Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


June 2016

The Enigma

Editor’s Note:  This story was inspired by The Mystery Hole. I posted this a couple of years ago, but since we (meaning me) were talking about The Mystery Hole yesterday, I offer it again.

It’s important to understand that in this work of fiction, the main character is a woman, and the story is told from her perspective.

THERE’S A GORILLA ON THE ROOF. Really. And a Volkswagen Beetle sticking out of the side, looking very much like an unfortunate accident. I almost turned around without stopping.


When you watch your husband slowly dying over the course of the year, you think you’re ready. You’re not ready. You know your life is going to change. You have no idea.


It’s called The Enigma. It’s so far out of the way, that it’s almost impossible to find by happenstance. So yes, I actually planned the trip. But everything else was, maybe, serendipitous.

I met Kendall fifteen years ago in New York. I met a lot of young doctors back then. I was still working directly with clients and it was such an incredible time to be young and rich. And it was easy to be a broker. Money begat money.

Kendall had been referred to me by the Chief of Oncology at Sloan-Kettering. How’s that for irony? These days everything can be handled over the Internet, but back then, it was still the norm to meet in person. Face to face. No time to be personal now.

My family moved to the U.S. when I was very young. My father was a chemical engineer, my mother an architect. My first year in college, they divorced and Mother returned to China. I don’t know if they ever loved each other but this much I know: Mother loved her homeland; Father wanted more than anything to be a successful American. When I graduated from Princeton he moved to California. He says he is happy.

Three years ago my brokerage house offered me the position of Vice President of the Appalachian Region. Serving as a Regional Vice President is a prerequisite to a Senior Vice President position and the more challenging the Regional position, the greater the reward. There is no greater challenge than the cash-poor Appalachian Region. I was well-respected at the firm. I was pleased to have been challenged so.

As peculiar as The Enigma is on the outside, it is even more bizarre inside. It is difficult to describe. Nothing is what it appears to be. Gravity is mocked. A plumb-bob hangs at an angle at least thirty degrees from perpendicular. We walked across a floor so askew that we certainly should have fallen – yet our balance was sure. And when we entered a room that appeared to be completely normal, I experienced a touch of vertigo. I took two small steps sideways and instinctively my left hand reached out. I clutched the forearm of Rembrandt Morgan.

I remember that first meeting with Kendall distinctly. It was the first time in my life that I had met someone with such intense blue eyes. Mother had told me years before that men with blue eyes were destined to accomplish great things – but not necessarily great good. My first emotion associated with Kendall was fear. He flirted unabashedly as I tried to discuss investment options. I knew many American men had an attraction to Asian women, so I was suspicious anyway, but those eyes were beautifully scary.

Had Rembrandt Morgan’s eyes been brown, he would have simply been another forgotten face. Of course they were blue.

Father had worked in Charleston for two years while I attended university. At the time it was a center for chemical production and Father had engineered new techniques for the production of silicones. He said the mountains of West Virginia reminded him of the Yangtze province. I used to wonder if Mother would have stayed longer had she seen the mountains. I no longer wonder.

When I first moved here, I hated it. Nobody lived in the city. Not that there was much of a city anyway. Kendall and I bought a house in a suburb thirty miles away that had no mountains at all. We lived beside a river just upstream from a coal-burning electric plant. As we drove into Charleston every day, we passed chemical plants, junkyards and strip clubs. On a good day, it was tolerable. Summer was the worst. Heat inversions stagnated the atmosphere and every putrid odor furtively emitted the night before by the chemical plants seemed to soak through our clothes and ooze into our pores. But we knew it would be temporary. We knew we would eventually return to New York.

As I clutched the forearm of Rembrandt Morgan, he looked down at me and smiled and asked if I was all right. His breath was sweet and musky. Had I known why, I don’t know how I might have reacted. It wasn’t until later that day that I learned the truth. By that time, I had already kissed him.

All of the houses in our development were large, beautiful, and isolationist. Very small front porches were merely architectural adornments; no one ever used front doors. We came and went from our brick fortress with barely a nod or a wave to those whom we lived among. It was not that different in New York, really, but somehow New York felt right.

