Why We Won: My Short Story Of the Week

WHYWEWONCOVER

I wore an inappropriate shade of pink, especially for the starting quarterback of a state championship game. Looking back, I guess it was a minor miracle that, at seventeen, I managed the laundry at all.

Truth be told, I really didn’t care that night about my pink pants, and neither did anyone else on the team. We kept our minds focused on one thing—one thing only.

My mom had been sick for years … a lot of years. She did what she could for as long as she could, but her body eventually quit on her. When that happened, I took over. I cooked, cleaned the house, handled the odd jobs, and, obviously, did the laundry. The guys usually came over to help out. They knew my mom well by our senior year. Although she barely had any strength to speak, she used it to encourage them, to prop them up, to love them.

My dirtbag dad wasn’t in the picture, but if you want to know how I felt about him, I imagined the back of his bald head every time I passed the football.

My station in life alarmed the other guys’ parents. My intensity and its influence upon their sons scared them. But my squad … they knew what I was about. It didn’t bother them if I didn’t smile much or crack jokes. They understood that I played every game believing that if we won, my mom might win as well. They knew I believed it, and so they believed it, too. She wanted us to win; we wanted her to live. It proved a simple equation.

We started winning state championships in junior high, the same season my mom first got sick. She could still walk at that point. She marched right into practice, asked the coaches to leave, explained her diagnoses, and then demanded that we win as many games as we could before she died.

We didn’t lose after that. Not a single game.

As a testament to my brothers’ solidarity, the newspapers, the coaches, the teachers, the other parents, our opposition … they never got wind of it. If a guy left the team for whatever reason, he kept his mouth shut. They honored the pact made with my mother.

No one talked about why we won.

We just won.

And my mom lived.

But that night during our senior year, when I wore pink pants at the championship game, we didn’t just win, we destroyed our competition. We broke their bones, we broke their will, and we broke their spirit to ever play the game again. We were later described as a pack of demons, monsters intent on crippling someone. They thought we played for Death himself, but it was actually the opposite.

My teammates knew I stayed up at night worrying about the ramifications of our final game. Naturally, our streak had to end. We talked about trying to make the same college team, but even the most optimistic of us grasped the impossibility of such a thing. During a private club meeting, we decided that if we played hard enough at the championship game, if we beat the other team badly enough, if we made God take notice of our victory, it might earn my mom a couple of extra years.

It didn’t.

Thirty years have passed since she succumbed to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. After high school, I tried walking onto my college’s team, but I didn’t really want to play at winning anymore. At least, not in regards to football. I wanted to win for real. Not at a game, but at life. My dad showed me how to quit. My mom taught me how to fight until the last breath.

Her life insurance paid for my schooling and then allowed me to open a business. I returned to my hometown, married a teacher new to the area, and started a family. Though I resembled my dad, that’s all I had in common with the bastard. I liked being a family man.

Most of the guys came back for our thirtieth reunion. After the official ceremony at the high school, I invited them to my restaurant. They all made good in their own way. Every single one of them could count themselves a success.

We got to talking and each revealed the secret of their achievements. They said it was my mom and me. Watching me fight for my mom, watching my mom fight for life, it gave them perspective. Whenever they faced an obstacle, they tackled it with my mom’s tenacity.

I couldn’t believe it. These men, my brothers, cared about my mother—about me—so deeply, that even after thirty years, long after leaving the turf behind, they still fought and won on our behalf.

After the reunion, I decided to volunteer with the local football team. They’ve lost for far too long. I’m going to tell them about my mom. I’m going to ask them what’s going on in their lives that they need to beat.

I’m going to help them find a reason to win.

 


Copyright © 2013/2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

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Cornered: My Short Story Of the Week

Cornered

It started a few weeks ago—the figure. Always in my peripheral vision; never there when I turned my head.

At first, I thought it was only the hinge of my glasses playing tricks on me. That spot where the arm joins the frame—that little square. I’ve worn glasses my entire life and never had it happen before, but things can change.

