Monday, December 30, 2013

"Friend in Need," a #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Denise! You did what?” Tess was astounded.

“Tore my ACL hopping off a pogo stick.”


“A ligament at my knee. I’m in a leg cast now and for the next month.”

“Will you be back in school?”

“No. We hope to have a tutor.”

“Can I help?”

“That would be great. Could you pick up my assignments and bring them to school with you?”

“Sure. Your house is not that far out of my way. I’ll be happy to do that. Can I do more?”

“Not that I can think of. Thank you so much, Tess.”

“Denise, I know you’d do the same for me. I’ve got to run. Call you later.”

Thus began a month in which Tess picked up Denise’s assignments at school and delivered the finished work back to the school. She also called Denise daily and visited her at least once a week. The ACL took longer than a month to heal, and there was a lot of painful physical therapy Denise had to endure, as well, but she made it through rather well and returned to school.

When Denise got back, she and Tess talked some more about what Denise had gone through, which had been rough. Something other than the knee had been painful, though.

“Tess, you were the only friend who really helped out. Others offered to do things but did not come through. Some seemed to be avoiding calling me. It was disappointing.”

This surprised Tess, and she discussed it with her parents. Her dad said there is an expression that covers it, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

“What does it mean?” she asked.

“You can tell who your true friends are when you find yourself in need, in a situation in which you need help. In the Fire Department, we can rely on each other, partly out of obligation, partly out of friendship. In school, there is less of a sense of duty, but real friends help friends.”

Tess’s mom added, “When you need help, some people avoid you, pretend they don’t know about your problem. True friends find out what you need and try to get it for you. That’s how you can tell friends from mere acquaintances.”

Tess wondered, which of my “friends” would actually help me if I needed something? I think Denise would and May Lee would, but I am not so sure about some of the others.

Tess said, “I hope I am the kind of friend who can be relied on.”

Her mother responded, “You’ve already proven that.” 


One of our series of fifty instructive short stories for young readers. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"More Precious Than Gold," a Short Story for Middle Grades


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mrs. Williams, this is Lacey Cotter. Your daughter baby-sits for us sometimes, and she did so yesterday. May I speak with her?”

“Sure. I’ll call her to the phone. Is anything wrong?”

“Well, we can’t find my diamond and gold ring. We’ve looked everywhere. Maybe Tess has seen it or has an idea where it might be.”

“Tess, pick up the phone! It’s Mrs. Cotter.”

“Hello, this is Tess.”

“Tess, we can’t find my gold diamond ring. It was not here last night when we came home. Did you see it while you were watching the kids?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Well, thank you. It will probably turn up, but I don’t know where.”

That was Sunday. On Monday, Tess learned that one of the Cotter kids had told his friend that Tess had stolen his mother’s ring. Tess was shocked.

When Tess and her mother met in the kitchen early that evening, Tess told her what had happened. Mrs. Williams knew that Tess would never steal, and she wanted Mrs. Cotter to stop her kids from saying something that could be so harmful to Tess’s reputation. Tess’s mother called Mrs. Cotter.

“Hello, this is Jane Williams, may I speak with Lacey.”

“This is Lacey.”

“Lacey, Tess is very upset. One of your children told some of your child’s friends that Tess had stolen your ring.”

“That’s terrible. We know Tess would never do such a thing. That’s one of the reasons we trust her with the kids. I will speak to them right now and get to the bottom of this. Please excuse us and give my apologies to Tess. I am very sorry this has happened.”

Within a day or two, Tess learned that the Cotter kid had told his friends that he had been wrong…and that his family did not think that Tess had stolen the ring, even though it was still missing. Tess did not know who else might have heard the first story, though.

Almost a week later, Mrs. Williams got another phone call from Mrs. Cotter.

“Jane, this is Lacey. I want you to know that we have found the missing ring. When I went to scrub the bathtub today, I put on a pair of rubber gloves that I use for such work. The ring was in the ring finger of the glove, where it must have come off the last time I used it, and I did not notice it immediately.”

“I’m sure you are glad to have it back, and I know Tess will be pleased, too.”

“Yes. Tell her again that we are sorry for the unpleasantness a few days ago. We hope she will continue to baby-sit for us.”

“I’ll tell her. Thanks.”

At dinner that night, the Williams family discussed what had happened. Tess still felt hurt, a bit. Everyone agreed that having her reputation harmed was unfair. It has been written that our reputations are “more precious than gold,” and Tess understood what that meant. She was not sure she would baby-sit for the Cotters again. Their carelessness had certainly hurt their reputation in the Williams household.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Expect More. Get More. Care Less.

I almost entitled this piece, “Expect less. Get less. Care less.” Expecting less helps shield us from disappointment. Lowered expectations often lead to worse results. Poor results need to be faced stoically.

Discussing this with my beloved wife, M.S. patient Tina Su Cooper, we agreed we should recommend a more positive approach.

Expect more. Doing so makes you work harder, more optimistically, toward your goals. Others often try to live up to our expectations. Low expectations produce worse behavior. Expecting that another person will treat you unfairly can make that person inclined to treat you less well.

