Author: Jake Kemman

Spring ’19 Submission Window Closing

Spring ’19 Submission Window Closing

Hi, all!

This is just a quick but important announcement.

Though we do love reading each and every submission we receive, our tenure as Spring editors is nearly up. Our focus has shifted to presenting, here on our website, all the great work we’ve received since the beginning of the year as well as producing the Spring 2019 print edition of Hedge Apple.

Starting after 12:00PM EDT tomorrow, Saturday April 20, 2019, we will no longer accept or consider any additional submissions for the Spring issue of the Hedge Apple.

The Hedge Apple will remain closed until a new host of student-editors take residence in the Fall.

Thank you all for reading, considering, and submitting. On behalf of the Hedge Apple we wish you luck in your future creative endeavors and hope that you all enjoy the summer.

Also, keep tabs on our website! We’ll continue publishing on (or near) the daily for as long as our supply of stories, poems, and other fabulous creative works lasts.

Thanks again for a great Spring.

Best Wishes,

The Editors

Revival – Mark Houston McLain

Revival – Mark Houston McLain

Mark’s writing for Revival is captivating. It tugs at you as much as it does envelop. The world he paints, along with its characters, is at once verdant and tragic. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Reader discretion is advised for physical and emotional violence.




When I was a girl, my Momma and me would sing together.  She would be working her hands on that washboard and look over at me and smile, singin’ that song as happy as she could while not knowing she was working herself to an early grave.  The winter after Daddy left, she got sick and died and left me all alone. I was sixteen and that’s when Irwin asked me to marry him. I guess he felt sorry for me because I had only met him a couple of times and had given him no reason to like me.  His family had a large farm and they said we could live there. Where else could I go? So, I said I would marry him, and we decided we could have a wedding at the end of summer and live with his Momma and Daddy until we could build our own house.

I went to church some, but Irwin and his folks were a Bible bunch and I reckon they thought since I was going to be part of the family, they had better start workin’ on me.  A couple of weeks after we told everyone we were going to get married, the whole family packed up in the truck and we drove down the highway about an hour to a hay field in the valley of a large farm.  We unloaded the truck and pitched a canvas tent next to a group of other families. In the middle of the tents was a haulin’ trailer with a big shiny microphone roosted on a metal stand. Hangin’ behind it was a white sheet with big red letters


That first afternoon we laid out blankets on the hay field in front of the trailer, and we were right in the front, as close as we could get.  In the evening, two women got up and stood on both sides of that microphone and began to sing and everybody that knew that song joined in. They sang two more songs and then left the stage.  Someone turned on a string of lights that hung right over the trailer, and a lanky man ran up the wooden stairs two at a time and onto that stage and grabbed that shiny microphone and yelled into it and said Hallelujah! Have you been saved? as he held up his hands high in the air.  He was young, and I don’t know if he had even shaved yet, but he was wearing a black suit and a white cotton shirt and that is the first time I ever saw anybody in a suit.  He had a head full of red wavy hair and it was all combed over and was the prettiest hair I had ever seen. It shined like a new penny when he walked under that string of lights.

He began preachin’ and walking himself back and forth across that stage.  Every once in a while he’d stop and look me in the eyes, and I figured it was the Lord talkin’ right at me.  After he finished, the two women got up and sang again, then the lights went off and we went back to the tent for the night.  Only I couldn’t sleep in that old hot canvas tent with all them family in there. Whenever somebody moved it woke me up all over again.  I told Irwin I was gonna sleep outside, and I don’t know if he even heard me. I took my pillow and went and put it down on that stage and slept like a baby under the stars.

The next day we all walked down to the river and Irwin’s Momma had packed some cornbread and greens, so we all ate and put our feet in the water.  That evening as the crickets started to chime, we went back to the trailer and the same two women came out to sing and I waited on the red headed preacher to come on the stage, but it wasn’t him but a big man in blue pants and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled way up.  He did some preachin’. He’d stop ever so often and say Amen and take his hanky and wipe all the sweat off his face.  I didn’t hear much of what he said, I was wonderin’ what had happened to that other preacher.

