The One True: My Short Story Of the Week

TheOneTrueCover

 

I had about two hours before my first session, so I decided to grab a coffee. When the cab dropped me off in front of my hotel, I noticed a Starbucks across the street. Sure, I’m in Chicago, and there’s probably some great coffee places pretty close by, but I’m not exactly from the city, and let’s face it, Starbucks is really good.

Some Chicagoans gamely played Frogger with the traffic, but as an out-of-towner, I figured I’d better go the safe route and use the crosswalks. My death would probably disappoint the hundreds of misguided educators planning to listen to me deliver a speech pathetically titled, “Be a Hero To Your Subjects.”

I originated the speech for a School Improvement Day, mostly because the principal asked me, and since I’ve been disappointing her for years, I figured I’d better take the opportunity to shine. I made it as sappy, clichéd, and pandering as possible. Just as I knew would happen, the administrators loved it. Unfortunately, my plan backfired to a degree. Sure, I regained my principal’s faith, but she made a point to share a video she took of me with her peers. (She did so without my consent, by the way.) This resulted in some fairly generous offers to visit other schools and deliver the same speech. Before I knew it, I found myself in great demand across the Midwest. Finally, the most lucrative offer yet arrived—an invitation to speak at the Illinois Educator Association’s conference.

Intended to be a play on words, my speech encouraged teachers to really focus on why their particular subject is super cool. I suggested they find heroes within the field and focus on that person. Try to recreate what those luminaries did—whether it be a scientific feat, a groundbreaking work of art, you know, whatever. By allowing the students to imitate the hero, they become the hero themselves, connect more deeply with the subject of study, and may even feel inspired.

Of course, I’d taught for twenty years, so I believed none of that would actually come to fruition, but my bosses ate it up, as did the more optimistic among my coworkers. People are paying me well to give the same damn talk over and over, so it must be striking a nerve with somebody. I’d feel a bit hypocritical, but my wife and I have always dreamt of finishing our basement, and this whole fantasy is making our dream a reality.

As I approached Starbucks’ door, a … mumbling person sitting on the sidewalk next to the entrance of the coffee shop extended his hand to me.

I recoiled, saying, “Sorry, guy, I don’t have any change.” After I spoke, tiny puffs of vapor hung in the frigid air, refusing to dissipate, much like my shame.

The … person … okay, I’m just going to call him a bum. He was a bum, right? I know that’s not a polite term, but there’s really no other way to describe him. He had long matted hair, a scraggly beard full of crumbs and grime, a long overcoat that looked like it came out of a dumpster, and boots with several toes poking out.

Anyway, the bum kept his hand outstretched as he gazed straight up into my face. His eyes were blue—a blue unlike any you’ve ever seen. This blue evaded the boundaries of time, space, and reality itself. I instantly recognized this man as something … unique.

I took his hand and lifted him to his feet. “Who are you?”

“It is I, the one true King of England.”

I shook my head, saying, “But this is Chicago. We’re not in England.”

“Impossible. All the world is England,” he muttered with eyes squinted.

“Hey,” I said, “look, is there someone I can call for you? Do you need help?”

“Indeed I do,” the man said. “I am in need of knights. You will be my first.”

“Um … I’m not sure I’m really qualified.”

“What is your name?”

My every instinct told me to walk past the man, to go get my coffee, to head back to the hotel, to set up my space in the conference hall, and to leave this crazy situation behind.

Instead, I said, “I’m Lance. Lance Dulac.”

The man’s electric eyes blazed. He whispered, “A sign!”

“I don’t think so,” I said while waving my gloved hands back and forth and shaking my head.

The man took one of my hands. He pulled me in close while proclaiming through rank breath, “It is I—Arthur! Do you not recognize me? All is forgiven, my friend. We have been given a second chance! We will bring peace back to the Kingdom—together!”

I forced Arthur to release me, backed up a step, then said, “Look, this is a little crazy, okay? There is no Camelot. We’re not even in England. This is Chicago, Illinois. You know, in the United States.”

“I know of no such thing,” he said. “Is this the same world it has always been?”

“Well … yeah, I guess,” I stammered.

“Then the Heroic Age begins anew!”

“Um, Arthur, really, can I help you get in touch with family, or …?”

“You look different,” Arthur said to himself while nodding. “I look different as well. You need proof. I would expect no less.”

Arthur pulled open his overcoat to reveal an enormous sword hanging from an old leather belt. I won’t pretend to be an expert at swords, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. The craftsmanship of the hilt, the pureness of the blade … it did not strike me as a weapon so much as a … spirit.

Doubts flooded my mind. Rationally speaking, I knew King Arthur grew from myth, that no actual man by that name executed the adventures of such fantasy. Of all the legends surrounding the figure, the magical sword proved the most unlikely.

And yet … when Arthur held the sword above his head and pointed to the heavens, the gray clouds parted and a beam of light showered both the man and his sword in gold.

I felt a smile spread across my face as I lowered to one knee.

But then someone yelled, “Holy shit! He’s got a sword!”

Another shrieked, “Terrorist! He’s gonna kill us all!”

People scattered in every direction as screams erupted. I fell flat on my face when the panicked crowd knocked me to the ground.

“Be not afraid,” Arthur bellowed. “I am here to restore peace, honor, and chivalry!”

“Drop the sword!” a voice demanded.

Still prostrate upon the sidewalk, I glanced to my right and saw a police officer leveling his gun at Arthur. His expression guaranteed not one citizen would suffer a beheading on his watch.

“Arthur, put down the sword!” I implored.

“Are you a knight?” Arthur asked the police officer.

I looked through Starbucks’ windows and saw people cowering beneath their tables with their cell phones held aloft. They recorded the unfolding horror.

The police officer finished calling for backup, then said, “Drop the sword now, or I will shoot you! Do you understand?”

Convinced bullets were about to fly, I scrambled away from Author while begging him, “God almighty, Arthur, put the sword down!”

Arthur instead assumed a battle stance, and, while staring at the police officer, said to me, “Why do you withdraw? Join me, my friend, for together we will help the people achieve glory!”

“I don’t want to kill you,” the police officer said. “Put it down—now!”

“And I don’t want to hurt you,” Arthur responded. “Within your eyes, I see a brave warrior, a man worthy of my crusade. Join us!”

Oh, shit. Sirens blared, tires squealed, doors slammed, feet pounded, guns clicked.

“Please, Arthur, give up,” I groaned while scooting back on all fours. “You’re delusional. What you’re trying to do … it’s not the way the world works anymore.”

“Then this world is doomed,” Arthur groaned.

“Last warning,” the original officer yelled.

“Don’t do this!” I screamed to Arthur, to the officers, to myself.

“I bow to no man!” Arthur declared. “I serve God, and through Him, I serve the people! I will never put the sword down, for the sword gives me the right—”

The lead officer made the shot. It hit Arthur precisely in the chest. The sword fell. Arthur fell. Everything fell.

The police officers gathered me up and took me in so that I could make a statement. My speech had to be canceled. The media got hold of all the cell phone video and somehow twisted my actions into that of a hero. They said I tried to help the police by talking the man down. As a result, my speech became more popular than ever, for I appeared more authentic than ever. Truthfully, I grew rich from it.

I’ll never forget those eyes as they dimmed.

While in the precinct, the officers were kind. When they realized I only meant to grab a coffee, they offered me one.

It did not taste good, but I drank it anyway.


Copyright © 2017 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.