Get more. Not only does positive thinking improve our mood, it seems to attract what we are seeking. This “law of attraction” doesn’t always work, but it probably does improve our chances.

Care less. We all prefer positive outcomes. If we let outcomes control our happiness, however, we are vulnerable to unhappiness when things do not go our way. Kipling advised that we meet triumph and disaster stoically, and “treat these two imposters just the same.” Imposters? Some defeats are to our benefit: “Every knock is a boost.“ Some victories are Pyrrhic, costing more than are worth, encouraging us to go in a wrong direction thereafter.

“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Harness positive thoughts, but “keep your powder dry.” For example, IBM announced this August that it was moving its retirees, like me, from their generous medical plan to Medicare plus partially subsidized supplements. For many, the change was neutral or beneficial. For Tina and me, it would be disastrous, falling far short of the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that IBM has been providing for Tina’s round-the-clock skilled nursing care these past nine years. After contacting IBM, I scurried around, planning the depletion of our savings, our retirement funds, and money from our two families, preparing for the worst, while hoping IBM would make an exception for exceptional cases.

In mid-November, we learned that Tina’s in-home skilled nursing care would continue to be covered fully. IBM had listened to the concerns of its retirees who were in special situations, and the corporation has modified its plans. Our response: “Thank God. Thank IBM. Thank God for IBM.” Our Thanksgiving came a week early.

When we were informed originally that IBM would not be covering Tina’s in-home nursing care, we were advised by friends to pursue legal remedies, to fight. The alternative was to expect that, once aware of situations such as ours, IBM would do the right thing, as it has. Litigating might have been useless or even counter-productive.

Care more? A case can be made for caring more. One lives more intensively that way. Love is worth it. Negative emotions are not. Ideally, we would savor each success and shrug off every failure. Ideally.

In pursuing our goals, everything counts, including optimism, yet we ought not care too greatly: we are only here temporarily.


Submitted to 20 Nov 13

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"On Time...Or Else!" A short story for young adults

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Rick, what’s the matter?” Tess asked at dinner that night.

“Oh, nothing.”

“Sure there is,” his dad commented, “you’ve been glum as long as I’ve been home.”

His mother put her hand on Rick’s shoulder. “What’s bothering you?”

“I got a letter saying I won’t be considered for Trailblazers’ Camp counselor this summer because I sent my application in two days late. It doesn’t seem fair.”

His dad looked up from his meal, “Why don’t you think it was fair?”

“I was only two days late. How much difference can that make?”

Tess wanted to know why he was late at all.

“They required an essay, and it took longer than I planned to get it just right.”

This started a conversation that lasted many minutes. His dad told Rick about how he himself had missed out on a college scholarship by sending his application a day or two late, and it taught him a lesson he never forgot. Mrs. Williams commented that she has to be at school before classes start each day, and that deadlines are important. She said she is strict about deducting points for late papers in her classes.

Tess thought the camp was being too strict, but both parents agreed that deadlines are needed and that it is not fair to those who mailed their applications on time to let others send them in late without penalty.

Mr. Williams commented, “The other thing about this is that you either did not give yourself enough time or you fussed over the essay too much. While it is good to do careful work, nothing is ever quite perfect, and sometimes close enough is good enough.”

Mrs. Williams offered to help Rick with the next essay he needed to write, but Rick said he did not want someone else to do what he was responsible for, although he would appreciate it if she read it over once he was done, to help him catch any errors.

By this time, Tess and Tim were feeling left out of the conversation, and they headed into the living room to watch television. They were sorry to see that the long dinner conversation meant that they came in late for their favorite program. T and T both agreed that next time, “On time…or else!”



Monday, December 2, 2013

"Snow Business" A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Tess Williams lived with her family on Highland Avenue, on the edge of a small town about 70 miles north of New York City. When it snowed there, she and her elder brother, Rick, and younger brother, Tim, would go from house to house along Highland and offer to shovel the walks and the driveways for some money, not a lot of cash, but enough to feel it was worthwhile.

That February came an especially heavy late-winter snow storm, so heavy that some trees were knocked over by the wind and the weight of the snow on their branches. Overnight, the entire neighborhood lost its electric power, as some trees knocked down the power lines.

For Tess and her family it was a bit of an adventure. None of their electric clock alarms went off, so four of them got up late, not a problem for Rick or Tess or Tim or their mom, because school, they soon learned, was cancelled. Mr. Williams, though, was awakened by a call on his cell phone, and left the house for the fire department before everyone else was up and around…a fire had started in a home a few miles away, caused by a kerosene heater being used because the electric power was out. He was likely to be gone all day.

Breakfast was blah, all cold. How long would the electricity be off? The longest outage the kids could remember was 95 hours a few years before, but usually the power company got the power back to everyone within a day or so.

“Let’s make some dough shoveling snow,” Rick rhymed.

“I think money is sweeter than honey,” Tess rhymed back.

“I’ll help, too,” Tim chimed in, not up to rhyming this early in the morning, if ever.

