Degmo

The approach of All Hallows Eve filled Degmo, a convict demon, with a mad glee and the knowledge that his power would soon return. He neared the end of his thousand-year banishment. His inability to control his horrible acts against both humans and his own fellow demons led his master, a personal imp of Satan, to imprison him to teach him a lesson. His sentence lasted a thousand years. The end was only minutes away.

Degmo’s sight gradually returned as he saw groups of children passing door to door with their trick or treat bags. He could not wait to rip and tear those little humans before he rampaged across the land. He knew that humans and their puny weapons could not stand against him.

When the moment finally came, Degmo prepared to utter the magic spell that would set him free. He only had one opportunity to say the spell perfectly. He had practiced the statement for hundreds of years. Finally, he began to speak, “Oh evil father. I have served my centuries for disobeying you. I will spend eternity doing your bleeding….no; I mean bidding…doing your bidding…Aw shucks. There goes another thousand years.”

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Traffic Watchers

A cloudy sky countered by a warm temperature enveloped a fortyish couple dressed in motorcycle gear. They lay on a shady bluff overlooking a busy suburban freeway outside a large Northeastern city. The man was tall and slim. A shock of brown, curly hair only slightly tinged with gray crowned his symmetrical head. He looked good and knew it. His companion was of average height and less than average weight. Her auburn hair topped a lithe body that appeared well conditioned and it was. She focused on the traffic.

Arlan Johnson lay on his back enjoying the slight breeze that rustled the leaves of the overhanging branches. Some showed a touch of yellow signifying the approach of the fall season. “Look at that! Look at that! Are you kidding me?” He blurted out.

“For Christ’s sake! What is it?” DeLois, his wife of fifteen years, asked stridently.

“It’s a blue bird. Be quiet! Don’t scare it away.”

DeLois’ attention returned to the long line of rush hour traffic. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe we need to concentrate on our business here?”

The blue bird sang a few short offerings then flitted away into the forest. “Wow!” Exclaimed Arlan. “That was so neat. I don’t know of anything prettier that a blue bird … except you of course.” He fondly patted her on the fanny.

DeLois glanced back at her husband. “You did tell your mother to pick up Majel and take her to the dentist—didn’t you?”

“Give me a break here. When have I ever neglected my beloved daughter for this or any other job?” Arlan countered. “Did you pick up my uniforms?

“Of course.”

Arlan said, “Did you sew on my new sergeant’s stripes?”

“Are you a sergeant?” DeLois asked playfully.

“Of course you did. After all, you are Miss Perfect.” Arlan rolled over and gazed at his wife. “To be honest, you don’t look like a person with two combat tours in Afghanistan.”

“You don’t look like a police sergeant either. You look more like a movie star,” DeLois grinned and returned her gaze to the freeway.

Arlan grinned for a moment. “Yeah, I know.”

His wife picked up and tossed a pebble at him over her shoulder. Then she asked,

“How are we for time?”

“Six minutes away, but anything can happen in this traffic.”

The steady drone of moving vehicles filled the air, and then DeLois asked, “Does our guy know for sure how many cars are in the caravan?”

“He has no way of knowing until they start out, and you know how paranoid they are. They could add and subtract from the number as they travel to the airport.”

DeLois asked, “Did you look over your Sunday School lesson for tomorrow? After all, you are the teacher.”

“Yes, we will discuss the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse with emphasis on pestilence.”

DeLois reacted sharply. “Are you out of your mind? Those are seven-year-old children. Do you want to give them nightmares?”

“Gotcha! Gotcha!” Arlan laughed. “My Dear, the lesson is about a bit of magic. We will feed the multitude with fish after church at Fishmongers. My treat.”

“That’s better. You are a great Sunday School Teacher. Several members approached me on the subject, and the kids love you.”

“They are wise beyond their years,” said Arlan.

DeLois raised large binoculars to her eyes and looked as far back up the freeway as possible. “I don’t see anything. She remained silent for a few beats then added, “It is going to be so exciting to see that car. We are making history here.”

“You can’t imagine how thrilled I will be, but then I welcome anything that takes my mind off working for Lieutenant McDonald. That guy is such a stickler for everything. He bitches if somebody’s tie is not perfectly straight.”

DeLois glanced back over her shoulder. “It’s not like you need to concern yourself with him. Six months from now, when we retire to the south of France, you will never give him another thought.”

Arlan said, “I will be lucky if I don’t lose my cool and take his head off before then.”

“At 6’ 5” and 240, he might be a load even for my super hero.”

Arlan laughed. “You got that right. He would kick my ass big time.”

As the clouds thinned, lighter areas appeared suggestive of the suns attempts to shine through. To combat his boredom, Arlan rolled over, watched the passing cars for a few seconds, and then lightly punched DeLois on the shoulder. “White car,” he quipped.