That night, when the family was all getting settled in the tent, I told Irwin I was gonna sleep outside again.  He said I was sure to get eat up by skeeters and rolled over. So, I went back out across the field to the trailer and throwed my blanket down under that big sky and the preacher with the red hair comes walkin’ up.  He don’t have his suit on and he sure looks different. He asks me what I’m doing out here. He takes his smoke and crushes it out on the metal edge of the trailer and asks me if I have ever been baptized. I shook my head no and he says we should go down to the river.

We walked down the steep bank to the river and sat on some big rocks along the side.  He kept talkin’ about cars and shotguns and whiskey, but he didn’t say nothing more about baptizing.  The moon was big that night and I figured I might as well sit and talk with him cause the sky was so bright, I wasn’t gonna see any stars anyway.  That red hair almost glowed in the night and I kept looking at his eyes when he talked and didn’t even realize that he had put his hand on my leg and slid it up under my dress some.  He went to whisper in my ear and I thought it was gonna be something about baptizing but instead he just kinda rubbed my neck with his mouth. It happened fast after that. I was lookin’ up at that big moon and pretty quick-like he stopped moving on me and just lay there and I figure that’s when he filled me with his spirit.



I used to tell myself he don’t mean no harm.  But I’m an old man and now I know that sometimes you can see a thing for what it really is.  I come to realize that sometimes there is evil in the world and that’s all you can say. That boy come into this life screamin’ and I reckon he won’t quit ‘til they lay him in the ground.  He don’t look like none of my folk but I raised him just the same. I knew it as soon as I seen the little bastard. Damn boy come out with that red hair, how the hell was I supposed to think he were mine?  Raised him though, and claimed him for my own when I knowed he wasn’t. She let me name him and I give him my uncle’s name and I shore wish I hadn’t.

When that boy was just a little feller he was pure evil, I mean weren’t a decent bone in him.  Killin’ stuff around here just for the fun of it. Ants and spiders when he was knee high. Coons and possums later.  Once he killed him a huntin’ dog. A damn huntin’ dog.  Had a collar on it and everything.  I told him it were a redbone and some hunter would sure be lookin’ for him.  He didn’t care. He just kilt it to watch it bleed out. I told him it sure was a sin if I ever heard one to kill a man’s huntin’ dog.  He just stood there and looked at me with that red hair stickin’ up. I give up on the boy right then and there. Roof. Heat. Food. That’s all that youngin is going to get from me.  I said to myself thank God he ain’t from me, I ain’t got that evil blood runnin’ through me.

Ruthie and me don’t talk about him no more.  She never let me lay into him, whip him a few times.  It’s because she knows he ain’t mine. We he was about twelve or so, he got into trouble, something to do with cornering a girl after school and holding her down.  School principal showed up at the house and said Don’t send Parnell back down here, we don’t want him.  That boy gonna have to get his learnin’ somewheres else.   Ruthie told ‘em they was all damn liars but deep down she knew it was true.  Only time I ever heard her swear in her whole life. She tried all the time to get him some salvation, but he never seen the need for it.  Sometimes at night she’d read to him from the Bible and he’d sit there staring into the fire, listening to her reading all the thous and shalls, his cold eyes all fixed and he’d just have this little smirk in the corner of his mouth and sometimes right in the middle of a readin’ he’d bust out and laugh and she’d stop readin and look at him.  I mean right at him. I could see she was madder’n hell, but I knew she’d be right there on her knees that night prayin’ against all that evil in him. One night she just slammed her Bible shut and went to bed and cried all night and I figured that’s when she gave up on him too.