They spent much of the day going along Highland Avenue, knocking on doors, ringing doorbells, getting many of their neighbors to pay them for shoveling walks and driveways. They did not stop in at the house at the end of the street, though. Mr. Taylor, elderly and sometimes grumpy, usually shoveled his own walk and his own driveway. Seemed proud of it, in fact, although maybe he just wanted to save money, being retired.

Evening came. The Williams kids split the money they had made shoveling snow. The family had sandwiches for dinner by candle light, as the power was still off. No TV, no radio, a bit boring. Flashlights let them read, awkwardly. They went to sleep early, without worrying about getting up the next day for school, as it was a Saturday.

That following morning there was still no power. The no-power adventure was getting to be a drag. They decided to go sledding, and all three bundled up and headed up Highland Avenue to the hill they used for sledding.

“Tess, you and Tim go on. I’m going to check on the Taylors. Their walk and their driveway are still not shoveled.”

“OK, Rick, see you there later.”

Rick rang the Taylors’ doorbell. No answer. He knocked. No answer. Knocked again. This time, the door opened, and Mr. Taylor invited him in, putting his finger to his lips to indicate Rick should be quiet.

When they reached the kitchen, Mr. Taylor said, “Sorry to shush you, but my wife is sleeping. She’s not well. You’re the eldest Williams boy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m Rick Williams. We noticed your walk and driveway were not shoveled and wondered what was wrong. Usually you do it yourself.”

“Thank you for your concern, Rick. My wife’s health is very fragile. Our power has been out for over a day, and I do not want to leave her. Our telephone is out, as well.”

“We have the same problem, Mr. Taylor, but we can use our cell phones until they run out of power. Don’t you have one?”

“No. We try to watch our expenses and did not want to pay the extra money for a cell phone. I think we were mistaken, though, as I would like to be able to call a doctor or the hospital if my wife’s condition gets any worse.”

“Is that why your walk and driveway are not shoveled?”

“Partly. My back is sore lately. Also, I didn’t want to leave my wife alone. If we have to go to the hospital in my car, it will be difficult. If necessary, I could call the emergency 911 number, but what they consider an emergency might not be what I would consider one. They might not want to come.”

“Mr. Taylor, I’m glad I came. I’m going to do two things. First, I’m going to lend you my cell phone, right now. Second, I’m going to shovel your walk and driveway so you and your wife can get out if you need to.

“I couldn’t accept all that.”

“I insist.” So it was.

Late that afternoon, the power came back on all along Highland Avenue. Not long after, the phone rang at the Williams home.


“Hello, this is Geoffrey Taylor, who is this?”

“Tess Williams.”

“Are you Rick’s sister?”


“Please tell Rick my wife and I greatly appreciated his help this morning. She is feeling better, and we did not have to get out to the hospital after all. Tell Rick I will be down to return his cell phone within the hour, and please tell your parents they have a son to be very proud of.”

“Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I will go to your house right now and get Rick’s phone and save you the trouble.”

“Very nice of you, Tess. I see the Williams family has two very good children. I‘ll be waiting at the door.”

When Tess met Mr. Taylor, he tried to pay her for the work that Rick had done. She refused his offer, with thanks.

Sometimes, Tess thought, it’s better to give than to get. We made enough money shoveling…it’s a nice little business. In fact, there’s no business like snow business!”


One of a series of fifty short stories for young readers.




Saturday, November 23, 2013

"You Gonna Wear That?" Another #MiddleGrade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Nearly ready to go to Jane’s house that Saturday afternoon, Tess came downstairs, where her brother Rick looked at her a little strangely.

“You gonna wear that to Jane‘s house?”


“No she’s not,” her mother said, pointing to the holes in the knees of her blue jeans, “not in those pants.“

“But, Mom….”

“No ‘buts’ about it, Tess, you can look like a ragamuffin to play football or basketball outside, but I will not have you going to your friend’s house looking like a bum.”

“But, Mom….”

“People judge you partly by how you look, how you dress. Daddy wears a uniform at work to show he’s an EMT with the Fire Department. I dress up to teach at school. When you go to someone’s home, it shows respect to them not to look sloppy.”

“But, Mom….”

“Don’t you brush your hair before you go out?”



Tess thought for only a few seconds. “I don’t want to look messy.”

“Right. The same thing applies to how you dress. It should fit the occasion. People treat attractive people better, and dressing appropriately is part of the picture. When you get married, you’ll probably be telling your husband how to dress, and you’ll probably like to dress well so that he thinks you look good, too.”

“Oh, Mom….”

The tempest in a teapot blew over. Tess put on a better pair of jeans. She went to her girlfriend’s house and returned home shortly before dinner. That evening, Tess and Rick and Tim were to be eating alone, because their parents were going to a Fire Department banquet.

Mrs. Williams looked very pretty in her dress for the evening, Tess had to admit.

Mr. Williams came downstairs in slacks and a blazer, over a striped tie and a plaid shirt.

Mother and daughter looked at each other, aghast at the clash between the stripes and plaid, and they said, as one,

“You gonna wear that?”