“I’ll white car you, dumb-ass,” barked DeLois. “Come on now. Concentrate. They could come by any minute. Do you have your camera ready?”

Still not ready to engage in the project, Arlan said, “Last one home has to be on the bottom.”

“Anytime I can’t beat that Harley rattletrap you ride, I deserve to lose. Besides, I prefer the bottom. Why shouldn’t you do the work?”

Arlan smiled. “That, my Dear, is not work.” He rose to a sitting position and concentrated on the steady movement of the traffic. “Now tell me again how we will identify the car.”

“Our contact will place a spot of white paint on the tire of the car in front of the big boys,” she answered.

“What if the white spot is on the last car?”

DeLois said, “That means that the number one car has our guys. How are we for time?”

Arlan glanced at his watch. “They should show up anytime now. Actually, they are a couple of minutes late. Is your equipment ready?”

She responded, “It’s ready. I’m ready.”

Arlan boasted, “I see them. I have the eyes of a hawk.”

Both riders put on their helmets and glanced back up the embankment at their parked motorcycles. DeLois said, “You identify the car, and I will get ready.”

“Roger that. Give me the binoculars,” said Arlan. He placed them to his eyes and reported, “I can’t see the tires from here, but the traffic is moving a mite too fast to suit me.”

“I don’t need much time. This will either work or not. Just do your best.”

“Okay, I can see the tires on the first car, and they are not marked. The second car … is not marked either. That means the lead car is the one.”

Arlan picked up his camera and began shooting. DeLois picked up a hand-held rocket launcher, followed the car for a few seconds, and then launched. After a brief swoosh, the lead car in the three-car caravan of white Escalades exploded in a ball of fire. She dropped the launcher and scrambled up the incline followed closely by her husband.

DeLois straddled the BMW K-bike, punched the starter button, and it roared to life. “You are toast,” she said as she spun out into the road heading west. Arlan quickly followed, albeit at a slower rate. He turned on the radio in his helmet and enjoyed the melodic tones of Willie Nelson.

*****

Arlan rolled into the garage of the small ranch-style house in the suburbs considerably behind DeLois who had stripped off her leather suit. He turned off the Harley and sat enjoying the final stains of a Roy Orbison song when an announcer broke in.

“We interrupt our regular programming to report this breaking news. You heard it first on KVVX. A blatant act of terrorism occurred only minutes ago on State 128 near the tunnel. A car containing four major bosses of the Cosa Nostra died in what appears to be a rocket attack. Their car exploded and burst into a ball of fire when the gas tank erupted.

According to unidentified sources, a meeting of the crime leadership in the northeast had just ended and the participants were on their way to the airport. A complete change in the power structure of the Mafioso is already underway. The authorities report that several suspects are under investigation including Vinnie Giamotti, the heir-apparent to the leadership of the powerful Genovese Family in New York. But wait—wait! This just in. After an anonymous tip, police found Giamotti with a hole in his forehead only minutes ago. The plot thickens. Station KVVX will update this report as information arrives. This is Vickie Davis reporting.”

Arlan looked at DeLois. It’s a good thing we got our five million up front.”

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The Gremlins of Lake Fork

Two distant cousins arrived at my small lake house just after noon on a warm day in March. One cousin, Rick, was from the paternal side of my family, and Gerald was a progeny of my mother’s family. They had much in common, but had never met.

Each man had sired sons of exceptional athletic ability and sterling character. Drew, Rick’s son, played left field for the Cleveland Indians. Robbie, Gerald’s son, played minor league baseball for several years in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. When he tired of the baseball grind and low pay, he became the quarterback for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

My well-conceived plan was to bring those two friends and relatives together at my peaceful lakeside venue, provide the necessary comforts, and listen to what transpired. Reality transcended my expectations. The two tall men took to each other immediately and story after story filled the small enclosure. We took time out to eat and sleep, but the remainder of the next 24 hours flew by with Rick and Gerald reliving their talented son’s similar journeys.

However, this tale is not about two proud fathers reflecting about the exploits of their sons. This is about sleep deprivation, bitter cold, and ravenous wild creatures.

I had spent little time with either cousin, but I invited them to spend the night since they both stated a desire to visit my lake house. However, it is one thing for grown men to sit around and chat. It is quite another for them to share sleeping quarters. I wanted us all to be comfortable. So, I planned outside the box to arrange the sleeping accommodations in the limited space.

The property will comfortably sleep two couples and a fifth person under the right circumstances. If the guests are not couples, the game changes. The small bedroom would take care of one guest. The other guest could use the pullout sofa bed. That left me.

