It was the best of times, it was the best of times

Listen to Jim: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/itwasthebestoftimes.mp3

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Now that the world has ended and re-booted,

now that the New Year is well on its way to where nobody knows,

thoughts slippery & elusive & sublime & silly sift their way through my head.

They defy classification.

Here are some droppings…

1.  Today the air is as thin as polished glass.

2.  If I feel good, that means I’m not appreciating those who are suffering. If I feel bad, I am ignoring the joy and pleasures that can be found in the worst of situations.

3.  Hosiery is important. For some the joy of sox is all there is.

4.  Successful politicians are often merely the most skilled and persistent bullies on the block.

5.  “The unjust get  honors when they right their wrongs.” –Sally Ride

6.  I spent time this morning being attacked on the Web. Damned spider keeps building across my path.

7.  Every day on the way to work, I pass all the Overseers of my life: the bank, the power company, the gas company, the water works.

8.  That guy was certainly sober on life, wasn’t he?

9.  At my age, all my irony is sated.

10.  The newscaster pronounces the word decal as DECK-uhl.

DECK-uhl all with boughs of holly!

11.  I met a guy whose name is Christian. He seemed pleasant.

Guess that makes him a good Christian boy—or a good-boy Christian.

12. The interviewer pronounces the word presage as PRESS-edge.

13.  The vehicle in front of me throws messages in my face: KIA Pelham Alabama 61340A7 Sep 13 Sorenta EXV8 Riverchase KIA burgundy color metal antenna. What am I to do with this information? Another vehicle says IG EY Sweet Home Alabama apr 13 St. Rose Academy Birmingham Alabama Serra Toyota Sequoia Force V V8. Hieroglyphs!

14. My age and experience make me more open to experiences and people.

The field widens, the prospects narrow.

15. The interviewee says, “…ranging the full philosophical gambit.”

16. From the Library of Thought: What if shadows remained a constant size and people lengthened or contracted with the light?

17. We are conscious of things, but things are not conscious of us.

18. The reporter says, “…there are a flurry…”

19. Before I found my bliss in the Museum of Fond Memories, I tried jobs and jobs tried me.

20. Why do pilots fly planes? Can’t they drive them? Or steer them?

21. Lies beget lies.

22. Yellow is the only color I know that is yellow.

23. “Everytime I  think of the past, it brings back memories.” –Stephen Wright

24. The hand-lettered sign says, “Taco cards read…”

25. The Fred’s Store signs says, Those wanting to purchase TABACCO must present IDs.” Must bring tobasco sauce?

24. Naughty insect portrait:  Ant, misbehaving.

25. Something only gets to happen for the first time once.

26. Business article refers to “commander and chief…”

27. NPR reporter mentions Nobel Laureate Willy Brandt, pronounced NO-bull. Guess Brandt was a noble guy. Wonder if he ever won the no-BELL prize?

28. From the Library of Thought: What if the mirror contains the real world and we are merely avatars for the mirror people?

The world has ended, a new year begins and I still can’t stop my brain

 (c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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People of Earth, I Mean You No Harm

Listen to Jim: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/peopleofearthimeanyounoharm.mp3

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Peoples of the Planet Earth, I bring you glad tidings of great interest. Here they are:

1.  The Earth did not end last week. I just wanted to reassure you about that, because I know you may be wondering whether this is some kind of after-life, or whether we are now in a sort of Hell or a jokester’s version of Heaven. Rest assured—the world is still here, you are still here, and, yes, this may be some kind of Heaven or Hell. We just have to deal with it as it is.

2.  Some of us still believe in goodness and mercy…and we must band together. Here’s why this may be difficult: The Meek are scattered loosely among the wolves. We survive by hunkering down and trying to avoid the bullies and the sharks. Because we are largely invisible, we don’t always network with each other to protect the goodness and sustain the tender mercies. Whether we like it or not, this is probably the way it should be. Were we to gang up on the bullies and sharks and wolves, we just might become one of Them. Best we continue our quiet evangelism one person at a time, one situation at a time. Just keep in mind that we are together in spirit and mind.

3. Each day, the world ends and begins anew. This means we have no acceptable excuses for misbehaving, for failing to make the 24 hours just given us a little better. It’s a long journey, but each day can be different from each previous day. Even the lead character in Groundhog Day eventually found a way to redeem himself and others around him. He just kept on getting up and reassessing his circumstances. We can do that, too.