One of a series of fifty short stories by Douglas Winslow Cooper and
Brian Maher, written primarily for students in the fifth through eighth grades.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

"No Sleep-Overs," a #MiddleGrade Short Story

                        Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mom, can I go to the sleep-over at Janie Wilson’s house this Friday night?” That was Tess’s question Tuesday evening.

“No sleep-overs,” was her mother’s reply.

“Why not? Three other girls from my class are going.”

“No sleep-overs!”

“Why not? The Wilsons have a big house, plenty of room. We’ll be safe.”

“Tess, your father and I have a policy for all of our children: no sleep-overs at other people’s homes and almost never here.”


“First, kids rarely get enough sleep at these things. They stay up late talking and fooling around. Second, some parents allow things that we do not, and we can’t prevent them from happening during the sleep-over. If we make a big fuss beforehand, that seems to insult the parents, and we don’t want that, either. Third, we are very careful to keep all of you safe here in our home; other parents may not be quite so careful, and things may happen that would be harmful. Fourth, we don’t want this discussion over and over as each child gets a bit older. No sleep-overs!”

“Oh, Mom!” Tess was not happy.

Just then, fourth-grader Tim came in. “Mom, some of my friends are having a sleep-over at Russell’s house on Saturday night. Can I go?”

“No sleep-overs!”


“Ask your sister.”


One of our series of 50 informative short stories for young readers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Fight or Flight," A Middle-grade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Tess, what happened to Tim? He has a cut lip and a bruise on his cheek.” her elder brother, Rick, asked.

“He was in a fight after school.”

“What? Why? That’s not like Tim. He almost never fights. What happened?”

“Tim says that two boys tried to steal money from his friend Arnold when they were walking to the store.”

“Stealing is a rotten thing to do. They picked on Arnold because Arnold is a lot smaller than Tim. ”

“They threatened to beat Arnold up if he did not give them his money.”

“Then what happened?”

“Arnold was going to let them take his money, but Tim told him not to and told the boys they would have to fight to get it.”

“That’s Tim, a good friend, and tough when he has to be.”

“It started out as two-against-one, and Tim was losing, but then Arnold got into the fight.”


“Yes, Arnold. Even Tim was surprised!”

“Did they steal the money?”


“Who won?”

“It was a draw. A man in a car stopped and got out and broke up the fight, and the two other kids ran off.”

Tim came through the front door.

“Hi, champ!” Rick said. “I hear you were a hero this afternoon.”

“Well, maybe.”

Tess exclaimed, “Rick and I think you were. You did a brave thing, sticking up for Arnold. You didn’t have to fight, but you did.”

At dinner that night, the Williams family discussed the Big Fight. Both his mother and his father praised Tim.

Mrs. Williams said, “Tim, you did a good thing, sticking up for Arnold, not letting him be robbed.”

Mr. Williams added, “I hope you almost never have to fight, but it is good to know how to fight and to be willing to, when you are fighting for what is right. I was glad that Arnold joined in, glad that he learned from you to stick up for himself. We are all proud of you.”

Tess and Eric agreed and yelled together, “Hooray for Tim!”

Tim blushed.




Saturday, November 2, 2013

Being There

I see my new friend almost every time I visit our local drugstore. He’s the greeter and security guard at the front door. He’s there a lot. Therein lies a tale.

Months ago, I figured he was ex-military. We’d salute each other, and I’d jokingly say, “At ease!” or “As you were!” and we’d both laugh. His good humor and ready smile are contagious.

Waiting for my sister to finish her shopping in the store this afternoon, I struck up a conversation with my new friend, instead of just whizzing by and wishing him a great day.

I said, “You’re here a lot. That’s good, I hope. Why so many hours?”

“The young guy they hired often fails to make it. My boss has to call me in. I get paid time-and-a-half for over-time. My boss wishes he didn’t have to pay me so much, but he needs someone here he can rely on.”



Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Home of the Brave," A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Tess Williams, come to the office. Tess Williams, come to the office.”

So began the worst day of my life, at least so far.

When I got there, the Principal, Mr. Decker, told me that he had some troubling news for me: my mother was coming to school to pick me up to take me to the local hospital: my father had been sent there because he was hurt fighting a fire downtown. OMG! I was shaken.

Ten minutes later, my mother, my elder brother Rick and my younger brother Tim came in the van and we all drove to Phillips Memorial Hospital.

When we got there, the woman at the registration desk told us that Dad had been moved from the Emergency Room to a room in the Critical Care Unit. We were given ID badges and one of the helpers led us to the room.

Dad seemed asleep, but was actually in a coma. A doctor and a nurse were by his bed. They asked us to meet with them in a small room down the hall.

The doctor spoke to Mom, while we listened, “Mrs. Williams, your husband was injured in fighting the fire down at Commercial Avenue. He was struck by debris while in the building and has suffered burns to his face, neck and throat and smoke inhalation. We regard his condition as ‘guarded,’ which means he needs skilled medical attention, but he is expected to survive.”

“Is he asleep now?”