I had a girlfriend once.  I was about sixteen. Pretty girl.  Her neck and face as smooth and white as sweet milk.  I met her down at the river. It was summertime and hot as dammit.  One day Momma said she wanted me to see a preacher man. I asked her why and she stayed quiet for a real long time and I thought, well fine then don’t say nothin’, I don’t care.  Then she said she wanted to get me right with the Lord and I thought well hell, why not. Damn old truck bout didn’t make it over the mountain. We drove for a good long while before we pulled up in the dirt parking lot of this church.  I couldn’t read the sign, but I saw it had a steeple so I knowed it was a church. Made out of cinder blocks with white paint peeling and hangin’ off and that steeple on it were way too small looking and I thought this don’t look like no place to get any religion.  Momma said to stay in the truck and so I sat there while she went inside. After a while she came back out with this big bald-headed feller and they stood there in front of the door with Momma talking at him and him standing there with his arms crossed just lookin’ at me and noddin’ and I thought this don’t look good.  Momma waved me on and I walked up to them and ole baldy put his arm around me and kinda pulled me along into the church. We walked right up to the front, where all the preachin’ is done and he said I was a sinner and that I gotta get down on my knees, and so I figured we come all this way I might as well do what the man said so I kneeled on down and then he smacked my head real hard like and started screamin’ and then Momma started screamin’ and all the while I was the one bein’ smacked and I was the only one weren’t hollerin’.  After he popped me a couple more times and yelled some more, he laid his hand on my head and I didn’t pay no attention to what he said but he had my head under that big hand of his and it was a shakin’ like he was trying to send something down into me. He let it go all of the sudden and told me Get Up! and I did, and I could see Momma standing there with her hands all up in the air shoutin’ and the tears a washin’ down her face.  She durn near shook the hand off that old preacher and then handed him two dollar bills. On the way home, we stopped at a blue hole down by the river to eat our sandwiches and I saw her.  She was swimmin’ and she knew everybody was watching her, but she didn’t care. I sat right there and watched her swim. Her hair was all slicked back on her head. When she got out of the water and on the bank, I could see her pretty bottom in that swimmin’ suit and she knew I was lookin’.  She stood up and pulled at her top and bottom to make sure that nothing ain’t fell out when she got out on that rock, standing there in the sun. About that time, she bent over, and I said GODDAMN! and Momma commenced to start bawlin’ and said she reckoned the devil ain’t been out of me and that preacher must not be no good, and I started laughin’ cause I guess that’s the funniest thing I ever heard.


The social worker stood on the stoop of the tattered shack, tears flowing down her cheeks as her trembling fingers flicked at her cigarette.  The sheriff should be here soon, she thought. On the rotten porch steps, she could see Parnell’s bloody boot prints heading in the direction of the heavily wooded creek area.  In the open front doorway lay Irwin, his eyes open and fixed in the furrowed skin of his cold, white face. Only the handle of a large hunting knife could be seen, as the whole of the blade was entombed in the side of his chest.  In the shack, some cinders remained smoldering from a neglected fire and a heavy ash lay over the stone hearth. The room showed the leftovers of a violent struggle. In the rocker next to the hearth sat Ruth. She rocked in silence save for the runners of the chair creaking with each pass on the floor.  Her old hazy lensed glasses sat perched on her nose as she read from a well-worn Bible that lay open across her lap. Her craggy face showed no signs of distress or horror, but of serene peace and calmness. Along the worn floor, the blood that had drained from the wound in Irwin’s side wasn’t the bright red of a fresh cut, but a crimson as deep as the reddest of wines.  The blood had rivered along the knotted pine floor to pond at the low area beneath Ruth’s rocker where some of it had soaked up into the thick wool socks she was wearing.


Mark McLain loves to write short stories about the South.  A seventh-generation Tennessean, he is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and enjoys spending time with his family floating the Hiwassee River and hiking in the Appalachians. His work has appeared in Gravel and Mulberrry Fork Review.

Prediction, Faculty Drub – Phil Huffy

Prediction, Faculty Drub – Phil Huffy

This is Phil’s second publication with Hedge Apple. His first, last semester, is also on our website.

Prediction is an honestly-described tale of recollection. Faculty Drub is a limerick–Phil’s seeming signature with us.

(It seems both we and our immediate predecessors appreciate limericks.)




He looked into the future

at the Corinth County Fair.

The cost of this? Two dollars,

promptly paid.

It seemed uniquely quiet

in the fortune teller’s lair.

The hoopla right outside went


She took his hand quite firmly

and remarked about his palm

that a pleasing indication

was displayed

and told him there was something

from his past he’d soon enjoy,

to reassert a memory

long mislaid.

He headed for the midway

and the babble re-emerged

as he stepped into the sunlight

from the shade

and thought that he’d be foolish

to believe in such a tale,

yet felt the urge

to buy a lemonade.


Faculty Drub

A professor of eminent station

had been grading an English translation.

