“Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, Mister Casalte?”

“Huh? Whut?” Sam looks back at her in terror.

“I don’t always come across this bold, but Jesus died for your sins sir, I’m sorry if that comes across as a little too bold. I know that he saved me nearly 30 years ago, and he can help you through whatever you are going through.”
“Oh, okay…” Sam is bewildered by the statements by Imelda, not really knowing what to make of what she just said. Not closer to finding his missing person, and now he’s dealing with some religious fanatic.

“I wish I could help any further with your case,  but I don’t know much  more information. This is a church flier, our church is having a revival with guest music on Sunday. I f you’re interested, church starts at 9:30 am. Give some thought to what I said about Jesus, okay. He loves you very much.” Imelda shook his hand goodbye.

Holding the flier in his hand, he walks out the gate. Michael Stiles walked out those same gates one week earlier, just as easily.

Sam contemplated  the argument he had with his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend. As he drove through El Dorado street back home, he recalled every foul and sharp tongued word they spewed at each other. The argument was weird.

It had been years since their breakup, but he kept replaying their phone call argument over and over in his mind.

One moment he was talking about the future and getting married one day , and the next he was single. His buddies would say, that’s the nature of the game.
But Sam always thought of Jennifer as someone solid, not a pawn in a twisted chess game. He felt he could get serious with her, she was the only woman that his two sisters ever approved of. Not that he needed his family to approve of whom he was with, but it helped that they liked her.

For now, he was single again.

Chapter 7

Sam had thought long and hard about that day at the halfway home, being asked about salvation and Jesus Christ. It had been a vast turn of events for him, professionally as well as personally.  He had nowhere to vent his emotions to, this was a lot of stuff to deal with.

The case was a dangerous mentally unstable individual with a history of carrying weapons of all sorts on him. Had it not been for his brothers connections in the business world and politics, this

Michael Styles should’ve been sent to prison a very long time ago.

“Why would someone ask someone about their relationship to Jesus Christ, unless they were some type of religious fanatic?”, Sam would think about over the course of the next several days.

Anyways, he gets out of his car and on to the next interrogation,  which was Joseph Ramires, local basketball coach who said he saw someone who fit Michael’s description yelling at the park.

Chapter 8 All things a blur

The days seemed to swirl into each other like a chocolate-vanilla soft serve ice cream cone, melting on a hot Stockton day, in reality Sam had been on the case for only five days at this point. Several dead end leads to various people throughout the city, all having seen the mystery man at various locales throughout the city.

Where was this Michael Styles? And how could he be found.

It still made him twitch with nervous energy about every single person Sam came into contact with, were all professing Christians who wanted to lead him to the Lord. Saving Souls.

From the city councilman Salazar, the basketball coach and the woman in charge of the home where Michael was located-all asked if he was lost.


Lost from where? Where was he supposed to be? It all seemed like utter nonsense to his mind.

A bunch of people asking him such absurd questions.

Sam Casalte knew better  than to agitate the religious fanatics though, so he merely kept his mouth silent and nodded to their conversations,  before politely excusing himself to leave.

Chapter 9 Groceries and other baggage

Sam pushed his shopping cart down the bread aisle, then onto the next, searching for nothing in particular. He had already gotten the stables he usually picked up; rice, bacon,eggs, milk, and now he was past the bread aisle. When out of nowhere he sees his ex-girlfriend Jennifer.

Had it really been almost 8 years since their disastrous break-up. His heart pounded, there was so much he wanted to tell her. How dare her breaking up with him over the phone. So much bitterness inside of him, shaken and surprised, but somehow a relief at finally getting the chance to confront her. Jennifer had basically hidden away, ducking his phone texts and even when he went to her work site, she still didn’t talk to him.

Sam’s friends and family all told him to let it go, he needed to move on. He understood the need for closure, but there were things he needed to get off his chest.

She looked up at him, half smiling a fake smile, half holding in a real grief.

“Sam. How’ve you been?” Jennifer speaks.

“I’ve been alright, all things considering. Got a few cases that got me stumped though.” Sam responds.

“Look, the way things were left between us, let’s just leave that in the past. Okay.” Jennifer asks.

“What do you mean? You dropped a bombshell like that on me, then you break up like nothing. Over the phone! It was my decision to make too. You are so selfish!”

I’m not listening to you anymore, goodbye Sam!” Jennifer walks off with tears in her eyes.
Sam holds  the handles of his shopping cart with a firm grip, full of rage.

Chapter ten: He went to the park

His brother said that he liked the local park and just stare at the sky, even on overcast days. Just sitting on the park bench and stare off into space.  No much of a lead,  but it was way better than any other clues out there.

Sam felt ridiculously out of place, just waiting by the bench for hours. Nothing much to do, except watch people walk around the park in circles. It was one mile, he was told, the entire length  walking around the park, an old lady told him, as she passed by him walking her dog.

Hours went by.

The minutes were an endless dread. But it gave him time to think.

Think about his life. His ex Jennifer. How seeing her stirred up so much in his heart.

Why did just one passing glimpse of the woman make him so angry. It had been years since they were a couple. Through the years, he had heard Jennifer was still single, sometimes with someone, then single again. The same went for Sam. Two serial monogamists, never really settling down for too long. It wasn’t even him trying to be with Jennifer again,  it was about their last conversation, the phone argument that still had him upset. ‘Let bygones be bygones’,  his family would say. But Sam never let it go.

He still was disturbed by every person he investigated on this Styles case was a Christian, and nearly all of them asked him the same question. ‘Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Where will you go once you die?’

Sam Casalte didn’t want to think about such matters, but now that it was blatantly in his face, he could think of nothing else.  He closed his eyes and thought about everything that was said to him in the last few days. He thought about his life, how empty he felt all the time. Those people. All those people telling him about the love of Jesus. For so long, he didn’t trust nor believed, but this time, he said a prayer to God, asking for salvation from all his sins. And after his prayer was finished, Sam opens his eyes.

Michael Styles looks straight at him, wearing a long brown trench coat and yells “I heard you been looking for me? Huh? Why?” He is a mere two-three feet in front of Sam, who is still sitting on the bench.

“Take it easy Mike, I’m a friend of your brother’s!” Sam yells back.

“My brother doesn’t have any friends!” Mike responds and pulls out a shotgun from under his coat and shoots Sam point blank in the chest twice before running off.

People are screaming and running away. Several people get on their phones to dial 911 for an ambulance.

Sam falls to the ground,eyes twitching before they begin to shut, then they shut. Total darkness.

Chapter eleven: He was rushed to the E/R

Sam Casalte was immediately rushed to the Emergency room. His body was on the operating table, the surgeons and nurse attending to his needs, but his spirit was elsewhere.

What same saw in the next 45 minutes was beyond belief, but it really happened.

His life didn’t fully pass before his mind, only the highlights.
Glimpses of his first grade class with his classmates at their desks,then other times playing in the ocean at the beach, he almost drowned wearing a heavy winter coat. He thought the jacket would float, like a dumb little kid, nearly drowned,   until his father rescued him. Then his thoughts  switched to eight years ago.

He saw the argument he had with his now ex-girlfriend Jennifer. How it started off peacefully, how he said that he loved her, that he wanted to get married and have a family with her. He wanted to name his first kid after his dad whose name was Ezekiel and if it was a girl, to name her after his late grandmother Magdalena. “Little Maggie May Casalte”, he warmly says.

There is a long silence on the other end of the phone.

ennifer is crying, but tells Sam the secret she held the entire weekend.
“Sam, I was pregnant…” Jennifer begins.
“What do you mean, you were pregnant?”he protests.

“It’s not the right time right now, I’m still trying to get my career together…so I went to the clinic last week….”Jennifer tries to justify.

“What are you saying your career? This is a human being. Our child we’re talking about!” Sam screams on the phone.

“I was only a month in…  This is my life too!” Jennifer screams back.

Back on the operating table, the doctors take out pieces of shotgun pellets off of Sam’s body.
His spirit carries him to  the elementary school. He  is dressed all in white.

Chapter 12: Skip Trace

The bell rings and the class dismisses. Nearly all the students exit the classroom except for Magdalena.
She sits patiently resting her head at the desk while her teacher is grading assignments at His desk.

Magdalena looks up the Teacher and asks when her father is going to come see her.

Teacher, “He’ll be here soon enough, little Maggie May.”

Magdalena smiles at Him, then she hears a knock on the door, her father Sam Casalte peeks in.
He is carrying a bundle of yellow roses to give to his daughter Magdalena.

“Is it okay that I’m here?” Sam looks at the Teacher.

Right then, the teacher is transformed from looking like an average school teacher, to show his real identity, Jesus Christ Himself, dressed in white robe, purple sash and sandals.

“Come right in Samuel.” The Teacher smiles warmly at Sam Casalte.

Back on the operating table, the doctors continue to do their surgery on Sam, whose heartbeat is becoming more and more faint. The nurse tells the surgeon, that they look like their going to lose him.

Back to Heaven, Sam hugs him daughter Magdalena tightly.

The Teacher has his hand on Sam’s shoulder and looks at him.

The Teacher “It was a tough call, she wasn’t sure you would make it. But I told her, that you would. I sent a lot of people in your path to tell you about the Way.”

Sam looks at Jesus and cries, half ashamed, half rejoicing at seeing his daughter in Heaven, whom he had never seen on earth.

“But I have to tell you something Sam. It’s not your time to be here yet.” Jesus looks at Sam, Magdalena disappears, the classroom just becomes one big space of white.

“You need to go back, Sam. You have much more work to do for the Kingdom of my Father.” The Teacher hugs him before Sam opens his eyes on the operating table.

Sam’s eyes open from the operating table. Michael Styles was still missing, Sam is shot and wounded, the case is toast. But none of that mattered to Sam Casalte, he knew that his life had been altered.


Maybe the skip trace wasn’t really even about finding the dangerously Michael Styles. His two sisters came to visit him and told him to get a real job, something where he wouldn’t get shot . As he sat recovering in the hospital, reading the bible, the various Christians surrounding the case came to visit him and encourage Sam in the Lord. For Sam, he realized that His soul was the skip, that bailed out on God a long time ago, it merely took this case for him to understand that fact.

Book trailer:Roses for Magdalena

The Courtship of Regino Elustrado: part 1

Stockton, California 2104, many thing had changed in this city, some things had not. The church parking lot that Thursday morning had been filled to capacity for the Homecoming service of Regino Elustrado.
His wife, family and friends were in attendance while his great, great-grandson, nine year old Elpido Elustrado looks up at the silver metal urn next to a picture of Regino Elustrado in his mid-thirties.
As an evangelist, he would preach around the United States and tell people how his own grandchildren and great-grandchildren would always play on their tablet computers, not having a clue what a crayon or pencil was used for. Regino would joke that if he handed his great-grandson Elpido a green color crayon, the boy would try to eat it like a piece of candy.
Marina looks back nearly 90 years earlier.

Regino Elustrado and Marina Sundang sit nervously in the chairs of Pastor Leo’s office, waiting for a response. Pastor Leo’s wife, Sister Hannah sits in the chair next to her husband. The couple, Hannah in her early 30s, Pastor Leo is age 43, she is sitting in her chair with eyes closed in prayer.
“I want to ask you again, how long have you been in this church?, and how long have you been saved?” Pastor Leo asks respectfully but sternly.

“Um, about three weeks, I guess.” Marina looks at Sister Hannah.