Last year on a sticky summer evening, Kendall and I attended the dedication of a new sculpture at the arts center. In Charleston, a new sculpture is a major cultural event. Our friends, Nathan and Orillia Laurie, had commissioned a New York artist to create a bronze interpretation of a young King David and his lyre. The result was a wonderfully abstract expression that captured the essence of the spirit of King David’s love of music. Unfortunately, King David’s essence did not include a recognizable human figure.

The following day the newspapers recorded the public dismay and lack of appreciation. It created an unbelievable debate about Nathan’s artistic values and his elitist sensibilities that lasted for weeks, during which Nathan remained silent. When he could take no more, he wrote a letter to the editor and suggested that West Virginia’s taste is better suited to hubcap art and the cultural aesthetics of The Enigma.

The day the letter appeared, we celebrated with Nathan and Orillia at one of the few nice restaurants in town. It had been a wonderful evening, full of delightful spite, until Kendall became dizzy driving home. I believe he knew that night what his future held.

As we began our excursion, a young couple exchanged uncomfortable glances and unfamiliar touches, no doubt trying to be spontaneously fun in the middle of their honeymoon at the nearby state park. They couldn’t have made a poorer decision. Rembrandt, it turns out, was there to secure advertising for the Roland County Weekly Advertiser. We continued our tour together, and unlike the couple who knew each other carnally, our glances were comfortable, our touches familiar.

The second room we entered had two windows side by side. One was out of square. I couldn’t tell which one. In the middle of the room was a table and chairs and along the wall, more chairs. The guide motioned for me to sit at the table. Rembrandt followed. The uneasy couple took a seat along the wall. I tried to sit but couldn’t find my balance; I kept sliding off to one side. Rembrandt steadied me. His arm was tattooed with a poor rendering of a deer. His skin was warm.

Kendall had developed a tumor on his brain. Inoperable, of course. He took the chemotherapy not to save his life, but to simply prolong it. He did it for me. He wanted me to ready myself for his death. Four months. Four years. It doesn’t matter. Four days would have been the same.

I miss Kendall. I miss Mother. I miss Father. I miss New York.

The guide led the group through the back door and on to the souvenir shop. I stopped, pausing in the room that defied logic and looked at Rembrandt. He closed the door and took my hands, held them next to my face and kissed me.

Two weeks before he died, I was named a Senior Vice President. I will move back to New York, but now I am on sabbatical. It will be at least another month. Maybe more.

Rembrandt had no way of knowing my circumstances. No way of knowing my vulnerability. No way of knowing that I wouldn’t slap him or knee him in the groin. No way of knowing that I would return his kiss.

We spent a few minutes in the gift shop. I bought an Enigma bumper sticker that now adorns my Volvo’s rear bumper. Then Remmie asked me to join him for a cup of coffee. I followed him up the winding mountain road, expecting a trendy coffee bar tucked away in the hills. Instead, he pulled his black pick-up into a gravel lot of the Hawk’s Nest Diner. No cappuccinos, no lattes. Just black coffee. And a slice of apple pie. We talked for more than an hour.
Remmie is an artist. Some of his paintings were on display in the diner. He has an incredible sense of composition and color, a gift, he told me, that he got from his grandmother. Quite remarkable.

He also hunts. And works for the weekly advertising paper. He was married once, but his wife ran off with a Charleston lawyer. Which is why he drinks. Remmie has never been outside of West Virginia.

I drove past The Enigma on my way back down the mountain, one of Remmie’s paintings on the back seat. It saddened me to know that I would not see Rembrandt Morgan again. I would not see Kendall again. I would not see this mountain again. I thought about Mother, wondering if her homeland were as beautiful as the scene in Remmie’s painting. I wondered if Mother had felt similar feelings in leaving Father. I wondered why she had to leave. I wondered why I had to leave.

In my rear-view mirror, the gorilla seemed to be waving.

copyright 2014, joseph e bird

It’s a trip, man.

A couple of items for your Sunday afternoon reading.

First, an article in the Sunday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail about The Mystery Hole, a crazy roadside attraction near Ansted, West Virginia.  You don’t see these kinds of places very often anymore. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip, even if you have to spend the night. (And there are plenty of other things to do on a weekend visit. New River Gorge Bridge. Hawk’s Nest State Park. Babcock State Park.  West Virginia – Wild and Wonderful!)