The Back Pew: My Short Story Of the Week

THE BACK PEW

 

Alice Goddard attended St. John’s Lutheran her entire life. She was baptized in the eloquent old church twenty-nine years ago by Pastor Stone, who had long since left and later died, rest his soul. She went to Sunday school without falter, took part in Catechism, and was confirmed in the eighth grade—there she publicly vowed her allegiance to Jesus Christ. She later married a man named Richard, whom everyone called ‘Dick,’ when she was twenty-one. They reared two children, Clive and Anthony, during their four years of marriage, and then they divorced. Somehow, Richard got custody of the children. He then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in pursuit of a high school sweetheart.

Alice gave up believing in God around the time the State granted Dick her children, but, as was her custom, she never missed a Church service.

There was a time when her friends would have come to her rescue and taken her mind off so many problems, but they all left town for various reasons or became so busy with their own children that they didn’t have enough time to use the bathroom, let alone tend to her desperate needs.

The current pastors—Hadden, Byus, and Scholfield—each visited her empty home on several occasions, quoting Scripture and inviting her to Church functions, but Alice always presented some reason or another as to why she couldn’t visit such things. She did, however, sit and listen quietly as they reiterated the Gospel and reminded her of the wonderful Christian she had once been. They vowed to her that God was waiting for her to come back to Him, she just had to open her heart again.

But by that point, it was too late. She had already decided that if God was going to turn His back on her, she would do the same.

However, a lifetime of being in a certain room at a certain time could not be broken, so she continued to attend St. John’s, sitting silently in the back pew—alone.

One Sunday, near the end of January, a young man sat in front of her, breaking the boundary the congregation unconsciously established around Alice Goddard. He was apparently a visitor to the church, for Alice had never seen him before. He wore a dark brown sports coat, the kind you could get for under thirty dollars, a pair of jeans, and a plain white shirt. His hair was a deep oatmeal, unkempt, and somewhat greasy.

Pastor Byus began the morning announcements, and then initiated the opening hymn. Alice was certain she could hear the man singing, but it wasn’t nearly loud enough to appoint as a falsetto or baritone. In fact, he seemed to be one of those singers who sang just above a whisper.

She once had a beautiful voice, but she quit making a sound of any sort while at Church, and, frankly, outside of Church as well.

Then came the dreaded moment when all were supposed say, “Peace be with you,” to whomever sat nearby. Fortunately for Alice, as already established, no one ever sat near enough for it to be an issue. None came to her, nor did she make any attempt to go to them.

“Now take a moment to greet those around you,” Pastor Byus prompted.

Alice lowered her eyes and hoped the man would be shy—shy or rude. Either one was fine with her.

No such luck.

He turned to face her with his brown eyes catching the winter sunlight through the windows. She lifted her eyes and noticed his light beard.

“Peace be with you?” he asked while extending his hand. They were ragged and calloused.

He raised an interested eyebrow when she said nothing in return, but instead, literally turned her entire body so that her back was to him. He clenched his outstretched hand into a confused, passive fist, flattened out his modest sports coat, then turned to the people in front of him.

Alice slowly spun back around when the service resumed. She was shocked when the man remained seated at the end of the service.

Again, he turned around slowly, cautiously, and faced her once more. She lifted her eyes until they met his own, but she said nothing—not an apology, not an excuse, nothing.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded once.

“Do you need to talk?”

She shook her head.

“You sure?”

Before Alice could answer, some congregation members stood at the end of the man’s pew, welcoming him to their Church. He smiled politely to Alice, then walked down the length of the pew to converse with them.

Her eyes followed the visitor as he approached those who turned their backs on her. They held a nice conversation with him, laughing and smiling, doing all the things that humans are supposed to do when they take joy in being a Christian and living a Christian life. She’d been one of them once, before everything she loved about her life was ripped away.

The next week, like clockwork, she sat silently in the last pew at the ten-fifteen traditional service. It was Communion Sunday, and this would mark the fifty-fifth consecutive Communion she chose not to receive.

After about four missed Communions, some friends in the Congregation attempted to persuade her to reintroduce Christ into her system again, both spiritually and physically. She instead chose to insult their idealistic, utopian lives and sent them away. Those friends never contacted her again. Alice decided they were total failures as Christians. She didn’t consider herself a disappointment, though. Her disdain for God and Christ was a conscious decision, not some accidental shortcoming due to lack of character.

At any rate, for the second straight Sunday, there was the mysterious man. Wearing the same outfit, he sat down, looked over his shoulder, and nodded at Alice with a sincere but wary smile. She looked away from his kindness, finding it both pretentious and awkward.

There they were, one in front of the other, without any sort of communication at all until the greetings. Once more, he faced her, held out his chapped hands, and said, “Peace be with you.”

This time he uttered it as though an order. His voice was solid, and because of his sureness, she couldn’t help but reach for him. She took his hand and found that it was indeed quite coarse. As they shook hands, she glanced about the Church and saw that the entire Congregation gawked at them.

Her hand shot out of his.

“I’m Josh.”

“Alice,” she mumbled.

“Nice to meet you, Alice.”

Josh was then pulled away by the people in front of him who did not realize what a pivotal moment this was in Alice’s life, for she was about to return the sentiment, making more progress than she had in years. Josh had no choice but to turn and greet those before him in order to grant them peace as well. He would not turn anyone away.

When it came time to arise and take Communion, Alice despised herself when she realized she would take it if only Josh invited her to walk with him.

But, Josh did not invite her, because he did not rise himself.

At the end of the service, Josh stood, stared at Alice for just a moment with a pleasant look upon his face, then said, “It’s nice to see you again.”

“You, too,” she muttered. She forgot how to talk civilly with someone. However, she told the truth. It was nice to see him again.

“Why do you sit back here?” he asked.

Although it strained her to maintain the conversation, she pressed on: “I don’t believe in God anymore.”

He said, “Not really sure what you’re doing here, then.”

She didn’t respond, so he continued by saying, “Yeah, it can be hard, can’t it? I mean, He used to talk to people directly all the time, like it was going on every other day, whereas now, well, not many of us have that sort of familiarity with Him. And His son, wow, that’s a hard one to swallow, too, huh?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her eyes becoming alert.

“Well, they want us to believe that two thousand years ago some guy who was supposed to be God in human form died for our sins? Where’s the proof? I mean, the Bible? That’s the proof? That’s not much for today’s Information Age, is it? Seeing is believing, and no one’s seen Jesus in quite some time.”

Beyond belief, Alice found herself growing argumentative, countering with, “Maybe we see Him more often than we think. Maybe He just doesn’t walk up to us and say, ‘Hey, I’m Jesus, what’s up?’”

“Oh, come on, Alice,” Josh laughed, “you don’t really think Jesus walks among us …”

Before she met Richard, the man many called Dick, she fervently believed such a thing possible—that it was even a fact. Finally, she whispered, “I think He could, maybe He doesn’t, but I think He could.”

Josh walked around his edge of the wooden pew, then sat down next to her. “Alice, you either think He does or He doesn’t, you can’t take a ‘maybe’ position on this.”

Meeting his brown eyes with her own green ones, Alice thought a moment, bit down on her lip, then confessed, “When I was younger, even as a little girl, I swore I saw Jesus sitting here, right where you are now.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Josh chuckled.

“It’s not ridiculous,” she disagreed. “He sat back here all the time. Even at my wedding, I told the ushers not to seat anyone in that spot. Guess what? He walked in just as the ceremony started.”

“Really? What did He wear?” Josh asked.

“Kind of what you’re wearing,” Alice replied.

“Seriously?”

“Of course,” Alice replied. “He always wore nice clothes, I mean, nice enough. Just nice enough to show respect in His Father’s house, but never showy, never too glamorous. You’ve got his style,” she said while narrowing her eyes.