“And you, Regino?”, the pastor questions him.

“This is my first church service, sir”. Regino responds.

“You’re not saved, are you?” Pastor inquires.

“No, but I do believe in God, sir. By the way, most people call me Reggie.” Regino says.

Pastor Leo puts his head down for a second and closes his eyes, before opening his mouth.

“I need to tell you Sister Marina. I’m not sure you two are even ready for marriage, even a courtship, where you two are praying for each other. Reggie, what’s stopping you from accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior right now?” Pastor Leo asks.

Regino looks at the pastor and tears begin to roll down his face. He remember the last words to his late mother, who was a devout Christian in the last year of her life on earth. All the hatred at God, blaming Him for the fatal heart attack that killed his mother. Not realizing it was her bad eating habits and lack of exercise accumulated over a span of many years that actually caused her to die from heart failure.

“It’s complicated sir” Regino responds politely.

Marina & Regino look at the pastor as he continues his counsel of them.

“No it’s not complicated Reggie, you either want to have Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, or you want to continue with the way your life is, it’s not that complicated.” Pastor Leo looks at both of them.
Sister Hannah looks at her husband with a questioning look. She knows her husband well, and has an idea of what he is about to say next.

“What did you think of the sermon I preached tonight?” Pastor Leo asks.

“It was okay sir.” Regino says

“Do you love this woman Marina?” Pastor Leo asks.

“With all my heart, sir.”Regino responds with no hesitation.

“You understand that the bible says for believers not to marry unbelievers, you do understand that, right Reggie. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”

“Yes sir.” Regino looks at the pastor with a bit of fear in his heart.

“I suggest something to you two, but not many young couples tend to listen to my counsel. Will you guys hear me out about what I’m about to tell you, it’s not the most popular advice with this congregation. Both Hannah and I did this, when our pastor talked to us 8 years ago.” Pastor looks on at the young couple, smiling.

“I’m not marrying a Christian to a non-Christian. Do you two understand that?” Pastor Leo looks at them.
“But….” Marina says shyly.
“Both of you keep coming to church and stay pure. Okay. In fact, my suggestion to you is the same advice my pastor told us, when we were in your position. Stay away from each other for a whole year, and under no circumstances are you two to be alone with each other, under no circumstances are you two to be alone with each other. Understand.” Pastor Leo looks at them in the eye.

The young couple walk out defeated and head out the church. Regino tries to hold Marina’s hand as they walk out of the pastor’s office, but she lets it go.

Inside of Pastor Leo’s office.
“You better know what you’re doing Leo, those two were in love, did you see how he was looking at her, that guy’s not going to last.” Hannah explains.

“You’re so wrong about that, he’ll get saved in less than four months. Plus, she just broke up with her boyfriend two weeks ago. It’ll be just plain wrong if I approved of marrying them, she’s still hurting and that guy needs Jesus really bad. The year will do them good. They’re a real mess right now. They need their space, it’ll be good for them spiritually. Remember when Pastor Stanley told us the same thing. That year was rough, but it was good too. Remember, hun.” Pastor looks on at his bride.

“Yeah, I remember all those quiet nights, couldn’t even call you on the phone. ” Hannah says.

“They need this time to spend with God. If they rush it, they’ll mess everything up.” Pastor Leo responds.

Outside in the church parking lot.
“Well, I guess this is it. You’re not coming back here, are you? Marina looks at Regino, she looks like she wants to cry out.

“Are you kidding me, I’ve always loved a challenge.” Regino looks at her, smiling a tough smile.

“So you’re actually thinking about this? You think you could do things this way?” Marina is hesistant but eager.
“Yeah. Don’t you?” Regino looks at his future wife with an intense urgency.
“I guess Reggie.” Marina is intimidated again, but willing to follow her pastor’s advice.

“So, I guess this is it then. Until next year.”Regino smiles at Marina.

“Goodnight Reggie”

Agapito fought the law and the law Won!

Present day. Stockton, California

Agapito Ilustrado looked at the computer screen for a third time. He had been shocked to see the results were not in his favor. This had been the second time he had attempted to pass his state bar exam, and the second failure. Maybe he should have studied more, read more, been more serious about the test. Or maybe, just maybe his family was entirely right and he just doesn’t have the right stuff to be a good lawyer. Whatever the reasons, he knew for a fact that those results on the screen showed he did not pass.


Grandpa Juanito and the grocery bag

Stockton, California 1979

Juanito Elustrado walked home from the grocery store with a brown paper bag in one hand and had his walking cane in the other. At the age of 79 years old, he was a short stocky Filipino man who had quite a share of life experience. The years of stoop labor, hunched over cutting asparagus in the outland fields just outside of Stockton had changed him. When he came to America, the U.S. naval officer that signed him up, could not understand his accent, so the officer changed the spelling of his name from Ilustrado to Elustrado. Juanito Ilustrado became Juanito Elustrado on all his legal documents.

It was difficult to describe, but it had changed him, coming to America. He never thought it a mistake, but he had always thought of returning home to the Philippines, but this country became his home. He thought of his brothers and his famous nephew Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrado.

As he walked the two blocks from the grocery store to his home, he thought of his son and daughter –in-law Adeliza Faith Elustrado. For a young woman, he had taught her just as many escrima moves as his son, using improvised weapons such as newspapers and even a pair of shoes to defend oneself. Juanito thought about going fishing with his kumpadres Beto Rodriguez and Timeteo Walangtay. There was good catfish and striped bass down by the river this time of year.

As Juanito continues his journey home, a gang of five teenage thugs are walking towards him.
“Hey, old man what you got in your bag, some Chinese food? Huh? “ the first punk kid looks at him laughing.

Another teen begins to touch the bag of groceries, trying to reach in and grab an apple.
Juanito slowly puts the grocery bag down and immediately feeds a Sinawali pattern into the body of the teenage boy with his cane. He then uses the tip of the cane to smash the teeth of another young man approaching him. A third guy gets the hook of the cane into his throat, crushing his wind pipe, before running off across the street. The fourth young man gets to have a one on one conversation with his family’s style of Repeticion Ilustrado escrima. Falling to the cement sidewalk, before throwing up. Somewhere in the commotion, the fifth element of the group just got frightened away. Juanito calmly picks up his bag of groceries and slowly walks home.


Darkened alleyway.

Mona Ilustrado looked at the man’s eyes beneath his ski mask as he tried frantically to force her shirt off. The perpetrator straddles over her as she squirms herself away from him. His body odor and mouth smell rancid like vomit and foul liquor.
She takes his right wrist and bends it 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He screams in pain, as she is able to reach into purse for her knife. She can’t find it in all the confusion, but she grabs the nearest thing in there, a pen. Right away, she begins to stab the attempted rapist in the eyes several thrusts before she begins to run away.
He is screaming in pain, mask still on his face, blood is oozing out of his eye holes. Mona continues to run, she is about a half block away. She slows down, and looks back at her attacker .

She looks around to see if anyone is nearby, then looks into her purse, finding her attack knife that her cousin Isidoro gave her years ago. Mona takes off her shoes and then her socks.
She is within inches of the man, and stuffs her socks into his mouth to quench his screeches. Mona flicks open her knife and proceeds to slit the throat of the rapist, stabbing several times. Then the young escrimadora proceeds to push the lifeless body under a nearby car parked on the street.

A phone call is made to her cousin Melecio, the police officer.
Melecio “Yeah, I got this taken care of, don’t worry about it.”

Twenty minutes go by without a hint of another person witnessing the two terrible acts of attempted rape, and Mona murdering her assailant. Melecio Elustrado, pulls his car up to his cousin, lights out on his light green Honda, and proceeds to take the body of the rapist to the back trunk, which is lined with plastic garbage bags. The two cousins look at each other with no words between them as they proceed down Highway 4 to Bacon Island.

Once they are at their destination, Officer Elustrado stops the car and takes the body towards the concrete river banks, stuffing rocks and huge chunks of concrete into the pockets of the dead man.

He proceeds to throw the man’s dead body into Delta river. Mona looks on as she sees her rapist sink to the bottom of the waters.



The Courtship of Regino Elustrado part 2

The Honeymoon morning. Regino looks at his new wife Marina, who is fast asleep, bed sheet over her chin.

He gets up out of bed, looks around the hotel room in his boxer shorts, and finds a bible by the desk, thumbing through the book of Proverbs. He remembers his pastor telling him about the book of Proverbs has 31 chapters, and each one corresponds to a day for the month. He remembered today’s date was the June 17th, so he began reading Proverbs 17 and

The prayer, fasting, repenting and keeping his eyes on his love for her, sustained him through the entire year and a half process. Just like his pastor said, it was only four months of their office meeting, that Regino Elustrado gave his life to Jesus Christ. His two brothers, Melecio and Isidoro, felt he only went to church to please his woman Marina, but that was only half truth. He looked at his sleeping bride and thought back to a year and a half earlier after they left the pastor’s office and told to separate and pray for each other.

Regino left on his bike, Marina took off in her blue Chevy pick up truck.

At the house, Regino Elustrado began to practice escrima with his tire dummy in the back yard. Strike 12 to 5, then an aldabis move, back into a 1, finishing up with a reverse estrella movement. He had attached broomsticks to the tire, to represent both enemy sticks, or sometimes as a arm. He liked the simplicity of his family’s escrima style. It was simple, yet effective in the hundreds of years of refinement and existence. It still made him laugh at how he saw many good Ilustrado fighters, but they got the names wrong. Every time he saw internet videos of the upward/diagonal X pattern, they would call it an Aldabis move, not realizing the movement is actually the Spanish term Alta Ves (you see, you move up). But because his distant uncle Tatang had a thick Filipino accent, the word gets the letters “d” from “t” and “V” turned into a “B”; changing the word Alta Ves to Aldabis. But for his family, those were small things, as long as the guys in the video got the moves right and didn’t get themselves hurt practicing his family’s system was all that mattered, no sloppy techniques.

A doorbell rings, proceeded by a knock on the door. Regino doesn’t hear either one until the third or fourth ring. It’s Marina’s neighbor ,the old Mexican man Matthew , he has a look of trepidation about him as Regino looks at him for a second with rattan stick in one hand. Most martial artists in Regino’s experience, are peaceful individuals who happen to love sharing their skill with people, not wanting to bash people’s skulls in with a stick, but Matthew Brasil didn’t know why this 25 year old Filipino kid had a stick in his hand.

“ Hey, I’m Mexican, but I’m not a piñata.” Matthew jokes. “Can I come in and talk to you Reggie?“, Whenever he felt uneasy about a situation, Matthew liked to joke around. That’s the thing that Regino loved about Matthew Brasil, always trying to make people feel comfortable. Matthew had worked his entire life at the post office and retired as the head supervisor in charge of shipping. He always had a way with dealing with people and circumstances that were delicate and pressure sensitive. He actually heard of guys at other branches of the post office, that went “postal” from the pressures of work, and he knew that telling a joke here and there would ease the tensions, so he never had any of his crew go “postal” and have any workplace violence.

Regino and Matthew are sitting at the kitchen table drinking soda. Regino’s escrima sticks are in the corner of the kitchen, leaning up against the wall.
Matthew “So you two, you and Marina are a couple now, is that right, eh?”
Regino, “Um, it’s kinda complicated, but, we’re aiming in that direction. It’s weird though. Kinda hard to explain.”