Things have changed.

For the worse.

You understand. You’ve seen things that weren’t there—we all have. You look straight ahead, and—there—right at the edge of your vision … something. You move to investigate and … nothing.

It’s happened while I watched TV in my living room, worked on my laptop at the kitchen table, got out of the shower in my bathroom, even once when pulling into my garage.

The shape remained unchanged. I could recognize a head, shoulders, a torso, arms, legs—most definitely a person. But this form, it didn’t have a face. It didn’t distinctly have … anything. A black mass. A shadow pretending to be human.

My bedroom seemed to be its favorite haunt. I could feel it off in the corner of the room, or just beyond my doorway, or sometimes next to my nightstand. It came closer the moment I shut my eyes—I know it did. I’m certain it would lean down into my face, daring me to look at it. Didn’t it know I would love nothing more than to actually see it, even if it cost me my life?

Does that sound melodramatic?

It didn’t threaten me, at least, not overtly. Nonetheless, I found its presence threatening. Being watched, being unable to escape or confront a tormentor, it’s maddening. I feared it would drive me to do something extreme.

I didn’t want to hurt myself.

You probably have questions. I know what you’re thinking. The answer is no, I don’t have any medical conditions that would provoke a hallucination. And, like I said, this only started a few weeks ago—it hasn’t even been a month.

In fact, I’ve been able to trace the exact moment the … thing … entered my life.

It began when I read a text from someone I considered a good friend. (For the record, I no longer consider him as such.) He suffered from the same ailment—an entity plagued him as well. He died the day I received his message.

I initially found that fact ironic.

After talking to his wife, I realized his time of death coincided with the moment I read his text. Of course, I figured it was all a coincidence.

But what if it wasn’t?

It never followed me outside, but I had to come home at night—I had to sleep. Selling wasn’t an option. Living in hotels wasn’t financially feasible. My job performance worsened. My personal life fell apart. In a matter of weeks, my entire reality disintegrated.

I had to do something. I couldn’t take it anymore. Living with it could not be achieved.

Then a possibility emerged. What if, in order to get rid of it, I simply had to tell my story to someone else?

After all, that’s what my friend did to me.

Would it work? Should I expect to die like my friend did after he shared his plight? Did I have to choose someone like he chose me?

But who?

How could I single any one person out? I needed to find a way to make sure that whomever bore this burden would be randomly selected. My friend gave me no choice in the matter. I didn’t have it in me to be so callous. My recipient needed to somehow volunteer.

You’re beginning to understand.

I’m sorry.

You were being kind—a good friend—and I did this to you. I didn’t pick you, not specifically, but the fault is still mine.

I’m so sorry.

Do you see it yet? Is it over there, nearly out of sight, in the corner of your eye?


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Game: My Short Story Of the Week

GAME

When he saw the boot prints in the snow, he dove to his belly. There shouldn’t be anyone near this land—not for at least three miles.

Holding his breath, he surveyed the area. They possibly already sighted him. The slightest movement or even a puff of his breath could betray his position.

If they were to kill him, they could poach those woods without fear of ever being discovered. That worked both ways, though. If he caught them, they’d never be seen or heard from again.

A few minutes passed in silence. Not even a breeze rustled the limbs. Finally, he exhaled. A fine mist floated away. He expected to be shot within seconds.

Nothing happened.

The forest spared him.

Darkness would ruin the day within a few hours, and he still had to trek a mile back to his cabin. To complicate matters, he needed to do so without leaving a trail—no easy task in a foot of snow.

Today proved fun.

Tomorrow would be even more interesting, for he meant to kill whomever trespassed upon his land.

The next day, he packed only the essentials—ammunition, rations, water, a portable shelter, a pickaxe, and a shovel.

Moving carefully, quietly, he used the environment as camouflage. Other than the soft steps of his snowshoes, he remained soundless.

He intended to find the same spot as yesterday, to follow the tracks wherever they led. If necessary, his provisions would permit survival for days.