“I dress like this because I’m poor,” Josh answered with a grin, “not because I choose to.”

“What do you do for a living?” she asked.

“Carpenter.”

She felt a wave of euphoria wash over her heart, something she used to believe was the Holy Spirit, and she cried.

“Why are you crying?” Josh asked, reaching out and taking her hand as he did so.

She did not pull away.

“I’ve been telling myself and everyone who would listen to me that I reject God,” she sobbed. “I’m not mad at God. I’m mad a Richard!”

“Don’t most people call him ‘Dick?’”

With laughter and tears, Alice confirmed, “Rightly so.”

“I want you to make me a promise,” Josh demanded while squeezing her hand.

“What?” she asked, paying no heed to the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I want you to sit with your pastors and talk things out. Real talk, no holding back due to pride or resentment. Tell them the truth, even if you think you shouldn’t. Trust me, pastors have made mistakes in their pasts—that’s just part of being human, right? That’s why He died for us, right?”

“Yeah,” Alice choked.

“Good. It’s okay to be mad at God, Alice. Everyone gets mad at God at some point in their lives. But, you can’t stay mad at Him, not if you truly believe. He’s given far more than He will ever take.”

“He took my sons,” Alice cried.

“No, Dick took your sons, and that’s because the judged owed him a favor. You were supposed to appeal his decision, remember? But you didn’t; you lost heart, stopped praying, turned your back on the Church and God, and descended into this shadow of your former self. You came to rely on Dick more than your Creator, and when Dick left, you revoked your entire foundation. But God is always willing to take you back, no matter how long you’ve been away. He’s been waiting.”

“Yes,” Alice responded.

Josh stood up, flattened out his sports jacket, nodded at the pastors who watched incredulously along with the some of the congregation, and called out, “Hey, do you think you could whip up a Communion for her? It’s been a while.”

The pastors all but fell over themselves as they rushed to the front of the Church, and the ushers sprinted as fast as their legs would allow for the materials they needed.

“Will you take it with me?” Alice asked as she held onto his rough hands.

“Me?” he asked with a grin. “Oh, I don’t so.”

“Of course,” Alice said while closing her eyes.

Josh let go of Alice’s hand, then said, “You keep your promise, because God will keep His. Okay?”

“We’re ready,” Pastors Hadden and Schofield said as they stood with joy in their hearts at the front of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

There would be many apologies in the coming weeks, both from Alice and to her as well. For all were in the wrong, and it took only the reminder of their purpose to bring them together again.

“I’ll keep my promise,” Alice pledged before opening her eyes.

“Say ‘hi’ to the kids for me, and even Richard, too,” Josh said before he started to walk away.

As she approached the alter, Alice reminded, “Most people call him ‘Dick.’”

“Rightly so,” Josh said with the flash of a smile. He then moved along.


Copyright © 2005/2020 by Scott William Foley

This story originally appeared as “Sitting Silently In the Back Pew” from The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

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.

Phasks™: My Short Story Of the Week

PHASKS

 

She lifts the Phask™ to her face, holds it nearer and nearer her skin until it connects with her Tempts®, and then exits her apartment. As she heads for the elevator, she tells her quarters to lock up before also hailing a DrUber©.

While riding down the elevator, she dictates a few messages to her friends, confirms the weather, and watches a cat video her sister sent. It’s hilarious.

Her building is an older one, practically historic by the city’s standards, and it hasn’t yet been outfitted with exterior ports. Keeps the rent down, but definitely an inconvenience to actually have to ride an elevator.

After exiting her building, she finds her DrUber© waiting at the curb. She climbs in and takes the only empty seat available. It’s at the front, on the left. There are five other people.

DrUber© flashes a message across her visual welcoming her and then prompting her to confirm the destination. She does so, and it next merges seamlessly into the city’s ever-flowing traffic.

A call pushes through. She sees it’s Alejandra and quickly answers.

“Hey, Alejandra!” she greets.

“Hey, Zee! Just wondered when you’re going to arrive?”

“Hold on, let me check …” Zee asks for an ETA. Her DrUber© messages that it will be three and a half more minutes—they have to drop off one more passenger first. “Just a few,” Zee informs.

“Cloo,” Alejandra says. “That’s about the same for me, too.”

“I’m so excited,” Zee says.

“I know!”

“How many people do you think will be there?” Zee asks.

“Well, fourteen confirmed, so let’s hope we have at least that many, right?”

“I never dreamed we’d get enough people together to start a Jill Thompson fan club!”

“I know! I loved looking at my dad’s copies of her graphic novels when I was a kid, especially Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. She’s such an amazing artist. This is going to be so much fun!”

Zee’s nose suddenly tickles. “I’ll see you there, Alejandra. I gotta go—I think I’m going to sneeze!”

“Get your Phask™ off! You’ll gross it!” Alejandra cries.

Zee disconnects her Phask™ just in time to hold her finger up to her nose and belay the sneeze. “Whew!” she says. “That was close.”

Before replacing her Phask™, Zee waits to see if another sneeze threatens. She relaxes while enjoying the slight hum of the vehicle. The three remaining people surrounding her—two men and a woman—all wear Phasks™ and, judging by their hand motions, seem to be carrying on fairly animated conversations. That, or they could be gaming. Maybe both.

Now alone in the front seat, Zee slides to the right side of the vehicle so she can look out the window at the few people walking. It always amuses her to see all of the adults wearing their Phasks™—No Two Ever Alike—and their children walking alongside them, barefaced. Kids are too little for Tempts®, so they have to make do with handheld devices. She remembers when her doctors said she could finally get a Phask™—it was the best day of her life.

One pedestrian catches her attention. He wears no Phask™, has no device in his hand, doesn’t seem connected at all to anything or anyone. In fact, Zee thinks he looks a little horrified.

Confident her sneeze has completely abated, she puts her Phask™ back on and G-Scans the guy.

No matches. Weird. She can’t remember a single time that’s ever happened.

The DrUber© reaches her destination, attaches to a lift, and then ascends. Even though she’s received thirty-two messages during her sneeze dilemma, she pauses all the activity on her visual and marvels at the parked cars sliding to and fro in order to make way for her DrUber© as it climbs the building. It reminds her of the ant farm she loved as a kid.

“Hey, it’s me again,” she says to Alejandra. “You there?”

“Yeah,” Alejandra replies. “Did you sneeze?”

“Sneeze avoided.”

“Cloo.”

“You know it!” Zee giggles.

“Hold on,” Alejandra says. “I’m talking to Eve. She says Jill Thompson might drop by!”

“No way! That would be fantastic. Makes sense; she does live in Chicago and all …”

“Give me two secs,” Alejandro says before cutting out.

The DrUber© docks at the 201st floor, unloads an occupant, then travels to the 218th. After docking again, the DrUber© alerts its occupants that they can safely exit the vehicle.

Zee double checks her evite to verify the apartment number when Alejandra breaks back in by saying, “Hey, I’m here!”

“Me, too!” Zee responds.

“At the party?”

Zee answers, “No, I’m in the hall, walking to the apartment.”

Zee abruptly feels a tap on the back of her shoulder. She spins around to see one of her fellow passengers standing behind her, removing her Phask™.

“Zee?” the person asks.

Flinging off her own Phask™, Zee questions, “Alejandra?”

“Yes!”

The two women hug while laughing hysterically.

“Oemgee!” Zee shouts. “Did you just get out of that DrUber©?”

“Yes! We’re such itzes! We’ve been together the whole time!”

“Ha! My dad would have a field day with this!”

Alejandra agrees, saying, “Oh, man, don’t even.”