Matthew leans in and tries to understand what Regino means, but he’s feeling kind of uncomfortable and changes the subject.
Regino, “What made you know that Esther was the one? I mean, did you have a certain feeling that you wanted to marry her, that she wanted to marry you?”

Matthew, “Well, when I was in Vietnam, me and Esther were going together, for about two years, when I was in the war. I never saw battle though, not like some of the other guys, but still had our share of problems. I was in the back office, taking care of a batch of mail, when all of a sudden, there was this loud explosion. Boom! No more like, rawr or whatever a loud bomb sound makes! Everyone, I mean, everyone ran to the blast site, and I just looked over, three of my buddies were laying on the ground, arms and legs blown off. Blood everywhere, I was just in utter disbelief. I mean, me and the guys were joking around yesterday talking about what we’re going to do Stateside when we return, no they’re dead. No plans, no future, nothing. I thought about my life, I thought about Esther, how she would make me laugh when I was sad, and how I’d do the same for her. How lonesome it was being away from her and I missed her so much. Wrote her that night, saying I wanted to get married when I got back to Stockton. When I got back home, never left her side once.”

Regino” So were you going to church with her this whole time? I mean, you always talk about God and stuff.”

Matthew begins to laugh. “No, I wasn’t a Christian back then, even though some of the guys I knew were. I didn’t get saved until a few years after we got married, but it would’ve been a lot easier with God at the center of our early start. See, we never had children. Ones that made it.“ Matthew pauses with tears rolling down his eyes. Regino gets up and gets a roll of paper towel to dry Matthew’s eyes.

“Three miscarriages. It was tough for us for a long while. You know the hardest thing about seeing your wife coming home from the hospital after it happens, and there’s no words.


I mean you want to tell her it’s going to be alright, but you’re just to filled with sadness.” Matthew begins to think that maybe he shouldn’t brought up his wife and personal business, but he continues. ”So, about a year after the last miscarriage, Esther still silent and gloomed down, goes to the grocery store, and like two hours later, she walks into the house and has the biggest smile on her face. I ask her if we won the lottery or something and she says she has better news, ‘She found Jesus.’ And like the jerk that I am, I say, “I didn’t know He was hiding!” because you know me, I like to say corny jokes sometimes.

Anyways, she explained that she met a woman who witnessed to her at the grocery store and lead her to the Lord. She told me about how Heaven is filled with those who died and that our little kids are there right now, waiting for us. But that we can’t be there unless we give our lives to Jesus here on earth first. That all of us are sinners and we need a perfect sacrifice to die in our place to be in Heaven. That person is Jesus Christ alone. I looked at her right then in my livinGROOM and dedicated my heart to Him right then on the spot. I wanted to see my kids someday, even if it’s after I leave this body to die.” Matthew pauses then looks at Regino. “Are you ready to accept Him as your Lord and savior Reggie?”

“No, I’m not ready yet. Is that okay?” Regino responds. From that point on in their friendship, Matthew and Reggie got closer

“No problem.” Mr. Brasil says back. Each time he would hang out with Regino he would end their visit by asking him about salvation and repentence. They would go fishing, to the movies, to watch a basketball game on televsion, the old man Matthew would as him again and again. Until one day, four months after the vist to Pastor Leo’s office, Reggie walked into his house and just broke down crying.

No one was around, but he vented to the Lord how he didn’t understand why his Christian mother died from a heart attack and he blamed God. But now, he was no longer angry at his maker. He was tired. He remembered how Matthew said that you must confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins, repent of your sins. Live for Him, that his blood has wiped you clean.

After he said those words, with no one around but God, he didn’t feel any kind of supernatural energy or anything, but he believed his life was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Things would be different for him until the day he would die, many decades later.


Cassandra and her Father

Melecio Elustrado was enjoying his day off. Being a cop was just plain fun for him, his wife Jennifer was always on the edge during his shift, until the moment he would walk into their home and give her a hug and kiss. Then she would relax and not have to worry about “the phone call” every police officer’s wife dreaded to hear.

But today was Mel’s day off and he wanted to spend it barbecuing for his family. His brother-in-law wanted to bring his propane grill to cook alongside of him to make the cooking go faster, but Melecio wanted no part of that. He knew that the propane stuff dried out the meat and he always used hickory mesquite wood for his setup up, putting charcoal briquettes as a base layer.
Nine year old Cassandra walks towards the grey concrete patio and looks at the bag of charcoal, and attempts to open it. Melecio tells her to stop, but she begins to laugh and now he tries to figure a way to get her away from bag of charcoal without making her scared off.

Sometimes, Melecio could be an intimidating man, even to his own daughter. He wanted to change that pattern , so he took a different approach this time.
Looking over the small stack of newspapers, he remembers what his grandfather Juanito Elustrado used to do with newspapers.
“Cassandra, let me show you something, hand me some of that newspaper.” Melecio smiles at his young daughter.
Melecio squats down to his daughter’s eye level and begins to roll the newspaper up to arm’s length.
“Once there was a young boy named Jack, and he planted a seed in the ground.” Melecio takes his pocket knife out of his pocket and cut the sides out of the rolled up newspaper.
“Daddy, what kind of seed did Jack plant?” Cassandra looks at the newspaper “plant”.
Melecio has now formed a newspaper beanstalk out of the rolled up newspaper.
“What kind of plant do you think Jack planted, huh Cassie? Melecio stretches the beanstalk out, realizing he messed up the story, he was supposed to start out with Jack going to town to buy the magic beans, before growing the newspaper beanstalk.
“Ahw, froget it, let me show you some escrima, okay Cassandra. This move is called the Alta Ves.” Melecio gets another roll of newpaper and shows her the diagonal martial arts pattern. Thus beginning Cassandra Elustrado’s life long martial arts training.



Agapito versus the Educated Idiots!

Agapito Ilustrado looked up from the computer screen and had a decision to make. Was he going to give up on his dream of ever becoming a lawyer, or was he going to study even harder the next time around. He had made up his mind and went to bed that night, ready for work the next day, as the morning custodian for Nethco Department Store.

His day job at Nethco was relatively easy, sweep the floor, do some light mopping up every so often, typical janitor duties, but deep down inside, Agapito Ilustrado II, was really supposed to be a lawyer. All that college education, and here he was sweeping floors for a living. As he swept the floor, his mind wandered to his namesake, his great-great grandfather Agapito Ilustrado, a soldier-leader in the Katipunan (Filipino war of Independence from Spain). Would his ancestors be happy or sad that he was a lowly custodian? He looked around the store and saw the faces of his co-workers at the registers helping customers.

At least three of them had college degrees and still could not find jobs in their field of study, but they still had to pay the monthly student loan payments, some as high as $200 per month. His best friend from college, Jonas Gerber would have called them ‘Educated Idiots’, but it was years since Agapito even called Jonas, plus that guy was a bit of a jerk anyways.
Agapito went home after work, exhausted from the day, but satisfied in knowing that he did his best at his job, and he would study again for the bar exam later that night.


Act of Contrition: Tatang’s Lament

1992 Cebu, Philippines Good Friday 7 in the morning

Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrado was doing his yearly ceremonial ritual of writing biblical scriptures in Latin on pieces of paper and daring people to shoot holes in the paper tied to a tree. This being the most Holy of holy days of Good Friday before mass.
He trusted in his God to not disappoint and not once in over 47 years, had anyone successfully fired a round into a word of God.

The young 18 year old boy was smiling as he put the .22 rounds into the pistol and started pointing it about the towns folk. Tatang had his doubts about this young marksman, but he was a year younger than him when he defended his life many decades prior.
Antonio wrote three scriptures down on three separate papers. Ezekiel 36:26 “ I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and put a new spirit within you.”

Tatang loved that verse, it gave him a good hearty laugh. With all the men he chopped off their heads, God would still forgive him and give this 92 year old a new heart and a new spirit to live.

He thought about his “death match” in Indonesia back in 1951. By then, no one back home would challenge him and for good reason. But there were those still unimpressed with his skill set nor his lethal reputation. Entering the steel gates of the blood covered yard, chants of profane versions “Kill the man! Kill this foreigner!” were screamed by both the young and old Indonesian audience. Blood sport it was called. It’s name was no joke. Tatang looked about the crowd of brown faces. His was the same color of them, yet they wanted his throat slashed because he lived a couple of hundred miles away.

The stone faced look hid his thoughts. Skills brought down for hundreds of years in his family line, would be tested yet again. For pride, for his very life.
The warriors would go in together like in the Roman Coliseum of old, with one coming out of the yard. Tatang held his favorite barong while his combatant would yield a Kris shaped sword. He saw the blade even before it went down and Tatang used a side step Tatlong Bao footwork his was trained in by his father Melecio Ilustrado. Before he could realize, an agonizing scream came from the Indonesian man. He fell to the ground on one side and his arm still clutching the Kris sword in the other, twitching even.

Somewhere in that hundredth of a second when he was reminiscing about his dad, his muscle memory kicked in and he slashed off the man’s arm. The Indonesian was still on the ground, convulsing in pain. Tatang felt sorry for him and was about to put the blade through his heart, to ease his suffering. But he calmly got his panyo (handkerchief) out of his pant’s pocket and wiped the blood off of his blade, collecting his $5000 as quickly as he could, throwing the bloody handkerchief on the dirt yard ground. Even though he had killed many men for less, there would be no death match that day.

Tatang had felt notoriously guilty for those that had challenged him, but more for their orphaned children and widowed wives, not for the brazen, foolish men who had dared raised a blade in anger towards his brow. “Never show anger, when holding a weapon, even a panyo, don’t telegraph.” he would tell his students.

He was well aware and smart enough not to test the same on his body or any other human flesh, but it was a reminder to himself and to others that God would have the last word.



Family BBQ Day

August 11, 2018

Melecio Elustrado loved being a police officer, but he also loved having a day off to grill meats. He always had a habit of saying “grilling” instead of barbecuing, because one of his old partners on the force would always correct him when he used to say barbecuing, so in this instance he learned not to misspeak.
The pork kebobs were still marinating in their special sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, orange juice, brown sugar, and San Miguel beer. That was his beverage of choice, something he picked up from being stationed overseas in Afghanistan during his time serving his country. Like many of his friends and his own twin brother in the Army, he didn’t like to talk to civilians about his time. Not that he was embarrassed by being a soldier, but that was the most happiest and safest moments of his life.

He didn’t want to tell his wife Jennifer that, making her jealous of his war buddies, but he truly enjoyed his time in the Army. Unlike what he heard in the news, there was no Post Traumatic Stress on his part. He was so much safer driver his Armored Personel Vehicles, Humvees, and walking around villages with almost full body armor, compared to his life back in Stockton with virtually no bullet proof anything to wear. He loved growing up in South Stockton, but it was notoriously a violent and grim place to live, where a lonely bullet was ripe to meet anybody on any given day. Two years later, the family would move to Lodi.

Melecio turned over the Asada steaks as his little daughter continued to practice the escrima moves he taught her earlier that day. He was proud of Cassandra for taking up the family art, and he wanted the best things in life for her.