I had a new, high-tech blowup mattress with an electric motor that kept the air pressure constant. I had already tried it inside, and it was relatively comfortable. The weather was mild, so I did not check the forecast. I had brought two old sleeping bags from home and zipped them together to form a nice comforter. I would sleep on the deck and hope I did not get too warm.

When I ran out of gas about midnight, we settled the sleeping arrangements. Rick said with humor, as I made my way outside, “You couldn’t get me to sleep out there with all of those animals.” We all chuckled and said goodnight.

As I arranged the primitive covers for my bed, I noticed that a sharp breeze blew in from the north, and it had a bite to it. However, I felt comfortable at the time. Back in the day, we often slept outside on Boy Scout trips during freezing conditions. So, I got in bed and curled up for a good snooze.

About 45 minutes later, I noted the absence of sleep. The northern breeze skipped across the lake and grew colder. Adding to my discomfort, cold air had forged a passageway between the zippers of my sleeping bags. Not only was I not sleeping, but my weathered old body’s temperature dropped by the minute. I had to do something.

Even though I knew it would disturb Gerald in the bedroom, I went crashing in, retrieved my heaviest coat, and a blanket. This should get the job done, I thought.

After donning the coat and blocking the wind with the blanket, I tried again. Actually, I believe I may have dozed off for a few minutes, but it didn’t last. Even with my added blanket and heavy coat, the Norther was winning.

As the clock moved toward 1 a.m., I began to hear strange noises. My first thought was Rick’s comment about the animals. Surely not.

I refused to move since that always caused Jack Frost to poke and prod. I considered the possibilities beginning with the worst-case scenario. What could it be? Snakes? Nope. They are hibernating. Raccoon? Don’t they eat mussels and such? Could be. Coyotes? They could be raiding trashcans. Opossum? Armadillo? Cougar? No chance of that … is there?

The noise grew louder than my state of consciousness could ignore, so I decided to take a quick peek. I rose and was shocked to observe either a large raccoon or a small jaguar attempting to get birdseed from one of the multitude of birdfeeders on the property. I must have made a noise, since the intruder descended down the tree trunk and scampered toward the deck and me seeking shelter under the house.

After a short deliberation, I made a command decision. My new guest could take possession of the deck. I would find shelter elsewhere.

The only remaining option was sleeping in my car for the remainder of the night. Since I had stored my clothing in the bedroom, I stumbled back inside, scaring the bejeebers out of Gerald, and retrieved my clothes and car keys. The clock was ticking and my lack of sleep was making a dent in my reservoir of good humor.

However, I got in the car, leaned the seat back as far as it would go, and turned on the heater. After gaining some semblance of warmth, I shut off the motor and dozed off … for thirty or forty minutes. Then, old man winter returned with a vengeance. The clock showed 4 a.m. and ticking. My average sized car seat shrank and grew bumps that appeared to change positions on a regular basis. Finding any degree of comfort grew more illusive by the minute.

I made a new plan. If I could survive until 5 a.m., I would drive down the road two miles to Alba and get a cup of hot coffee. That might, just might, save my life.

Sure enough, at 5 a.m., I abandoned any further attempt to sleep and drove to Alba. When I entered the all-night establishment, a bright-eyed lady behind the counter asked with exuberance, “How are you doing this morning?”

I nailed her with my steely blues and answered, “Don’t even ask.”

She smiled and said, “Got that tee shirt. How about some hot coffee?” 

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No Problema

Considering my more than fifty years of fishing experience ranging from the mountain streams of upstate New York, the crystal clear lakes and streams of the Rockies, deep sea fishing in the Gulf, and bay fishing off South Padre Island and San Diego, plus the challenge of the old TVA lakes of the deep South, and the ponds, streams, and reservoirs of Texas, I know my way around a fishing hole … large or small. My foray onto Lake Fork, considered by many the best large mouth bass lake in the country, was fishing in the fast lane.

Soon after I launched the boat and parked the trailer, I ran through the checklist of available gadgets. When I turned on the power, the bilge pump began spouting water out the side of the boat. Putting my experience to immediate use, I deduced that the drain plug was not in. Acting quickly, I shucked my life preserver, jacket, and shirt so that I could reach into the less than warm water to correct the matter. After several tries, I managed to get the plug in place. Forgetting to put in the drain plug is a common occurrence among boat owners, even experienced ones, so I took the blip in stride and finished the checklist.  Then, I cranked the motor, and maneuvered my way to the secure boat lane. I had some water to cover. No problema.

The big Yamaha rumbled like a Harley as I reached my destination and moved out of the stump lined safe lane toward the sunken bridge. Only the professional guides and I knew of its existence and not all of the guides. I cut the motor a hundred yards from the spot, checked my Garcia 500C and a light spinning rig. I chose a 15-pound test line for the former … a tradeoff of less strength and more feel. I tied on a purple worm using a Carolina rig. The spinner contained an 8-pound line for a variety of angling tasks. I tied on a small running bait to the spinner that would test the resolve of the most timid black bass. My prey had little chance on this day, in this lake, dealing with this fisherman.