Although expertly made

it received a downgrade

for a comma outside a quotation.


Phil Huffy writes early and often at his kitchen table in upstate New York. He has been published frequently, with nearly 100 pieces finding homes in the last twelve months.

Photo in a Box – Eric Schwartz

Photo in a Box – Eric Schwartz

This submission from Prof. Schwartz really tugs at the drawstrings of life. Everyone’s experience is colored by sights, sounds, and sensations that remind them of where they’ve been. Sometimes the smallest things can bring conscious and subliminal self-definitions flooding back. That’s the magic of the mind.



Photo in a Box

Somewhere in a notebook, under many other notebooks, in a box surrounded by many other boxes, upstairs in the attic is a photo of a window open to a late spring day and an old black t-shirt washed by hand that hangs on a wire clothes hanger and flaps in the breeze. No one is in the photo, but a moment of my youth is captured there, a moment not long after I sold the car that I had driven to nation’s capital, the car into which I had packed all my personal belongings, the car that broke down in the middle lane of the Beltway during the morning rush hour after a marathon drive from the Midwest. Yes, I sold that car. Broke up with my girlfriend in DC. Gave up on the job I was sure to find in that city and headed up the East Coast with my belongings now fitting in a large blue backpack that was fraying on the edges.

The backpack is not in the photograph.

I think now of that moment when my life seemed suspended, flapping like that damp t-shirt in the breeze. I had no job prospects. No concrete sense of what awaited me in the days, weeks, or months ahead. No girlfriend. No belongings except what fit in my backpack. That wide-open sense of the unknown yawned before me, an open road, a blank calendar, a life ahead with everything uncertain.

That moment seems now so far away. When I think of it, it’s not that I want to reclaim or certainly not to relive those days. But I also recognize the strange charm of that time, that power of the looming unknown, the undefined potential of youth. I know this was my story, but I also know it is not mine alone. We don’t all have that moment, but many of us do, a moment when the supporting fabric of our life is cut away, and in what is left we clearly feel the infinite variations suddenly possible in the life that stretches ahead, variations in that life that are spun by the choices we make and will make moment after moment after moment.

A couple of days after taking that photo, I caught a Greyhound bus, making a couple of stops before landing at my brother’s place in Boston. My brother offered me a place to stay. I stayed. I lived out of that backpack for another year. I probably wore that t-shirt for another year after that. I lived. I made choices that led to more choices, more life. Eventually, I got rid of the backpack. I needed more and more boxes to hold more of my life. And now that photo is still somewhere up there in the attic, in one of those boxes.


Eric has been teaching political science and history at Hagerstown Community College since the autumn of 2012. Prior to college teaching, he worked as a journalist and journalism trainer in the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Walking This Cemetery at the Edge of Town – Richard Luftig

Walking This Cemetery at the Edge of Town – Richard Luftig

Here is the last of three poems Richard sent us. This one stands by itself in attribute to the solitude it describes. Winter can make all places seem lonelier, but especially the one described here. We suppose annual breaks from the visitations of seasonal friends are just another part of the cycle.




Walking This Cemetery at the Edge of Town

The winter rain drips

from the bare arms

of these sentry oaks


while the moon threads

its light through needles

of western pine.


These markers so old

that even the dates

have disappeared


like memories

the dead possess

for the living


that went on before

them. Why, like monks,

do the weeds overgrowing


the headstones maintain

their orders of silence?

Out here you’d like


to think that the lilies

on the far edge

of the untended pond


would resurrect

themselves into

spring and perhaps


crickets that linger

in afternoon heat

would have something


to say on the matter.

But nothing remains

save for these grave


stones and the dead

leaves, mute wherever

they have come to reside.



Richard is a former professor of educational psychology and special education at Miami University in Ohio now residing in California. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and internationally in Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart prize and two poems recently appeared in Realms of the Mothers: The First Decade of Dos Madres Press. His latest book of poems will be forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2019. Richard’s webpage and blog may be found at

November 21st, Not in Service – Richard Luftig

November 21st, Not in Service – Richard Luftig

Here are the first two (out of three) of Richard’s poems that we’ll be publishing. Reading these really is like sitting in a gentle misty rain on an overcast day. Things are wet, but the sun’s presence is apparent through the clouds’ diffusiveness.