The pork riblets were still not ready, needed more time to cook. But the smell of the riblets made Melecio salivate and he began to think about turning the charcoal briquettes and hickory chips closer under the meat to speed up the process. He took another sip of his beer, his brothers and their families, his cousins Mona, Rodger, and Agapito, would be at his house in less than a few hours. He knew his brother Reggie and his wife Marina would only stay for a few hours, not wanted to be around his loud music and alcohol. He loved his brother Regino, but he never quite understood the church thing. Why so much against drinking beer and going to church 4-5 days a week. I mean, Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding party, right-Melecio would think in the back of his mind whenever he saw his brother Reggie. Ever since he married Marina six years earlier, he got all “religious” and didn’t hang out with family functions as much. Not laughing at his dirty jokes anymore. Not having a kid brother to just hang out with, like before. He kinda resented his sister-in-law for that.

An hour goes by and the first guest to arrive is his cousin Rodger Smith. People would always question Rodger about him being Filipino-American, because of his really Caucasian features and last name, but he definitely was a Filipino. Next to arrive was his cousin Mona, who to everyone’s surprise, did not bring a date. She was always dating some new guy, but she felt deep down inside that she never wanted to settle for less than she deserved, so she didn’t marry nor meet the love of her life until her late 40s. But today at the bbq, she just brought a store brand potato salad and a two liter of generic soda pop.

The food was still cooking on the grill and laughter was all around. Melecio would always tell the joke about the one-eyed old lady in the brothel. He loved the punch line to that joke, so dirty, so creepy, but to his unregenerated mind, the most funniest joke his father ever told him.
Melecio got the first meats off the grill and put them in the barbecue pan. Next was his personal selection of T-bone steaks and Rib-eyes that he saved for his wife and himself. The cook learned that while the guest ate the bulk of the food, they’d be too stuffed and distracted to try any of his prime cuts. A little sneaky, but it worked for him.

His cousins were just relaxing in the patio chairs, while Melecio tended to the kebobs. His wife was still setting the side dishes ready in the kitchen and Mona goes over to him and pulls him aside to speak.

“I just wanted to tell you thanks for helping me last week. You think it’ll come back on us. That body’s eventually gonna float up somewhere?” Mona looks over to her cousin the cop.
“No, what happened to that scum bag, if anything, all the evidence got washed away in the Delta. There’s no way it’ll trace back to us. What he did to you, he deserved it.” Melecio looks off to his bbq grill making sure the meats weren’t burning.

His father walks in from the kitchen to the patio, drinking a beer and wearing his cargo shorts and flip-flop sandals. He looks over to the barbecue pit and yells “Mel, get over here before you ruin the food! C’mon man!” The grey hairs don’t fool anybody, this fifty-six year old can still kick his son’s butt if he got out of line. He was the one who taught his kids the martial arts moves to begin with. Melecio runs back to

An hour later.

With half of the Elustrado clan complete, the dominoes come out and a raucous game begins while more dirty jokes and the smell of beer waft through the smoke of charred pig. Old man Elustrado looks at his niece Mona and thinks about the lessons he taught her how to take a person down with just a ink pen. He was very proud that he taught her how to defend herself.

With just boys to raise in his home, he always wanted a daughter and Mona Ilustrado (his late brother’s girl) was the closest thing he would ever have. But she made him proud. Had he known that she did indeed take out a serial rapist one week earlier with an ink pen, he still would have been proud to teach her those infamous Ilustrado martial arts moves.
The old man looks at his domino and smiles. He slams it down on the patio table and laughs. Everyone else playing begins to murmur and cuss. In walks Melecio’s twin brother Isidoro and followed by his brother Regino and his family. Marina and the new baby boy are followed by Regino’s step-daughter Siobhan. Melecio looks at Siobhan and keeps forgetting how to pronounce her name. He thinks to himself and half-buzzed off the beer announces “Hey there , “Show-bone, wassup girl!” She looks at him and rolls her eyes.

Siobhan Perry Elustrado answers “It’s pronounced Sha-Von, not Show-Bone. Is Cassandra upstairs in her room?” Melecio answers, “Yeah…, hey no hug for your uncle Melly?” Siobhan runs upstairs to her step cousin Cassandra.

Two hours later. The meal was perfect. The rice was perfect. The laughter and embarrassing stories are still looming in the thoughts of the family. Melecio’s plan to stash the secret meats did not work so well. His brother pointed it out that the t-bone steaks were still on the grill, and like a ravenous bunch of vultures eating meat, they ran to the grill and plated them up to share as a family, instead of Melecio eating it just for himself. They all laughed at his scheme.
Melecio walks over to the barbecue pit and puts out the fire. He takes off his shoes and looks at his only wound he gained in honored battle.

Those mountains of Afghanistan didn’t take much from him, but he did get a healed over bullet wound in the right foot. The hole was noticeable. And when his brothers and cousin walked over to the bbq pit, they kinda got quite at looking at it. It wasn’t a big hole in his foot, but it was noticeable.
“Hey, look what I can do!” he yells over to the Elustrado clan. Melecio gets a string and loops it from the hole in his foot and ties the other end to the bbq pit. “Get those rattan sticks and try to hit me!”

Jennifer grimaces at the sound of her drunk husband, while Mona, Isidoro, Regino, and Agapito form a half circle around the escrimador. At first, Isidoro is hesitant, but then he strikes a media friale towards his brother. Then immediately, there is a side-step away, followed by a roof block with Melecio’s stick deflecting the attack. Mona from the side, aims a five strike to his stomach, but he moves with ease with an elastico move away. Within a second of this strike, Regino moves into the foot, trying to smash the live foot, but Melecio hits his brother Reggie in the shoulder kinda hard, but Reggie is okay with this.

A series of movements in, the old man Elustrado leaves his place at the patio table, pork rib in hand and goes over to his punk son. He gently stabs his son the cop in the middle of his forehead with the rib bone and the entire family cheers with laughter.

Later that night after all have gone home, Melecio looks on at his day off with his family and smiles before going to sleep.



The Redemption of Sapphire from guilt and shame


Stockton Grocery Store February 2019,

Sapphire had been grocery shopping at the nearby store, in hopes of getting all of her shopping done in place, instead of having to go different stores around town. The bread aisle was loaded with all types of gluten free varieties, but she just wanted to get a normal loaf of white bread to make sandwiches. As she walked down the aisle, looking up the shelves, she noticed some guy creepily staring at her from behind.

Sapphire looks up to see no other then Clyde Perry. The same man, who used to frequent her when she used to strip in the San Francisco Strip clubs, back in the day. It had been years since she performed, and she even heard that he moved out of state, after some nonsense he pulled a gun on somebody and fled the scene.

“Well, well, good looking. I thought you lived in the Bay Area, hot stuff.” Clyde eerily looks Sapphire up and down, visually creeping her out.

Sapphire hated working in the strip club. So she drank so much Hennesy to knock her shame down. Down into the pit of her shattering heart .Contrary to popular belief, a lot of girls stripping with her at the time weren’t molested as kids, they just really need the money for college or to pay their rent. Sapphire did it for just two short years, but she got a regular in Clyde Perry in those short 24 odd months. Those tips that she got stripping, helped pay for nursing school and was now a R.N. working at the nearby hospital. She loved helping people, even if meant having to lower herself shedding her clothes for perverted, lonely creeps like Clyde Perry. It totally made her want to throw up, that this former customer still saw her just as a piece of meat, nothing more. She was an educated, loving, kind registered nurse and a wife and mother to to beautiful children. It had been nine years since she was last on stage, taking off her clothes for strangers. But that it not concern Clyde Perry.

“Hey, what was your name again?” Sapphire really knew his name but she wish she hadn’t . All she recalled was the shame that it immediately brought to her, the moment she saw his face.
Clyde Perry puts out his hand to shake hers. “Clyde Perry. I do remember your’s though.

Sapphire is what you went by on stage. Right? So what’s your real name sweetie?

“That is my real name. Sapphire.” She pauses. “I don’t do that anymore, In fact, I gave my life to the Lord. I’m a Christian now. That old life is behind me. No more ‘shake it to make it’. ” She laughs.

“Is that right, oh my. My ex-she done did that Jesus stuff too. Just came back into town to try to see her and my kid. Not me though, not till I get really old and and can’t party no more. ” Clyde looks and her lustfully again. He’s remembering her almost ten years ago without half her clothes on.

Sapphire says “You never know what’s going to happened to you Clyde, I needed Jesus, and I know you need him too. Clyde Perry you need to stop running.”

Clyde Perry looks at her and smiles knowingly, but still not wanting hear any of where this conversation has headed. He politely shakes Sapphire’s hand again and walks away to the cashier to ring up his groceries.
Immediately, Sapphire closes her eyes and prays “Thank you Lord for getting me through this challenge.I pray for the soul of this lost man Clyde. In the precious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”


The Courtship of Regino Elustrado part 3

On April 25, 2045  Regino Elustrado spoke to the church congregation in Buffalo, New York. The following is a transcript of part of his message: Don’t hide in Shame, Hide in Jesus!

“My friends and brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and to any visitors today to this lovely church. I know many of you look at me and see a preacher, and rightly so do you see. It’s a great honor to be a servant of God, bringing you a hope and a message of the gospel. I count it the highest hope, anybody could give to a man on this earth until I may lay down the crowns at Jesus’ feet when I get to Heaven. With all due respect, let me tell you something about myself. I wasn’t always like this. The person I was before was dead set against being in a church and preaching. I was a man who was angry at God and spit in the faces of anyone who would try to witness to me about the forgiving power of Jesus Christ! I was an ugly sinner who needed God more than I cared to admit. People wonder how this transformation occurred in my life, and all I can say it was the Lord’s divine intervention.No, I didn’t have an Apostle Paul conversion and fall off a horse, blinded for three days. But I did become a different person, once I gave in to God and let go of this world. This world is no good for you. The best it can offer you are fleeting , momentary pleasures that end faster than you can shake a stick at. (Regino laughs) For those of you who know me, my old friend Matthew Brasil would have appreciated that joke very much. And for those who don’t I’ve got a free martial arts lesson after church and I’ll hit you on the head for free. (He laughs again) Just kidding. Anyways, where was I ? … Just when you feel as low as you can get in this life, God gives you a chance to change. Real change, but it’s your choice to stay down for the count, or to grow up! Be bitter or be better! So the title of my message is “Don’t hide in Shame, Hide in Jesus!” Turn to your bibles to 1 John 2:1……”



The Tournament: November 15, 2021

The Elustrado twins wanted the event to be a huge success, having high hopes for this new Venture ,with their first annual Ilustrado tournament. They secured a medium sized venue, actually a local boxing gym to hold their competition, with over one hundred paying patrons in attendance. It was a family affair, with cousins Agapito Ilustrado taking care of legal (making sure each contestant signed a liability waiver), Mona Ilustrado, at the front taking tickets, and even cousin Rodger selling popcorn and sodas. Like always, the only one not there is Regino Elustrado who was at his house preparing a sermon to preach at church.

K.I. fighters from around the United States have shown up for this showcase of matches with a top $1000 prize going to the winner of the round robin style of bouts. Isidoro made sure things looked up to his family’s standards, with limited padding, and only headgear to protect the warrior. The judges would have a few style of bouts to manage. Stick versus stick, shield versus long staff, and some matches including trainer knife sparring with red ink on the edges. The red ink lined the edge of the dull blades, with the contestants wearing white t-shirts and white pants. At the end of the three minute round, whomever had the deepest and most darkest red marks on their shirts and pants was declared the loser. In reality, if both KI challengers had real blades, mostly likely a three minute duel would realistically end in a “double kill” at close range fighting.