“Well,” Zee continues, “it’s nice to meet you, Alejandra.”

“Yeah, like, in person and for real,” Alejandra says with a grin.

The two women resume walking, side by side, with their Phasks™ by their sides.

“So,” Zee begins, “is Jill Thompson actually coming?”

They reach the apartment.

“This is it,” Zee says. “Let me put on my Phask™ and I’ll let them know we’re here …”

“Girl!” Alejandra chides.  “Just knock!”

Zee raps against the door a few times, then repeats, “So? Is she here or what?”

Alejandra smiles brightly at Zee as the door opens. She says, “Just you wait, Zee. I think you’re going to like what the future holds.”


Copyright © 2017 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.

Actual Reality: My Short Story Of the Week

ACTUAL REALITY

 

Captain David took cover behind a burning transport vehicle. His combat armor could easily withstand the flames, but the heat played havoc with his infrared display. Intelligence reported that his primary target remained hidden within the bunker seventy meters north of his position. Unfortunately, he couldn’t determine what kind of resistance awaited within the bunker.

“Command,” Captain David said into his communication link. “I have reached the location. About to infiltrate. Potential enemy combatants unknown.”

“Copy,” Command replied into his earpiece. “Proceed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Though no one shot at Captain David in particular, artillery flew in every direction as he powered across the open ground. His fellow soldiers had different objectives at other locations, and he could see them zigzagging every which way. Some were bursting into other bunkers, some were being cut in half on the battlefield, and some were simply kneeling in place. He couldn’t afford to stop moving, not if he wanted to succeed with his mission.

A light round bounced off his armor. He glanced in the general direction from where it came, but didn’t see anyone. Between the glare of the flames, the dark of night, the spasmodic shadows, and the general chaos, it was hard to discern much of anything other than his intended objective.

He squeezed off a series of rounds at the door frame ahead of him before shouldering his way through. As the door toppled, he next saw Goga Sedov–the Russian Razor. Sedov had left the Russian Armed Forces in order to become a mercenary. His methods were so good that terrorist cells were hiring him as their strategic officer. Because of the Russian Razor’s global threat level, Captain David had been ordered to eliminate him.

“Target in sight,” Captain David huffed into his microphone.

“Fire at will,” Command replied.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Captain David continued to move forward, closing the distance between them. Just as he began to trigger his artillery gauntlets, he realized that Sedov did not raise his own weapon.

Captain David glanced down as Sedov grew nearer and nearer only to realize that he held two children captive. They were set up as a human barricade. Because Sedov kept his guns trained on the kids, he appeared to count on Captain David halting.

Captain David never stopped moving. Instead, he leapt forward with his arms outstretched. His right hand pressed the fire button; his left hand knocked Sedov’s weapon away from the hostages.

The children burst into tears, but they were safe.

Sedov, now bisected, lay strewn upon the floor.

“Target mitigated,” Captain David said as he knelt to the children and wrapped his arms around them.

“It’s okay,” he said to them. “He can’t hurt you.”

Command replied: “Drone shows two civilians on the premises.”

“Affirmative, ma’am,” Captain David replied. “Diverted enemy fire away from them. Both are alive and well. Comforting in process.”

“Well done. 250 commendation points awarded for target elimination. 250 points awarded for valor.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

As Captain David hefted the children from the ground, one in each arm, he requested: “Permission to escort civilians to refugee extraction point.”

“Granted,” Command replied. “Note: you are 750 points away from achieving Major.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Hold on,” Captain David said to the children. He then rushed out the door and raced across the battlefield. Explosions erupted all around Captain David as his legs pounded as fast as possible. The added weight of the children slowed him down more than expected. Furthermore, his primary weapons–the gauntlet guns–were rendered useless.

He needed to find cover, to rest a moment, and to strategize. Simply running across the combat zone would get them all killed.

An upended tank came into view. It would provide the protection he needed. However, when he reached the vehicle and rounded its corner, an enemy soldier lurked. The soldier had an M240 machine gun trained right on him. Captain David spun and dropped to his knees as the soldier opened fire. At first, the bullets ricocheted off his armor, but at that range it was only a matter of time before the ammunition pierced his gear.

Then, without warning, the gun’s thunderous discharge ended.

Captain David turned to see the enemy fall in a heap. He then looked around and observed a low-ranking ally, a Lance Corporal, running away. “75 pts.” flashed in bright blue above the Lance Corporal’s head for a few moments.

“My thanks …” Captain David said into his link before casting it to the fellow soldier.

“10 points awarded for gratitude,” Command informed. “And another 250 points for selflessness–you shielded those children from ordnance.”

“Davey!” a voice called out from above.

“Did you say something?” Command asked.

“Negative, ma’am,” Captain David replied. “Background noise. Disregard.”

“Davey! Can you hear me?”

Captain David looked in the direction of the refugee extraction point. If he could get the children there, he’d easily make Major. His visual display read 450 meters–over a quarter-mile. Such a trek seemed impossible, but it was well worth the risk.

“Hold on, kids,” Captain David said. “I’m going to get you out of here or die trying.”

“10 points awarded for reassurance.”

“Davey! Why aren’t you answering me?”

Captain David broke into a sprint. Explosions ignited all around him and sent debris banging against his visor. The children shielded their faces against his gauntlets, but he could see the chunks of metal and earth pelting their bodies.

“Hold on!” he yelled at them. “We’re going to make it!”

“Davey! It’s time for your dinner, honey. I made your favorite–fish sticks!”

Command inquired: “Who’s voice is that? Have you been compromised?”

Captain David continued running as he shouted, “No ma’am!”

“Davey!”

He’d covered 300 meters …

“Can you hear me, Davey? Are you still playing that silly game?”

“Your vitals suggest distraction, Captain David,” Command reported. “Do you need a break?”

“Negative, ma’am!” Captain David screamed. “I can do this!”

The whine of the missile appeared moments before the projectile itself.

“Game over,” Command informed. “Please try again.”

“Davey! Your food is getting cold. Get up here!”

David flung off his headset and screamed, “Mom, you fat witch–you just made me lose!”


Copyright © 2020 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 to the story

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.

The Miscarried: My Short Story Of the Week

TheMiscarried

 

Joseph wobbled through the backyard, jabbing his cane into the soft, grassy earth. His breath left in short, desperate gasps. Finally, he reached the tree at the back of his property. Fifty-three years ago he planted it himself, alone, when it was but a sapling. Back then it had been vulnerable … tiny … and virtually unnoticeable. Likely, no one would have noticed had it disappeared.

Like Quinn disappeared.

But Joseph made sure it thrived. He covered it with sheets during the cold, buckets in the hail, chicken wire when the vermin were flush. He kept the neighborhood children away, made sure the lawn service men were careful, and decreed no pets could move within a twenty-foot radius.

For the first several years of the oak’s life, Joseph spared no effort to thwart every dangerous factor imaginable. The oak had to persist at all costs.

He did for the tree what he could not do for Quinn.

Quinn.

Joseph flung his cane aside, dropped to his knees in front of the tree’s wide base, and then placed his palms against it. His eyes closed as his head lowered.

He heard the birds singing above, the children playing at nearby houses, a mower a block away.

“Hello.”

Joseph’s eyes shot open and he craned his heard toward the source of the sound. The sudden movement discombobulated his sense of balance, and he teetered sideways before a young man with the eyes of Joseph’s wife gently took him by the shoulders and eased him to the plush turf.

Joseph whispered, “Quinn?”

“It’s me.”

Joseph’s eyes glistened in the sunlight peeking through the oak’s leaves. He gasped, “How?”

“A last request,” Quinn replied. The smile he wore upon his face made Joseph’s heart swell.

