Tell Me a Story
The Storytellers of Las Cruces have been spinning yarns for 85 years

A Hike Through History
Revisiting some favorite sites in Apache country

Floating Away for the Weekend
Truth or Consequences offers hot-springs soaks, art and more

Our Vanishing Riparian Landscapes
Can we meet the threats to the Southwest's water systems?

More 2012 Writing Contest Winners

The Tunnel of Love?
Hester and George plan a breakout – from the nursing home

It Came from the Agave!
When the agave started to bloom, the battle began

Columns and Departments

Editor's Note
Desert Diary
Henry Lightcap's Journal
The Starry Dome
Talking Horses
Ramblin' Outdoors
Guides to Go
Continental Divide

Special Sections

40 Days & 40 Nights
The To-Do List

Red or Green

Chinese Palace
Dining Guide
Table Talk

Arts Exposure

Arts Scene
Red Dot Studio Tour
Mimbres Valley Artisans Festival
Victoria Chick
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind
& Spirit

Fires and Healthcare
From Blame to Peace

About the cover



This issue presents the remaining finalists in our annual writing contest. For the grand prize winner and other two finalists, see our September edition.

Just because you're a senior citizen doesn't mean you don't crave a little excitement now and then. Of course, sometimes, as in Mary Ann O'Donnell's winning short story, you get a little more excitement than you bargained for.



2012 Writing Contest

The Tunnel of Love?

Hester and George were planning a breakout — out
of the nursing home.

by Mary Ann O'Donnell



Ever since Hester moved to Deming she had heard stories about tunnels under the town. For some reason lately she was obsessed about those tunnels. Of course, she obsessed about a lot of things since she had been put in a nursing home.

She was bored silly. There was nothing wrong with her mind; it was her body she was having trouble with. If it wasn't her legs, it was her back; if not her back, her hands.

She started reminiscing about her life since she moved to the Southwest. The desert had grabbed her tighter than a trap on a trap line. The things she loved were almost too numerous to think about in one sitting. She loved the people; most were friendly, good people. But what endeared her to the area was the outdoors.

The sunrises and sunsets far surpassed any she encountered in her life. She loved the desert storms: thunder, lightning, wind, rain and gone. New arroyos running almost in minutes. No fooling around in this desert.

Some springs the Florida Mountains would be covered in gold from millions of poppies, sprung from the winter rains. By June the white yuccas were waving their flags all over the area. If you had a good telescope you could see the ibex jumping all over the rocky Florida tops.

She loved the howling of the coyotes at night, the yip-yips when they were chasing something. Her dogs learned to howl in imitation. The sounds of the cranes, hundreds of them, each spring and fall, right over her house. And she could never forget the "chi-ca-go-go" of the quail, seeing them running with babies behind them like little walnuts.

Hester was brought out of her reverie by laughter in the hallway. She had an exciting plan for tonight. She would try to persuade George, her best friend and fellow inmate, to go with her and find one of those tunnels. The nursing home was near an old bar that some thought had a tunnel under it, so they wouldn't have far to go.

It should add some excitement to their lives; Hester was sick of wasting away in here. She mused: What could they do with both of us, put us in jail? She laughed to herself. She realized she'd better not say that to George; George's body was fine, but due to a stroke and a bit of senility, his mind was a bit muddled at times.

George was the love of Hester's life. They met years ago when he was playing in a band. He took her home that night, picked up her children, went to his house and they never left. They married soon after and George settled down, or so Hester thought. A few years later George went on a cross-country tour with the band and never returned.

Years later George had a stroke and his children moved him back to Deming into Hester's nursing home. They picked up where they left off and spent most of their time together now. Every once in a while they shut the doors and climbed into each other's beds and had some loving. Mostly they just enjoyed each other's company, whispering and caressing and holding hands.


Hester pushed what was left of her dinner away and grabbed her walker and headed down the hall to George's room. He was sitting there looking out the window at the yard surrounded by a brick wall eight feet high.

"George, let's go for a walk."

George turned around and squinted at her. "I don't want to walk around that garden another time today. I'm sick and tired of this place."

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Remember me telling you about the tunnels under the town?"

"How could I forget? That's all you talk about lately."

"Well," Hester continued, "I think tonight is the perfect night to try and get over to that closed-up bar in the next block. One of the tunnels is under it, I just know it."

"I guess you have figured out how we are getting out of here and into the old bank, too." George's mind was sharp today. "And how do you expect to climb into a tunnel with that walker, anyway?"

"I have it all worked out. I borrowed a flashlight from the guard's desk. After bed check tonight we can get out the kitchen entrance and the gate behind the kitchen. It only has a slide lock on it; I checked that out last week. A friend told me that the door to the bar doesn't work very well; it's loose. How about it? Come on, we need some excitement in our lives, something to break up our boring days."

A little excitement sounded good to George; just walking outside the garden walls sounded wonderful. They decided to forgo any pills tonight that might hinder their plan and wait until most of the residents were asleep and the night guards (as they called them) were on duty.


