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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

It might have been the winter doldrums that did it. You can never be sure of these things. It's just that ... well, Doc is one of those guys who can't stand to see anyone bored. He claims it's bad for their inner chemistry, and since he has more initials after his name than anyone else in town, we tend to listen to him.

When it happened, we in the inner circle of the World Dilemma Think Tank down at the Mule Barn truck stop thought back on what Doc had said a year ago when the temperature dropped, along with everyone's spirits.

Home Country

PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

It was strange, Doc thought. All these years. All these people. It still hurts.

Old Tom had died around midnight, and Doc didn't get more than an hour's sleep since then. Just before he went, Tom reached out and gripped Doc's hand and thanked him for everything. He was smiling when he went.

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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

A new year. A new start. Who said I can't finish this book?

Dud Campbell walked the frozen sidewalk and blew steamy breath out through his parka hood.

All I need, really, are a few ideas.

Dud's been working on his novel, "Murder in the Soggy Bottoms," for several years now, and it has taken on different blends of seasoning, largely depending on what things were happening here in our little valley.    

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There's nothing like New Year's Resolution to make a guy feel completely inadequate, thought Doc as he sat and sipped coffee at the philosophy counter

of the Mule Barn truck stop's coffee shop. In other words, thinking central.

He happened to mention this to Steve, sitting on his left. Steve shoved his hat back and looked at his dear friend.

"Now Doc," he said, "I don't think you should talk that way. You see, the guys and I think you're about the most adequate fella we know. Why, some of us are still here because of your adequacy. I know I am."

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"I can't stand winter," said Herb Collins, who had dropped in at the Mule Barn's philosophy counter for a quick cup. "There's nothing to do."

"Get out and enjoy it," suggested Doc. "Go skiing. Go ice fishing. Build a snowman. Do something. Then you'll feel better."

"I don't think your advice will take," said Dud. "Herb seems to be intransigent on this one."

We all looked at Dud.

"You see, he said he couldn't stand winter," Dud continued, "which shows he has a proclivity for intransigence on that particular subject."

We looked at him some more.

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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

For years now, Herb Collins has been helping Santa by donning the red and the beard and the tassels and waving to passing cars on Christmas Eve out at the Old Fort Road crossing. He takes a bag of candy along, in case anyone cares to stop, and he also takes his daughter Cindy along, because she's always been his head elf. Cindy's grown now and has helpers of her own, but this has been a daddy/daughter event for a long time and neither sees any reason to quit.

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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

There is a nighttime sweetness and hope that hovers over us this time of year here at home. This is a time for summing up and looking ahead ... and a time for dreams.

And at night... ah, that's the time, isn't it? Outside it's dark, December dark, and we're inside and warm and cocooned up. The cold makes our world shrink, especially at night.

But we have our dreams.

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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

It began the way most miracles do: by accident or the hand of God, take your pick.

It might have been the weather, at least partly. For December, the day had been almost balmy and warm. You know, sweaters instead of heavy coats. No mittens in sight.

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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

"Ahhh! Coffee!" said our resident cowboy, Steve, raising his cup at the philosophy counter. "Let's raise our cups to whichever Brazilian came up with this stuff."

Very slowly, Herb Collins stood with his cup of coffee there in the midst of culture and education at the Mule Barn truck stop.

"Actually, Steve," Herb said, in his most professorial tone, "his name was Kaldi. He lived in Ethiopia."

And here Herb grinned fiendlishly at Steve. "And he was a sheepherder!"

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PROMO 660 x 440 People - Slim Randles

Steve slowly saddled Old Snort, and climbed aboard. Kinda stiff this morning. He pulled his hat down a little lower and pulled the wild rag up to cover his nose and mouth from the morning chill.

How many mornings had he done this over the years?

As Snort trotted out into the meadows and the hills surrounding our valley, he looked with perked ears for cattle. That's what Snort does for a living.