4. It’s time to construct our own Mayan calendar. There’s nothing restraining us—we can roughly steer our destinies by simply deciding to do so, then allowing nothing to get in the way. Whiners and naysayers and wimps who just know everything is going down the tubes…these folks haven’t met us yet, have they? We know how to expend our energies. As Duke Ellington said, “I merely took the time it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” Compose some blues today.

The Plan is self-evident. The Meek are contesting the will.

As Gandhi said, “First they ignore you. Then they make fun of you. Then they fight you. And then you win.”

Yep, we are the invisible warriors. All we have to do is keep in mind that the Mayan calendar doesn’t last forever unless we re-boot it from time to time.

Bo Diddley said it all: “We’re a short time here and a long time gone.”

Thank you, People of Earth, for reading these few words. I mean you no harm

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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The Last Christmas Tree in Pinellas County (by Liz Reed)

Listen to Liz here: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/audio/christmas/2/track22.asx

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It was the year we remodeled the house and because the contractors worked until the last possible minute, we waited until Christmas Eve to buy a tree. Not usually a problem. But the year before, merchants had over-bought, and this year, they over-compensated.

Our father fared forth in high hopes of finding the perfect tree. First he went to the lots in our hometown, then in the next town, then on down the road a piece, then nearly to the county line. He finally found a tree, at this point settling for any tree remotely shaped like Christmas. As he was paying for the last Christmas tree in Pinellas County, a distraught man came running into the nursery. With tears in his eyes, he explained he was visiting from Michigan, his little girl was three years old and this would be the first Christmas she’d remember and there wasn’t a tree anywhere to be found.

“Here,” Daddy said as he handed over the last Christmas tree in Pinellas County. “Merry Christmas.” The grateful visitor bustled the tree into his car, shouting his gratitude and wishing Daddy, his family, the nursery worker and anyone within earshot a very happy holiday indeed.

Now what to do? Daddy turned back to the nurseryman and scratched his head. All the cut trees were gone, all the burlap-balled living trees were gone. “Well,” said the nurseryman, “how about a podacarpus?” And so Daddy bought a small, green sort-of-conical-shaped tree in a ten gallon can. The can was bigger than the tree. We decorated it with one strand of lights and selected the smallest ornaments. We wrapped the can in red foil paper and set our tree in the middle of the dining room table. After Christmas, we planted the tree at 513 Scotland Street where it still grows, some 45 years later.

When I think back on all the Christmas trees in all the years, that’s the tree I remember best.

(c) 2012 A.D. by Liz Reed

liz@lizreed.com

 

Today is the Day Before the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Listen to Jim: http://www.jimreedbooks.com/mp3/todayisthedaybeforethefirstday.mp3

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My dreams are getting better all the time.

Here are some clips:

First dream: I’m standing on the corner of a downtown city street on New Year’s Eve, hawking a stack of calendars. The sign around my neck reads, “Last chance to purchase your 2012 calendar. Get ‘em while they last!”

This dream is almost as sad as the end-stage career of a Mayan calendar salesman.

Another dream: A city meter maid walks up to me while I’m fumbling for change to insert into a dysfunctional parking meter. “Here, let me cover that,” she says, handing me a quarter. “Merry Christmas!” she says, quite jovially.

My dreams often have science-fiction plots like this.

Yet another dream: Scarlett Johansson calls me to express her despair. She’s just learned I’m already taken and won’t be eligible to marry her.

This actually happened. In my dreams.

More better dream: I’m reading a new mystery novel and notice that I am an actual character in the book. No kidding! I’m in the book!

Actually, I cheated. This isn’t a dream—it really occurred. Read Liza Elliott’s thriller,

30-A Supper Club (Red Camel Press, 2012). She warned me I’d be in her novel, but I assumed she was kidding. I am now what I always imagined I’d be: A fictitious character!

So, sometimes dreams come true. Except the Scarlett Johansson ones.

One more dream: The world ends on Friday. Poof! However, I’m not worried because I know what most sentient beings know—the world ends each and every day, then begins again. Over and over. I’m happy about this, since I realize that Saturday will be the beginning of everything, as will Sunday and Monday ad infinitum.

My dream teaches me that if I blow everything today, there’s always tomorrow. And if I keep my wits about me, I should be able to make each day better than the day before.

Beginnings and endings—and how I treat them—offer me renewed hope, fresh ways to comfort those around me who flail about and fail to see the Possibilities. Sometimes all I know to do is sell you an old nostalgic book. Sometimes all I know to do is make you laugh for a spell, to distract you from your travails.

Sometimes all I know to do is write a note like this, hoping you’ll be inspired to write your own note. It’s important to place those notes into bottles and cast them adrift to cheer somebody somewhere.