The 18.5 foot Skeeter bass boat sported twin depth finders, live wells, bilge pump, endless storage compartments, and a powerful, front-mounted trolling motor. The vessel was wide and heavy. A stored paddle was just for show. I knew that I couldn’t do much with this drifting behemoth in any kind of wind. However, the electric motor was efficient. I operated the Minn-Kota trolling motor with my right foot under moderate power. I had five choices ranging from creeping along to leaving a wake.

Matters being in order, it was time to fish. The clear water in Lake Fork suggested to me that I needed to put a nice bass in the boat early to give me a positive attitude to counterbalance not putting in the drain plug. The chilliness creeping into my bones did not help allay my pique. I noticed that the wind had moved around to the north and had a bite to it. I had under dressed, but I would tough it out.

Putting all of my expertise into play, I scanned the water surface looking for a likely place to cast the worm. The depth finder had already noted the sunken bridge as I passed over it. The wind moved the boat faster than I really needed. Before I could cast, I chose to reposition the boat and put out the anchor. I kicked up the power on the trolling motor and got the Titanic turned back toward the bridge into the teeth of the wind. After reaching the desired spot, I dropped the anchor and waited for it to stop the drift. The Skeeter stopped, but after passing over the bridge. My years of experience told me that I would need to tie up to one of the numerous stumps protruding from the surface of the lake on the other side of the bridge if I was to take advantage of the wind when casting. However, experiencing difficulty managing a heavy bass boat during windy conditions is a common occurrence on the lake and can hinder the efforts of even a skilled angler. No problema!

After tying up, I retraced the image of the bridge in my mind based on the location of marks such as stumps. Unfortunately, there are thousands of stumps on Lake Fork, and they resemble each other a lot. It didn’t take long to establish that without the depth finder,  I had no idea of the location of the bridge. At times like this, my long history of fishing comes into use. I knew exactly where to cast the lure. After adjusting the tension on the line, I cast toward my target. Unfortunately, the worm stopped in mid air, and crashed into the water. Even without looking, I knew the line had back lashed into what is termed among experienced anglers as a bird’s nest. This is a common occurrence even among the most gifted water sportsmen. No problema!

After working the line free in only about fifteen minutes, I prepared to make another offering to the large black fish waiting under the bridge. My goal was a ten-pounder. This time, I cast the worm toward my target and turned my wrist counter-clockwise to avoid a repeat of the backlash. Sure enough, the lure splashed into the water at the exact spot someone with my background would choose. I stripped off a bit more line and waited for the worm to descend to the bottom of the lake. When the line went slack, I let it set there for a few moments.

Working a plastic worm is an art form. One must allow the sensitive tip of the rod to transmit whatever is happening to the worm on the other end of the line. I felt every change in the topography of the bottom, every decaying branch, every rock or impediment. As I had experienced a thousand times over the decades, I felt a tug on the line. At this precise moment, the bass angler must decide whether to set the hook or allow the big fish to swallow the lure. I chose to get the show on the road. I jerked up the rod tip and began reeling my prey to the boat, but something felt wrong. I sensed no pulls in return even though I was unable to retrieve the fish or lure. Then, my knowledge of the game broke through. I had buried the hook on an immovable object. However, if a person has walked this path before, solutions are at hand. I took pressure off the line and allowed it to go slack. Then I worked the rod tip to loosen the hook. No amount of jiggling had the desired effect. After exhausting my repertoire of getting hooks loose, I had little choice but to retrieve the anchor and try from another position. This was an age-old remedy passed down for decades from father to son.

I laid the rod and reel across the deck and began pulling on the anchor. It did not immediately come loose, so I continued to take up anchor rope. Then a light came on in my psyche, but it was too late. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the 500C slip over the side. However, I was neither dismayed nor discouraged. After all, this is why I carry two rods and reels. No problema!

I continued to pull on the anchor rope but to no avail. Unable to pry it loose from its hold on the sunken bridge, I had no choice but to cut the rope which I did. Then, I maneuvered the boat back into the frigid wind.

I considered adding another life jacket for additional warmth, but settled for giving the bass one more chance. I flipped the spinning rod, launched the lure toward a likely target, and began the retrieve. This is an easy rig to use, so I expected no trouble, unless the lure hung up on an underwater object, which is what happened. After pulling and jerking for a brief time, the line broke. No problema! This is why I carry more than one lure. I tied on another running bait and decided to troll my way back to the boat launching area.