“No, he is under sedation, to ease the pain and allow us to carry out some necessary medical procedures.”

“What are those tubes?” Rick asked the doctor.

“The one going into his mouth between his teeth is giving your dad extra oxygen. The one in his arm is an IV drip, an intravenous line with nutritive glucose fluid and a pain medication. We are planning to give him a tracheotomy.”

“What’s that?” Mom asked.

“We will insert a tube that goes into his throat from the front and into his windpipe, his trachea. It will allow him to breath air with added oxygen without the threat of having his throat swell up and close,” Dr. Walker explained.

I was worried. “Won’t that hurt?”

“We will keep him on anesthetics, as much as needed. They will also help ease the pain of his burns.”

Tim suddenly piped up, “Is Dad going to die?”

Dr. Walker put his hand on Tim’s shoulder. “We expect him to be just fine in a few weeks. Meanwhile, we will do everything we can for him. Your dad is a hero.”

“A hero?” I asked.

“Yes, when he was brought to the Emergency Room, his fellow Emergency Medical Technicians told me he had risked his life to save a woman in that building fire on Commercial Avenue. Excuse me, I have got to see another patient. Nurse Robinson is available to help you and to answer more questions, if you have them. Your dad is going to be fine.”

The four of us took another look at Dad, who was still asleep, and then headed home. Each of us was still worried a bit, though not as much as when we first saw him lying in the hospital bed.

We were quiet at the supper table that night.

Finally, Tim asked again, “Mom, is Dad going to die?”

“No, Tim. The doctor seemed confident he will not. He was badly burned, though. He will be in the hospital for weeks. When he gets home, he may not be able to work for some time after that.”

I feared that our family would not have enough money. Mom reassured me that their father’s salary would be paid while he was healing and reminded me that she would still be teaching at the middle school.

“We all have to be brave, just as Dad is. When we see him, let’s not let him feel we are scared. Let’s let him know that we believe all will be well,” Rick told me and Tim. “It will all work out.”

“Right, Rick,” his mother replied.

Mom visited Dad after school each day for the rest of the week-days, but he was usually asleep while she was there.

On Saturday, he was still sedated, but on Sunday, he was awake, and our whole family was in his room during visiting hours that afternoon.

Unfortunately, Dad could not talk, due to the tube in his throat. We told him what each of us had been doing during the week, and we asked him questions to which he replied by blinking his eyes, once for “yes” and twice for “no.” It was slow, but it was better than nothing, and he was clearly delighted to see us.

Rick, Tim, and I asked the nurse about the various pieces of equipment in the room. The hospital bed was narrow, but it allowed having its back or its leg area raise or lowered. There was a heart monitor that gave the heart rate, the blood pressure, and the percentage of oxygen dissolved in his blood. The nurse assured us that the readings were within normal limits. I think I’d like to be a nurse.

When we returned Sunday evening, Dad was temporarily in another room. When we entered, we did not see him. What we saw, instead, was a little scary…a blue plastic chamber somewhat longer and wider than a person, with tubes going in and out of it. A different doctor, Dr. Fruchter, explained that this was a “hyperbaric” chamber, a chamber with air plus oxygen at high pressure. It is used to speed up healing of burns. We did not stay long, as it was hard to talk with Dad and not easy to see whether he was blinking once or twice….

During the week, Mom visited each evening, watching Dad improve. She avoided the times he was in the hyperbaric chamber, and they got better at playing “twenty questions,” with those yes or no responses. Fortunately, by the end of that second week, Dad was fitted with a device that let him speak, and the week-end get-together went much better. He was still somewhat groggy from the pain-killers, but he asked the medical staff to decrease their level, and he was in good spirits, eager to get home. Still under careful attention and observation, he had to wait another two weeks before he was released from the hospital, no longer on the ventilator, but still bandaged on face, neck and hands.

Before he went home, however, both the Mayor and the Chief of Police came to his hospital room along with the rest of our family. The Mayor read a citation to us and gave Dad a Medal of Bravery for his courageous actions during the fire the month before.

The Fire Chief then read to the our family the accident report that was written up for the Fire Department’s records:

“The fire at 6 Commercial Ave. was a structural fire, with multiple calls, in the six-story tenement building, with the fire in the top floor in a rear apartment unit. This is not uncommon for a winter day in the city, except that there were multiple calls.

“Upon arriving at the reported address, the first unit determined that there was a fire on the top floor, not a false alarm. Firefighter Williams, assigned to the first arriving unit’s ‘inside team,’ along with firefighter Thompson and Capt. Dixon raced to the top floor and proceeded to gain access to the burning apartment. Upon entering the apartment, Capt. Dixon and Thompson crawled to one side while Williams crawled to other, simultaneously looking for the base of the fire and for possible victims.

“Capt. Dixon and firefighter Thompson quickly found the base of the fire. Williams discovered two young children. He quickly guided them to a window, where another firefighter was about to enter via the fire escape. Williams helped the children out of the window and transferred the children to the other firefighter, when one of the children indicated that the mother was still inside.

