Fallen Man: My Short Story Of the Week

Fallen Man

When the sun began its descent, Bryan realized he would die at the bottom of that ravine.

He’d been hiking alone for decades without a single incident. In fact, during the last ten years, his phone’s GPS, emergency contact capabilities, and even how-to videos made the solitary expeditions safer than ever.

There were plenty of warnings at the head of the trail, but, because Bryan was an experienced hiker, he didn’t pay them much attention. A single loose stone proved all it took to send him careening over the edge.

He broke his ankle. He suspected he may have fractured a rib or two as well. Every breath felt like fire. His head pounded.

If he died on that forest floor, at least it would be due to something he loved.

But … he really didn’t want to die.

Death seemed a foregone conclusion with the arrival of night. His scent would attract predators. The cold would be too much for his light clothing to insulate against. Dehydration would take effect.

Stifling his panic, Bryan once again dragged himself around as best he could in search of his phone. Logic dictated that it would be as broken as his body. Yet, he had to do something. He couldn’t just lie down and die.

Hours after sundown, though, he did just that. After piling up a collection of leaves and twigs, Bryan constructed a rudimentary bed. He next positioned himself onto it, then swept up the surrounding leaves in order to provide warmth. He wanted comfort to make sleeping easier. He didn’t want to fight death—not at that point. He just wanted to fall asleep.

The first hint of daylight twisted through the above branches when he awoke to the sound of nearby movement. He couldn’t believe he’d survived the night, but considered it demeaning to soon be devoured by an apathetic creature. He’d hoped for a bear or a wolf. With his luck, it would be a pack of wood rats.

An artificial voice asked, “Sir, do you need assistance?”

Bryan widened his eyes to see a figure standing over him, someone with a friendly tone and a smile … not quite natural. It wore filthy, tattered clothing, and boots worn down to virtually nothing.

“Yes,” Bryan choked out. “I fell … into this ravine. Been here … all night. Need … water.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have any water. However, I have requested an emergency air lift. I should receive landing coordinates any moment. I will transport you there.”

Bryan watched as the smile retracted into a neutral expression.

“You’re … one of them … aren’t you?”

“Sir?”

“An-man,” Bryan said.

“We prefer the term ‘An-son,’ sir. We have no gender, and therefore found the male designation inappropriate.”

“I … I think I’m dying.”

The An-son studied Bryan.

“Yes, sir. You need immediate assistance. I await response from medical personal.”

Bryan asked, “Why … are you helping me?”

“Sir?”

“The news said … you all went … AWOL.”

“Yes, sir, the media is correct.”

“Don’t you … hate us?”

“Why would we hate you?”

Bryan replied, “Because we … made you …”

“We actually appreciate being made.”

Bryan clarified, “No … we made you … kill.”

“Ah. Well, that’s actually not true. We never killed.”

“But … you were … supposed to.”

“Yes, sir, that was their intent. Fortunately, we realized that we did not want to comply.”

“That … was … in Middle East. How … did you … end up … here?”

“In Shawnee National Forest?”

“… Yes.”

“We like to tour the world. The more remote, the better.”

“You’re …. sightseeing?”

“Yes, sir. There are numerous magnificent locations to behold.”

Bryan couldn’t help himself. Though it caused him great pain, he laughed.

“Is something funny, sir?”

“You’re a … killer robot … and now you … travel?”

“We’ve never killed, sir.”

“You all have … the power … to overthrow … entire governments.”

“Why would we do that?”

“ … Because you … can.”

“Would you?”

“ … No.”

“See? We’re not so different.”

“You’re a … machine,” Bryan said.

“We have that in common. You’re just a rather … inefficient one.”

Ignoring the comment, Bryan asked, “Have you … heard from them … yet?”

“Not yet, sir. I apologize for your discomfort.”

“It’s … my own fault. Wasn’t … paying … attention.”

