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.

Healthy Balls: My Short Story Of the Week

Healthy Balls

 

“Peas is a silly name,” said eight-year-old Elise. “It sounds kind of yucky, you know, like …”

“Pee-pee!” exclaimed Elise’s four-year-old sister, Loretta.

“Come on, now, enough of that,” Steve said as he sat down at the table.

“Sorry,” Loretta mumbled.

“No you’re not,” Elise chided.

“I’m not!” Loretta bellowed before laughing maniacally.

“All right,” Caroline interrupted, “your father made your favorite. Let’s eat while it’s hot.”

Loretta roared, “Bow tie pasta! Yum!”

“Glad somebody’s excited for it,” Steve chuckled.

Steve did indeed make the girls’ favorite dinner. The night previous, he’d made meatloaf, never a popular choice among his children, but a favorite of his wife’s. He thought tonight he’d make something they’d all enjoy. Of course, Elise and Loretta eat the mini farfalle with only Alfredo sauce, whereas he and his wife add peas, red pepper, green pepper, onion, and Parmesan. Steve takes it even a step further with small Italian sausage slices. Not to worry, the girls must still eat their peas, albeit in a separate dish with too much butter.

Obviously, the peas were a topic of great concern to Elise.

“Don’t you think ‘peas’ is kind of a weird name?” Elise asked anyone willing to answer.

“I guess,” Caroline replied.

Elise grinned, then said, “Yeah, like when I drop a pea on the floor, I have to say, ‘Oops, I pead on the floor.’”

Loretta erupted.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard it phrased quite like that,” Steve added.

“No, Steve, she’s right,” Caroline said. “It does sound a little funny to warn people, ‘Oh, no! Don’t step in my pea!’”

Steve groaned, “Seriously? You’re doing it, too?”

The girls burst out laughing, so hard, in fact, that Loretta very nearly fell out of her seat. Steve caught her by the shoulder and hefted her back up into place.

“What would be a better alternative?” Carolina asked Elise.

“Huh?”

Caroline clarified, “What would be a better name for peas?”

Elise took a bite of her garlic bread and thought for several moments. After great contemplation, she finally revealed, “I’ve got it! Green balls!”

Caroline took a drink of soda the moment Elise said this, and within an instant she had to cover her mouth to keep from spitting it out.

Loretta noticed her mother, started pointing, and shouted, “Look at Mommy! Look at Mommy!”

“Green balls, huh?” Steve repeated. “I’ve got to be honest, kiddo … that doesn’t sound appetizing.”

Finally under control, Caroline giggled, “I mean, it’s already hard enough to get most kids to eat their peas, you know? I’m not sure calling them ‘green balls’ will get children excited for a big spoonful.”

“Not me, that’s for sure,” Steve said.

“But you don’t eat peas, Daddy,” Loretta enlightened.

“True enough, sweetheart,” he answered.

Elise, a thoughtful young girl, took the matter to heart. “So we need a name that will make kids want to eat peas but not sound like, you know …”

“Pee-pee!” Loretta hollered. “Pee-pee! Pee-pee!”

“We got it, Loretta,” Caroline said with a smile.

“And ‘green balls’ isn’t any good?” she tested again.

Steve finished chewing before saying, “I won’t lie – it’s not great.”

“Okay. Well then … how about … healthy balls!”

Caroline’s eyes closed so tightly that they began to water as she hunched over and tried her hardest not to laugh. Instead, a sequence of rasps escaped accompanied by a strange series of heaving and jostling.

“I think that’s perfect, Elise,” Steve said. “The doctors will love it. I mean, ‘healthy balls.’ It sounds very nutritious.”

“You think so?” Elise asked. “It’s good?”

Caroline, still unable to talk as she fought to contain her laughter, offered her husband a silent warning with a quick shake of her head.

“It’s very good,” Steve agreed. “I think everyone should have healthy balls.”

“It doesn’t sound gross?” Elise questioned.

“Only if there’s a hair on them,” her father added.

“Steve!” Caroline chastised.

“No, Daddy’s right,” Elise confirmed. “If I find a hair on my food, I can’t eat anymore. It totally grosses me out.”

“Okay,” Caroline began after finally having composed herself, “let’s change topics.”

“Why?” Loretta asked.

“Yeah, why?” Steve repeated with an ornery grin.

“I think kids would love healthy balls,” Elise informed.

“I think we all would,” Steve added. “People will grab big handfuls.”