“Williams crawled back into the room where he had found the children, and he came across a barely coherent woman who was still looking for her children. Williams began to assist the woman and the ceiling suddenly collapsed around them. They were trapped without access to the door or to the windows.

“Aware that his fellow firefighters were just a few feet away, Williams shielded the young woman and shared with her the air from his tank, knowing that soon they would be safe. After several minutes, they were saved, but not before the air in his tank ran out.

“The young mother was treated at Phillips Memorial Hospital for mild smoke inhalation and minor burns. Firefighter Williams, however, suffered severe smoke inhalation and significant burns inside his throat and to his neck and face. Williams spent three weeks in the hospital. The first week he was periodically treated in a hyperbaric chamber, to provide supplementary oxygen into his lungs and accelerate burn wound healing; furthermore, he was intubated because of burns and swelling to his throat.

“After being released from the critical care unit, Williams spent two more weeks in the burn unit, receiving skin grafts to his neck and face, after which he was released from the hospital.”

“We would shake your hand, but I know it’s still sore. You know we are all proud of you and we look forward to your return to active duty as soon as it is safe for you to do so,” the Mayor told Dad.

Chief Dixon added, “We all are eager to have you back again. Your heroism saved that woman’s life. You are a real credit to the Department and to the town.”

When Dad came home, with Mom driving the car because his hands were still painful, he told the children that he was proud of them for helping their mother while he was in the hospital and for not being afraid of what would happen to them. “I know you were worried, but you faced it bravely.”

I put my arms gently around Dad’s waist, and said, “We tried not to worry too much. We know you are strong and brave, and we wanted you to be proud of us, too.”

Mom added, “Now that Dad is back, our house could be called ‘the home of the brave.’”




The authors thank Dennis Farrell, retired NYC fire-fighter, for his technical assistance. He served the NYFD with distinction.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"She Throws Free Throws," A Middle-Grade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Laura Byrne was Tess Williams’s best friend, almost as athletic as tom-boy Tess, almost as scholarly as wizardly Tess, almost as pretty, almost as popular, almost, almost, almost….

Sweet Laura was not jealous of Tess. They were buddies, They shared secrets, though not clothes, and both played on the seventh-grade basketball team, tall Tess the center, shorter Laura a guard. Each liked Michael Wilkinson, captain of the boys’ basketball team. Laura had a real crush. Tess less so.

It came to pass, as the saying goes, that the seventh-grade field day was to be held in the gym. Why they called it a “field day” when they held it indoors was a mystery, but traditions stay traditions, even when they make little sense. That day, only an afternoon really, featured a series of competitions: races, feats of skill, opportunities to “show your stuff.” In other words, “field day” was full of chances to show off, chances to impressed the girls, chances to impress the guys.

Laura and Tess were entered into the basketball free-throw competition: take 20 shots, count how many are made. Both were pretty good at this, with…as you might guess…Laura being almost as good at it as Tess.

As the girls’ free-throw competition got underway, several of the guys came to watch, to cheer, to tease them a bit, too. Michael Wilkinson was among them, as Tess and Laura quickly noted.

After the first round of 20 shots apiece, two players were tied for the championship. Tess and Laura, no surprise. Each had made 15 of 20, fine shooting, about what Laura would normally do when practicing on her own.

“We have a tie. We will have a ‘shoot-out,’ with Tess and Laura taking turns. Best score out of 20 shots is the winner,” the Principal announced.

We won’t go to the play-by-play. At the end of the 20th shot for each of them, Laura had made another 15, Tess 14. Laura had won. Several of the kids congratulated Laura, including Tess and Michael, and Laura beamed.

When Tess came home, brother Rick asked her how the field day had gone.

“It was great fun. We had a lot of competitions, and Laura and I were the finalists in the foul-shooting contest.”

“That’s no surprise. I’ve seen you shoot them…almost perfectly. I’ll bet you won.”

“No, this time Laura won.” Tess smiled as she said it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Too Far," a Middle-Grade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper an Brian Maher

“Tim, my police friends tell me some kids are getting into trouble out by the lake. Remember, you are not allowed out there, not allowed out beyond the railroad tracks,” Mr. Williams told his adventurous fourth-grader son.

That had been Sunday. Now it was Thursday. What were those kids doing out by the lake? Curiosity was killing Tim. He asked his sister, Tess. She didn’t know.

“Tim, don’t forget what Dad told you. Stay away from the lake. Don’t go beyond the railroad tracks.”

Much as he liked his somewhat older sister, Tim did not like being bossed by her.

“If I go, are you going to tell on me?”


It was a beautiful day. Tim road his bike on the road toward the lake, but stopped at the railroad tracks. He looked around. Nobody was watching. He could ride up the hill some more and get a look at the lake in the distance. When he got to the top, he saw smoke…down by the lake. He started riding the bike down the slope toward the lake, saw a pothole, had to brake hard, heard a snap.

What was that? Had the bike chain broke? Yes. Bad place for that to happen. Annoyed, Tim turned around and started to walk the bike back home.

Almost immediately, a police car came from town, driving toward the lake. The officer in the car stopped, rolled down the window and said, “Tim, what’s happening down at the lake?”