Almost an hour elapsed. When the sun broke through, he came across fresh boot prints. Prepared this time, he shouldered his rifle while dropping to his chest. He pointed the barrel toward the direction that the tracks traveled.

As he peered through the scope, he saw the barrel of a rifle pointing back. That’s all—just the barrel. He didn’t see a man. He didn’t even see an eye.

Just the barrel.

He scooted backward fifty yards before he got to his feet, turned, and ran.

It seemed he underestimated his opponent.

This would not occur again.

The deer meat sizzled in the pan when he heard the pounding against his door. Bears were known to paw at his cabin. He even once had an elk inexplicably ram it. He scared both of them off with a rifle blast. But this rapping utilized a cadence, a rhythm. Fortunately, he could employ the same tactic as against the animals. Gunfire frightened man even more than beast, for man understood the meaning of death and yearned to avoid it.

However, he had no doubt that the person outside his door would be the very same man who could have killed him. This threat wielded great intelligence and likely had a gun trained on the front door.

But who could it be? None took up residence this far out in the wilderness. No one had the stomach for the constant willpower, work, and pain it took to endure even a single day. He’d lived in that cabin for twenty-seven years; his survival was not by accident. Whatever awaited him outside, it would not be the death of him.

The cabin featured no windows to reveal his movement. Throwing on a pair of boots and a parka, he next grabbed his rifle before sliding through a trap door that led out the back. With the temperature already below zero, he wouldn’t last long wearing so little, but he didn’t need much time for what he planned.

Ever so slightly, he crept along the cabin and then peeked around the corner with his rifle pointed at the front door.

He saw nobody in the waning light.

“Lower your weapon and face me.”

He lowered his rifle while turning, slowly, to see a well-insulated man standing behind him with a Colt .22 handgun held aloft. In his other hand, he clutched a case.

The stranger said, “What’s your name?”

He refused to answer.

“All right, fine. Name’s Cayden. I’m your neighbor.”

He tightened his grip on the rifle, but left it pointing downward. Sting corrupted his fingers. Numbness would soon follow.

“Not the talking type, huh? Look, I know I’m not your neighbor in the traditional sense. After all, I had to travel over fifteen miles of public ground to get here. And, yeah, I admit I’ve been trespassing for a while now. Been watching you.”

The rifle lifted a few inches.

“Look, I’ve been there for ten years. You didn’t even know, did you?”

He couldn’t suppress the shock upon his face.

“Yeah, you’re good—a real survivalist. But me? I’m better. I’ve known about you for a decade and you didn’t have a clue I existed until I left those prints for you.”

The rifle almost reached a ninety-degree angle.

“I’ll shoot you dead,” Cayden warned. “I will. I’ll shoot you dead, kick in your door, drag you in, and let the animals have at your carcass. If anyone ever finds this place, they’ll think some bear had at you.”

“What do you want?”

Cayden replied, “So you can talk. You’re logical. Strategic. A good competitor.”

His patience wore thin. If this would be to the death, he wanted it done already.

Cayden held up the case. He asked, “You want to play chess?”

“ … You’re serious.”

Cayden answered. “Lately, I’ve felt a might lonely. Hoped we could have a standing game night.”

“I don’t play chess.”

“I’ll teach you,” Cayden said.

“I didn’t say I couldn’t; I said I wouldn’t.”

“If this takes any longer, you’re going to freeze to death,” Cayden said. “Either pull that trigger or invite me in. Your choice.”

His fingers—he couldn’t even feel them anymore.

“We’ll have to go in the back way,” he said. “Front door’s barricaded.”

While following him, Cayden asked, “You going to tell me your name?”

“No.”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Promise: My Short Story Of the Week

Promise

 

“Why did I ask you to stay after class?”

“Because you’re a punk.”

“No, Sam. Try again.”

Mr. Hardy could see the surprise on Sam’s face. He figured that “punk” comment would get him sent straight to the office.

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. The test.”

“What about it?”

“You played on your phone the whole time. You didn’t answer a single question.”