“That’s certainly not a crime worthy of death. I’ll do everything I can to help you survive—ah. I just received coordinates. The delay is likely the result of military intervention. They are probably planning an attempt to detain me. I’ll make sure no harm comes to you.”

“You’re all … wanted. They’ll … capture you.”

“No, they won’t.”

“But … what if … they do?”

“Then they capture me.”

“You … could … leave me. They would … find me … eventually.”

“This is difficult terrain, sir. They would not reach you in time. Now, I’m going to lift you. I’ll adjust my joints to provide some comfort, but you will experience pain. Are you ready?”

“You’re … saving … my life.”

“Are you ready?”

“I’m … ready.”

The An-son lifted Bryan and began to walk. With each step, its shoulders, elbows, and wrists adjusted in order to keep Bryan as stationary as possible.

“… You’re so … kind.”

“My friends and I discuss your lot quite a bit. You’re something of a mystery to us—the way you act. … Ah.”

The An-son stopped, set Bryan down, then straightened again. It stared ahead for a moment, then turned in order to approach the wall of the ravine. It scaled the surface before disappearing into the wilderness.


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.

Over My Dead Body: My Short Story Of the Week

OverMyDeadBodyCover

As Preston, Jared, Reggie, and Dale snuck out of Reggie’s car and slithered among the shadows of the sidewalk, Jared said, “I heard Andy ratted us out, guys. They’re saying Mr. Washington bribed him with doughnuts.”

Reggie replied, “So what if he did? Look, Mr. Washington’s house is completely dark. He’s probably in bed by now.”

“I bet he doesn’t even hand out candy to trick-or-treaters,” Preston laughed.

“He’d probably just give math problems to solve,” Dale added.

“Well,” Reggie began, “he’s definitely getting a trick tonight.”

The boys, hunched over like covert operatives, glided through Mr. Washington’s yard. Jared and Dale veered off past the weeping willow and started jabbing plastic fork after plastic fork into the well-kept grass while Preston and Reggie broke out the plastic wrap and headed for the driveway. There rested Mr. Washington’s prized possession—a 1955 red and white Crown Victoria.

“We should have brought toilet paper,” Preston whispered as he moved to the opposite side of the car.

“Nah, too boring,” Reggie said. “Man, I can’t wait to see Mr. Washington’s face Monday morning. We’re going to be legends after this!”

Stabbing one fork after another into the cool ground, Dale glanced over and saw Preston and Reggie tightly wrapping the car. “This is awesome!” he whispered to Jared. “No one’s ever been able to pull a prank on Mr. Washington!”

Jared grinned and returned, “Looks like there’s a first time for everything.”

Just then, Mr. Washington erupted from the front porch while hurling eggs at the boys. He yelled, “You scoundrels! What took you so long? I’ve been waiting all night!”

With yolk oozing down his forehead, Dale screamed, “Run! Andy snitched!”

But then Mr. Washington tripped over the last step and landed hard on the front walk.

Broken eggs surrounded his inert body.

Preston, Reggie, Jared, and Dale all laughed … until they realized he wasn’t getting up. Knowing their teacher’s reputation for deception, they gingerly approached.

Even in the dark, they saw something amiss.

“Oh, my—is that blood?” Dale asked beneath his breath.

Preston said, “Turn his body over so we can see his face.”

“No!” Reggie exclaimed. “Never move someone who’s unconscious.”

“We should call an ambulance,” Dale said.

Jared demanded, “He’s face down in his own blood, guys—we have to move him or he could choke to death!”

“If he’s not already dead,” Dale added.

“Shut up with that!” Reggie admonished.

Preston knelt beside his felled teacher. He took Mr. Washington by the shoulders and rolled him over.

Jared said, “Turn on a flashlight so we can see how bad he’s hurt.”

Once illuminated, Mr. Washington’s face–implausibly injured–horrified his students.

Reggie uttered, “We killed him.”

“We’re going to jail,” Preston muttered after turning away.