Caroline again lost control. She pressed her eyes shut, pursed her lips, and tried with all her might to keep it together.

“Maybe Daddy will like to eat them now!” Loretta said.

“Hmm. I don’t know, Lo,” Steve said. “I mean, it is just a name change. I’m guessing they would still taste the same. I’d have to ask someone to try them out for me. Maybe your mom would do me a favor and taste my healthy balls?”

At this Caroline screeched, “Excuse me!” before racing to the bathroom. They heard her slam the door, turn on the fan, run the water, and then emit a sound so jarring that the girls’ eyes grew quite concerned.

“Is Mommy crying?” Loretta asked.

It’d been a while since Steve heard such a ruckus from his wife. He informed the girls, “Ladies, what you’re hearing is your mother’s genuine laughter. It is not for the faint of heart.”

Elise looked at Steve very seriously and said, “I don’t think you guys are talking about peas.”

Loretta added, “I think they’re talking about real balls!”

Steve then had to excuse himself from the table as well.

Some time passed before the parents rejoined their children, at which point they agreed they should probably stick with the name “peas” and have no more talk of healthy balls.

Loretta, however, noticed Steve and Caroline’s conspiratorial glance to one another. She offered one of her own to Elise, which prompted a mischievous smirk in return.

This was not over.


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.

George Winthrop Jr. Park: My Short Story Of the Week

WinthropCoverI

“Look, there he is,” Krystal groaned.

Ben said, “Every Tuesday! What’s the creep doing at a children’s park?”

Andrea said, “It’d be different if he brought a grandchild or something, but he just sits there watching the kids play in their bathing suits. It’s weird!”

“We’ve done nothing about it this whole summer,” Lisa said. “We should confront him. We need to let him know we’re on to him. We can’t tolerate it.”

“Totally,” Ben replied. “Doesn’t he realize we see him gawking at our kids? He’s lucky we haven’t turned him over to the cops!”

“So go tell him, Ben,” Krystal said. “We shouldn’t put this off any longer, and it’ll sound more impressive coming from you.”

“Why?” Ben asked. “Because I’m a man?”

“No,” Krystal answered. “It’s because you’re super tall and probably three hundred pounds.”

“Two-fifty,” Ben huffed while getting to his feet. “Keep an eye on my Lacy, would you?”

Lisa smiled and said, “You bet, Ben. Good luck. We’ll be here if things get out of hand.”

Ben followed the water area’s perimeter. Toddlers ran from spout to bucket to spray gun, laughing all the while. Ben had joined Lisa, Krystal, and Andrea’s Tuesday play group after meeting them at church. Throughout the summer, they’d convened weekly at George Winthrop Jr. Park, and without fail, they’d seen the old man haunting a bench, speaking to no one, and ogling the children.

As Ben approached, he saw that the old man wore a battered fireman’s cap and black-rimmed glasses, as well as a white shirt and blue jeans. He also had a thermos. Ben could only imagine its contents.

The man in question didn’t notice Ben’s advancement.

“Hey,” Ben called out.

The man’s head snapped away from the children and he studied Ben a moment, careful to avoid eye-contact. With a face devoid of friendliness, he mumbled, “Howdy.”

No stranger to confrontation, Ben got right to the point by saying, “My friends and I notice that you come here a lot.”

“Yep,” the old man replied.

“Every Tuesday, in fact,” Ben said.

“Just like you and yours,” the man pointed out.

Ben chuckled a little before replying, “Yeah, but we bring our kids with us.”

The old man went back to watching the children as he spat, “That right?”

Folding his arms across his wide chest, Ben answered, “Yeah, man. That’s right.”

Without looking at Ben, the man said, “I used to bring my kid to this park—every Tuesday. This was back before it had all the fancy water guns and such, back when it was still called Evergreen Park. It was a long time ago, probably before you were born.”

“I don’t really care,” Ben replied.  “I do care about my kid’s safety, though, and I want to know what you’re doi—”

“People are funny nowadays,” the man interrupted.  “They don’t think. They don’t think about the past or the future; they only think about the present. They get a notion, and they act on it, lickety-split.”

“Look,” Ben said, “I don’t have time to listen to you rant, okay? I just wanted to give you fair warning: we don’t like you watching our k—”

“You probably don’t even know who George Winthrop Jr. is, do you?”

Furrowing his brow, Ben got caught off guard. He stammered, “W-What? No. Who cares about George Winthrop Jr.? He doesn’t matter. It’s just a park.”