I threw the lure as far as my considerable experience allowed and let out a bit more line so the offering could sink. I loaded the trolling motor and cranked up the Yamaha. I chose a speed that moved the boat at a slow, steady pace and waited for the strike. After several minutes of this rather boring style of fishing, I decided on a bottle of Diet Coke. I always brought a small cooler of snacks and drinks for extended stays on the water. The reason I do this is … well, you know.

I laid the rod and reel on the deck and reached for the cooler. Just as I had the top of the soft drink unscrewed, I noticed the spinning rod and reel slip over the side. Now I had nothing with which to fish.

I became irritated. No, I was pissed. There I was, freezing my butt off, after having lost $300 worth of fishing equipment, and had nothing in the boat resembling a friggin’ fish. Now I clearly remember why I haven’t fished in ten years. I just hope I can get back to the launching ramp without killing myself.

When will I learn?

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Are You My Mama?

The noon crowd bustled to and fro at the corner of E. 60th Street and 5th Avenue. The warm summer season, even by New York standards, brought out milling crowds during the lunch hour. Many had utilized Central Park for a brief respite from the pressures of working in the Big Apple.

A young boy leaned against a lamppost and inspected the passing pedestrians. He wore wool pants, a cotton shirt buttoned to the top, and a short, heavy coat. A wool cap adorned his head. Grime covered his face and hands. 

His eyes wandered to a cart where its owner did a brisk business slopping mustard on buns followed by plump bratwursts. The boy’s hand snaked into his pants pocket in search of coins, but found none. Boy! That looks good. He thought. Too bad, I don’t have any money. When I find my Mama, maybe she will buy me one.

Horace searched the faces of the multitude of women as they walked briskly past. Most earned only a brief glance. Becoming discouraged at his lack of success, he thought, I hope my Mama works around here. I know it’s near Central Park. I just don’t know exactly where, and this is a big park.

A matron approached on the fifth Avenue side, and the boy raced across the street. As she approached, he thought, she looks about the right age. Her hair is blonde just like mine. Her face resembles me. I sure hope she is the one. I’ve looked so long for my Mama. I need to find her.

The boy walked alongside the woman and asked, “Are you my Mama? She did not respond. Horace continued, “Did you lose a little boy? I am trying to find my Mama. Can you help me?

The woman ignored the boy and fished in her purse for coins to put in the box of a mime perched on his small riser. The boy persisted with his questions, but when it became apparent that this lady had no interest in his problem, he fell back. A single tear ran down his soiled cheek, leaving a path.

Undeterred, he put his failure aside and resumed his vigil. He thought, I hope this is a workday. Since I have no idea where my Mama lives, the only chance I have to find her is on a working day. Where did I get the idea she works in New York anyway? I can’t remember, but the feeling is so strong, I just have to follow through. Besides, it’s not as if I have anything else to do.

The boy waited for the light and then he strolled back to the park side. Just as he got there, a large man with a stocking cap over his face accosted an elderly, dapper man in what appeared to be an expensive suit. The boy froze in his tracks as the violence unfolded. The little man raised both hands in a defensive posture and begged the bandit not to hurt him. A steady stream of people gave the robber plenty of room and passed without so much as a glance as the robbery took place almost within arm’s reach.

Feeling cowardly for not trying to do something, the boy yelled at the Mugger. “Hey, you can’t do that. Leave him alone.” His efforts had no impact.

The ruffian slapped the old man hard across the face. Not waiting for any other capitulation, he reached inside his victim’s coat pocket and extracted his wallet. After roughly snatching the old man’s watch, the thief punched the little man once more for good measure, and then he raced onto the park. The harried pedestrians quickly filled in the space left by the street scene and ignored the little man on the sidewalk. He struggled to his feet and stumbled back the way he had come.

Aw, man! Why do people have to act like that? That little guy didn’t deserve to get beat up like that. He would have given the bum his money. Then, the boy spotted a tall, leggy blonde strolling toward him. She looks exactly like me. This has got to be her. He couldn’t wait for the woman to reach him. He ran toward her and stopped in her path smiling broadly. When it became obvious that the lady would not stop, he leaped out of the way and walked beside her.

“Excuse me, lady. Did you lose a little boy a few years ago? I could be the one, you know. I could be your long, lost son. I’ve looked for you a long time. Are you my Mama?”

The pretty woman stopped. She glanced across the street at a storefront. Then she looked at her watch and sighed. She turned back to her destination and strolled away. The boy gave up and watched her disappear into the crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

 
   

 

I could have sworn she was the one. She looked so much like me. The boy walked up East 60th to a bench and sat down. He brooded for a time, and then he noticed a young girl about halfway down the block. She had brown, curly hair trapped under a woolen cap. She held a basket of shriveled yellow flowers, which she attempted to sell passing people. She was not having any luck either.