“I prayed …” Joseph stammered, “… I prayed every night. Every night I prayed that I would get to see you … at least once. I wanted nothing more … It has been my …”

“Your dying wish.” Quinn took Joseph’s hands in his own and said, “You don’t have long.”

“I understand,” Joseph answered as he stared into Quinn’s face. “That’s why I came out here … I wanted to die next to you … your tree.”

Quinn continued to smile, but Joseph noticed the young man’s throat hitched a little.

“Most people,” Quinn began, “they’d mourn, but they’d forget. You could have wished to see anyone—your wife, your other children, your own parents.”

Shaking his head, Joseph rebutted, “I knew I’d see them again.”

Quinn raised an eyebrow.

“I know, son. I know. I wanted to believe I’d see you, too, but I couldn’t be sure. No one could tell me. I talked to our priest, I asked theology professors, I did everything I could to get an answer, but no one could give me one. So I prayed, and I wished, and I hoped for mercy.”

“And now you have it,” Quinn replied.

“So you were a boy,” Joseph chuckled. “Your mother was right.”

“You use ‘Quinn’ because of the neutrality. This is how you’ve always imagined me.”

Joseph lurched, grabbed his chest, and then eased forward into his child’s arms. He said, “I loved you the moment I found out about you. I never stopped. Not once.”

Quinn rested his chin atop Joseph’s head, looked at a caterpillar upon a fallen leaf, and said, “I know.”

Joseph leaned against the old oak, his heart finally at rest.


Copyright © 2017 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.

Natural Law: My Short Story Of the Week

NATURAL LAW

 

She rests at the bottom of the ocean somewhere between the North American and African continents while watching bizarre fish glide by in total darkness. The water is cold, frigidly so, and it is just the rejuvenation she needs.

They don’t know any better–she knows that. She understands in her heart that she shouldn’t let them upset her.

The demands started seven years ago, when she was four, and they haven’t stopped since.

Her parents were the first to notice. Apparently, she’d gone days without using the bathroom. They took her to the doctor and he determined that she was both perfectly healthy and legally dead. She didn’t believe this story at first, but after traveling back in time and seeing it for herself, she saw that her parents had not been exaggerating.

The military visited the next day. They burst in with machine guns aimed at her. They marched toward her, looked down at her, yelled at her, threatened to shoot her. She rose to their height, stopped their guns from firing, and then made a decision.

She could have atomized them. She watched herself do so in a fabricated reality that she quickly deconstructed, for it brought her no joy.

Unmitigated annihilation felt unnatural.

Instead, she chose to grant them happiness. She cured one soldier’s PTSD, another’s addiction, and a third’s chronic knee pain. She then faced her parents and intuited that they were the ones who called the government. In an instant, she comprehended their fear, their paranoia, their confusion. Yet, she detected not a trace of hate–none at all.

She gave them peace, then left for the moon.

There she remained for two years. She spent that time observing the Earth and all of its workings. There was much that made her sad, but more often than not those things she witnessed brought her comfort. Love, generosity, charity, compassion, forgiveness–these were but a few traits that inspired her.

She made yet another choice. She could have gone anywhere, done anything, but she decided to remain on Earth.

The last five years were spent serving.

She worked in soup kitchens. When the food ran out, she made more. She helped cultivate fields. When those fields needed rain, she brought water. She volunteered at hospitals. When the doctors were at a loss, she found a remedy. She visited war zones. When people needed to escape, she gave them refuge.

Food, sleep, shelter, drink–these were things she didn’t require. Therefore, her benevolence knew no bounds. She served endlessly, without falter, without ego.

Of course, the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations wanted to meet with her. They wanted to know her intentions, her loyalties, her agenda.

She was more than willing to meet with each and every one one of them, as long as they came to her. They had to find her around the homeless shelter, or at the medical tent, or in the quarantine.

Her answer always remained the same. Her intentions were to help, her loyalties were to those who needed help, and her agenda centered around finding ways to help.

They were never satisfied with the response.

They would also ask: “Are you American? Russian? Mexican? German?”

To that, she would reply: “I’m only trying to be human.”

Some nations tried to bribe her. They wanted her to commit murder, genocide, theft, espionage. She refused them all. They had nothing she desired, for she desired nothing more than to help.

One leader in particular could not accept this. He knew her country of origin and demanded her allegiance, her blind devotion, her unquestioning fidelity. When she refused him yet again, he waited until she appeared in a nearby, third-world nation,  and then he fired a nuclear weapon in her direction.

She dematerialized it, obviously, but, for a fleeting moment, she considered sending it back to him. Until that instant, she believed such petty thoughts beneath her. She felt no disappointment in him, for he acted only according to his nature; she instead experienced disappointment in herself. She did not know that aspect of herself still remained.

Which is how she ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

It will never stop. Each new era of leadership will demand her conformity. They will attack her, demean her, and try to demoralize her.

But the needs will never stop, either.

The light above cannot pierce the depths, yet she looks to it anyway.

She bursts through the water, hurls over Africa, and lands amid a fire in Australia. An arsonist initiated the catastrophe–it is not a natural occurrence. Therefore, she has no qualms about interfering. She kneels, allows the flames to overtake her, and then absorbs them–all of them. The fire is drawn into her from miles away.

Once the last spark melted into her hands, she looked around. She saw no signs of humanity. No cameras, no helicopters, no people.

No one will ever know what she did, which is the way she prefers it.

An incinerated joey lay not far off from her. She wants to put her hands upon it–to rectify its unfair death. But she does not. It would be unnatural to enact its resurrection.

Instead, she sends it beneath the ground, spares a moment to mark its passing, then fades into the folds of reality before reappearing in China.


Copyright © 2020 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 to the story

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.

Lovebirds: My Short Story Of the Week

Lovebirds

 

Bob Lyons walked into the kitchen, his blue, denim shirt soaked in sweat and peppered with twigs, leaves, and dirt. Paula, his wife, bent at the waist and peered under the sink in search of something. Because the basin had nearly filled with hot water and soap bubbles threatened to overflow, it seemed she’d been hunting longer than intended.

“Need these?” Bob asked in a gravelly voice while peeling Paula’s dishwashing gloves off of his hands and tossing them onto the adjacent counter. He ran callused fingers through his damp, thinning flattop before wiping his forehead with a blue and white bandana that he had pulled out from his back pocket.

Paula, irritated that Bob had obviously used her gloves for something other than washing dishes, huffed before embarking upon her chore without the benefit of protective latex.

Shuffling to the cupboard, Bob removed an old mason jar. Next, he invaded Paula’s space by reaching past her and turning on the faucet. He filled his jar with cold tap water and then left her in peace when he sat at the nearby table.

While rubbing and scrubbing away grease and grime, Paula mumbled, “So you couldn’t resist poking your nose in, huh?”

Bob clenched his jaw, thumbed at a dent in the table, and uttered, “They were making a mess of things. It’s like they don’t have any sense. They needed my help.”

Paula encountered a particularly resilient chunk of grease and, as she threw her whole body into scouring it, grunted, “They’ll never learn if you do it for them.”

“I know,” Bob sighed. “I didn’t have any choice. They’ve got babies on the way and they weren’t about to have their home ready in time.”

Paula finally offered Bob her full attention. Her shoulders hunched, exhausted from battling the pots and pans, when she lectured, “And what happens next time? What will they do if they have to face the world without you?”

Staring at his wife, Bob gripped his empty mason jar, his fingers whitening from the pressure, and returned, “You’ve been watching them through the window just like I have, Paula. We both know there wouldn’t be a next time if I didn’t do something this time.”