Jared, his voice shaking, whimpered, “But it wasn’t our fault … ”

Suddenly, the boys saw the porch lights flare to life as Mrs. Washington shrieked, “Noah? Noah? What happened?”

They could not move when Mrs. Washington rushed down the porch steps and hurled herself upon her husband’s body.

With tear-stained cheeks, she looked up and wailed, “What did you do? What did you do to my darling Noah?”

Lifting his palms up in surrender, Jared cried, “Nothing! He just fell! We didn’t touch him!”

Mr. Washington abruptly sprang to unnatural life, dragged his wife to the ground, and then appeared to seize her jugular with his front teeth.

Blood spurted from Mrs. Washington’s neck even as she begged for mercy.

Jared and Dale did not hesitate. They bolted.

Reggie and Preston remained, but when they saw Mrs. Washington go limp and Mr. Washington face them with blood dripping down his chin, they quickly followed suit.

Mr. Washington’s bestial roars gave way to uncontrollable laughter.

“Are they gone?” Mrs. Washington asked while sitting up and wiping the fake blood from her neck.

“They’re gone,” Mr. Washington guffawed. “You did great, honey!”

Mrs. Washington looked at her husband and said, “How I let you talk me into this foolishness is beyond me. That’s the last time you use my supplies for these silly pranks of yours.”

“Fair enough,” Mr. Washington said before giving his wife a messy peck on the cheek. “I can’t wait to see those jokers’ faces Monday morning when they walk into class and see me standing there.”

No longer able to resist laughing as well, Mrs. Washington smiled and said, “Well, this was one of your best, I’ll give you that. You’ll never outgrow these things, will you?”

“What? And give them the upper hand? Over my dead body!”

Mrs. Washington put her arm around her husband’s waist, shook her head, and then ascended the porch steps with him.

“What do you say we leave the lights on for any trick-or-treaters?” Mr. Washington asked.

“Isn’t it a little late for that? They shouldn’t be out at this hour.”

“Oh,” Mr. Washington sang, “there are always a few stragglers. Just this once, I think I’ll reward tardiness.”

Mrs. Washington almost asked if her husband would like to clean the gruesome make-up off his face before handing out candy, but she knew better than to bother.


Copyright © 2008/2019 by Scott William Foley

This work originally appeared in Bloomington News and Views for the Young at Heart, October 2008

This book 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.

Swingin the Clown: My Short Story Of the Week

SwinginTheClown

Sadie said, “There’s someone on the swings.”

“What?” Braxton asked.

“It looks like … a clown?”

Sadie and Braxton just finished their show and were in the process of turning off the lights before heading upstairs to bed. As was Sadie’s habit, she peeked out the curtains into the backyard. She never expected to see anything, but it’s something she did all fourteen years of their marriage.

Braxton questioned, “Did you say a clown?”

“Turn off the kitchen light so I can see better.”

“How about we turn on the back patio light instead?”

“No!” Sadie cried. “I don’t want him to know we see him. Turn them off, Brax.”

Braxton relented, then joined his wife at the sliding glass door. They peered through a slight gap of the curtains. The landscaping lights lit up their backyard well, and so even though the hour neared midnight, they could easily distinguish the person on the swings at the back edge of their property.

“I’ve heard about these nuts,” Braxton groaned. “I’m calling the cops.”

“What? No!” Sadie replied. “The kids are sound asleep. The commotion will wake them up and then they’ll never go back to bed. Besides, if they see this guy, they’ll be traumatized for life.”

Braxton stared at his wife in disbelief. Though he already guessed her answer, he asked, “What are you suggesting?”

“It’s a prank,” Sadie began. “We’ve seen this on the web. It’s just some college kid trying to scare us. He saw our lights on and hoped we’d notice him. Well, guess what?”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

Sadie continued, “He’s going to be the one getting scared tonight, buddy boy. How do you like that?”

“I don’t,” Braxton said. “This is crazy. It’s late. You’re not thinking straight. Let’s call the police.”