Note: prior to placing note in bottle, look into the neck and hold it up to the light. Wonders may appear. Then, place your ear next to the neck and listen. Really listen. There—you’re already on your way to making the beginning of the world just a little bit different, maybe a little bit fun

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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Santa’s Gift the Greatest Gift of All

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/santarocking.mp3 

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I run a Christmas shop, a Christmas museum, a Christmas antique emporium.

Why Christmas?

Well, you’d know the answer to that—if you’d known my Mother.

To Mother, every day was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day combined. All her life, she was able to see through the pain and confusion of life, through to the sweetness that she felt from the time she was born till her own Mother died fifteen years later. She never left childhood alone on the back step, but took it with her and carried her understanding of children and their pure and innocent outlook on life, all the way to another existence, 83 years after her birth.

Every day was Christmas at our house. Each day, we paid careful attention to weeds and frogs and paint chips and stuffed toys and sunbeams and tears and relatives and concrete sidewalks and Pepsi Colas and fresh cornbread. Under Mother’s tutelage, we kids learned to note things, notice things, note people, notice people.

Taking her example, we learned to find something fine in just about everything, everybody, every Thing, every Body. Each day, we woke up to a Christmas gift of life, neatly wrapped, anxiously waiting to be unwrapped.

That being said, maybe the rest of this story will make more sense to you.

Whenever I use the gift of noticing people, I learn something new.

While she was still alive and active, Mother spent some time each day hiding messages she prepared for her kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and her extended family of kids. She didn’t give us these messages directly, since her experience with human nature warned her that we would probably ignore them because of our youth and immaturity.

So, Mother sent messages in bottles for us to find accidentally through the years, each time just as we were almost grown-up enough to recognize and appreciate them.

Christmas was Mother’s favorite season, so she made sure that more secret messages were generated at that time. She wanted us to remember how much fun, how much love, swirled about our family so that we would remember to pass this joy along to our own families and extended families.

Mother died in 1997, and life went on without her, as life does. We kids and grandkids and great-grandkids went our way and did our own lives the way we thought we had designed them. At times, we acted as if we had never had a mother, as if we had invented ourselves, as if we were self-made.

But we could never fool ourselves for long.

Without Mother’s nurturing and sacrifices, without her humor and overwhelming bluntness, we could not have been formed.

One day, my sister Barbara gave me a bunch of stuff she had salvaged from Mother’s old house in Tuscaloosa. In the pile was an unopened box that felt hefty enough not to be empty. When I had time a few days later, I took that box up and peered at it, reading the words thereon:

“MUSICAL ROCKING SANTA. Sure to delight collectors of all ages, this 8 inch high rocking Santa captures the spirit of Christmas past with exquisite handfinished detail.”

The box was colorful and depicted a kindly snoozing Santa.

The imprinting continued, “It features a genuine Sankyo wind-up musical movement from Japan. Handcrafted and handpainted in China by people who care. This copyrighted design is made under an exclusive licensing agreement with the copyright holder. (C) 1995 II INC.”

This box looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite get it. If it was manufactured in 1995, it couldn’t have been one of my childhood toys.

Hmm…

I carefully opened the box, making sure not to damage anything, since I might find that it belonged to somebody else in the family.

Inside, a toy any Christmas Lover would covet:

A statue of Santa Claus—a dozing Santa Claus. I can still see the toy on my shelf at home, today: Santa’s dozing, full-capped and furred, in a green highbacked rocking chair with a yellow kitten peeping over his right shoulder, a flop-eared dog in his lap, a December 26 calendar in his drooped left hand and a small toy at his feet. His bathrobe and striped longjohns and tasselled red boots top it all off.

This man is tired and at peace, falling asleep so fast he’s forgotten to remove his spectacles.

When I wind him up, the chair gently rocks back and forth, a melody tinkles its way about the room, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas…”

I loved this toy, and it took me a few days to figure out its history. Recalling that Mother never stored anything she owned without leaving a note about it, I went back to the box, turned it upside down and, sure enough, there was Mother’s message to me, these few years later. I could hear her musical voice saying it aloud,

“This goes back to Jim after I’m gone! I enjoyed this toy! –Mother”

That was my Mother, ok. She never threw anything away, knowing that someone in the far future would find joy in each remaining object, if only it was stored safely enough to be found.

This was her way of giving back to me the joy I had given her when I presented her with the Santa before she died.