Mystery Hole 1 for web
It’s more than meets the eye. Note the gorilla on the roof.

So read this first.

Then read this. It’s a story I wrote after my first trip to The Mystery Hole. My story is fiction and any resemblance to real events or characters is purely coincidental. The roadside attraction in my story is called The Enigma.

We interrupt this post to bring you a special news bulletin.  Joseph Bird has never posted The Enigma story to which he refers. Or maybe he did, and for some reason, he deleted it. He can be that way sometimes and he can’t remember much of anything. For that error, he will make amends in the coming days. Until then, he offers the following poem, written as part of his novel Three Seconds. (To be read in the spirit of Nights in White Satin. If you have to ask, never mind.)

From the original post:

In Three Seconds, a roadside fun-house called The Enigma serves as a metaphor for the illusion of truth the characters in the novel must face. In The Enigma, the laws of gravity are not what they seem to be and visitors are left wondering about the reality of it all. At the end of every tour, Rembrandt Walker offers this cautionary reminder.

Breathe in,
my friends,
while you still can.
When shall we tarry,
it’s all in God’s plan.

Marvel and wonder
at gravity’s plight.
The day is dark
and evening bright.

Live now and love,
while the spirit is young.
In life’s quick passing,
our song will be sung.

Not all we see
can we comprehend.
Up becomes down,
beginning is end.

Worry not, my friends,
and judge with much grace,
Our fate will come quickly,
our day we will face.

Look beyond
what you see
and know what is true.
It’s out there somewhere.
It’s waiting for you.

copyright 2014, joseph e bird

The Violin

Violin BW 2 for web

The following was inspired by true events.


“Jack, we’ve been through this. Your leg is dying. If we don’t amputate, it could kill you.”

“I want to keep my leg.”

“At the risk of dying?”

“Of course not. Cut the leg off. But I want to keep it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“What’s so hard to understand? When you cut off the leg, instead of throwing it in the trash, put it on ice.”

“We don’t just throw it in the trash. We have a medical incinerator.”

“I want to take my leg home.”


“It’s my leg. Maybe I’ll make it into a lamp.”

“Just sign the papers. You can’t take your leg home.”

“Maybe I want to bury it. Could I take it home and bury it?”

Dr. Irving leaned back in his chair and let out a long, slow breath. “It’s really not practical. How would you even dig a hole?”

“But could I do it? Is it legal?”

“There’s paperwork. It has to be approved by Administration. They won’t likely grant your request, given your circumstances.”

“My circumstances.”

“You know.”

“I’m not crazy, Stuart. I checked myself in to get some rest.”

Dr. Irving forced a smile. There was no point in arguing. He had learned that years ago. When they were both boys.

“Where would you bury it?”

Jack thought for a moment. “I could bury it next to Monkey.”

“Monkey died?”

“Two years ago. I told you. You never listen to me.”

“I’m sorry. I forgot. I forget a lot of things anymore.”

“Monkey’s not dead. I was just testing you.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I’ll bury her next to Zsa Zsa.”

“I know Zsa Zsa’s dead. I went to the funeral.” Dr. Irving shook his head. “Who has a funeral for a cat?”

“Lot’s of people do. Don’t be so insensitive.”

“So you want to bury your leg in your pet cemetery?”

Jack didn’t answer. Dr. Irving took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“Does your head hurt?” Jack asked.

“No. Just tired. I don’t sleep much these days.”

“They have meds for that, you know. New ones. I got to try a couple at the hospital. The other hospital. Bateman.”

“I just need some time off. I’m going to the beach next month.”

“The beach. I never understood that. We’re going to the beach! We’re going to the beach! All that sand. The humidity. No, thank you.”

“I like it. Nothing like sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee watching the sun rise.”

“Are the kids going?”

“No. Just me. I haven’t even told them. I’m afraid they’ll come down.”

“They worry about you.”

“I know.”

“You’re not used to being alone, and yet you’re going to the beach to be by yourself.”

“So now you’re my shrink?”

“It hasn’t even been a year.”


“Murrell’s Inlet?”

“No. Outer Banks.”


“Katie loved Murrell’s Inlet. I can’t go there. I just can’t.”

Jack nodded. They sat in silence for a moment.

“Are you going to give me my leg?”