We enjoyed them. We hope you will, too.


November 21st

Cold today.

Grass still

Wet. An old push-


Mower rests,

   Rusts, near

A weed-strewn


Shed. Clouds collide

   In a wary

Sky. Sun low,


Hidden, behind

Long pines

And cedars


That line the wind-

   Break side

Of these fields.


Cold today.


I wish winter


Would tell us

What it really

Intends when it takes


The faint pulse

   Of these bare-

Shouldered trees.



Not in Service

As I sit on this bench, waiting

in the rain, each passing city bus

announces the same destination

across its front. Not in Service.


God knows, I probably deserve it.

Punishment for last Sunday,

on my way to the golf course,

playing hooky from Mass,


and the sign in front of church,

all in caps, like at a Seven-Eleven,

letting everyone know like the message

on that bus where currently I am not.


Richard is a former professor of educational psychology and special education at Miami University in Ohio now residing in California. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and internationally in Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart prize and two poems recently appeared in Realms of the Mothers: The First Decade of Dos Madres Press. His latest book of poems will be forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2019. Richard’s webpage and blog may be found at

The day before work – David Mellor

The day before work – David Mellor

Here’s something many people in overtiring circumstances might find particularly relatable–though each in their own way.

We found it to be a friend.




The day before work

All of a sudden the air becomes thin

And the glee of jumping out of work on Friday like a drunken chimpanzee is gone

Instead the day becomes heavy…

Weighed down in disbelief that the minutes are ticking faster and faster

“Surely it’s not already twenty past three”

Then the evening falls, like a Transylvanian night

The gargoyles and wolves howling as you are passed your last rights

David you will have to go to bed some time tonight.

Rocking to and fro in your captive’s bed

Starting at the clock till your eyes turn red…

Then you wake up like a coiled spring

Bounce down the street

Surprised to see that there is no one on your streets

Only to see it’s only

Twenty past three… AM




Born 1964, (Liverpool, England) to a difficult birth, David didn’t find his voice until his youth. After years of thinking he was nobody and being treated as such–Including a period of homelessness in the desperate Thatcher Years–he hit the paper papering over the scars.

David found understanding and belief through words, and he has been published and performed widely from the BBC to The Tate, as well as in galleries, pubs, and everything in between.

His poems are autobiographical, others topical, and several his take on life.

Dreams, Treasure Hunt – Melissa Kelly

Dreams, Treasure Hunt – Melissa Kelly

Here’s a pair of poems sure to hold a niche in our memory. These are special.

Read them carefully:




I’ll wait until the morning’s light

When beams of sun will glow

In the fire’s warmth, late tonight

Where few will dare to go


In hopes of wonder basking

Dreams too real too die

With days we left at passing

Is where the truth shall lie


A stage to set the living

A shield to shelter through

A will to keep on pushing

Are how our dreams come true




Treasure Hunt by Melissa Kelly


Far into the murky water I see

Glimmers of gold shining off the sun’s rays

Down the creek, between the valley of trees

I take my blue bucket and dream of wealth

Digging for treasures where the light leads me

Each scoop adds to the mountain built beside

Grabbing some from the top with my left hand

As the gold disappears, it’s now wet sand


Melissa Kelly is a poet and short story writer from Long Island, NY. You can see some of her work in WestWard Quarterly Magazine, Plum Tree Tavern, Soft Cartel, and Amethyst Review.

Radio & In The Next Room Over – Hiram Larew

Radio & In The Next Room Over – Hiram Larew

Here are two wonderfully evocative poems Hiram sent us. They may be carefully crafted, but they certainly aren’t fragile.

Dig in:




That was so long ago that it’s hard to pinch —

Whole hills have turned the other way in the meantime

Most babies who left home have come back driving already

   and the trees from then are now two-by-fours.


So why bother with such things that should be forgotten?

Why let years ago get to me?

Why oh why can the turned up sounds

   of an every so often mouth

   spook me?


I’ll tell you why —

Because this curly damn morning’s crackle

That’s why

What was said so oozy sounded like a ghost

   and slipped me right back to when

My heart had just barely started

It grabbed me by my surelys

   and took me back to the days

I was as spilled in love as a glass of milk.