Taking his jar, Paula rinsed it off before setting it on the drying rack with the other dishware.

Her silence spoke volumes, and so Bob stood, yanked on the pants that no belt could keep affixed around his narrow waist, and mumbled, “Come see for your own self, then.”

Paula trailed her lanky husband as he led her through their humble home. They arrived in the living room. Bob pointed through their picture window.

“You see that?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Folding his arms, Bob griped, “Before I gave them a hand, that place was a disaster.”

“I take it you waited for them to leave.”

Bob answered, “I couldn’t very well work on it while they were home, could I?”

Leaning in closer to the window, Paula ignored her husband’s sarcasm and questioned, “So what did you do?”

Agitated that his handiwork did not speak for itself, Bob gruffly informed, “They had so many holes going on, you could have driven a truck through it. Their sticks were too small, and neither one of them can weave worth a nickel. They left everything loose as a goose, and to top it all off, they had a plastic bag just stuck in there, unsecured.”

Paula rolled her eyes and groaned, “So now I know what they did wrong, but I still haven’t heard what you did right.”

“I’m getting to it,” Bob spat. “I took some good, thick grass and patched up their holes. Then I rounded out the innards so that something could actually sit in there. Finally, I reinforced its base with some twine, fastening it every which way to the surrounding branches. Thanks to me, a tornado couldn’t budge that thing.”

Deciding to swallow several barbed comments, Paula instead tugged on her left pearl earring, an heirloom bequeathed by her long-departed grandmother, and asked, “And you think they’ll still use it, even after you fiddled with it?”

A smile emerged upon Bob’s face, so diminutive it could have been just another crack or crevice. He said, “That’s why I wore the dishwashing gloves.”

Feeling her hands already chapping, Paula thought of the soiled gloves that contaminated her counter, next to the drying, clean dishes, and grumbled, “I suppose that means I’ll be visiting the store soon …”

Then, as an afterthought, she noted, “You need a shower.”

♥♥♥

A few days later, Bob and Paula rolled out of bed just after daybreak. As was usually the case, before Bob made his coffee or Paula read her email, they overcame their stiff joints and stumbled into the living room in order to check up on the lovebirds.

Though the bright red male and his dowdy mate weren’t home, probably thanks to the old couple’s plodding along the hardwood floor, Bob and Paula looked through their window, examined their Japanese maple, and discerned four gray eggs covered in brown and black flecks lying within the nest.

Plainly pleased that the eggs appeared safe and sound, Bob rubbed the back of his neck, working out the rigidity, and said, “You know, cardinals can live for over ten years, and they tend to stay in the same area.”

Paula chuckled while replying, “Then let’s hope they’re as good of neighbors to us as you are to them.”

She turned around, wrapped her housecoat more tightly about her torso, and began the journey through the house to the computer room. Before Paula left the living room, however, she abruptly spun and returned to her husband. Pecking him on the stubbly cheek, she whispered into his ear, “You’re a fine man.”

Bob nodded in return, feeling a surge of warmth throughout his body.


Copyright © 2009 Scott William Foley

Originally appeared in the August, 2009, issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

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 to the story.

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.

 

A Man Out Of Time: My Short Story Of the Week

AManOutOfTime

 

Jenna sat next to her grandfather at the Academy Awards in a dress designed by someone whose name proved too difficult to pronounce.  Mateo, of course, wore nothing but the best, though he wore it in hues long outdated and cuts antiquated.

Mateo Sandoval found himself nominated for the eleventh time.  He first earned a nomination in 1946 for playing a tormented Confederate Civil War medic trapped by an abolitionist woman who kept him chained to her woodstove, vowing he would not be released until the war ended.  Mateo acted superbly in the film, but he did not win that year—the award went to Frederic March.  Nor two years later when Olivier took it.  Nor seven years after that when they gave it to William Holden.  The decades passed with him nominated time after time, but he never triumphed.

This year his nomination arrived by playing an atheist who, after living to see his wife, children, and grandchildren all die under tragic circumstances, took Christ into his heart only so that when he died and went to Heaven he could personally kill God.  The role proved demanding, but he pulled it off magnificently.  Many felt this year would be his.

Jenna always prioritized her grandfather’s best interests.  Her job that night wasn’t much different than their daily lives together.  Because Mateo refused to wear hearing aids, she often clarified things for him.  After much discussion, they decided when he won for Best Actor, she simply had to lean in and let him know as such.  Though they spoke of him perhaps losing, neither could accept that possibility.

Thus, when Julian Howard’s name reverberated through the speakers, none appeared more shocked than Jenna as she threw her hands up and thrust back into her seat.  She bumped Mateo, which prompted him to arise.  He mirrored the winner’s movement as they both approached the stage from opposite ends.

Mr. Howard, a man of thirty-three, wore a perplexed expression upon his face as Mateo took the statue from the presenter and stood directly before the microphone.  The applause quickly died down, and it appeared as though Mateo believed it did so out of reverence.  Jenna suspected it rather the result of universal embarrassment.

However, her own heart swelled, for at long last her grandfather held the award he deserved.

Mr. Howard, sensing the awkwardness, simply took his place alongside the presenters and watched as his idol accepted an Oscar that, while not awarded, certainly had been earned.

“I’d like to thank the Academy,” Mateo said, “for finally coming to its senses.”  He laughed and did not look troubled when no one else joined.  “You have no idea how much I’ve always wanted to say that.”

The orchestra music played, softly yet inauspiciously, and Mateo bellowed, “I’ve waited over five decades for this award; there is no way in Holy Hell you’re going to play this best actor off stage!”

He next shook the Oscar high over his head and beamed from ear to ear.  The crowd could not help but put their hands together in support of the sheer vitality displayed by their favorite luminary.

The orchestra music wisely placated.

“Thank you,” Mateo offered with an open-handed gesture to the composer.  “As I was saying, I’ve been in this game for many, many years.  I’ve worked with the best and the worst.  I’ve lived a good life, and now I can die happily.  I know that sounds silly to some of you, but when an artist pours his heart—his very soul—into his work and that effort is never commended by the greatest awards show in the world … well, that can prove burdensome.

“Some would give up.  Hell, I’ve known a lot that did.  Not me, though.  I knew one way or the other, by God, I was going to get up on this stage, even if in the twilight of my career—my very life—and finally hold this award.  And look, here I am.”

A roar of applause erupted, led by Jenna.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, this film wasn’t my favorite.  The director’s an egomaniacal prick; my costars rigid and unnatural; and frankly, I thought the script self-serving and pompous.  However, I knew it had the stuff of controversy, Oscar’s favorite skirt, so I plunged in headfirst like any horny boy would!”

Here he chuckled a little.  A few accompanied him, but most were losing faith again.

“Despite its utter tastelessness, I knew Hollywood would lap it up with the usual fervor it displays for gourmet shit, and so I made a point to give it my all.  You could say that for me, it was Oscar or bust.

“Well, thank God … it’s not bust,” Mateo sighed.  “It’s Oscar.  Finally, it’s Oscar.”

Mateo’s eyes glistened and he paused while holding his fist up to his mouth.  He looked away from his audience for the briefest of moments, and then, with a renewed flourish of intensity, said, “I want to thank you all for watching my movies.  Chasing this castrated little boy is what’s kept me alive these last few decades.  Hell, the Academy did me a favor.  They added years to my life!”

Jenna noted that some of the crowd laughed and nearly all smiled.  He had his Oscar, just as everyone wanted, and so the world turned a little more gracefully.

“If I die tomorrow, or the day after that,” Mateo said with the award clutched to his chest, “don’t mourn for me.  I am satisfied.”