The tournament was a scholarship fundraiser for local kids in Stockton. Melecio and Isidoro saw how many young people in their city needed to have a better life, through education and raising themselves out of poverty. They wanted to do a good thing for their city that they loved.

Agapito had set the invitational announcement many months in advance. He set up a website for guys and ladies to sign up and compete. Some individuals thought it was rather unfair to charge $20 to register to fight in a match, but Melecio called each individual personally to thank them for helping in their first ever Nor-Cal Ilustrado Escrima tournament.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Joaquim Magellan in Barcelona, Spain decided to enter the contest and submitted his payment online half ways around the world to be in Stockton on the day of the tournament. Joaquim Magellan was the descendant of the late explorer Ferdinand Magellan, famous for getting himself killed by a bunch of Filipinos who didn’t know they were called Filipinos until the Spanish labeled their various tribes as such. Joaquim Magellan was mentally unbalanced and he was not taking his medications for quite some time. He got his mind spun around to thinking that had it not been for the murder of his great-great-great-great-great great grandfather Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippine Islands 400 years earlier, his family name would not have been disgraced. So the mentally unbalanced Joaquim set out to learn fencing and then decided to kill each and every Filipino he could find, beginning with the famous Ilustrado family.

The all day tournament started at 7 a.m. After a light introduction by Melecio, explaining the history behind his family’s system of martial arts, he introduced the judges. There was the top two students of his distant uncle Tatang Ilustrado, Jasper Ramos from Canada and Ronald Jin from Texas.

As well as the famous Oscar Vasquez, top student of his late grandfather Juanito Elustrado, who went on to become a well known Hollywood fight choreographer in big budget movies and his top protégé, Jefferson Wells, the right hand student of Oscar. There were no big headed egos at this event, it was all to help the children.

As the 9 o’clock hour started, the smell of burnt rattan sticks clashing in the small boxing gym, blended together with the sweat of various fighters being cheered on by friends and family. No injuries, Melecio was thankful for such fortune. Everyone signed liability waivers, but still He didn’t want anyone hurt on his watch. He looked around and saw many familiar faces, but he didn’t see his brother Reggie. He missed hanging out with his bro, but he knew it wouldn’t be so-at least on this day.

People were cheering as one man hit the other with a stick. The jabs, slashes, and thrusts of rattan click-clacked all through the proceeding hours. Cousin Rodger sold so much popcorn, he didn’t want to smell butter for a week. The demos and seminars that went on between matches, educated the group on techniques, evasive maneuvers, and even first aid tips in case of escrima related injuries sustained during sparring sessions.

Melecio was content that things were going smooth and on schedule. He went to the back office where his friend Julio was watching with shock. Julio was the owner of the boxing gym and he never saw folks go at it with sticks, willingly being hit and shaking hands after the match was over. He was a boxing man all of his 60 years on this planet. He knew Stockton had it’s share of boxers, but he never saw such a display of people bashing sticks into each other and smiling while it’s happening. Melecio looked for his twin brother Isidoro, but could not find him.

He wanted to tell him that he was going to get more sodas to sell for the concessions, but wound up just taking off to the store without finding his brother. Julio looks up out from the office and walks to the gym ring, where the action is taking place.
Isidoro walks into the back office, eating a hotdog with extra sauerkraut and mustard. Isidoro never spoke more than was ever necessary. Ever.

He sits down in the chair behind Julio’s desk and continues to eat his food. Out of the corner of his peripheral view, he realizes there’s someone in the office.

Joaquim Magellan hid in the back office ever since they started the tournament. He is holding a six inch shiny camping knife and tries to repeatedly stab Isidoro in the back, to no avail. Isidoro jumps out of his seat and immediately disarms the psychopath using leverage of his right hand and his left elbow, against the flat edge of the blade. Joaquim is shocked at how easy the blade flew out of his hand.

The noise level in the adjacent gym floor drowns out the “real fight” taking place in the back office. Isidoro picks up a paperweight snowglobe that Julio’s wife gave him 28 years earlier and bashes it several times into the empty hand of Joaquim Magellan. The crazed man begins to scream in pain and Isidoro wrist locks the Spaniard, bending his hands in the opposite direction. Thirty seconds into this confrontation, and still nobody is aware of what has taken place, their primary focus in on the match in the ring. Roars of applause and thundering claps take the place of assistance to the quiet warrior. Isidoro thought to himself, “Man, nothing like this ever happened to mein Afghanistan. Now I’m back in the U.S., I just don’t feel safe.”
But those were the quiet low key thoughts of a man who never complained about anything .
Joaquim tries to move up, but Isidoro takes his right fist and punches him square in the eye, knocking the Spaniard unconcscious.

Two hours later, things look blurry to Joaquim Magellan. The three brown faces of Isidoro, Melecio, and the boxing gym owner Julio are staring at the lunatic, who is hunched over in a brown wooden chair.
Joaquim rambles in Spanish that he will have his vengeance on all Filipinos for killing his great ancestor Ferdinand Magellan, but Julio looks at him, then at the two twins, trying to translate the mess of a situation. Melecio busts out laughing and Isidoro looks at his brother with a bit of disgust. He could’ve gotten killed over some nonsense, and all his twin brother could do is laugh. Of course, Isidoro didn’t vocalize any of his thoughts, only squinted slightly.
“What’re we gonna do man? You’re a cop, call your people to haul his crazy butt to county. Lock him up man!” Julio looks over to Melecio.
“I dunno, we’re gonna call a lot of negative media attention to this fundraiser if a squad car rolls up in this place Julio.” Melecio says.
“What’s wrong with you man, he could’ve gotten your brother killed?” Julio exclaims.
Melecio looks at his identical twin brother “What do you think Izzy? It’s your call, you want to press charges or what?
Isidoro looks at the Spaniard, then he looks at the crowd of people watching the next match in the ring. He knows his brother is right, but he also knows that Julio is right too.

He leans over to his brother and whispers. Melecio nods in agreement, “Yeah, but not too hard, okay.”

Melecio says “Julio, translate to this dummy that he’s going back to wherever he came from, and forget whatever crazy coo-koo bird ideas he had of getting us. Or all of the Ilustrados are coming after him in his hometown. Okay, translate that to him, don’t forget the words ‘crazy coo-koo bird’ I think it sounds funny in Spanish.
Julio begins to translate to Joaquim in Spanish exactly word for word of Melecio’s decree.
Isidoro walks towards the sitting man and just stares at him for a brief instance. All he wanted to do was eat his sauerkraut hotdog with mustard and this guy was a total jerk. He looks into the sad, lonely man’s eyes, so full of rage and unforgiveness. He wanted to kill him for something neither one of them was around for, hundreds of years earlier. The pain of lost family pride was something Isidoro never really understood, even coming from a famous martial arts family.

He felt, you are your own man. What your family did is not necessarily who you are. The stuff that happened to Ferdinand Magellan was his own dang fault for getting himself killed hundreds of years prior, not the burden of shame that Joaquim must still endure. But Isidoro never said any of those thoughts, he just looked at the Spaniard and punched him in the other eye before throwing him out the door of the gym onto the curb.


The Man with the Plan

2 Kings_5:1 Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.

May 12, 2027
Rodger Smith was feeling good today, he was really looking forward to his date that night. As the top sales rep for the local Dry Ice Manufacturer, Rodger was doing quite well for himself financially.

He had not had a Herpes outbreak in over 8 months. The painful rash was nothing compared to the embarrassing “talk” he would have to tell any potential dates he has a Sexually Transmitted Infection.

Before his wife died in a car crash five years earlier, he thought he no longer needed to concern himself with explaining his personal life to anybody. He loved his high school sweetheart Kendra, even though she was the one who brought the disease into their relationship, he never used that fact against her. Kendra had gotten the hsv-2 virus “gift” from a one night hookup her Sophomore year of high school from a jerk who didn’t know he had it before sleeping and infecting five young women at his high school.

When his cousin Regino Elustrado had started going to church with Marina; Rodger and Kendra Smith looked at the changes in him. He looked happier and smiled a lot more. Kendra wanted that for her life. They were married for a while, but still had no children from their relationship, even though Rodger did not mind the fact. After only two church services, hearing the gospel that all have sinned and needed a savior to die for his sins, Rodger and Kendra went full blast into serving the kingdom of God in any capacity. Starting with being Sunday School teachers and moving on to Jail ministry for those incarcerated. Rodger reminded himself that Jesus says to visit those in prison, and he continued doing so for over 60 years.

The couple were a modern day Priscilla and Aquila as in the book of Acts. The entire course of their salvation walk, they continued to pray for healing from the rash of Herpes, though the healing never occurred for them.

Even when Kendra suddenly died in a car crash five years earlier, a part of Rodger’s life shattered, but he was not deterred. He knew as a believer she was at present with the Lord, not suffering with the pains of Herpes any longer. He missed her all these five years since the accident, but he knew his long time love wanted him to move on.

So after much debate with himself, he decided to go to an online dating website for individuals with his STD status. Some members of his church told him he was sinning for not believing God would heal him from Herpes, and he didn’t need to go on a H plus dating website. Others said that it was God’s will for him to remain as a single, the rest of his life. That losing his wife to the car accident was a wake up call for him to totally embrace the Lord, focusing all his energy on Christ. Neither Rodger nor his cousin Regino felt it a punishment nor a warning to stay alone. His preacher cousin just said “ I don’t know why you weren’t healed, but I do know that something great will come from your life, Rodger.”

After Rodger completed his profile and submitted a decent photo, he just went back to living his life; surrounding himself with work, worship, and ministering at church and jail ministry.
Then his mail inbox trickled in with responses, some from the Bay Area and some from Southern California. But he wanted to stay local, so he saw some prospective matches.
His first two dates on the site were not quite what he expected. Date number one, Megan Schultz just wanted to talk about her ex-boyfriend who was a dead beat who gave her Herpes by cheating on her with his co-worker. This would have been okay with Rodger, except that was all that she would speak about. Nothing else, no hobbies, nothing about her job or her family, or her plans for her future. She didn’t even talk about her dog, even though her website dating profile said she had a Chocolate Labrador Retriever. Megan Schultz just wanted to bash her ex-boyfriend and how she was going to get even with that fool!

Rodger was scared of Megan and decided to quietly end the date at the end of the night by shaking her hand, even though she leaned in for a kiss at the doorway.

The second date was with a young woman named Elizabeth Mercez, who was very different from the first date. Elizabeth said only two sentences that Rodger could recall. “My last name sounds like Mercedez, without the ‘D’ and “I’m not a fan of black pepper on my salad”. There was no chemistry with these women, nothing stood out for him. His cousin Melecio said “ to give them another chance, don’t hide yourself like a hermit, put yourself out there!” But Rodger would rather be at home watching television than go out on another date with either one one these boring women.

At this point, Rodger was getting peeved that he still had Herpes, and kept praying for God to remove the disease from him. He went to his cousin Regino the preacher, again asking why God refused to heal him and the only answer given was that “what the enemy has used for evil, God will use for good. Trust, believe, and don’t rush into anything.” This answer did not fully satisfy Rodger, but he realized it was the only thing he could hold onto.