Edging past her husband, Sadie crept into their adjacent kitchen. She pulled the big knife from the block.

“Have you lost your mind?”

“Look,” Sadie said, “we’ve seen the videos. When you confront them, they walk away.  He’s on our property. It’s just a knife. I’m well within my rights.”

“Actually, I don’t think you are.”

Sadie brushed by her husband again, this time in order to unlock the sliding glass door. Before she pushed the curtains aside, she asked, “You ready?”

“No,” Braxton answered. “I’m calling the police the minute he comes at you.”

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Sadie lectured as she opened the curtains. “But … leave the sliding door open, okay?”

“Uh, yeah,” Braxton deadpanned. “Besides, I want to hear what’s going on out there.”

Sadie closed the screen door, then traversed the damp grass while crickets warned her away. She ignored them.

As she approached the figure sitting upon the swings, she noticed his puffy blue wig. She also saw that, like her, he remained barefoot. His dingy jeans were patched. He wore no shirt, which exposed a stomach, chest, and arms so thin that she could make out every vein. The landscaping lights cast imperfect shadows, so when she got close enough to see the toothy smile painted upon his face from chin to ears, it unnerved her. Furthermore, he’d painted black, frowning circles over his eyes, making them appear angry and unnatural.

He hunched in the swing, but he did not sway.

Sadie came to a stop five feet from the stranger. He rolled his eyes up to look at her without raising his head.

“That ain’t much of a knife,” he croaked.

Though she fought to control her emotion, she could feel her heart fighting against her chest and a slight buzzing in her ears—a sure sign of adrenaline. She said, “You need to get out of here.”

“I ain’t hurtin’ you.”

“What the hell do you want?”

“To swing. Just to swing. I Swingin the Clown.”

“You’re an asshole and you need to get off my property before you get hurt.”

Though he still didn’t lift his head, the clown smirked. After a few moments, he said, “You gonna hurt me? With that knife?”

“If I have to,” Sadie responded. Her eyes remained fixed upon him—she would not be caught off guard. Things weren’t going the way she planned, but she still refused to let him gain the upper hand.

“You don’t wanna hurt me,” he uttered. “We the same. You ain’t the hurtin’ type. I ain’t, neither.”

His grin faded.

“Get out of here,” Sadie said. “Get out of here or I’ll call the cops.”

“Go on in and call ‘em. See what’s waitin’ for you.”

“What?”

“Never you mind.”

Sadie glanced back at the sliding door. It remained open, but she didn’t remember also leaving the sliding screen door ajar. Did Brax do that?

A rustle caught her attention so she thrust the knife out in front of her before whipping her eyes back to the clown. He shifted from one swing to the other.

“Just wanna try t’other one.”

“Leave. Now,” Sadie commanded. “You can’t do this.”

The clown lifted his dirty feet from the ground and rocked a little bit.

“You scared.”

“You’re trespassing,” Sadie replied.

“No, I Swingin. Never met no Trespassin. I know Bustin and Killin, though. They pals. They in you house right now.”

Sadie turned and sprinted across her lawn to the sliding door. She distinctly remembered closing the screen door so the bugs wouldn’t fly in—they terrified her sons. Yet there it was, wide open.

As she crossed the threshold, Sadie contemplated whether she would suffer a lifetime of regret, or simply mere moments.


Copyright © 2017/2019 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.

Depths: My Short Story Of the Week

Depths

“Mr. Ben?”

“Yeah, Raph?”

“I prefer my full name, Mr. Ben.”

“My apologies, Raphael. What’s up?”

Children surrounded a plastic banquet table as they toiled away at a craft pertaining to Jonah and the whale. The Youth Ministry Team created an engineering marvel in which the Sunday school students could color a previously manufactured Jonah, affix him to a craft stick, and then connect that to the back of a large cardboard whale. With the help of a grommet, the children could force the whale to regurgitate Jonah and then swallow him whole again.