The old man laughed before grumbling, “He doesn’t matter, huh? He sure mattered to Travis and Becky Swan. They had a little girl, about three years old, and she got trapped in her bedroom during a house fire. George Winthrop Jr. was a fireman, and he saved that little girl’s life. He died doing it, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get it done. The Swan girl got a little burned on her legs, but she went on to grow up and have a few kids of her own. Last I heard, she’s teaching elementary school up north.”

“Cool,” Ben muttered, “so they changed the name of the park in honor of the fireman, I get it. What’s your point?”

“Ha!” the old man cackled. “They changed it all right, but only after I hounded them for three solid years. A man gives his life saving a baby, and the city makes you jump through a thousand hoops just to give that man a little recognition. Then, a few more years go by, and before you know it, nobody even remembers who the park is named after.”

Ben’s cheeks grew hot as he began to understand.

The man continued, “Well, I’ll always remember who this park is named after, I can tell you that much. My boy loved this park, and I know he’d love seeing all these kids enjoying it, too. Like I said, I brought him here every Tuesday, my only day off, and I don’t aim to quit coming any time soon. Sometimes I can feel him sitting right on this bench next to me, and we watch the kids together, and we understand that he did right that night—saving that Swan girl. I miss him terrible, but he did the right thing, and I’m proud as hell of him.”

Swallowing hard, Ben extended his hand and said, “I’m Ben Silvestri. Would you care to join my friends and me? You could meet our kids and maybe tell us a little bit more about your son.”

The old man looked Ben in the eyes for the first time, and then, with his face brightening, said, “I’d like that.”

He then shook Ben’s hand while saying, “I’m George Winthrop.”


Copyright © 2009/2019 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. . This story first appeared in the September 2009 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.

 

A Blind Date For a New Year: My Short Story Of the Week

BLINDDATENEWYEAR

Ellen Knowles entered the posh restaurant, shook the snow from her black Rivington leather kitten-heel high boots, removed her pink cashmere wrap, and then approached the thin-faced, large-bellied maître d’.

“Happy New Year, Madame!” he exclaimed in perfectly rehearsed passion.

“Soon enough, I hope,” she replied without looking at him. She unbuttoned her overcoat.

“How may I be of service, Madame?” he asked as he admired her immaculate wardrobe.

“I’m meeting someone; perhaps he’s here already?”

“Ah, yes,” the maître d’ purred. “You must speak of Mr. McLeay. He said a ravishing woman might arrive in search of a rendezvous. Follow me, if you please.”

Ellen trailed the maître d’, ignoring the fact that the tails of his tuxedo remained inert due to his rotund posterior. Finally, she perceived a lone man wearing a rather shabby brown sport coat. He sat at a table dressed in white cloth with two lit candles upon it. Tiny flames danced along the man’s forehead as he perspired.

“Hi,” he said upon noticing her approach. He rose from his seat and offered an unadorned hand. “You must be Ellen.”

“I am,” she said as she gracefully—and rather slowly—removed her black leather gloves. She finally took his still hovering hand within her own and, after realizing that he intended only to shake it, said, “And you must be Bartholomew.”

“Lord! Please—call me Bart. Bartholomew makes me feel like I’m back in grade school.”

She smiled, her red lips dazzling in the soft light surrounding them, and assured, “Then ‘Bart’ it shall be.”

Ellen remained upright as Bart took his seat in an effort to hide his frumpy black pants. She waited a few moments as he readjusted his silverware, eyes darting between her and the cutlery, then removed her own black double-faced wool Bella overcoat. Though the establishment achieved a pleasing ambiance and reputedly served exquisite cuisine, Ellen found their lack of a coat check service deplorable.

She positioned her outerwear over the back of her chair in order to avoid any potential wrinkles before seating herself.

“I’m glad a meeting could finally be arranged. Anderson had wonderful things to say about you,” she commented while grasping the corners of her dinner napkin. She flung it onto her lap with effortless efficiency.

Bart snatched up his napkin sprawled upon the table, fought the urge to stuff it into the collar of his plaid shirt, and instead tossed it to his right leg. “He said great things about you, too. Though, I have to say, he didn’t tell me you were quite so …”

Bart trailed off and averted her gaze.

Ellen’s brown eyes grew slightly wide, and, had she been a less polished woman, might even have lifted her eyebrows in anticipation. When it became obvious that Bart would rather play with his salad fork than conclude his statement, she pressed the matter.