It was a full four months of texting, calling, video chatting and emailing Emily Whitlow before they would ever meet face to face in real life. Emily’s profile picture was breath taking the moment he saw it in his mail inbox. She stated that this was her first attempt at online dating, and to both of their surprise, they shared some things in common. One, they were both committed believers who made clear boundaries on what they were and were not willing to do on dates. They both lived in the same city, in fact living only five miles apart from each other, even though never, ever meeting each other. If they had crossed paths, it was merely driving passed each other in their cars. Their busy lives kept them distant. They knew the same circle of friends, but because of the nature of the private profile settings, nobody outside of their immediate families, knew that they contained the virus.

Rodger felt good about his date with Emily that night. He wanted everything to be perfect, he felt a real connection to her in their correspondence. Emily felt the same, she wanted things to be right.

She had met a few guys online, but they were all perverted creeps who just wanted one night stands. Their comments on her photos made her not want to even turn on her computer after the first bunch of emails filled her profile site.

But this Rodger guy seemed different. He sounded genuine and upfront about what he stood for. Could this really be a great guy with his stuff together -AND have the same medical condition as herself?

It couldn’t really be true, she could have been burned and disappointed for so long, it may have left her jaded and her spirit down trodden. If it wasn’t for her faith and the support of her church family, Emily would’ve been just another person who gave up on life. Not suicide, but giving up on ever finding true love. She looked towards her bible and saw that the many highlights in various colored markers, of the many promises of God. How he would be there for her, through thick and through thin. She loved those promises. Even with the painful rash of Herpes to endure, for her the outbreaks were every few weeks, Emily claimed the promise of healing for her future children. Every morning she would put her hands on her stomach and say “My children will be whole and not broken physically. I claim restoration to the nerve cells that have been attacked by the hsv-2 virus! No trace of the virus will enter the skin of these future kids of mine. Healing in Jesus name, by his precious blood. Amen!”

She did this once in front of her unsaved sister Rachel, who just rolled her eyes and walked out of the room. Rachel was so negative about everything, but she would change after she got fired from her job and asked her sister to pray for her years later for a better career.

The restaurant was one that Rodger had picked out carefully, not wanting to repeat his prior experiences with the other dates. He wanted ambience, with candles and not too much of a crowd. At first they were going to go to a big name restaurant, but he wanted to talk, not hear the clatter of busyness. So he made reservations at this new small place by his job.

It was 7:15 and he had waited at the table alone for fifteen minutes. He checked his phone to see if Emily had messaged him. This was basically a blind date after all, maybe she stood him up, just maybe he thought.
Then she walks into the room and she was beautiful. His heart skipped a beat the moment he saw her. She looked like a tall glass of water, and he was very thirsty. Not for sex, but for affection.
He stood up and pulled out her chair for her, something he would always do for her every time she entered a room, for the entire length of their 58 year marriage until his death.
Much laughter, much connection, just two people being honest with one another.
After the dinner date, each went home and thanked God they made the decision to go forward with that date.

**It is estimated that 1 in every 5 Americans currently have Herpes, some unknowingly. By the year 2045, 40% of the population will be infected with either the hsv—1 or hsv-2 virus.



Feb 29, 2016

Story 1: Can’t find my way Home
Chapter 1

Seventeen year old Cleopatra Jaramillo Ramires looked under the glass counter of the sporting goods store. There were three models of pellet guns that caught her attention, the other clear plastic bb guns were of no interest to her.

Chapter 2

Cleopatra drank the whole can of beer like it was nothing. The young man in the driver’s seat looked blurry to her as he hands her the swisher. She inhales the marijuana smoke and now everything feels lighter. The young man, Rob or Charles, she forgets his name, tries to lean in for a kiss. Cleo barely knows this fool, and he’s already trying to make a move on her. Cleo pushes him away and things still feel dizzy. Words are exchanged and an argument ensues. Rob or Charlie, or whatever his name is calls her a dumb slut, and pushes her out of the yellow Honda Civic. Cleo thought it was a stupid car anyways. Cleo begins to walk down the road, half drunk off the beer and weed.


Her name is Beautiful part 1
Stanley Estayan loved his dog, she was a light brown medium built Labrador/Pitbull mix. An older dog, he got her a year and a half earlier as a stray from a good friend. She was a nice friendly dog, always good to Stanley’s young nieces and nephews, but she had issues. She was afraid of loud noises. Stanley loved his dog so much, he thought she was the most beautiful Lab mix dog he ever saw, that he named her Maganda, which means Beautiful in Stanley’s Filipino language.

Her name is Beautiful.

Stanley thought to himself, that’s a perfectly good name for his dog.

Stanley always liked to get Maganda 15 cans of dog food every payday and feed her at least half a can in the morning and half a can of food at night. Maganda loved to eat that stuff and Stan would play fetch with her every evening he would get off of work .

On the other side of town, Lana Barnabus is busy looking through a personnel file on her office computer and dreading the fact that she has to call yet another employee in to her office to tell them that they are doing another round of layoffs and that he is to be terminated from employment at the end of today’s shift.

Back at Stanley Estayan’s backyard, Maganda is really enjoying barking at the pedestrian walking passed her gate.

Can’t Find My Way Home part 2A

Chapter 3

Cleo was not feeling the day. It was almost 3 months before her birthday and two months before her High school graduation. She still had her senior project that she was working on and it was no where near half-ways complete. How she got home, after her jacked up “ride” dumped her off in the middle of Miracle Mile at 1:30 in the morning. Miracle Mile alright, it was a miracle nobody tried to kidnap or assault her walking home at that time of day. Yeah, she was high and drunk, but she made some promises to herself that she wasn’t going to make out/hook up with some dude she barely knew. It was a good thing that she bought that realistic looking bb gun, just in case.

Her cousin Marissa thought that it was a dumb idea carrying a bb gun, instead of a real firearms on her, but Cleo always thought that just the threat of violence with a gun was all it takes for people to show fear and run.

Solace in a time of Frenzy part 1
Chapter 1

Waiting around in a park is kinda weird. All he knew were the instructions he was given, wait at the park, until further instructed.

Why was he gonna wait for a so called friend, when everything seemed so cold war spy era. This birthday surprise party planning was just too much to handle. Had Jo known that the intricate details of his best friend’s party, he never would have volunteered to to help his girlfriend out.

Can’t Find My Way Home part 2 B

For all intents and purposes, Cleo was a stubborn young woman. If someone told her to do something, she would make it a mission to do just the opposite. Especially when her mother told her that she needed to start planning for enrolling in the local community college, she outright refused to do it and instead spent her days on the phone and instagram photos of different things in Stockton.

Being left right in front of the clock store of Miracle Mile at 1:33 a.m., high and drunk from the party, having to walk home, was something of a mess. Cleo looked the various clocks in the window, “Why were they all different times?” she asked herself. If only she had paid her phone bill, her cousin Marissa would be able to pick her up. But because of her stubborness, and dizziness she began to feel, she was not feeling like calling up anyone. It made her laugh, that her uncle Marquez told her that in the future, there would be no more payphones. Well, she had walked around two blocks, and she figured that her uncle Marquez was right.

Solace in a time of Frenzy Part 2

Jo had been sitting on that park bench for a very long time, at least 25 minutes or so. He had thought long and hard about his friendship with Marty Barristo. Marty Barristo had been his best friend since they were in Marshall middle school, and now he was going to help Marty’s girlfriend Rita throw a surprise 30th birthday party for him.

Jo looked at his watch again and noticed that another five minutes had passed and still Marty’s girlfriend Rita hadn’t shown up. Jo loved his friends, but he couldn’t for the life of him understand why the two of them wanted to become missionaries and go off for who knows where.

After Marty graduated from high school, his big dream was to become a pharmacist and open up a pharmacy on the South Side of Stockton. But something changed in him, For whatever reason after he got finished with the pharmacy tech program, Marty wanted to become a missionary instead and spread the gospel to outer parts of the world.

This sudden change in plans made Jo a little more than furious at Rita. Deep down inside, Jo thought that Rita making Marty go to church with her all the time and little hints of getting married soon, made Jo glad he was single and didn’t have anyone to nag him all the time. But still, he loved his friends, and just wanted them to be happy.

Wow! Had it really been 16 years since Jo and Marty known each other. Jo came to realize that time really has flown by.

Jo looked at his watch again. Still no signs of the birthday planner.

Looking around Victory Park, he remembered the park at one time had a huge steel rocket ship slide for the kids in the playground area. It was nearly 18 feet high, and he fell off the top when he was seven. They got it torn down years ago because that kept happening to little kids. Marty told him that it couldn’t of been 18 feet high, but Jo insists to this day, that the slide was really that tall!

Looking around, Jo could see the side of the Haggin Museum from the back. He looked around and remembered the mummy that used to be in that museum. He also remembered the time that they had a high school field trip there back when he was fifteen and snuck out with Hannah Morales in the corner behind the large tractor and made out with her, until Marty found him and started laughing, embarrassing Hannah and she ran back to the bus crying.

“Dang, that Marty sure could mess up a good time” Jo thought to himself. Jo thought also about the huge green tractor that was in the museum. Was Stockton so backwater in the middle of nowhere, that people actually thought putting a tractor in an art museum would be a good thing to do.

Jo had a thing about random thoughts running through his mind alot. He would easily get distracted and his mind tended to wander from thought to thought.

“Where’s Rita?” Jo was thinking, getting slowly angry.

Her Name is Beautiful part 2

Every day, Lana Barnabus looked around her office at Nethco Distribution Center with a sense of dread. Had she really spent five years in college just to be a hatchet girl for the company, always having to be the last individual the warehouse workers saw before being told they were fired and must leave and clear out their possessions from the company lockers and go. Just like an executioner from the days when the executioners would wear a mask to disguise their identity, without all the mask.

But Lana Barnabus did wear a mask, her facade was a fake smike she constantly felt she had to maintain as an image for the Nethcho Distribution Warehouse Company.

Back to Maganda the dog.

Maganda enjoyed another day in the front yard just hanging out and drinking some water from her water bowl, when she saw her owner Stanley Estayan leave early for work as a pharmacy tech. Stanley made sure that his dog had enough food and water in the front yard, before he left his dog alone to watch the house.

He petted his dog Maganda goodbye and closed the gate behind him, leaving Maganda the responsibility to guard the house.

Maganda was good at watching the house for a while, but she still had a fear of loud noises.


Can’t Find My Way Home part 3

A homeless woman was rolling her shopping cart past Cleo like a zombie, eyes glazed over and arms gripping the handle of the old Centralmarket shopping cart.

Cleo momentarily thought about about the old homeless woman. Was her name Sarah or Michelle or something like that? Did she have a handsome boyfriend or husband or kids and have a nice home when she was much younger? Why was she mumbling to herself? All these thoughts filled Cleo’s brain, as the momentary buzz off the beer and high off the THC began to wear thin.

Cleo clenched the bb gun in the side of her jeans, just for a second, as a car slowly drove by her in front of the Jack in the Box. She looked at the driver with a mean mug look, as he quickly drove off.

” I ain’t a whore, you dirty perv!” she yelled at the top of her voice.

Cleo had seen young teenage girls prostituting themselves off of Wilson Way, and she assumed the driver was a “John” looking for a “date”. She had to set him straight about things.

The pilgrim Cleo continued to walk down Madison Street and began to feel safer, the more blocks she walked towards home. She thought to herself, “Only another two miles, than I’m in my bed.”