This time, when the music floated up, he said, “Now I truly am a man out of time.  Thank you—thank you for this moment.”

He then grinned at Jenna.  She offered an impish wink in return.

The crowed rose and offered a standing ovation, Mateo’s last.


Copyright © 2017 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 to the story

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.

Thumb War: My Short Story Of the Week

THUMB WAR

 

She took her seat at the round, wooden table and placed her elbow upon the vinyl pad. Gawking people of every financial tier surrounded her in the basement of a disreputable bar with rotten lighting. As she stared down her opponent, she flexed her fingers and thumb.

The man across from her looked like the plume of smoke after a volcanic eruption. Huge—pervasive—but shapeless. His hands, though … they were the biggest she’d ever seen. He could probably engulf her entire head in one of those things ….

An averaged sized woman, Hannah Cane had been winning tournaments for months. She eased her way onto the scene but quickly dominated with such efficiency that those who cared about the sport nicknamed her “The Machine.” She may have been the smallest competitor, but her intellect, improvisation, and unrelenting willpower put her over the top time and again.

The men didn’t understand how she did it. Most of them were former premier athletes. Once upon a time, some were even professional arm wrestlers. Injury, in one way or another, ruined their hopes and dreams. Their thumbs proved the only part of their body still pain-free. As athletes, they admired “The Machine’s” passion and brains, but those attributes shouldn’t have matched the fact that their thumbs were unilaterally bigger and exponentially stronger than her thumb.

Though clandestine, the underground thumb wrestling competitions paid well. The crowds loved to see their former sports idols up close and, to be honest, a little desperate. The audience betted big, and so the competitors won big. Hannah actually lived off her earnings. After she won the next match, she would be set for months.

The massive creature across from her had once been a lineman in the NFL—Virgil Dunn. He played for the Patriots. No one told her this; she recognized him. She remembered the game in which he got his arm torn out of its socket. Until her own injury, it had been the most gruesome thing she’d ever seen. The television cameras cut away as soon as it happened, but because she wielded a flag on the sidelines, she got an up close and personal view.

“Hey,” she said to him. “I’m Anna.” Of course, her name was not “Anna,” it was Hannah. She couldn’t risk using her legal name anymore.

“I don’t care about your name,” he growled.

The referee approached, which prompted the crowd to grow silent. He leveled both competitor’s hands, made them lock fingers, and then personally lifted the individual thumbs.

As Hannah expected, nothing struck the referee as unusual.

“Let’s a have clean match,” the referee said. “Remember, winner takes all. Must hold the opponent’s thumb down for a three-count. This is not a ‘best-of.’ Again, winner takes the purse upon the first pin.”

“Good luck, Virgil,” Hannah said.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the promoter droned into his microphone, “now is the final moment to place your bets! The match begins in ten seconds. If you’d like to place a final bet, I have assistants throughout the establishment. Are you ready, ref?”

“Ready!” the referee shouted. “Wrestlers!” he yelled. “Get ready!”

The referee paused a moment until both competitors nodded at him. He then shouted, “One! … Two! …Three! … Four! I declare a thumb war!”

º

Hannah studied the specs for weeks before she started tinkering with the prosthetic. With a degree in mechanical engineering and a searing rage at the indignity she suffered, it took all of her patience to review the apparatus thoroughly before attempting any sort of customization.

The doctors taught her the basics regarding the new appendage. They told her everything she needed to know in order to use it to its fullest potential; they gave her a list of items to troubleshoot should any malfunctions occur; they drilled her on how to keep the port clean for the thumb’s remote uplink to her brain. Though the titanium rod connecting the thumb to her hand could possibly get contaminated, the port leading to her somatosensory cortex posed the greatest likelihood of infection.

Once she felt as though she understood the device, she detached it from the rod, peeled back the synthetic skin, popped out the imitation muscle, and then got to work on the motors.

Her commanding officer warned her against doing any such thing—he knew her well. In private, he told her that the Marines were happy to pay for the experimental prosthetic, but if she altered it in any way, they were no longer responsible for the cost of upkeep—a price that would surpass millions of dollars during the course of her life.

She connected both the thumb and the remote sensor to her computer, picked up her tool as best she could with only four fingers, and then stared at the largest motor housed in the thumb’s base. It measured only ¼ of an inch. The motors in the middle and tip of the thumb were even smaller. Limitless opportunities abounded for her to screw this up in no time at all. The minute she touched those motors, the United States government was financially off the hook.

She whispered her favorite motto: “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome,” before getting to work.

º

Hannah utilized her routine strategy against Virgil. She first avoided any contact at all with his thumb. This went on for several minutes. She learned early on that the longer she made a match last, the higher the bets tended to be at the next match. The audience grew to trust that she would always give them an exciting, lengthy bout, and so they placed their bets confidently.

Next, she let Virgil pin just the tip of her thumb in such a way that the slightest squirm would set her free. The crowd loved these escapes, and it typically bolstered her opponent’s confidence. She didn’t necessarily need them overconfident—she needed no mental advantage to secure a victory. The heartbreak in their eyes after being sure they had her beat, though … it never failed to make her heart flutter.

The crowd’s enthusiasm for the partial pins usually dictated how long she would let it go on. Once it seemed they tired of it, she would move the match into its third phase. This involved allowing her competitor three or four pins that would get all the way to the two-count before finally pinning him herself for the impossible win.

Of course, there was nothing “impossible” about it.

Her thumb, a prototype, looked and felt realistic in every way. The government would pay for it on behalf of the United State Marine Corps if Hannah agreed to be the test subject. After what happened, she considered it too good to be true. Of course, she obviously felt no obligation to the Marines or her government after the attack, and so she went underground the minute they turned their backs. They had a habit of doing that to her—turning their backs.

The prosthetic initially exerted the average amount of force consistent with a woman her size. The lab rats took into account her muscle mass, the length of the thumb—it involved a lot of calculations and calibrations. She quadrupled their settings. If she wanted to, she could thrust her thumb through a thin slab of concrete.

Pinning down anyone’s thumb offered no problem at all.

After beating Virgil, the crowd exploded. The promoter instantly handed her a cheap trophy and a lucrative check. Hannah flung the trophy at Virgil, tucked the check into her back pocket, and then started to weave her way through the crowd.

She noticed all of the cell phones recording her—a typical occurrence. This would necessitate the need to change her routine. If someone cared enough to study tape of her, they could figure out she’s doing the same thing every match. If suspected of cheating, this gravy train could come to an end.

“Hey!” Virgil yelled.

Hannah turned and faced him.

“You’re a fraud!”

º

Hannah responded to the three lieutenants cornering her, “I earned this fair and square, guys. No tricks. No alterations. No accommodations. I passed the course.” She tightened the towel around her.

“No way. There’s no way a woman could do it. They want the good publicity,” one of them said.

“Maybe,” Hannah agreed, “but I still passed the course. I’m going to be an infantry officer, and there’s nothing you boys can do about it.”

“The Marines have never had a female infantry officer,” another said.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Hannah replied. “If we’re being honest, you guys sound a little jealous. I take it you all didn’t pass.”

At the conclusion of her statement, one of the lieutenants shoved her against the wall. Hard. It didn’t hurt, but it told her they weren’t there only to talk.

“Look,” she said. “I just got out of the shower. I know I’m the only woman left, but this is still the female barracks. You guys can’t come in here without first announcing yourselves. You’ve broken protocol in a number of ways. I’m warning you—you need to leave. We can finish this in the field.”

“Maybe we should make sure you never make it to the field,” the other lieutenant said. “Be a shame if some kind of an injury got you discharged.”