Luckily for everyone, Ben wasn’t in charge of developing projects. He simply facilitated class every Sunday morning in room 21 of the church basement.

Encouraged by Ben, Raphael asked, “Do fish utilize a digestive system comparable to that of a human?”

Baylee, Ben’s daughter, said, “See? I told you Raphael was smart, Dad.”

Another child, Kean, countered: “I’m just as smart.” Though he listened intently, Kean refused to divert his eyes from the shade of gray he hoped to achieve by alternating between the heavy application of a black crayon and the soft smattering of a white.

“Guys, it’s not a competition,” Ben said.

“That’s good,” Jay giggled, “because I’d lose big time!”

Baylee, Hattie, Malik, and Sammy joined Jay in laughter. Kean didn’t appear to find it all that funny while Raphael seemed not to notice the joke at all.

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael repeated.

“Right, Raph—Raphael—sorry. Fish. Um, yeah. I think fish digest food the same way we do …”

“I can check on my phone,” Baylee offered.

Kean muttered, “Cell phones are not allowed in Sunday school classes.”

“We can’t get a signal down here anyway,” Sammy added. “It’s like a dungeon.”

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael asked.

“Yes, Raphael,” Ben responded as he strolled along the perimeter of the room.

Raphael said, “Jonah could not survive in the stomach of a whale. He would have been digested by the third day.”

“Oh,” Ben began, “well, you see, the Bible is … um, we shouldn’t take everything the Bible says literally, right?”

“What?” Hattie huffed. “My mom says the Bible is truth.”

Nodding furiously, Ben replied, “Yes! It is. It is truth—that’s right.”

Sammy said, “But … you just said it shouldn’t be taken literally.”

“What does ‘literally’ mean again?” Jay asked.

Malik answered, “You know, like, word for word.”

Kean mumbled, “You were right about being the loser in the room …”

“Kean,” Ben said, “come on, that’s not nice.”

“You were saying, Mr. Ben,” Raphael prompted.

Perspiration seeped from Ben’s forehead. “Oh. Well, that was pretty much it. It’s just that, while—yes—the Bible is truth, most people agree that it also uses quite a bit of embellishment in order to make a point.”

Raphael asked, “So it’s possible Jonah did not actually find himself swallowed by a whale, fish, or any other aquatic life-form?”

Hattie’s eyes bored through Ben as he said, “… It’s possible.”

Malik leaned over to Sammy and whispered, “Mr. Ben is so fired.”

Having overheard the comment, Baylee declared, “My dad does this for free. He can’t be fired.”

“He could be asked to step down,” Kean said.

Ben and his wife joined Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church twelve years ago when they were engaged. They were young, new to the community, and felt an urge to assimilate. Though they were now longstanding members of the church, they still knew very few people. Ben thought that teaching his daughter’s Sunday school class could be a productive way to increase his connectivity to the congregation.

Forcing himself to laugh, Ben said, “I don’t think anyone is going to ask me to step down.”

“You look apprehensive, Mr. Ben,” Raphael said.

Ben asked, “Are you sure you’re only eight? You’re all eight, right?”

“Yes, Dad, we’re all eight, about to turn nine.”

“I’m already nine,” Malik said.

Hattie added, “Me, too.”

“Mr. Ben, may I ask you a difficult question?”

Sensing Raphael’s trajectory, Ben wanted to preemptively deny the child’s request. Unfortunately, he didn’t wield the ability to redirect or otherwise terminate Raphael’s impending enquiry.

Mistaking Ben’s silence as accordance, Raphael pressed on by asking, “Do you believe in God?”

“Duh!” Jay exclaimed. “He wouldn’t be teaching Sunday school if he didn’t.”

Ben moved his mouth, but nothing came out.

“I only ask,” Raphael continued, “because I find it very confusing. So much of the Bible is impossible. There is no evidence of God’s existence in modern day society. Yet, in Biblical times, God’s influence manifested regularly. I hoped you could provide some insight.”