Horace thought, I don’t remember seeing her around here before. He gazed at the little girl, fascinated by her persistence. Smiling, he thought, I might as well introduce myself. Walking to a spot near the girl, he spoke. “My name is Horace. You don’t appear to be selling many flowers.”

The girl looked at him and said, “Are you trying to be a wise guy? Here I am, busting my butt trying to earn a few pennies to feed my Da, and you are cracking wise.”

The boy couldn’t help but smile at her verbal attack, but quickly added, “I’m not doing very well either. I’ve been trying to find my Mama for I don’t know how long. She lost me, and I can’t find her. Have you seen a blonde lady who is looking for a little boy?”

The girl looked into the boy’s eyes and lost her irritation. “It sounds like we both have a problem, Horace. My name is Mary Elizabeth. Maybe we can look together while I sell flowers. I sure hope I don’t run out.”

The boy smiled broadly. “That sounds great, Mary Elizabeth. I can’t remember the last time I had anyone to talk to.”

“I know what you mean. I spend a lot of my time here in the park watching the birds and animals. Oh look at that butterfly?”

“Yeah,” said the boy. “It looks like a Monarch. Maybe I can catch it.”

As the big Monarch flitted on its uneven journey, the boy attempted to trap it. The butterfly flew through the boy’s body and went on its way. 

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The Angel

I decided it was time to go. Locating the door and making my way to it emerged as a primary problem. Willie and Lefty blared on the amplifiers. Curtis, the mammoth doorstop and bouncer, had a smirk on his face as I approached the exit. He slowly slid his index finger across his throat. Since I couldn’t handle Curtis on my best day, I didn’t meet his gaze, but passed through the door.

My clouded mind could hardly recall how I got in this mess. Last evening, I sat in my old Ford 150 attempting to gather the capacity to drive five miles to my mobile home on the 30 acres of what was left of my daddy’s two sections. Daddy passed on and because I couldn’t keep a job, I sold land and drank good whisky. Not that I wanted to work. So far, I hadn’t found anybody smart enough to tell me what to do except Daddy.

Anyway, I sat there in my pickup truck, and A.J.’s 325i Beemer stopped a hundred yards down the road. Two people bailed out of the car. One of them opened the back door and pulled Shirley Higgins out on the highway. She was a stripper/hooker at the Black Squirrel and easy to identify. By then, I figured out that the driver was A. J. himself. He was Fred’s muscle. Fred ran the seamy side of county. If you wanted dope, women, or boys, Fred could fill the bill.

A. J. slammed Shirley up against the car and yelled at her though I couldn’t hear why he was  so upset. I guessed Shirley was high,  because she took a swing at A. J. Big mistake! When A. J. punched her hard and then he leaned into her, I could almost see the six-inch blade he carried bury itself into her soft, flawless flesh. Then he started pounding her chest with the blade. Shirley slumped to the ground.

A. J. and his partner spread some trash bags in the trunk of the Beemer and dumped that seventeen-year-old girl in there like a bag of corn. A. J. slammed the trunk shut and for no reason that comes to mind, stared in my direction.

*****

Tonight started out like the rest. I drifted into the Black Squirrel at about nine and found my spot at the bar. I glanced around to see if Oldeen, she of the endless legs and significant chest, had arrived. When both of us got bored and couldn’t do better, we went home together. She hadn’t arrived, so I waited until Gus, the bartender, brought my drink. It was a strange concoction of sour mash, red wine, and tonic water. Two did the job. Anything after that usually got me in trouble.

After a couple of sips, A. J. ambled over and took the stool next to mine. “This one is one me, Gus,” he drawled. He turned to me with a grin on his handsome face and said, “You know Preston, there is one thing I can depend on you to do. You know how to keep your mouth shut. Do I have it wrong?”

“I am not sure what you are talking about A. J., but I do try to mind my own business.”

A. J. glanced around the room, then continued,” I saw you out on FM 235 last night. Were you sleeping one off?”

“Well A. J., you know 235 is on my way home, but I don’t recall seeing you out there.”

“Preston, you don’t have to blow any smoke up my butt. I trust you and Fred trusts you. No matter what you saw, we both know you will keep it to yourself.”

By this time, the second drink was history, and I began to enjoy the confidence A. J. had in me. “If I had seen anything, and I am not saying I did, you would not have to worry about me telling anyone.”

A. J. seemed to relax. “I know that Preston. In fact, if you ever feel like doing a little work for Fred, I am sure I could pave the way.”

“Thanks A. J. I am about to run out of land to sell, so I may take you up on that.”

A. J. rose, patted me on the back, and said, “You just let me know when, Preston. We can fix you up.” He moved across the floor to Fred’s office in the back.