Hannah narrowed her eyes before hissing, “Maybe you should stick your thumb up your ass.”

The lieutenant pulled out his knife as the other two pinned Hannah’s arms against the wall. Her towel came loose and fell to the floor.

“I think we’ll stick your thumb up your own ass,” he snarled.

º

The surrounding crowd silenced. Hannah sensed tension filling the air as Virgil approached her.

“I don’t know how you’re doing it,” Virgil said. “But you’re cheating.”

Hannah noticed a few guys she’d pinned in previous rounds appearing behind Virgil. It looked like they’d been comparing notes.

“It’s all in the technique, guys,” Hannah said.

“No woman—or man—has a thumb that strong,” Virgil replied.

“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?” Hannah said with a laugh.

The promoter got between them while outstretching his arms. He tried to make it look like he addressed the crowd, but everyone understood he actually spoke to the thumb wrestlers. He said, “Winner takes all, folks. No questions asked.”

“Oh, I’m asking questions, Jack,” Virgil seethed. “No way a little girl like this could out-muscle us.”

Hannah smirked before saying, “First of all—that’s belittling and I take offense. Secondly, I’m hardly out-muscling you. We’re talking about thumbs, here.”

“I want that money,” Virgil said. “And I’m going to split it with the other guys you cheated.”

The crowd collectively gasped. They were in for an even better show than they anticipated.

“No!” the promoter shouted. “This is not happening. The cops have looked the other way, but this could shut us down. No fighting—especially with a woman!”

Hannah walked up to the promoter, placed her hand on his shoulder, and said, “It’s cool, Jack. How about this, though? Let’s give the people a chance to place their bets. Winner takes fifty-percent of your profit.” She next turned to the spectators before thundering, “Sound good to you, folks?”

They roared their approval.

“What about it, Virgil?” Hannah asked. “Me against you and your two friends. Think you can take me?”

“Damn straight,” Virgil uttered.

“Jack?” Hannah asked the promoter. “You down? I hope you say ‘yes’—I could use the extra money.”

The promoter saw Hannah wink at him and his nerves disappeared. He’d never seen such confidence in a person. “What the hell? Let’s do it. Place your bets!”

Hannah immediately started loosening up. She jumped in place while jabbing her arms around. All the while, her discerning eye assessed the enemy.

To escape any suspicions, she’d have to avoid using the prosthetic.

Shouldn’t be a problem. After all, she took down three Marines without a thumb.


Copyright © 2018 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 to the story

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.

 

Faces Unknown: My Short Story Of the Week

FACES UNKNOWN

 

Lois sat in her room, surrounded by such delightful company!  

It was a small space, so most of them stood. With the ease of a skilled debutante, Lois moved in and out of conversations with her visitors, careful to never end a discussion until her conversationalist had sparked a new dialogue with someone else. The space buzzed with adults’ hearty, jocular banter. The lone child among them sat in one of the two available chairs—the other chair still empty—remaining silent and appearing quite agitated.  

Between idle chit-chat with her company, Lois looked at the pouting little girl and said, “I promise, just as soon as they leave, we’ll go out and have fun. I love to play just as much as you do, remember? But we mustn’t be rude to our friends.” 

Just then, a set of knuckles gently rapped upon Lois’ door.

“Come in,” Lois sang over the drone of her gathering.

A woman far older than any of Lois’ other visitors and who looked to be well past seventy entered the room, saying, “Hello, Lois. How are you today?”

“I’m marvelous, thank you for asking! Please, don’t mind the crowd; come in and take a seat.”

With a slight look of discomfort upon her face, the new guest made her way to the nearest chair and began to sit.

“Oh, no! Not there!” Lois called out, losing her composure. “You don’t want to sit on my little friend, do you? Please, use the other chair, the empty one.”

The woman, seemingly mortified, quickly planted herself in the other chair. Lois realized the room had gone silent. She looked to everyone and said, “Now, it was an honest mistake! No harm, no foul!” Lois smiled when the din of chatter promptly resumed.

“So,” Lois initiated, “do you know everyone here? I’d be happy to introduce you to whomever you wish.”

The visitor’s eyes darted away from Lois before she said, “I’m afraid I don’t know who’s with you at the moment.”

“Not to worry, dear. I’m happy to help with faces unknown. For instance, if you look over your shoulder, you’ll see Max Beasley. Can you believe he asks me to marry him nearly every time he visits? I’m not sure how much longer I can keep him at bay.  Though he wouldn’t be such a bad catch, you know. His father owns the corner gas station. Gasoline seems to be a lucrative industry.”

Looking over her shoulder, the most recent guest again returned her gaze to Lois and said, “I knew a man by the name of Max Beasley once, but he was much older than the person you’re describing.”

“Oh?” Lois mused. “Perhaps the person you know is a relative or something. Maybe that’s where Max got his name. I’ll have to ask him later.” Lois then said, “What about Captain Marlow over there? I’m sure you’d love his tales of navigating the Congo River. He keeps promising to ferry me one day himself, but I have such motion sickness, I don’t believe I could stand it! I’ve never been one for nautical travel.”

“Actually,” the woman said, “I came to see you, Lois.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

Lois, in a display of uncommon anxiety, wrung her hands. She studied the woman as politely as possible, then, after a defeated sigh, said, “My dear, I’m afraid I simply can’t place your face. Have we met?”

“Several times. But, please, don’t worry about it. My name is Angelica Black.”

Angelica reached out her hand and Lois shook it with a bright smile.  

“Do you hear that, Angie?” Lois asked as she addressed the little girl, lower lip still protruding. “This nice woman has the same name as you! What an interesting coincidence.”

Angelica mustered all her strength and offered a soft, amiable laugh.

“Angie and I were just getting ready, once our guests leave, to go play at Shallow Creek. Do you know it?”

“I know it like an old friend,” Angelica replied.

Lois and Angelica discussed Shallow Creek, as well as many other local areas of adventurous interests, at great length. Lois had to frequently remind Angie to remain patient, they would be on their way to play soon, but Angie, judging by Lois’ reactions, grew more and more impetuous.

Finally, feeling that she had asked more from a little girl than anyone should, Lois genially requested her guests return at a later time, that she had neglected Angie for far too long, and, in truth, Lois was just as itchy to splash in Shallow Creek’s waters as was her young friend.

Lois stood to escort her callers from out her room, and Angelica lingered so as to be the last to leave—discounting Angie, of course.

Finally, once satisfied everyone else had gone, Lois warmly waved her arm in a gesture for Angelica to also exit.  

Angelica said, “You must love your time at Shallow Creek.”

“Oh, I do,” Lois said. “But it’s really Angie’s company I value so. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had, to be quite honest. The age discrepancy is really no matter. I can always be myself around her, and she never belittles my extravagances. I thank God I have her in my life.”

“I’m sure she’s just as thankful for you, Lois,” Angelica said with her eyes threatening to overflow.

Lois furrowed her brow as though slightly confused, cordially smiled, and then Angelica watched as her lifelong friend closed the door to an empty room.

“Hello, Mrs. Black,” Nurse Nash greeted as Angelica walked by. “My shift just started, and I haven’t yet seen Mrs. Beasley. How is she today?”

Angelica, her cheeks wet, returned, “Lois is with her best friend. She couldn’t be happier.”

A Note From the Author: This story is of particular significance to me as it was inspired by the struggles with dementia my maternal grandmother experienced for the better part of ten years. I often find myself thinking about those intangible visitors she received as well as the obvious happiness they brought her.


Copyright © 2008/2020 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. . This story first appeared in the September 2008 issue of News and Views For the Young at Heart.

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.