“It’s a horrible idea.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“I know.”

Jack pushed himself up in the wheelchair and lifted his leg at the knee and crossed it over his other leg. The good leg. He rubbed his knee under the hospital gown. “They say there will be phantom pain. Like the leg is still there.”

“That’s what they say.”

“I hear voices.”

“Uh huh.” Stuart turned to his computer and began typing. The office was small and sparse, not so much as a family photo on the desk. It wasn’t his primary office, just a space in the hospital to access records and process patients.

“I got a new violin,” Jack said.

“I didn’t know you were still playing.”

“I sat on my old one. Just flattened it.”

“So you got a new one?”

“I had that violin since junior high.”

Stuart turned and faced Jack. “The same one?”

“I couldn’t fix it this time.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jack looked down at his leg, black and brown and blue and scaly and crusty.

“Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had you not come along that day. They would have certainly finished the job on the violin, and then started in on me. Maybe I just needed a good beating. Maybe that would have toughened me up.”

“Nobody needs a beating.”

“I went to Bateman for the first time after that. I was fourteen.”

Dr. Irving went back to typing. “I didn’t know that.”

“My first trip to crazy.”

“Stop it, Jack.”

“I know. It’s just an illness. Like the flu or diabetes or a rotting leg. But there is a difference.”

“There shouldn’t be.”

“So you say.” Jack touched the dead skin, checking for pain. He felt nothing. “My poor, sorrowful leg. It’s dying. You’re going to cut it off, and you’re either going to burn, or I’m going to bury it, or maybe I’ll just keep it my deep-freeze for a while. Doesn’t really matter. It’s just an appendage. Notice how I refer to it? It. Third party. Objective.”

“You can’t keep it in your freezer.”

“But up here,” Jack said as he tapped his forehead, “that’s me. My mind. My thoughts. My fears. My hopes. Me. Not it. It’s so hard to be objective and say that I just need medicine or therapy or electricity. I had that once, you know.”

“Electroconvulsive therapy can be effective, and overall, I think your treatments have served you well. You’re a bit of an odd-ball, but you’re not crazy. And if you need to drop by Bateman every now and then to get it all sorted out, so be it. You go to Bateman, I go to the beach.”

Jack laughed. “I think you’re the one who’s crazy.”

“You’re probably right.”

“Even so,” Jack said.

“Even so, what?”

“My leg is part of me, too.” He uncrossed his leg. He wheeled to the window that overlooked the parking lot. “Nice view.”

“Even so, what?”

“I don’t have much. No family. Just Zsa Zsa, now. I’ve had two real friends in my life. You and my violin. Now it’s gone. Well, it’s not gone, just a pile of broken wood and strings. My new one is nice, but it has no history with me. And now my body is leaving me, piece by piece.”

“Just your lower leg. Every other body part is fine.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“Ok, Jack.”


“Yeah. I’ll do the paperwork for your leg.”

“You think the hospital will approve it?”

“They will. And if they don’t, we’ll figure something out.”

“Thank you, Stuart.”

“Two conditions, though. First, we’re going to keep it here until you’re discharged. Then the day you go home, I’m coming over to your house and I’m going to bury your leg.”

“That sounds so odd when you say it out loud, Doctor. Even a little nutty. What’s the second condition?”

“You’re coming to the beach with me.”

Jack turned from the window and looked at his doctor, his old friend. Stuart was still pecking on the computer. He wouldn’t look back. It wouldn’t be proper. Not for friends like Jack and Stuart.

“Go on back to your room. I’ve got to make my rounds. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thank you, Stuart.”

Jack wheeled himself to the door and started down the hall.

“The beach,” he said in a whisper. “I’m going to the beach.”

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

A prayer for no more rain.

rain sunset 1 for web

It’s been a rough couple of days for some in our area. The rain came fast and hard.

Homes have been destroyed. Lives have been lost. Families will never be the same.

As I write, the sun brings the promise of better days.

It will take a while.


“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
—Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

A Prayer for Rain

Prayer for Rain Cover - reduced size

Trevor Larson’s future looks bright. He’s a young and gifted singer-songwriter ready to chase the dream and make his mark in the world of music. But a devastating accident takes it all away, and leaves him physically and emotionally scarred.