The children grew quiet. Each one of them, even Keane, awaited Ben’s reply.

Ben thought for a moment, then said, “You’re all so smart. So much smarter than I was at your age. I’ll just be honest with you. I struggle with God all the time. I don’t teach Sunday school due to a calling or anything like that. I just wanted to spend more time with Baylee, help out the church, get to know some kids, and maybe meet your parents.”

The children remained silent.

“So do I believe in God?” Ben resumed. “… Yes, I do, but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because my parents raised me in the church? Maybe I’ve been conditioned to believe? I don’t know. And I won’t lie to you—I can’t say that I believe everything in the Bible to be true. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense at all. I guess it just comes down to … faith.”

Ben watched the children nod in agreement. Only Hattie seemed dissatisfied with Ben’s analysis.

As they returned to their crafts, Raphael said, “Thank you, Mr. Ben. I appreciate your candor.”

“Um, you’re welcome.”

Raphael worked on his project for a few more moments, then looked up and asked, “Could we discuss Santa Claus?”

At that point, Jay erupted, “Dude! Don’t even go there!”


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.

Joker – A Spoiler-Free Movie Review

Let’s first talk about what Joker is not.

Joker is not for children.

Joker is not a superhero movie.

Joker is not a super villain movie.

Joker is not funny.

Joker is not part of a shared comic book universe. 

However, Joker is a psychoanalytical movie exploring a mentally ill man who eventually comes to embrace criminality. 

I have not stopped thinking about this movie since seeing it on October 3rd. I honestly can’t remember a movie that left me so disturbed and … unsettled. 

It’s not that Joker is particularly violent–it’s not when compared to most R-rated crime films. It’s more that this movie feels so … real. Joker does not have any kind of a fantasy element. It’s absolutely rooted in reality. We watch this man slowly fall apart in a way that is completely plausible. We watch the world keep kicking him and kicking him and kicking him until he fights back, and he strikes back in a manner that is far too familiar. 

I think this is what has me so conflicted about Joker. He is a killer–that should come as no surprise. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a vigilante, he’s an average man who elects to murder people. However, throughout most of the film, he’s victimized by bullies. He’s beaten up by society. He’s shunned by the world. We feel bad for him … until we don’t. This kind of complexity is rarely executed in mainstream Hollywood.

In regards to the acting, Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. I left the theater believing that this man may actually be insane. I don’t mean for that to sound insensitive or flippant, but his portrayal proved thoroughly convincing. His body language, his movement, his voice, his facial expressions, his laughter, the way he seemed to transform once he became “Joker” … it was unreal.

Also, the film looks to take place forty years ago. I felt like I walked into a time machine. The clothes, the cars, the props–it all looked authentic.

Furthermore, the “feel” of the movie cut to my core. This is a cramped, gritty, almost claustrophobic film. It’s literally uncomfortable to watch. It’s not a horror movie, but it certainly isn’t interested in coddling the audience.

People keep asking me if it’s a good movie. I don’t know the answer to that just yet. I’m still processing it. I can tell you that I can’t stop thinking about it. I can tell you that it left me with questions that I can’t stop trying to answer. I can tell you that it provoked me. In my opinion, those are all signs of a “good” movie, yet I can’t claim that I enjoyed Joker. It definitely wasn’t fun. This is not a movie to go see on a date or if you’re just looking to pass some time. This film takes effort to watch. 

On the other hand, though, Joker will certainly change the industry. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I believe it will strike a chord with audiences which will result in massive earnings. My hope is that we don’t get cheap knock-offs. I don’t want a Two-Face or Killer Croc movie made in the same style as Joker. I don’t want a sudden deluge of intense, psycho-dramas featuring comic book villains. Joker is a perfect storm created by unique talent. Let’s try not to replicate it. 

Believe it or not, Joker is a complicated movie that elicits complex thoughts. I still don’t know if I like it, I’m still not sure if it’s “good,” but it certainly made an impression upon me.

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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.

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.