Now, ol’ Santa sits on my shelf, waiting to entertain, waiting to make me remember my Christmas Mother, waiting for me to pass him along to the next person who would take a close look at the bottom of the box to see what kind of message I would add to Mother’s

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

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X Minus One Equals the Ride of My Life

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/xminusoneequals.mp3

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It’s time for a half-hour trip into space and Other Times, and I’m ready for takeoff!

Right now, I’m back in the 1950′s—a teenager who longs to be Elsewhere and Elsewhen. But I am a prisoner of Now, a captive of Reality—which means I don’t have a bicycle, can’t yet drive, am unemployed, thus dependent upon the means and whims of parents.

This is long before television enters my life. There is only radio, audio recordings, downtown movies, the written word.

My sole escape this special Sunday afternoon is to leap into the Toynbee Convector, batten the hatches, strap myself in, and engage the Master Controls for a thirty-minute escape into Anywhere Else But Here.

What this means is, I sneak into the only room of the house where sits an AM table radio that isn’t being used or censored by someone else. I stretch out alone on my parents’ twin bed, tune the set to the local NBC outlet and wait for the most daring of all shows, this week’s episode of X MINUS ONE.

Back here in the ’50′s science fiction is not mainstream, nor does it enjoy the approval of grown-ups and the literati. It is actually considered mind-rotting, or at least a waste of time, what with all that speculative ranting about alternate universes and what Might Be instead of What Is. 

This is exactly what makes Sci-Fi exciting and daring in the ’50′s—you aren’t supposed to be indulging it!

Anyhow, X MINUS ONE hits the airwaves and I am ready for launch.

Through the tiny speaker, dulcet announcer Fred Collins delivers the show’s opening words, which go something like this: “Countdown for blastoff… X minus five, four, three, two, X minus one… Fire!” (Big noise of rocket engines and a long whistling sound.). “From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you’ll live in a million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds.”

Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this! The announcer continues:

“The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Street and Smith Publications, presents… X Minus One.” (each word echoes down an imagined Space Chamber).

For the next two dozen minutes, I’m Elsewhere, listening to dramatized stories by Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Robert Sheckley, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp and a hundred other authors whose works I follow in paperback novels and pulp magazines.

And right now, I’m the only person in the universe, and these tales are being told just for me.

Through ensuing decades, as life continues beyond X MINUS ONE, I continue to be attracted to this special style of eyes-closed storytelling, and, as you may imagine, I eventually become a follower of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, STAR TREK, THE OUTER LIMITS, NIGHT GALLERY and the like.

These shows give me permission to imagine better things when times are harsh, they  provide a protected place for me to go when I need re-charging and de-brainwashing. And, as time goes on, the only thing better than listening or reading or watching is writing…writing my little tales to entertain myself and anyone else who might be inclined to pay attention.

The only twist I use when relating my own personally-conceived stories is the Anti-Sci-Fi Turnabout: I never write anything that isn’t true, that hasn’t really happened. Because, you see, it occurs to me Elsewhen that life itself is more fantastical than any sci-fi or fantasy story. My life and yours—they are the true sci-fi adventures. The act of not ever making anything up, the process of just looking around and observing,  will reveal beauties and horrors more profound than anything I’ll ever find in the works of these majestic tale-tellers of yore.

I become my own science fiction stories.

And even though X MINUS ONE is nearly past remembrance, I can still entertain myself with my own writings.

My real stories, my real life, are more mind-bending than anything I can manufacture

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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My Beautiful Santas

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/mybeautifulsantas.mp3   

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 I was born in 1941, into more beautiful and simple times.

Just three months before the U.S.’s entry into World War Two.

My early childhood was magnificent. Despite all the horrors that were taking place in the world, my parents and family managed to shield me. Despite all the suffering and sacrifice, I was allowed, with my brother Ronny and sister Barbara, to simply be a child.

I’ve never thanked my parents enough for this gift, nor can I ever.

My family, plus my uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, grandparents and my village in general, kept me pure and innocent as long as they possibly could.

Maybe that’s what all really good villagers do throughout the world. Good villagers know the secret of whistling past the graveyard, the secret of distracting yourself with simple pleasures and wide-eyed fantasies and lesson-laden folklore.

Anyhow, part of my joyful childhood was spent thinking about Santa Claus and all that he and Mrs. Claus represented. Mother and sister Barbara made sure we boys did not insult Santa by thinking of him as merely someone who brought us lots of undeserved loot each year. They carefully instilled in us the idea that Santa represented how good people could be to each other, given the opportunity. If Santa was to be good to us, we would have to learn to be good to Santa, too.