As he rebuilds his life as an architect, he wrestles with his own self-worth. When he discovers new ways to express himself musically, his physical appearance gives rise to a new musical persona which propels him into a world for which he is not prepared. Ultimately, he must decide if his renewed dream of stardom is worth sacrificing his true identity as an artist and a person.

Set to an eclectic sound track as people come and go in Trevor’s life, A Prayer for Rain deals with the timeless themes: Respect. Contentment. Friendship. And of course, love. It delivers hope when all seems lost.

Available now at Amazon.

It’s an honor to be mentioned.

A Prayer for Rain
Honorable Mention, Book Length Prose, WV Writers Competition, 2016

Song of the Lost
Honorable Mention, Book Length Prose, WV Writers Competition, 2016


Was on a late spring evening,
the air was cool and light.

I left the window open,
heard the whispers of the night.

The words arose in quiet tones,
from the sidewalk down below.

The truth’s not there for all to see,
There’re some things you can’t know.


Sleep came soft and gentle,
and the hours slipped away.

Till screams of horror pierced the still.
What it was, I couldn’t say.

The veil of night hides many sins,
when darkness says hello.

The truth’s not there for all to see.
There’re some things you can’t know.


He asked me for a dollar,
or maybe it was two.

He had to find a way back home,
his daughter had the flu.

I knew that he was lying,
but I didn’t let it show.

The truth’s not there for all to see.
There’re some things you can’t know.


I’ll be with you along the way,
our steps go side by side.

Though storms may blow and thunder roll,
my comfort will abide.

But wait, here comes another one,
my friendship to bestow.

The truth’s not there for all to see.
There’re some things you can’t know.


Fears that come in sleepless nights,
make restless in the day.

Anxious for the times to come,
we’ve nothing but to pray.

For comfort and a quiet peace,
and mercy free to flow.

The truth is there for all to see,
There’re some things we can know.

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

Lawful Good

Image credit: Memory-Beta Wiki, via

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

If you know me at all, you know I like to listen to radio story shows like This American Life, The Moth, and Snap Judgment. There’s another show that I’ve heard a few times that’s more of an interview format called Studio 360. A couple of weeks ago they aired a segment about the concept of Character Alignment.

It has its origins in Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve never played, but apparently in that game you build your own characters. In order to do that, you have to decide what kind of person your character will be. But it’s not enough to say your character is good or bad. So they came up with a character alignment grid. If you want to skip all of these words and go straight to the source (which is much more entertaining), click the link below and skip over to the 33:30 mark. It is, as Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

Character Alignment

If you’re still reading, here’s the deal.  In the basic grid, there are three rows of three squares, nine squares total.  The upper left hand corner is good, the lower right hand corner is evil.  The degrees of good and evil are in between.

The upper left corner square is Lawful Good. This person is good, and can’t be anything but good.  He/she follows all the rules and treats everyone fairly.  In the world of Star Trek, Mr. Spock is Lawful Good.

To Spock’s right is Kirk. Neutral Good. He’s good, but he’s not above breaking a few rules to get the just result. Think Kobayahsi Maru. To Kirk’s right is good old Bones. Dr. McCoy. Chaotic Good. Yeah, his heart’s in the right place but he can be a tad impulsive.

Here’s another universe for the top row, The Office. Lawful Good is Pam. Neutral Good is Jim. You’ve probably guessed Chaotic Good, Michael Scott.

The next row is Lawful Neutral.  Think Dwight Schrute.  Law and order are everything. There is no right or wrong. To Dwight’s right is Stanley, the epitome of non-committal. To his right is Ms. Chaotic Neutral, Meredith.

The bottom row are the Evil characters. Lawful Evil. I bet you can guess. Yep, Angela. Neutral Evil, Ryan the Intern. And diagonally opposite of Pam, in the lower left hand corner, is Chaotic Evil. The one truly scary character on the show, Jan Levinson.

As a fan of pop fiction, this is indeed fascinating.  As a writer, I think it’s an extremely effective tool. Just like with DnD, I build make-believe worlds and the characters are everything. I like the structure of the Alignment Grid and how it forces you to think of the subtle differences in people. I plan on using it.

As an added bonus (although I’m not sure I want to), you can try to figure out where you fit in the grid. If you’re Chaotic Evil, please keep your distance.

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