In the Next Room Over

I’ll bet you whatever you want

That she won’t make it through the week

   and that’s not being dreary

   That’s just being clear –

So anything out loud she says pay attention

But especially do if you hear her coughing

   or if you smell doom in the hay

   or hear some water swirling

   because she’s preparing


Trust me

Long long ago when things were simple

   as that finger in your ear

She was as godly in person as smoke is next to skin

   pure as poured milk

   the fullest of apples

That was then

Now the situation is like gaspy fish —

   and the need to aver deeply is with us


And will you just look at this little frame –

There we were once

Posed under a tree

Lined up like sparrows

   She was the robin —

I tell you that a cool damp word is the very least we can


for her now.


Larew’s poems have popped up recently in The New Ulster, Voices Israel, Amsterdam Quarterly, Contemporary American Voices and vox poetica.  His fourth collection, Undone, was published in 2018 by FootHills Publications. On Facebook at Hiram Larew, Poet and Poetry X Hunger.

Talk of Hammers and Crosses – by Edward Bishop

Talk of Hammers and Crosses – by Edward Bishop

Though you may or may not agree with or understand Edward’s view-and-relation of his experience, this is a compelling story nonetheless. Knowing others comes through listening to their experiences. Knowing the world comes through the same.




Talk of Hammers and Crosses


This is a tale about a hammer, and what that hammer represents to me. This is a story of gods and of men. It starts with a man named Jesus, who was born in a town called Nazareth and nailed to a cross. Not by the same hammer as before, but by one made from roman iron.

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church I was familiar with Christ’s crucifixion. Every Sunday morning, I would analyze the look of agony on his face as he hung above the alter, and muse over the red paint that ran from his palms, feet, and from a cut on one of his ribs.  He was bare, clad in a small bit of cloth around the waist, open to the eyes of the masses like a zoo animal.

And no matter what church I went to, his face was always the same: upturned with his mouth open in pain, with eyes that never met mine.

In Sunday school I was lectured about divinity and the powers of God and his son. I was told about miracles that come about from belief; Men can walk on water, or rise from the dead, a trumpets’ horn can bring down the walls of a fortress, and a mother could rise body and soul into the afterlife.

I was told repeatedly. “God has a plan for you. He knows everything that will ever happen to you, and he designed a plan uniquely for you.”

“He knows how you will live, and he knows how you will die.”

For a while I zealously believed in God’s plan for me. I wore a cross, said my prayers before bed, learned the rosary, and I even tried to teach myself the Nicene Creed in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church provided an escape and a sanctuary during both middle school and the earliest years of high school. It served as a hideaway from the drama, anxiety, and hormonal pandemonium.

The steps where always easy to remember; sign the cross, kneel, stand, rise again, and sign the cross, kneel and pray again.

For a while I considered joining the priesthood.

So, when I say that the death of my grandfather split me to my core, I mean it made my stomach churn at the sight of a cross. Grandad was a minister and a preacher during my early childhood, and even when he stopped preaching, he was a holy man. You could walk into a room and feel his intense spirituality. When he spoke, you listened. And when he prayed you knew that there was power in his words.

I wanted to be like him, I wanted his strength of belief, and that love for other people that his ministry gave him. I wanted his confidence in God.

I was with him in the end alongside my family. I remember the way his heartbeat monitor chirped every so often, that horrible monotone “beep, beep, beep” I hated the way he breathed; his oxygen mask caught every exhale and inhale, and enhanced each one until they were a monotone gurgle.

Grandad was coherent. However, he could not move, or speak. A machine kept him alive, and painkillers kept him sedated. All we could do was wait for his brain to suffocate.

I held his hand in that little white hospital room and prayed as his pulse twitched and spasmed. I prayed the Lord`s Prayer and the Hail Mary until my voice caught in my throat.

I had begun to choke on anger.

For the first time in my life I was angry at God. My father would later say that “no one could have planned or prevented this.” but according to my childhood sermons that was a half-truth. If they were true then God knew how my grandad was going to die and he knew when and where. He knew that my grandfather’s’ heart would stop beating in his bathroom as he washed his hands after tending to his roses.