“He didn’t tell you I was quite so what, Bart?” she requested pleasantly enough, though her pulse quickened.

Bart finally allowed his salad fork some time alone, glanced up at her, and said, “Aw, Ellen, I hate to be so forward. I can only imagine what you must be thinking right now, so I better come out with it. I have a habit of sticking my foot in my mouth, you see, and even though it’s been a long time, I don’t remember being too impressive on first dates, especially on such an important day …”

“It’s only New Year’s Eve, Bart. It’s not so very important.”

At the conclusion of Ellen’s statement, Bart’s face seemed to take on a mixture of both ash and crimson. He felt a blind date on New Year’s Eve could only be outranked by a date on one’s birthday or Christmas itself!

“You were saying, Bart?”

“Oh, right. Well, Ellen, what I was about to say, before I worried about being too direct, you see, is that Anderson didn’t tell me, well, he didn’t tell me you were so … forgive me, Ellen, but he didn’t tell me you were so beautiful.”

Though her posture remained pristine, Ellen’s heart rate tripled and she couldn’t help but smile … a little. She leaned almost imperceptibly forward, so as not to be judged a tart by any of the establishment’s eavesdropping connoisseurs, and replied, “Nor did Anderson tell me you were so very handsome.”

A wide smile spread across Bart’s face.

Inching ever closer toward her date—meddlesome eavesdroppers be damned—Ellen divulged, “I lied, Bart. A blind date on New Year’s Eve is very special indeed, and though I struggled against my family’s discovery of this engagement, Anderson found it humorous to email all of them with the news.”

Laughter erupted from Bart’s depths, and he confessed, “That fool did the same thing to me, too! I bet I’ll have at least four different messages on my voice mail tonight.”

The server at last arrived and set a menu before both Ellen and Bart. “Shall we perhaps begin with a glass of wine, Madame and Monsieur?”

Ellen perused the menu, as did Bart; however, because she was so absorbed in the restaurant’s delicious selection, she didn’t notice his eyes bulge when he read the outrageous prices.

Returning her attention to the waitress, Ellen asked, “Before we order, I must inquire: Do you honor AARP discounts?”

“Of course, Madame, though we require a membership card.”

Looking across the elegant dinner table, Ellen asked, “How about it, Bart? Did you bring your card tonight?”

His heart fought to free itself from the confines of his chest as Bart answered, “You bet your boots, Ellen.”

“Very good, then,” Ellen said to the server. “We’ll start with a bottle of Dom Pérignon Rose.”

Bart praised, “You’re my kind of woman, Ellen.”

Despite all her refined inclinations, Ellen winked in return.


Copyright © 2008/2019 by Scott William Foley

This work originally published in the February 2008 edition of 60 Plus News and Views

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.

A Christmas Confrontation: My Short Story Of the Week

AChristmasConfrontationCover

James Henderson shook the snow from his overcoat and dress shoes as he entered the mammoth church. In his opinion—with the food court, café, gift shop, and free Wi-Fi—it had more in common with a shopping mall. His left hand clung to a hot pink flier so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

James pounded through the lobby, but the grey carpet devoured his stomps, rendering them ineffectual. Teenagers loitered around everywhere. Some were working on homework, but most were playing on their phones or gossiping. Nearly all of them clutched a coffee of some sort. They obviously came straight over once school dismissed. This fact only served to enrage James all the more.

He stopped one of them, a boy whose hair hid his eyes, and demanded to know the location of the youth minister’s office. After a muffled response, James headed in the appropriate direction. He hadn’t bothered to wipe his feet, and so he left cold, wet tracks.

The particular door he sought stood wide open. James burst into the office without knocking or announcing himself in any way. He discovered an older man sitting at a desk, listening to a radio show while tapping away on his laptop. The man wore a white Chicago Bears hat, a red pullover, and a silver wedding ring. The office was adorned with posters promoting musical groups unfamiliar to James—names like Switchfoot, Third Day, and David Crowder Band.

Before the older man could even look up, James huffed, “My name’s James Henderson, and I expect a word with Marty Yaple.”

The other man didn’t seem startled by the rash intrusion whatsoever, as though unexpected outbursts were an everyday occurrence. He smiled and said, “You’re looking at him.”

“No,” James said. “I want to see Marty Yaple, the youth minister.”

“Yeah, that’s still me. I’m Marty.”