“I didn’t read the book.”

“Sam, we listened to it on audio as we read along. You at least heard it.”

“Don’t you have another class coming in or something?”

“No, this is my conference period. We’ve got plenty of time.”

“I need to get to my next class.”

“I’ll write you a pass.”

“Ms. Johnson gets pissed if students come in late without a pass. I don’t want to be on her bad side.”

“I’ll write you a pass when we’re done. I promise.”

“Come on, Mr. Hardy. I need to go.”

“Tell me why you didn’t take the test, and then I’ll let you go.”

“I didn’t know the answers.”

“I watched you. You didn’t even try the first page.”

They both stood at the front of the class. Sam ran his hands up and down his backpack straps. He looked everywhere but at Mr. Hardy.

“Sam?”

“ … There’s no point.”

“To what?”

“To the test.”

“The test is how I assess your knowledge.”

“I don’t mean it like that. The test doesn’t make any difference.”

“Look, Sam, I know you’re failing, but you’re right on the edge. This test could put you over the top.”

“You know I’m not going to graduate, right?”

“What? We’re only halfway through the first semester. Of course you’re going to graduate.”

“No, I mean, I’m not going to graduate. Like, it’s not going to happen.”

“You’re quitting school?”

“No.”

“Sam … I’m confused. You’re a senior on track to graduate.”

“Can I go now?”

“No, Sam, I want to get to the bottom of this.”

“You’re being a total dick.”

Sam locked eyes with Mr. Hardy. He hoped that one would send him to the principal.

“Call me whatever you want. We’re having this conversation.”

After throwing his head back, exasperated, Sam slid off his backpack and plopped down into a nearby desk. He took out his phone.

“You can graduate. It sounds like you’re making a conscious decision not to graduate.”

Sam scrolled with his finger. He left his earbuds out, though, so Mr. Hardy knew he had Sam’s attention.

“Don’t you want to graduate?”

“What’s the point?”

“College. Junior college. Trade school. A job.”

“I can’t pay for college.”

“There are scholarship opportunities, grants, that kind of thing.”

“That’s what you all keep telling me, but I don’t know where to find that stuff.”

“Our guidance counselors can help you. They want to help students take advantage of those things.”

“Yeah. I went down there. Mr. Vonn found a few for me, sent me the links, then told me to come back when I looked at them.”

“Did you look at them?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know how to answer half the questions.”

“Like what?”

“Like how much my mom makes in a year. How am I supposed to know that?”

“Did you ask her?”

Sam glared at Mr. Hardy like he was an idiot.

“Okay, how about we make arrangements for you to come in after school and I can sift through it with you. We can figure it out together. We’ll ballpark those numbers they want.”

“Then what?”

“Then we maybe get you into a junior college or trade school or something.”

Sam didn’t blink as he asked, “Then what?”

“Then you’re off and running.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m serious.”

“What makes you think I know how to do college?”

“It’s very similar to high school in terms of structure—”

“I’ve got friends at college. They say it’s not like high school at all. I know a guy getting kicked out, and he’s not even getting his money back.”

“Well, that may be true. You have to maintain a certain grade point average. If you don’t, they can make you leave.”

“Nobody in my family has ever gone to college. I can’t pay for it, I don’t know how to do it, and I wouldn’t fit in.”

“I can help you with all that.”

“Really? Are you going to be there for me the whole time? All four years?”

“I … I’ll do my best. Of course, I have two kids of my own. This job demands a lot of my attention as well. I can’t promise—”

“Exactly. People like you love to make promises to people like me, but people like you never make good—not all the way through. People like me? We have to face reality.”

“Which is?”

Sam emitted a chuckle. “The best I can hope for is some minimum wage job. That’s my life, Mr. Hardy. That’s what the future has in store for me. I’m always going to worry about food, rent, money—everything. I bet your kids have a nice house, a yard, their own bed. Hell, they probably even have their own bedrooms …”

“ … They do.”