God knew that Grandad’s triple bypass surgery nine years ago was not going to do a damn thing to prevent it. Yet he allowed that scalpel to unzip my grandfather’s chest.

I found myself praying to Odin, King of the Norse Gods, and one of the gods of the afterlife.

“Take him painlessly.” I pleaded “He`s is a great man, one of my role models.”

While praying to Odin I felt as if I was having a direct conversation with him. I could feel an intimate exchange of emotion, an understanding that said even though nothing could be done for my grandfather I was not alone, my pain was being felt.

Looking back, I don’t know what spurred me to do so. I’m familiar with Viking mythology, it is something that I have studied for as long as I can remember being able to read. But I never considered the idea of worshipping the Aesir and Vanir Gods as non-fictitious beings until after Grandad`s passing.

After his death I turned away from God, Christ, and the Church. I destroyed, sold, or tucked away most Christian memorabilia in my room. I destroyed paintings, sold my bible, and broke a glass angel.

“I refuse.” I told myself “I refuse to idolize and pay homage to a deity that planned such a fate for grandad, who designed for his death to be so gruesome. Why should I recognize a deity, who made my Nanny sob into a pillow as the love of her life faded away into oblivion?”

Today modern paganism feels right to me. In contemporary Norse Mythology gods are described as beings who are living among us, almost like big brothers to humanity. The gods have wants, needs, fears and failures. And they play an active part in the activities of the world.

This expression of the divine, this level of humanization, was something that I found lacking in Christianity. Sunday school taught me that God was this supreme and iron will, and that you came to him on bended knee. In Asatru, in Heathenry, and Neo paganism you don’t have to kneel. Its permitted, but not insisted upon. Instead you lift your head high when you are speaking to your gods.

Yes, there are offerings and devotionals given to the Aesir and Vanir, but they are gods, that is what is expected. What is most important is the relationship between yourself and the deities. It is not about modeling your life after theirs, it is about accepting the existence of the gods and being a part of their lives as much as they are a part of yours.

After Grandad`s death I missed feeling spiritually connected to something, I surgically removed myself from the emotional fraternity of Catholicism and realized that I was removing the very warmth Grandad had, and that I was aspiring to hold. By cutting myself off from Christianity I emptied a part of myself that I never recognized as being filled.

Belief in the Old Gods filled that void. I have a much easier time feeling the brotherhood and energy of Neo-paganism than I ever did at a Catholic mass. The Pagan Community is full of love, respect and comradery. It doesn’t feel like a race for attention as congregated prayer does to me now.

In Heathenry a hammer is the equivalent of the Christian cross. It represents Mjolnir, the weapon of Thor, and it is commonly worn around the neck of a practitioner to ensure safety and to symbolize your brotherhood with the Gods. I have yet to buy a hammer necklace, though I do plan to acquire one in the future. And I plan to wear it with pride as a heathen.

I doubt that I will return to the Catholic Church. I acknowledge the lessons it taught me and the morals and good character it instilled. But I am still so angry.

I am angry about the death of my grandfather, a man who I childishly regarded as immortal and unchanging. I am angry that he died in the manner he did, that in return for his life of compassion, faith, and honest ministry his “thank you” was to be unable to move, unable to breathe without a machine, unable to stand up, eat, or use the bathroom. To be crippled for the last nineteen hours of his life, as his heart slowly killed itself and suffocated his brain.

I do keep a rosary, a gift from when I was confirmed. I take it out occasionally to run my fingers across the amber beads and delicate silver knotwork of its Scottish cross.

But I do not pray.

I hold it and I talk to Grandad, keep him up to date on the weather, family drama, Nanny`s latest piece of juicy gossip, or my Dads ever increasing work schedule. Neopaganism teaches that our ancestors and family walk with us, that they remain as positive influences in our future. I believe today that Grandad walks with me, that he holds my hand when I am struggling. To me he will always be that empathic old man with an infectious smile and laugh. I believe he made it into Heaven, and for the life he lived I hope he enjoys its every luxury.

I cannot walk with him beside Christ anymore.

But that is not his fault.


Edward Bishop is a passionate collector of glass tankards and is a self-taught master of skills that were last used over 500 years ago. A Maryland native, Edward enjoys laying in hammocks, thrift shopping, and writing pieces of fiction.