*****

After I cleared the door, I stopped to light a cigarette. In my condition, that was not a slam-dunk, but I got it done. The cool evening cleared my mind a bit, but not enough to really matter. A. J. and Fred were both aware that I had seen A. J. do Shirley. I was a material witness to capital murder, and no matter how much A. J. tried to convince me otherwise, I was a danger to them both. I didn’t know what I could do about it, but I would work it out tomorrow.

I fought my lack of balance across the parking lot to my ride. Just as I finally found the lock hole, A. J.’s Beemer pulled to a stop behind my pickup. He got out and approached.

“Preston, Fred wants to have a word with you. Let’s go for a ride.”

I knew I was in deep doo doo. “I don’t feel up to it tonight, A. J. Maybe tomorrow.”

Before I could react, he moved in close and I felt the sting of his switchblade. I tried to react, but it was too late. He buried the knife deep in my chest, and I could feel my life fade away. The last thing I remember in this life was slipping to the ground, and enjoying the fact that I didn’t hurt anymore.  Then, this apparition appeared, and I felt fine about the whole thing. Larger than a human, impressive wings quivered slightly, and a voice came from a face that could have belonged to either sex.

“Preston, you don’t need to worry anymore. You passed the transition phase and have an eternity left to enjoy. How does that sound?”

I don’t know if I was speaking or just thinking, but I answered. “Who are you? Why don’t I hurt? Am I dead?”

“To answer your question, my job is to look after folks who have just passed into the next phase. I try to make it as easy as possible, and I must admit, I do a good job. How do you feel?”

“I feel great. You look like an angel. Are you an angel?”

“One of the names I got over the centuries is the Angel of Death. I know that sounds terrible. The fact remains that I am one of the good guys. My boss is not the Angel of Darkness. You can trust me. I will be here for you as long as you need.”

“I notice that my world is gone. Where are we now?”

The spectacular creature said, “Places are not that easy to identify in this phase. A bit later, you will probably choose to create your own place, but everyone becomes bored with earthly scenes and starts taking advantage of what this phase has to offer.

“Like what?”

The angel smiled and said, “You are not ready to either understand or appreciate what is in store for you. I suggest go about this gradually. As for the present, and like space, time is impossible to define here, think in terms of perfection. What was the greatest moment of your life? Revisit that point with full awareness and attempt to make it better.

“Wow,” said the former Preston. “It would have to be the run.”

“That was during a football game.”

“Yes. Where do I start?”

How about the kickoff?

 

 

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The Proposal

Racer, the big roan gelding picked his way down the ravine that passed for a trail toward the weathered shotgun house in the distance. Smoke curled from the chimney.

A cloudless sky encouraged the sun to warm the invigorating spring morning. Dillon Lister, the tall, rangy rider who sat atop the splendid beast, made no effort to guide the horse, but allowed him to choose his own path. A bouquet of wild flowers clutched in Lister’s hand provided the only incongruous facet of this picture.

To the west, the outline of a Comanche warrior gradually unfolded against a mammoth, shaded rock. Lister made no outward sign of noticing, but nudged Racer toward the Indian.

 

 

 

When he came within ten yards of the silent sentinel, Lister signaled his horse to stop. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. Then, he spoke in the plain’s guttural language. “Are you well, Coyote?”

The stocky warrior dropped the rawhide reins and gazed at the white man. “I am well, Snowman. How is the man who owns my life?”

“My blood runs cool. I ride to the Porter farm to visit the woman who may become my wife. I see my blood brother keeps watch over this tipi as he promised.”

“No Comanche will send an arrow against the future wife of Snowman. None of my cousins want to deal with Coyote. Will you take your squaw this day?”

Lister spat. “The whites have strange ways. The woman must decide if she wants the man. Not the other way around as it was in our tipi. She will decide this day.”

“That is good, brother. A man needs the presence of a woman to cool his brow.” Without another word, the Comanche wheeled his paint horse and galloped away.

Approaching the house, Lister waved at Pansy Porter, the wife of Orville Porter who farmed the nearby land. She returned the wave and continued sweeping the yard with a broom made from young dogwood branches. When he drew closer, Mrs. Porter stopped her work and gazed in his direction.

“Good morning, Mizz Porter. Looks like you got that new porch finished.”

She rearranged her bonnet and smiled at the rider. “Yes Sir, Mr. Porter promised me a porch two or three years ago, but working this dirt just about wore him out. Anyways, he sold that old milk cow and bought the lumber. Didn’t take him more than a month to get it done.”

“I know you folks take pleasure in sitting out here and enjoying the evenings. Yes’m, it must be nice.” Lister fidgeted in his saddle. “I was wondering if Miss Jean might be to home.”

“Course she is, Mr. Lister. I’ll go right in and tell her you’re here. Excuse me.” Mrs. Porter ambled toward the porch steps, propped her broom against it, and pushed her ample body up the steps. As she strode across the porch, she said in a loud voice, “Jean. Mr. Lister has come acallin’.”