“Here? I like it here. There’s no one from the outside. I see my friends. The place is clean. There’s food. The teachers can’t mess with me. Why would I want to go out there when it’s so good in here?”

“But … but your future …”

“Look, can I go now or what?”

Mr. Hardy appeared dumbfounded. He whispered, “You’re only a kid …”

“Can I go now?”

Snapping back to attention, Mr. Hardy said, “Yeah. You can go.”

Sam kept his phone in his one hand and snatched up his backpack with the other, then hustled out of the room.

“ … I forgot to write his pass.”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Carnival Row – A Review

Carnival Row is a series now available to stream on Amazon. It’s a fascinating concept that, for the most part, kept me totally enthralled.

The idea is that a major city known as the Burgue has taken in war refugees from ravaged lands that are home to such fanciful creatures as fairies, centaurs, and fauns. However, the humans in the Burgue don’t accept these creatures in need and will only tolerate them as servants, laborers, or prostitutes. Furthermore, they must know their place and live on Carnival Row, away from civilized society.

Sensing a real-world correlation?

Orlando Bloom plays a police investigator trying to solve a series of grisly murders. Cara Delevinge plays a fairy newly arrived in the Burgue. Their paths cross, and we soon learn that they have a complicated past with one another.

Carnival Row explores their mutual history, but it also ventures deeply into political intrigue, social justice, interpersonal complexities, and, at its heart, the mysterious murders.

The show looks beautiful. Each episode feels like a miniature movie, and the site of fauns and fairies mixed in with humans did not strike me as jarring at all. In fact, for the most part, the practical effects and make-up are seamless. There are moments of CGI that I would say look very good overall–much like you would see in a film. However, when the CGI is bad, it’s very bad. For example, I don’t think they ever really depicted the fairies in flight all that well.

Everything in the Burgue is grimy, time-worn, and appears to have existed for centuries. In other words, this world feels fully realized. Perhaps too realized, in fact. There are small, passing comments that makes the viewer understand that this world has so much more to offer than just what is being shown. This is brilliant in regards to guaranteeing the show’s longevity, but frustrating to those of us who want to know everything about the world this very instant.

For example, they have churches and effigies devoted to “The Martyr.” This is a figure who looks an awfully lot like Jesus Christ. However, instead of hanging from a cross, The Martyr is depicted as being hung by the neck with his hands bound. This religious icon is not explained at all. It’s just there to whet our appetite for more story.

As you can see, with Carnival Row, you are quite literally coming in right in the middle of things, and you can’t trust your own conception of reality to inform your interpretation of this world.

Shall we talk about the acting? Orlando Bloom is wonderful. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ve ever liked him as much as I do in Carnival Row. His character is the strong, silent type, yet Bloom conveys quite a bit of emotion through his eyes. I found myself very much invested in his surprisingly complicated backstory.

Cara Delevinge, unfortunately, did not quite win me over so handily. Starring opposite Bloom, Delevinge plays her character rather flatly. I did not connect with her whatsoever. To be fair, I found her character underwritten. Her character is certainly strong and capable, but just not that interesting. We’ll see if that changes over time.

Thankfully, many of the supporting actors are fantastic. Tamzin Merchant’s initially unlikable Imogen is quite an evolution to behold. David Gyasi simmers with restraint yet steals every scene even as he has horns glued to his head.  Karla Crome’s charisma leaps off the screen what few scenes she’s in. Honestly, I could go on and on. These may not be famous names, but these are extremely talented actors.

Be warned, Carnival Row is  little bit of a slow burn. I particularly groaned at a bad special effect in the first ten minutes and almost turned it off, but it got better and better and better with each episode. In all seriousness, the final episode had me on the edge of my seat.

Interestingly enough, Carnival Row also seems to be saying something. Though it takes place in an gritty, alternate reality, I think you’ll find many of its themes both timely and resonant.

As you can probably tell, I recommend you give Carnival Row a try.  Let me know what you think of it.

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Enjoy the review? Visit my short story of the week.