“I don’t know, sir. I was just looking.”

“Good. We’ve had some trouble with teen-agers down there. Looks like they’ve started a fire. You would be safer heading home.”

“I’m going. My bike’s chain broke.”

“I’d drive you back, but I can’t right now. Stay close to the side of the road, in case more cars come by.”

“Yes, sir.”

Tim went home, a long, slow walk.

When he got home, he was pleased that no one knew he had gone beyond the railroad tracks. He still had a broken bike chain, and he was tired from the long walk, but at least he was not in trouble.

After Tim’s father came home, he told Tim to come out on the porch, as he needed to speak with him.

“Did you go out past the railroad tracks toward the lake today?”

“Um, yes.”

“Didn’t I tell you not to?”


“Aren’t you supposed to obey your parents?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry is a start, but not enough. On Saturday, you are staying in the house all day, and you are going to clean up that room of yours, besides.”


“I see your bike chain is broken. Did that happen on this trip?”


“I’ll get it fixed for you but not until next week. Meanwhile, you won’t be riding it. Now, go do your homework.”


Later, Tim saw Tess and accused her of telling on him.

“I did not,” she replied.

“Who did?”

“Did you meet any firemen or policemen while you were out there?”

“A policeman…near the lake.”

“Well, they all know Dad. The cop must have thought you were too far from home and told Dad. There’s not much we can get away with in this town!” Tess said ruefully, as though she, too, had gotten into similar trouble…and she had.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Waste Not, Want Not," Another Middle-Grade Short Story


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Do you want to go to the movies together this afternoon?” May Lee asked Tess on a slushy Saturday in February.

“I’d love to. It’s too cold to do most other things, but I can’t. I’ve spent all my allowance.”

“Don’t you have some money saved?”

“No. Somehow it just goes, disappears.”

This was when Tess was twelve, an athlete and a fine student, but not a saver, not at all. She knew she should save “for a rainy day,” or for a slushy one, but just couldn’t seem to do it.

May Lee’s parents, like Tess’s parents, gave her a weekly allowance, from which she was to buy little stuff, not necessities, but snacks and treats and admissions to movies and such. May’s parents were originally from China, where thrift was emphasized, as many in that country were poor, and widespread poverty went back thousands of years. Even now in America, her parents were very careful about spending money. May’s mother made many of May’s clothes, and she made them well.

Tess’s parents, a school teacher and a firefighter, we neither poor nor rich, but they, too, were careful with their money. They tried not to buy things they did not need, and they watched for sales and for opportunities to attend free events. They did many of their home repairs rather than paying others to do them. The kids all had chores to do to help out, too. Eric had a part-time job on the week-ends. The Williams family were savers rather than spenders.

“May, I‘ll call you back. I’ll go ask Mom for my allowance a day early. Maybe she will agree.”

Tess found her mother in the kitchen.

“Mom, could I have my allowance a day early this week? May and I would like to go to the movies this afternoon, but I’m out of money.”

“Where did it go?”

“I’ve got no idea.”

“How smart is that?”

“Not smart, but it just goes. Too much trouble to keep track.”

“I don’t know about this week, but I have seen you buy stuff you then don’t use, like lipstick of a certain color. My parents taught us an old New England saying:

Waste not, want not.

Make do, do without.

Use it up, wear it out.

Your father and I try to follow this, too.”

“Mom, just this once?”

“No. that won’t teach you a thing. Next time, you’ll expect me to give in again. You know me better than that!”

“Maybe Rick will give it to me,” referring to her brother, some five years older.

“No. Rick will not go against my decision. He knows me better than that, too!”

Calling May back, Tess said, “I’m sunk. Can’t go. No dough.”

May replied, “Let’s go to the museum, instead. The price is right…it’s free!”


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chaos for Chicks: The Butterfly Effect

Can a small mistake ruin your life? Can a lucky break bring happiness? Do “little things mean a lot”? Does love change everything? Certainly.

Might the flapping of a butterfly’s wings produce a disturbance that days later and a thousand miles away creates high winds in Texas? If we traveled back in time, would a small change made back then produce a big change in the present we returned to? These are popular conceptions of chaos theory, an important scientific field that deals with situations where a small change in the initial situation produces a large change eventually. My own research ran into this phenomenon in trying to improve environmental measurements. Small changes in the input data or in the model produced large changes in the results, the conclusions.

Back to our daily lives: In high school, a “friend” gave me a ride home from football practice and hit 103 mph in his Chevy on a small country road. If we had crashed, my later life, if any, would never have been the same. My youngest brother’s best friend was killed when his motorcycle failed to stop rapidly enough, perhaps hitting a slippery patch of road. A current writing client of mine had, decades ago, unprotected sex with a local girl when he was seventeen and serving with the Marines in Guatemala. A son resulted, one he has shared responsibility for ever since. How many people have “tried” smoking or drugs or alcohol and gotten dependent, hooked? Choices that seem small can lead to large consequences.