Lister slid from the saddle, tied the gelding to the hitching rail, and removed his hat. He ran his fingers through his coal-colored mop attempting to smooth some of the natural curl.

Jean Porter, a fair-skinned young woman with strawberry blond hair, came out the door and ushered her mother into the house. “Why, Mr. Lister. What a surprise?”

Lister did not mention that he had told Jean Porter at church last Sunday he would visit this day. “Miss Jean. The only thing prettier than this day is that fine calico dress. Is it new?”

“Now, Mr. Lister, you know this dress is as old as the hills, but I appreciate the compliment. Would you like to sit a spell in the swing? It’s new.”

“Why I surely would, Miss Jean.” Lister went through the motions of scraping his boots before mounting the steps. When he reached the top, he offered the bunch of flowers to Jean who accepted them as if she had never set eyes on them before.

“How thoughtful, Mr. Lister. I’ll go put some water in a fruit jar. They should stay nice for days. Would you care for a cup of coffee? It’s fresh.”

“That would be fine, Miss Jean. I’ll just go give old Racer a drink of water while you get the coffee.”

“I’ll be right back, Mr. Lister.”

Lister went to the well, drew water, and poured it into the stock bucket. He carried it to the thirsty horse, and then he headed back to the porch just as Jean Porter came out the door with two baked clay coffee mugs.

Lister took a seat and sampled the brew. “Fine coffee, Miss Jean. This must be from down South.”

“I ‘spect it is, Mr. Lister.”

They sipped for a few moments, then Jean Porter commented, “I seen that Comanche up on the hill talking to you. He’s been around here several times. I wonder if that is the reason we ain’t had no trouble with the tribes.”

“Miss Jean, that man is my brother of sorts. You knowed that I was raised by the Comanche until I was twelve. I got sick and my father, Prairie Dog, brought me to the Coker place to get strong medicine.”

“Mr. Lister, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you don’t look like no redskin.”

“Prairie Dog stole me when I was a baby. I grew up on his hearth with Coyote who is his natural son. When we were young, a cougar had him dead to rights. I put a couple of arrows in it, and then I finished it off with my knife. According to Comanche law, I own Coyote’s life.”

Lister gazed out over the prairie for a moment, and then he moved his piercing blue eyes to those of Jean Porter. “Miss Jean. I ‘spect I have come courtin’ you five or six times already. Is that about right?”

“I believe that six is the exact number, but who’s counting,” said Jean with a grin.

“Well, Miss Jean, you know that I work as foreman of the Double S spread. Mr. Coker says I have a good future working on his ranch.”

Jean Porter smoothed her apron, and said, “You have a mighty good reputation in this part of the country, Mr. Lister. Papa says you will do well.”

Lister cleared his throat. “Miss Jean. Have you ever given any thought to settling down and raising a family?”

“Truth be known, Mr. Lister, I am not getting any younger. I am already over seventeen. Papa says it is time for me to find a good man with an excellent future and make him a dependable wife.”

Lister squirmed and said, “Miss Jean, I thank a lot of you. I figure you will make a grand wife considering your mama and daddy. You come from good quality stock.”

“Well, Mr. Lister. I hope I’m not just stock, but I get your point,” said Jean Porter with a giggle.

“Aw shucks, Miss Jean. You know I didn’t mean it that way. I want us to marry, and I need to know what you think about that.”

“Well, Mr. Lister, I feel like that would be a wonderful idea. I would be more than happy to spend my remaining years with you as your wife.”

“Good gracious! I hardly know what to say, Miss Jean. I couldn’t be more tickled,” said Dillon Lister, a bright smile creasing his face. “When do you believe would be a good time for the ceremony?”

Jean paused as if to give the matter serious consideration and said, “The circuit preacher is due on the first of November. Papa could arrange for us to marry then.”

“Let’s see, that’s three weeks off. Maybe I can get my feet back on the ground by that time. I hope I don’t make a fool of myself when I get back to the bunkhouse.”

“That brings up another little point, Mr. Lister. I don’t suppose we will live in the bunkhouse …will we?” Jean asked with a winsome smile.

Lister reddened a bit, and said, “No’me, I neglected to mention that Mr. Coker done said that he would put us up in a cabin at the ranch. He said it wouldn’t cost us nothing allowing that I would do most of my work around the big house and barn.”

“My, my, you seem to have everything under control. Why don’t you go wash up, and I will go tell Mama the good news. I ‘spect she has a good dinner almost ready. Papa is out in the field. I will ring the dinner bell.”

“I’ll bet she didn’t make one of those sweet potato pies. I couldn’t be that lucky,” said Lister.

“You never can tell, Mr. Lister. The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Jean Porter tossed her long tresses as she moved toward the door.

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