Please join me in welcoming author SS Hampton Sr. to “Unfiltered Speech in a Politically Correct World”
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Life is ever changing, never stagnant, even when it seems to be so. You might say life is like a book with endless chapters of various page-lengths. Sometimes the end of one chapter and the beginning of another is smooth, seamless, and sometimes it is abrupt, even jarring.
Over two years ago I sat in a Veterans Administration office being screened for admission to a VA homeless veteran program. I had no job, and my money was almost gone—all I had was weekend drill with the Army National Guard. I could not believe I was in such a situation. The screener told me that he heard that a lot that year. The approaching end to one chapter and the beginning of another was not an easy transition—it was a soul-jarring transition.
Two months later, just as my money ran out, I moved into a small efficiency, I guess, in a small apartment complex for homeless veterans. The complex is located in one of the largest homeless corridors in the city—I had never lived in such an area before in my life. I had never seen the homeless in such numbers before, apparently hovering in the area for a daily free meal from a homeless shelter across the street. Just down the street from my complex was a food bank, and a battered women’s shelter. Around the corner was another food kitchen for the homeless. Just up the street from the food kitchen was an active railroad track.
As for my cohorts in this complex, many had been in jail or prison; some had lived on the streets, and many were alcoholics, drug addicts, or gambling addicts, or a combination thereof. Some had been injured in the military, some on civilian jobs. Many were hoping for Social Security or VA disability to come through, because they had no income, no savings—more than a few wore all they possessed. They were okay, and I visited with a few, but we really did not have much in common.
Quite often, as I served on weekend drill, pursued a college degree in photography, and continued my fiction writing, I gave thanks that I never got caught up in a self-destructive cycle. Life is challenging enough without being self-destructive.
Now, on a Saturday night in Sin City, I look around at my cluttered room. My bookcases of books, shelves of CDs and DVDs, my laptop and printer, and assorted items associated with photography.
I am preparing to leave here. My allotted time in this 2-year program is at an end, and through financial circumstances I now have the means to move out. I am returning to the “greater world” to almost be entirely on my own again. And no, I will not seek an apartment within or close to this homeless corridor. I will put some distance between it and me, to underscore my determination to never return to such a situation. So, in a real sense, this transition between chapters in my life is smooth and easy. I am grateful for that. And I am excited, regarding my future.
In mid-March, after days of sunny warmth, a cold wind blew through Las Vegas. All night long the dusty wind blew. The desert wind has such a disheartening sound to it. Even more disheartening and lonely, is the sound of a train whistle in Sin City.
Sometimes late at night I lay in bed listening to music, watching Netflix, or a DVD (I still cannot afford cable TV) and I hear the whistle of a passing train. It really is a haunting sound in such a crowded city where the neon lights and lonely darkness exist side-by-side, and where so many visit looking for excitement and something magical.
I wonder if the tourists ever hear the train whistle late at night in Sin City?
“The Ferryman.” Ed. Mel Jacob. Melange Books, Forthcoming July 2012.
BLURB: Sometimes even a servant of the gods may become curious and intrigued by other possibilities beyond their assigned role, which threatens to upset everything. Charon the Ferryman witnessed an act of love when a little girl offered him a song bird to pay for her grandfather’s shade to be ferried across the Styx. And the shade of a barbarian woman taught him that there was more than the underworld…
EXCERPT: Strong sunlight faded to a pale shadow of itself as if drained of life to create deep shadows along the sloping floor and the uneven walls of the long cavern entrance. Long, narrow stalactites hung from the cavern roof and stalagmites of various heights and thicknesses angled upward from the floor, resembling the scattered, uneven teeth of a monstrous dragon’s mouth. Flowstone along the widening cavern walls had once oozed onto the cavern floor to form rolling stone waves that became a wide, sandy beach to disappear into the shadows.
The cavern roof arched upward, lost to sight save for the pale tips of hanging stalactites. The scattered stalagmites marched into the rippling surface of dark waters. A thick gray mist coated the water that splashed onto the beach. The mist swirled into strange formations caused by a moaning, chilly wind that swept out of the darkness and up the long tunnel.
From deep within the darkness of the gigantic cavern came the ghostly notes of pipes and the echoing steady rhythmic beat of a drum. Torches along the beach burst into flickering life as their flames danced to the ghostly rhythm of the pipes.
The torchlight revealed pale shades, the spirits, of weeping men, women, and children, who shuffled through the sand along the edge of the waters of the River Styx. The river was one of the dark rivers of Hades, the underworld of the dead. The sunlight filtering into the cavern rippled with the shadows of weeping shades descending the length of the cavern entrance. A gilded figure with torch held high lit the way before them.
The music grew louder. A dark shape, lighter than the darkness, appeared in the distance. The gathering shades milled at the water’s edge and waited as the bow of a boat fitted with a bronze beak sliced through the misty waters. A large red eye rimmed in black decorated each side of the polished wood bow. On both sides of the bow square wooden boxes dangled bronze anchors. Behind that lay a narrow platform from a tall, narrow, wooden walkway rose into the chill air. An angled black bow sail and a large black square sail behind it strained with the moaning wind…
SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.
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