Solace in a time of frenzy part 3

Marty tossed and turned all night long. He was in that weird place while you’re in a dream, but you know that you are dreaming. It kinda made Marty smile, because it was a dream about his life decisions. He was a pharmacist in his dream and actually was working in his own pharmacy on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Charter Way) and Grant Street. In reality, there was never a pharmacy on this corner, but it was just a silly dream. Marty was in his white lab coat and talking to a customer over the phone. The elderly woman on the phone was yelling at him and he was kindly just taking it all silently and being polite.

Marty then went over to the other end of the counter and began to prepare a prescription for another client, measuring out the pills into little brownish plastic pill bottles. The pills began to multiply as he poured them into the containers. Various other medications of different colors began to appear on the counter top area. The more Marty tried to contain the meds, the more they stacked higher and higher onto the counter, until finally the whole store was covered in pills of all shapes, sizes, and colors, as high up to Marty’s chin.

Just then, Marty awoke from his dream, his forehead covered in sweat.

He took that dream as a sign from God, that even though he spent many years preparing to be a pharmacist, that it was not his calling. God called him to be a missionary instead.

Marty thought about that dream for nearly two weeks. As soon as he told it to his fiancee, she got the meaning of the dream too. He didn’t dare tell his best friend Jo, because Jo thought this “church stuff” was a big waste of time and that Marty could be making a lot more money owning his own pharmacy, or at least working for a retail store pharmacy department.

But for Marty, the dream confirmed his biggest fears, that if he had taken the job offers doing other than God’s calling in his life, he would be drowning his life away in a job that would eventually kill his soul and his physical health. Years later, when Marty and his wife would return from the missions fields of Indonesia, he looked on to the news, Someone had the idea to open up a pharmacy on the corner of MLK boulevard and Grant Street. Unfortunately for the shop owner, the place was robbed and three people got shot and killed, including the pharmacist behind the counter. Marty again took this a confirmation of his dream. Again, his friend Jo just thought it was a dumb coincidence.

Can’t Find My Way Home part 4

Cleopatra Ramires had been walking towards home for what seemed like hours, even though in reality, a mere hour and a half had passed since she pushed that guy off of her in his car, thus ending up on the streets of Stockton. Walking home.

Walking home.

She had got up towards Weber Avenue. She looked at her phone. The same cell phone which she didn’t pay the bill for. The same phone which couldn’t make a call to her mom and dad on to save her life. The phone said it was 2:23 a.m.

She thought about 23, the number 23. Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil. Cleo thought about her dad. When she was little, her dad would read the kid’s bible to her every night. He was an usher at the local church, a devote man of God, even though Cleo hadn’t set foot in any church since she was twelve. Out of rebellion and disbelief.

Her father’s voice echoed in her mind as she continued walking home.

Cleo thought about the embarrassment of walking home, sneaking home drunk and high, just imagining her father waiting for her in the kitchen, reading his bible at the kitchen table and eating some toast and coffee. It wasn’t the punishments that got her, but rather the shame and lectures she would endure from him. Asking why she wouldn’t call home. The speeches of how dangerous it is for a young woman to be walking home late at night, how irresponsible to go to a party where she knew that they’d be drinking and doing drugs, and all the rest. She knew that it was unacceptable to her parents, but she just wanted a little fun. No harm.

The one thing her father stressed to her, was to always be aware of your surroundings and not to walk looking down. She notice that there was a five dollar bill right in front of the Stockton Arena and she picked it up.

Suddenly, a man’s voice in the darkness yelled out “Hey, that’s my money! Give it back!”

“Who is it? I found that five, it’s mine! ” Cleo yells back to the voice.

She pulls out the bb gun from her pants and aims it into the darkened alleyway. It looks realistic in the black of night.

She sees cars pass by, seemingly not caring to intervene in a teen girl and her “gun”.

“Okay gurl, go ahead keep the money, no big thing to me. Just don’t shoot me. Ok.” the voice says very calmly, as his footsteps can be heard slowly walking away back into the shadows.

Cleo walks away. Beads of sweat are upon her forehead, Good thing that she had that “protection” to scare away baddies.

Thoughts rang through her mind. What if that guy called her bluff and tried to attack her? “What ifs?” and other randoms fears flooded her mind as she continued to walk back home.

Almost home, just 8 more blocks, Cleopatra Jaramillo Ramires thought to herself. She was beginning to feel secure that she was going to make it home safely.

Then, out of the corner of her eyes, she sees flashing blue and red lights swirling behind her. Followed by a siren and a loudspeaker police officer telling her to stop walking and put her hands up.

Her name is Beautiful part 3

Maganda looked around the gate to see why there was an opening. Her curiosity got the best of her and she snuck her long pointed nose out towards the sidewalk. Suddenly a car backfires and startles poor Maganda. She uses all four legs to run as fast & and as far as she could go. Then she begins to approach the park , surrounded by homeless winos and addicts. One young man in his late 20s tries to give her a bite from his sandwich, but she slowly walks away with her tail between her legs.

Out of nowhere, the roar of a train begins to rustle its siren noise and Maganda yet again runs off from the sound.

When Maganda was a puppy, she was constantly beaten by her previous owner. Her name wasn’t Beautiful before, it was Gypsy, but Beautiful never responded to that name Gypsy. Her previous owner Clyde Perry liked to torment her and fire his 9 mm next to her head whenever he got the chance. Making her run in circles, then hide under the house, until she finally ran away from that jerk and somehow ended up staying with Stanley Estayan for the last year and a half, up until just now.

When Stanley came home that night, he brought Maganda a new chew toy, thinking that his dog would love that thing, but to his utter shock, his dog had run away. Stanley immediately drove his car around the neighborhood and asked all his friends about his beloved dog, but to no success. In the next few weeks, Stanley put up missing dog signs and went to the dog pound every day looking for her. After about two months, he finally gave up.

In the months that followed, Maganda was walking up and down every corner of the city, trying to find food and shelter, but always getting beaten up by other dogs, losing weight, and suffering the pains of being a stray mutt.

Can’t Find My Way Home part 5

Getting arrested for a weapons possesion was tough enough, facing her parents wrath was quite another story.

The judge was a jerk, in her opinion, even though some thought that she got off lucky, no time in juvenile hall, just a fine to pay. The Honorable Judge Matthew Apleten figured since this was her first arrest and she was merely using the bb gun as a means of self-defense, as her public defender suggested, that Cleopatra Ramires was no threat to society nor herself. So after the court hearing, she was let go with a mark on her record, but no jail time, plus she was able to get her “gun” back.

That same night, her cousin Marrisa wanted to celebrate and go to a party. Cleo tried to explain to her that she was grounded for the next three months and isn’t allowed to go anywhere except school and help out with errands, driving to the grocery store and picking up her little sister from gymnastics practice.

Post-arrest Cleo was not really changed as much as her parents had wanted, but at least a seed of responsibility had been planted in her soul. The female police officer that put the handcuffs on her talked to her for 20 minutes or so, trying to get her to talk. Cleo just looked on in silence. Officer Jane Castawaski tried to explain to her how dangerous it was carrying a fake gun and pulling it out on someone. Officer Castawaski remembered hearing about a 10 year old boy in Sacramento who was killed by a cop, who thought the kid was about to shoot him in a darkened house. The kid lost his life due to a stupid Airsoft pellet gun. It very well, could have ended Cleopatra J Ramires life too that night. Officer Castawaski’s partner Officer Melecio Elustrado just sat there in the driver’s seat of the squad car checking his text messages while his partner lectured her about the stupidity of Cleo’s choices that night.



Meet Me at Kelly’s Burgers

Isidoro was a quiet man. He liked hamburgers. He stood next in line at the local hamburger stand called Kelly’s. He grew up on Kelly’s burgers, there was no way he was going to eat at those big named, no flavor burger joints. Not if he could help it. It had to be a Kelly’s Burger.

The teenage boy in front of him ordered a strawberry milkshake and a regular cheeseburger. No fries.

Isidoro was quietly listening to the girl taking the order and repeating it back to the teenage customer, making sure that she got it right. The boy waited in the wooden bench laid out for his order, looking at his text messages and texting back.
Isidoro had planned this meal years earlier, but didn’t have the nerves to enter Kelly’s Burgers until today.

Izzy (Isidoro’s nickname) smiled at the cashier and began to place his order. A double bacon cheeseburger and french fries. He made sure that he ordered a Coke with extra ice, alongside a large vanilla milkshake he wanted. “Too much food”, he thought.

That thought quickly disappeared and then he paid the cashier and waited for his tray of food at the table.

The cashier called out the order for the teenage customer with the strawberry milkshake and cheeseburger, and the young man quickly grabbed his oily brown paper bag and ran to his friend’s car before speeding off.

Isidoro looked around the neighborhood he grew up in and saw the many things in South Stockton that he grew up around. The typical taco trucks and used tire places have always been a part of the landscape of this side of town. The normalcy of everyday people, walking down the street as well as homeless vagrants walking down the same streets. All these things were in plan view of Kelly’s Burgers.

When Isidoro Elustrado got back from Afghanistan, his family suspected him of having PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), mostly because he didn’t talk much. But Isidoro was a quiet man, and chit chat was not his thing. In the Army, he didn’t like to talk much, and before he enlisted, he didn’t talk much either. So his family thinking the PTSD diagnoses was way off base.

The food was placed in front of Isidoro by the cashier and she smiled as she put down his milkshake and soda. She thought to herself that was too much to drink for just one guy.

Isidoro said thanks to her as she went back to the counter and served another customer. He paused for a second, not to say grace or a silent prayer, but to think about what eating at Kelly’s really meant.

Some years earlier in Afghanistan.

Isidoro is holding the bloodied hand of his friend, a fellow soldier named Nolendz . Private Bobby Nolendz . Exactly how Bobby took the bullets to the stomach remains a mystery to the two men, but this much is for sure. Bobby is screaming and losing a lot of blood. He screams to Izzy that he doesn’t want to die and Isidoro assures him that it’s not going to happen today.

“You’re not going out today! You here me Bobby, you’re coming back home and you’re going to live a long happy life. When you die, you’ll be 92 or something like that, an old man. Surrounded by your wife, kids, grandkids. You hear me Bobby! It’s not going to happen today!”, Isidoro unsuccessfully tries to comfort his friend.

“No Iz, just promise me this, when I go, to walk into Kelly’s on El Dorado Street and order me a large vanilla milkshake and a double bacon cheeseburger with their french fries. Eat the meal, I’ll never get the chance to eat. Okay Izzy, just promise me that! ” Nolendz cries out, more blood gushes out in droves onto Isidoro’s hands. Isidoro shakes his head in disbelief and says again to Bobby that he ain’t gonna go out like that.

“I’m not making that promise, cuz you ain’tgonna die Bobby!” Isidoro yells back to him.

“Just promise me, you’ll go to Kelly’s and drink that Vanilla….” Bobby Nolendz doesn’t get a chance to finish that sentence.

Isidoro looks into his friends lifeless eyes before he puts his bloodied hand over them to shut them.

Back at Kelly’s Burger Stand, Isidoro looks sorrowfully at the cheeseburger and takes a big bite. The combination of the crispy bacon and melted cheese onto the bun, made for a tasty treat. He thought about Bobby and how much they would play checkers in their down time. He savored the burger and took a swig of the cola, before putting his lips to the straw for the milkshake. A tear rolled down his face and onto the double bacon cheeseburger, but he ate another bite.

Then he picked two french fries and dipped them into the ketchup.