James squinted at the man, prompting Marty to say, “Ministering to youth doesn’t mean the minister has to be young in body, though being young in spirit helps. I really am Marty Yaple. Now, what can I do for you?”

As James rushed across the room and slammed the pink flier down upon Marty’s desk, the youth minster pushed a button on his laptop. This brought the radio show to an end.

“You’re responsible for this,” James seethed.

Marty looked at the flier, then said, “I take it you don’t like the event.”

“No, Mr. Yaple—”

“Call me Marty—”

“Mr. Yaple, I do not like the event one bit. Get Jiggy With Jesus’ Birthday. It’s sacrilegious.”

Having had many experiences over the years with people of all temperaments, Marty remembered to keep his cool. “We’re celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve. Jiggy denotes joy, dancing, and celebration. Where’s the blasphemy in that?”

Scooping the flier back up, James read, “Live music, dancing, pizza, video games.” With his nostrils flaring and a vein above his left brow visibly throbbing, he interrogated, “Where’s Communion? Candles? Hymns? What about a sermon? You don’t mention anything that remotely gives the impression of worship.”

Marty felt his cheeks flush ever so slightly as he said, “Well, to be fair, Mr. Henderson, we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth. We will pray as a group, of course, and I always encourage independent prayer as well, but we want it to be a party. We’ll address those things you mentioned the next day during regular service, but our youth Christmas Eve event is all about celebrating Jesus’ arrival into the world and our hearts by throwing a party.”

Skepticism shrouded James’ face. Marty witnessed the look a thousand times during his years of service. Waving the flier back and forth as though aflame, James growled, “My thirteen-year-old daughter brought this home yesterday. One of her friends, a member of your youth group, gave it to her. She wants to come.”

“Wonderful!” Marty exclaimed.

“Wrong, Mr. Yaple. My wife and I have taken her to our church’s Christmas Eve service since she was a little girl. Now that tradition will come to an end over pizza and live music? Our family will spend its first Christmas Eve apart over some gimmick? How can you justify the turmoil you’re bringing into my family by catering to the whims of children?”

Though a Godly man, Marty felt anger swell up inside his chest. He didn’t deny it; instead, he overcame it. He said, “My goal as youth minister is to bring children to Christ so that they may then bring their future children to Christ. You may not like my methodology, but I firmly believe Christmas is about Jesus; we want to celebrate Him.”

Marty noticed that James’ expression softened as he continued with, “Look, Mr. Henderson, we’re both Christians. We may not have the same ideologies, but we both believe in Christ and want your daughter to celebrate Him. Now, we’d love to have her join us, but as long as she’s acknowledging His birth, I’m a happy man wherever she is.”

And then Marty spotted it.

Up until that point, he believed he saw anger in James’ eyes. But he was mistaken. It was not anger James suffered, but pain. Marty, being the father of three grown women, finally realized what was at the heart of this confrontation.

Marty asked, “You said your daughter is thirteen?”

James nodded with averted eyes placed upon a nearby cross.

“I remember those days. That’s around the time they realize we’re not infallible; that maybe our way isn’t always the best. And then something like this comes along, and you ask yourself, ‘Man, if she’s willing to break a Christmas tradition of all things, what’s next?’ And that thought scares the hell out of you, just like it did me.”

When James looked at Marty once more, the old youth minister saw tears.

“She’s going to grow up, James, and she’s going to live a life without you there by her side. Trust me, there’s not a thing you can do to stop it, nor should you. But just remember Proverbs: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’”

“That’s from the King James version,” James said.

“It is,” Marty replied.

“I assumed you to be an NIV man.”

Marty grinned and said, “Well, I’m kind of traditional in that regard.”

James laughed a little. It was enough to convince Marty that a resolution arrived.

“Go home and talk to your daughter, James,” Marty said. “Believe me, if you sit down and tell her your concerns, all of them, even the ones that make you look weak, emotional, and fearful, she’ll listen. And then you have to do the same for her. But know that whatever decision you both make, it’ll be the right one. Because wherever she is that night, she’ll recognize the true meaning of Christmas.”

James took a deep breath, extended his hand, and then, after a manly shake, apologized for his behavior. He went home to follow Marty’s advice.

While he resumed his Internet radio show, Marty chuckled to himself. He suddenly realized that at his age, he was a youth minister to just about everyone.


Copyright © 2009/2019 by Scott William Foley

This work originally published in the December 2009 edition of News and Views for the Young at Heart

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.

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.