We respected Santa Claus and wrote him letters, making certain that we did more than ask for goodies. We asked how he was feeling, whether he and Mrs. Claus were weathering their perpetual winter ok, how Donder and Blitzen were getting along. We promised him we would leave lots of milk or hot chocolate and cookies for him, and of course a bowl of raisins for the reindeer. Early on, we knew the importance of frequent snacks when you’re working–or playing–hard.

We even knew what Santa Claus really looked like.

The fact that Santa was a black man and a white man at the same time did not confuse us at all, because we had visual proof.

White Santa looked exactly like Edmund Gwenn, a wonderful old character actor who played Kris Kringle in the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street.” Black Santa looked exactly like a beautiful color painting that appeared alongside Roark Bradford’s story, “How Come Christmas,” in Collier’s Magazine.

“Miracle on 34th Street” changed my life forever. It’s the story of how cynicism is useless in the face of fantasy. It’s the story of how fantasy is the only truth in a child-filled world. Santa lives!

“How Come Christmas” changed my life forever. It’s the story of Santa Claus through the eyes of African American children, who turned out to be exactly like White American children.

The only other Santa Claus-like figure in folklore that we believed in passionately was James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus in Walt Disney’s movie, “Song of the South.” Uncle Remus was every bit as heroic and gentle and child-loving as our White Santa and our Black Santa. We even suspected that all three were the same person.

I can’t think of anybody who exerted more influence in my life–to this very day–than Santa Claus. And I still remember what I discovered in childhood: There are Santas everywhere. They are rare, but they can be sought out and found if you look hard enough.

I guess I’ve spent my entire life looking for and secretly appreciating my Santa Claus heroes. These were people who profoundly believed in the child each of us tries to hide from the world, except when it’s safe. I still have them comfortably nearby, in my stories about them, in little keepsakes, in small reminders of their existence.

You could do worse in life than believe in Santa Claus, the kind of Santa Claus who can pop up anywhere in the world and treat you with kindness and respect. If you go looking for Santa, Santa will be available. Doesn’t matter whether you’re religious, unreligious, antireligious. Doesn’t matter whether you are 95 or five. Santa is right there, waiting to give you a reassuring smile and the gift of attention. Don’t blink and miss him!

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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Oh, by gosh by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly

Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/ohbygoshbygolly.mp3

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A pleasant young Russian scientist with pretty wife and fussy baby girl in tow, shows up at Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories, this pre-Christmas Saturday. The three stare wide-eyed at the array of books. He’s looking for Birmingham souvenirs they can afford. Frank Sinatra’s voice bounces against the books as other browsers drift the isles, ”Oh, by gosh, by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly…”

A smelly street guy shows up to purchase a HOBBIT DVD for his buddy, who can’t come to the shop “’cause he’s not allowed to leave the shelter.” He was caught with a cellphone and for some ethereal reason that’s forbidden. He’s being punished for not following the Memo. Mel Torme doesn’t notice, he just goes on about “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

A slender shopper reminds me that she served me breakfast at Dimitri’s one morning and is making good on her promise to visit the store. We chat warmly while an enormous man cruises the isles in a cold sweat, searching for esoterica. Several customers appear escorting visiting family and friends who’ve never before been Downtown. I extoll the wonders of the city while they try to take it all in. The Modern Jazz Quartet dances the musical notes around “England’s Carol,” their version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen…”

A merry woman spends much of my time trying to fit as many purchases into a twenty-dollar bill as she possibly can. She finally seems happy with three small leatherbound Shakespeare plays and an enormous encyclopedia volume. She leaves behind several 1940′s pulp-fiction novels and a beat-up Purple Heart display case. Now, candyman Sammy Davis, Jr., is soaring about “Christmastime in the city…”

One departing customer returns to the shop, unable to resist purchasing an old copy of TALES OF UNCLE REMUS by Joel Chandler Harris. Something resonates with her childhood and she has to have it. The Russian couple wants to walk the city, so I send them to their next stops, the Jazz Museum and the Civil Rights Institute. Vince Guaraldi continues interpreting Charlie Brown with his rendition of “Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum….”

The day is filled with auld acquaintances materializing, new friends made, adventuresome explorers sated, bookmongers always looking for the next fix, children grabbing stacks of tales for their dad to read aloud, and one man spending two hours to find just the right volume to adopt. Dean Martin trills, “Rudoph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide mein sleigh tonight…”

And by gosh and by golly, a good day was had by almost all, and isn’t that about as much as you could possibly hope for in this erratic, terror-filled, joy-soaked world? “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…”

(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed

jim@jimreedbooks.com

http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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