Hester was using her old walking stick instead of her walker and pulled herself on down to George's room. George had dozed off; she touched his face, running her fingers through his hair, and shook him gently. George sat straight up. "Sorry, I was just resting my eyes." He slid out of bed, pulled his gown over his head, revealing shorts and a T-shirt, and stood up. "Let's go, ah, where are we going? Oh, to the tunnels."

"Shush, we don't want to get found out before we get out." They both giggled quietly. "I asked Maureen to stage a heart attack right about now, that will divert the guards." Sure enough, a scream pierced the silence and the two nurses hustled down the hall.

They crept quietly down through the kitchen, Hester's walking stick clicking ever so softly. George headed for the refrigerator. "I just want a snack to eat along the way."

Hester turned around too quickly and landed on the floor. She whispered hoarsely, "Yikes, that hurt. No, George, we can eat later. Now help me get up."

After much growling, Hester got herself up with his help and they were on their way. Once they got out on the street, they both heaved sighs of relief and headed across the street to the alley on the side of the old bar, Hester pulling herself along and leaning on George and her stick.

"So the door is supposed to be loose?" George questioned. Hester could never figure out how he could remember some things and not others. George grabbed the door handle, jiggled it hard, and pushed open the door. "Let's get inside before somebody sees us."

Hester was tired from that short walk and leaned against a counter. "Yup, just wait a minute till I get some strength back in my legs and we'll get going here. I heard the tunnel might be in the back room, under a carpet."

In the back room, they pulled and pulled the rug, both coughing hard from the exertion and the dust. George yelled, "There it is, a trap door! This is just like a pirate movie."

She chided him, "Let's not alert everybody in town."

George started muttering about Hester going into the tunnel without her walker. Finally they got the trap door open and saw a ladder.

Hester motioned to George to go first and he headed down; then she threw her stick behind him and climbed down.

She flashed the light around and commented, "Wow, this is smaller than I thought it would be. Hey, we should tell ghost stories."

"No, no ghost stories."

Hester hobbled over and shined the light down the tunnel. "Let's get on with this. I want to see where it goes."


Cautiously they both headed down the tunnel, Hester guiding her one hand along the side of the tunnel and hanging onto George. Soon they came to the end, with another ladder going up.

"Where are we? Where's my room?" George growled.

Hester tried to calm him down. "We're in the tunnel under the bar across from the nursing home, remember?"

"Oh. Well, I want to go home."

"We just got here, George, just relax."

"How can I relax when I'm in a tunnel? I want to go home."

Hester sighed. She didn't want George to get hysterical. "OK, OK, let's go back up the ladder." So much for checking out tunnels. She wondered if George would realize this wasn't the ladder they had gone down. "I'll go up first and you follow. That way if I fall, I'll have a good soft landing."

No response from George. She glanced over at him and saw he was shaking. She was getting worried; she laboriously pulled herself up each rung of the ladder with George right behind her.

"George, let go of my leg. I'm having enough trouble getting up the ladder without you pulling me back down." Hester yelled, "LET GO OF MY LEG!"

There was a snapping sound. Hester screamed as she grabbed the handle on the trap door and pushed it. Ordinarily she would have been thrilled; now she writhed in pain. She pulled herself up and scooted along the floor.

George climbed out and announced, "Come on, we need to get home."

"George, go back and tell the nurse to call an ambulance. I think I broke my leg. Call the fire department. Call somebody!" She lay there crying.

"Are you on fire?"

With that a loud alarm started. Both of them held their hands to their ears.

"My eardrums are bursting! The fire department is on the way already, I didn't need to call them," George screamed over the noise.


A few minutes later the front door burst open and in rushed two policemen with guns drawn. The alarm stopped and there was dead silence.

"Hands up! Stand up there," one of them yelled to Hester.

Hester screamed, "I can't, I think I broke my leg!"

George turned to the policemen and asked, "Are you going to take us home?"

The policemen looked at on another in amazement. "What the hell? Who are you and what are you two doing here?"

George asked, "Where are we?"

"You're in the old New Mexico Bank building. How did — " The policeman stopped and walked over to the trap door.

The other one asked, "Did you come out of there?"

George replied, "Yes, and we want to go home."

"Where is home?"

"The Cactus Wren Nursing Home," George replied. "And I want to go there right now, please."

Hester, moaning, tried to sit up. "I think I broke my leg. Call an ambulance." The thought that ran through her mind was: At least we're not going to jail. With that she fainted.

One of the policemen rushed over to her. The other one called on his phone: "Send an ambulance to the old New Mexico Bank on Spruce Street ASAP."

A new day downed in Deming, New Mexico, and the Deming Headlight newspaper screamed: "OCTOGENARIANS FOILED IN BANK HEIST."



Mary Ann O'Donnell was raised in the Air Force with three tours in Alaska. For years, she rode her horses in competitive and endurance rides. She has settled down in Deming near the Florida Mountains with her dogs and goats and spends her time reading, writing, hiking and gardening.



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