Read it all at:

"Rusty, the Wonder Dog," Another Middle-Grade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“I’m home,” Tim yelled, “anybody here?”

His twelve-year-old sister, Tess, responded, “In the living room.”

Tim joined her there, dropping his knapsack, chock full of books even though he was only in fourth grade.

“You’re home a bit late, Tim, what’s up?”

“Played touch football after school.”

“Did you walk Mrs. Kaufmann’s dog?”

“Oh, no! I forgot!”

“Better get over there, before there’s a mess.”

Tim raced the two blocks to the Kaufmanns’ house. He had their key. When he opened the door, their Beagle, Rusty, was clearly excited to see him. Rusty barked his loud Beagle bark, wagged his tail, his welcome waggin’, and excitedly jumped around as Tim put the leash on his collar.

Tim and Rusty walked down Maple Street, the trees nearly free of leaves, as this was late Fall. Rusty moved next to one of these maples, lifted his leg and gave out a little spurt.

“Is that all?”

Rusty did not reply.

The two returned, and Tim and Rusty went to the kitchen to get Rusty a treat. There was a puddle on the kitchen floor and an unwelcome smell in the air. Tim thought, Uh-oh, Rusty has had an “accident.”

Tim pulled several sheets of paper towels from the rack, and started to dry up the puddle. Yellow. Smelly. He opened a cabinet and found some Zip-loc storage bags and put the wet paper towels in there. He got some more paper towels and repeated the wiping and the storing. There was still a smell. What to do? He picked up the telephone and called Tess.


“Hello. Who is this?”


“Tim? Where are you?

“Kaufmanns’ house.”

“What’s up?”

“Rusty peed on the kitchen floor. I dried it up…but it still smells.”

“Wet a paper towel, put a few drops of dish detergent on it, wipe the spot again. Dry it with a paper towel. Then wet another one, without detergent, and wipe again. Then dry it all up with another paper towel. That should do it. I‘ll wait.”

Tim did as Tess instructed. A few minutes later, the smell was gone, and the floor looked fine.

“Thanks, Sis.”


When Tim told his mother what happened, she told him he would have to apologize to the Kaufmanns for letting them down, not walking the dog right after school as he had agreed to do, and tell them what Rusty and he had done.

Mr. Kaufmann thanked Tim, told him the floor seemed fine, “No harm, no foul.” It was not clear, however, whether they would rely on Tim to walk Rusty again until he got older and more responsible.

When Rick got home from football practice, he heard the story and said he’d call Rusty “'The Wonder Dog'…he wondered whether Tim would ever get there to take him for his walk.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Your Marriage as a Calling

Your spouse has MS, and the symptoms are no longer minimal. Your marriage has become either your handicap or your calling.

A handicap keeps us from doing some things we want to do. We can make choices that reduce its impact. We can substitute almost-as-good options for our first choices. Still, we will have a sense of loss, regret about what might have been. For example, a friend’s wife cannot fully pursue her university teaching career due to her spouse’s medical condition. She has accepted this, with occasional regret. He wishes it needn’t be this way, but they agree that it must.

A calling is something we have dedicated our lives to doing. It takes us beyond mere conventional living. Viewed that way, helping a spouse who has a disability can make one feel special, make one’s marriage special, if you remain committed to each other. [A old joke goes that in a ham-and-egg sandwich, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.]


Read the whole piece at:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"To Snitch or Not," a Young-Adult Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Dad, can we talk?”

“Sure, Rick. What’s up?”

“Something happened after football practice today. I don’t know how to handle it.”

“Tell me about it.”

“A bunch of us stopped at the convenience store by the school and bought some snacks. A couple of the guys hid part of what they took and didn’t pay for it.”


“Right. They didn’t take much, but they did steal. Do I need to report them to somebody?’

“What do you think?’

“Well…what they did was wrong, but if I report them to the school or the coach or the store-owner, there is going to be a big deal over something that seems small.”

“The store-owner won’t think it is small, especially if it happens over and over again. He puts in a lot of work planning, ordering, stocking, keeping the store neat and clean. He deserves to get paid for that, and his profit is what pays him.”

“But if I tell on them, they may get into big trouble. We are team-mates, and they may never trust me. If I don’t tell, I am almost as bad as they are, going along with it.”

“What if you didn’t name the players, but gave the store-owner some money to cover what was taken?”

“I don’t think I should have to pay for what they did.”

“How about calling him anonymously?”

“He probably has caller ID. It seems a bit cowardly, too.”

“You’d like a way to help him prevent theft, without getting your friends in trouble, right?”

“Yes. I could talk to him and tell him what is happening, but refuse to name the thieves.”

“That would help. What do you think of the kids who do this?”

“I will trust them less in the future, myself.”

A few days later, I stopped by the store and talked with the owner, apologizing for what had been done, alerting him to the problem. I said I did not want to identify the thieves, and he said he understood.

If their crime had been more serious, I think I would have named names. Though they remained my teammates, I felt a little less friendly toward them. I certainly would not want to leave my wallet where they could get at it unobserved.



One of a series of middle-grade and young-adult short stories by these authors.