He knew his friend Private Bobby Nolendz would have enjoyed that burger too.



Her name is Beautiful part 4

The calendar in her Human Resource office read “Feb 29”. This of course was the official birthday of Lana Barnabus. In reality, she would be 28 years old, had she not had the fortune/misfortune of being born on a leap year on leap day. Since the 29th of February only comes around once every four years, she would tell people that she was actually only 7 years old, her little inside joke. Lana Barnabus took her job very serious, but she did like to tell that similar joke every leap day.

Lana Barnabus knew all she had going for in her life was the job at Nethco Distributions. She had worked long and hard to get to this place in her life and it paid off for her very well financially. By no means was she a wealthy woman, but she did well for being the great-granddaughter of Oklahoma migrant fruit pickers who came to California during the Dust Bowl era made famous by Steinbeck’s book. She thought to herself, she felt empty inside. She never understood that it was Jesus knocking at the door to her heart all this time. Those lonely nights and angry days, trying to cover up her pains with a fake smile to please her supervisors at the job. Those smiles did nothing to quench the utter dispare she felt. Never able to fulfill her life with more work, or better promotions. Lana looked at the birthday cake her co-workers gave to her in the company break room and the candles on that cake, made her feel old at the age of 28. She whispered to herself that she’s only 7 years old. The fake smile stayed on all the way from the break room back to her office. As soon as she closed the door, her sanctuary from the real world, the tears began to roll.

Oh My God, she thought,
“All my girlfriends and all my family have husbands and kids, and all I have to show for my life is this stupid job! I don’t even like doing this for a living, I wanted to be a painter, but mom said it wasn’t practical, so I gave in and gave up on my own dreams!”

She looked at her desk and saw the coffee mug that read “Nethco Distributions Center”. She gave 10 years to this company, been there since she graduated high school. Rising in the ranks from a lowly office administrator, taking phone calls and inputting data documents, to being the third in charge of the warehouse, after the operations manager and assistant manager.

An evil thought enters her soul.

Lana Barnabus smashes the coffee mug against the side of her desk and takes a sharp piece of ceramic and begins to slice her wrists. In a matter of minutes, sitting slumped over her chair, she begins to bleed out.

Blood is all over her birthday cake and her hardwood maple table. She feels a momentary lightheadedness, a sense of false peace, followed by the most unholy feeling of darkness and dread.

She sees a shadow trying to pull her down to the depths of darkness, down to the ground. Our birthday girl is trying to hold onto the desk, but she feels her spirit sink deeper and deeper into the ground. The smell of foul spoiled eggs fill her nostrils and the heat of stench pressed down onto her arms and legs.
“What’s going on here? Somebody save me! Help!” Lana Barnabus begins to cry out , but her words aren’t heard by anybody.

At that moment, Marina Elustrado walks into Lana’s Human Resource office and sees the bleeding woman. She immediately knows that Lana tried to commit suicide and begins to stop the wrists from hemorrhaging more blood, making a tourniquet for both wrists. She prays in tongues, calling out to Jesus to save her boss.
Marina Elustrado is calm and her thoughts are collected. She will be the hero and close friend of Lana Barnabus from this point forward.


Can’t Find My Way Home part 6

In the months following her arrest for carrying a bb gun on her and threatening a homeless person, which really wasn’t the case, she kept trying to explain to her classmates and friends, Miss Ramires had the usual routine of picking up her little sister from gymnastics practice. She was glad that she now had her own driver’s license and her parents trusted her enough to drive their car, even if it was only a few miles from her sister’s gym practice back to the house.

Her father didn’t like texting on cell phones, but he needed to remind Cleo to pick up some stuff at the grocery store on the way back.

Cleo looked at the garbled text on her phone. Like almost everyone she knew, nobody used a cell phone to actually talk to each other, but rather to text their own brand of short hand.

Standing in the long grocery line with her sister was a bit of a hassle, but at least she had a few moments out of the house, due to her being grounded. Cleo’s phone was back on. She paid her bill with some early birthday money that her uncles and aunts had given her.

There was an elderly woman right in front of Cleo.

“Oh praise God. Thank you Jesus!” the old woman kept saying.

Cleo and her little sister tried to ignore her, she kept right along texting her cousin Marissa.

Cleo’s little sister, looks at the old woman. She looks at the wrinkles and stares at the old woman’s food on the conveyor belt. The line was extremely long for that time of afternoon. Cleo’s little sister stares at the old woman.

Cleo pokes her sister to stop staring, “Stop!”

The old woman smiles and begins to have a conversation with the two.

“Oh, that’s alright. I bet when you get to be my age, you won’t feel nearly as muscle-ached and sore as me, with all the medicines and technology them scientists are always inventing now.”

Cleo, “Sorry ma’am, for my little sister. She’s just naturally just nosy.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright. I just needed to get a few things at the store, before I got ready for church tonight.” says the old woman.

Cleo smiles and goes back to texting her cousin.

“Do you young ladies go to church anywhere? the old lady asks.

Cleo’s little sister answers, “I go with my parents, but Cleo doesn’t believe in God!”

Cleo pokes her sister with her finger on the shoulder, “Shut up!”

Cleo is at the end of finishing her senior project, ready for graduation and an upcoming birthday party, which may or may not occur because of her getting arrested and drunk. If only she can prove to her parents that she’s changed and proved herself .

She has a lot on her mind, and doesn’t need this little old lady to preach to her right now in the grocery store.

The grocery clerk has the old woman’s groceries half-ways rung up.

The old woman looks at the two girls, not like her father’s lectures, but with a calm, loving warmth to her voice. “God isn’t into perfect people, only those willing to follow him. Think about that. I hope you don’t mind me being forward. That’s what I’ve always been told.”

Grocery clerk to old woman “That’ll be $56.85 ma’am.”

The old woman hands a church flyer with the address of her church on it to Cleo as she opens her purse to pay the clerk, the exits.

The two girls look on as the clerk rings up their groceries and the old woman slowly walks out the store.

Cleo’s little sister says “That was kinda weird.”

Cleo responds “No, she was just speaking her mind.”, as she takes the church flier and puts it in the back pocket of her jeans.



Her name is Beautiful part 5

It had been several months since Stanley Estayan lost his dog Maganda and he began to have peace about the situation. Stanley continued to go to work as a pharmacy tech each morning, even though he missed his pet so so much.

As usual for his morning routine, he opened the driveway gate and backed his car out of the driveway. He closed the gate partially, with hopes that his dog would return and get back into her yard.

As he went about his ride to work, he sees Maganda out of the corner of his eye while at the stop light. He pulls his car over to the side of the road and is amazed to see his dog. Maganda is nothing but bones, and looks like she’s been in the losing end of several dog fights. The streets have not been kind to this dog called Beautiful. Her running away habits have caught up with her, bald patches of hair and the look of mange are all about her. She shivers and has a nervous tick that came back, when she ran off from her good master Stanley.

Stanley opens the car door slowly and begins to approach the dog. Maganda looks like she is about to move towards him, but then runs in the opposite direction, running full speed away from Stanley. Stanley chases after her for six blocks, before giving up and looks at his watch. He is late for work, and really needs to get back to his car. He stops and gives his old dog one last look before walking away in defeat.

Maganda walks away for a few miles, running further and further from Stanley, forgetting all the things he did for her to make her content. Stanley can’t believe his dog ran away from him, but he really needed to get to work and couldn’t risk being late again, according to what his boss Mister Rigestz said. Stanley thought how skinny and sick looking Maganda had become. She didn’t look like the same dog he rescued almost two years earlier, she looked like death. That image of his skinny dog stuck with him for many, many years to come.
Lana Barnabus is released from the hospital this day. Three weeks after her birthday on “Feb 29.”
As she sits in the wheelchair outside in front of the hospital, waiting for her friend Marina to pick her up. Maganda the dog shyly goes up to her and the nurse, licking her leg. The nurse unsuccessfully tries to shoo the dog away, but Lana smiles and tries to encourage the humble beast to get closer. Lana begins to laugh, and the nurse tries to discourage Lana from getting close to the dog for fear of rabies. Lana dismisses that notion and asked the nurse if she thinks this skinny dog really has rabies. The nurse again tries to stop the two from interacting, but a friendship has now bonded.

Marina pulls up in her blue Chevy S10 and takes one look at the dog. Marina rolls down the passenger side window and says, “Who’s your new friend, she looks kinda familar?”

Lana still petting the dog on the head, she smiles and proclaims “This is my new dog, her name is Beautiful.”



The Courtship of Regino Elustrado: Homecoming

Stockton Church 2104 Funeral Day! Homecoming

Marina Fidelis Elustrado looked up at her husband’s urn, sitting atop the small table next to the podium in front of the church. She wanted to laugh at how after he gave his life over to Jesus, he would read to her over and over again the part of the book in Genesis that God would allow man, “no more than 120 years” and that Regino claimed that as a promise from God. She wasn’t even thirty, and now she wanted this new boyfriend of her’s back int 2012 to live to the age of 120, yet that is exactly what he was allowed to live. She whispers “Oh Reggie, you made it. One hundred and twenty years old. Wow!”

She looks around and sees her family all engulfing her. Regino’s brothers and immediate family are nearly all dead and buried thirty years earlier, but the family of Regino Elustrado, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren are all in attendance.

She was almost 118 years old, and her daughter Siobhan was amazed that her mother was also still alive. But she was. A life full of forgiveness and laughter with the love of her life had totally swept over her. She remembered when her husband would go preaching in different cities, even through the turmoils and challenges of the nation raged, Regino still preached on “the goodness of God. A Lord who forgave unconditionally and who would never turn his back on a repentant people. ”

Her husband’s cousin’s son Pastor Rodger Smith Jr. gave a fine eulogy about how his uncle Reggie was a man of many steps. Pastor Rodger Smith Jr. never contracted the Herpes virus that his parents were so tormented with. Had his parents never signed up for the Herpes dating site, he would never have been born, nor lead the church as its pastor.

Pastor Rodger Jr. gave a heartfelt eulogy of the many steps of growth for his uncle Reggie. Steps of growing closer to a God he used to be angry with. But grew to love, even if he did not always understand the reasons for apparently bad things to occur. Rodger Smith Jr. was a great preacher in his own right, but today was the day of honoring the life of his uncle Reggie.

Many other kind words were spoken about the man who would change.

His love affair with the Lord had been one of many highs and brief moments of despair, but mostly times of prayer, and reading of the Holy Scriptures. He liked reading the bible and videotaping his readings, not to impress others, but so that he could listen to them later on.

His God had come through for him on many occasions, even leading his entire family to Christ, except his brother Melecio.

His brother was so full of guilt and shame at burying the body of the rapist in the Delta, that he could never forgive himself, even though Mona repented at the murder on her death bed. Though no one ever found evidence connecting the two to the body, Melecio always remembered and never forgave himself for the cover up.

Regino’s small great grandson Elpidio gets up to the microphone to talk about his “Pappa Reggie”.

Just then, a rattle of energy sweeps the church building and the metal urn bolts through the ceiling up through the roof of the sanctuary like a missle. Marina smiles and knows that she will meet her husband “in the twinkling of an eye”. She disappears in the rapture, along side her family, and with two-thirds of the church funeral attendance.

Those remaining, remember the words of the Preacher Reggie who quoted that the “Lord is returning for a bride without spot nor wrinkle!”


The End


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