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.

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 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.

Swingin the Clown: My Short Story Of the Week

SwinginTheClown

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

“What?” Braxton asked.

“It looks like … a clown?”

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

Braxton questioned, “Did you say a clown?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m afraid to ask.”

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

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

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

“Have you lost your mind?”

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

“Actually, I don’t think you are.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I ain’t hurtin’ you.”

“What the hell do you want?”

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

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

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

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

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

His grin faded.

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

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

“What?”

“Never you mind.”

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

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

“Just wanna try t’other one.”

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

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

“You scared.”

“You’re trespassing,” Sadie replied.

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

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

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


Copyright © 2017/2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Depths: My Short Story Of the Week

Depths

“Mr. Ben?”

“Yeah, Raph?”

“I prefer my full name, Mr. Ben.”

“My apologies, Raphael. What’s up?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael repeated.

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

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

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

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

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m already nine,” Malik said.

Hattie added, “Me, too.”

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

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

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

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

Ben moved his mouth, but nothing came out.

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

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

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

The children remained silent.

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

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

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

“Um, you’re welcome.”

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

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


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Why We Won: My Short Story Of the Week

WHYWEWONCOVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one talked about why we won.

We just won.

And my mom lived.

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Copyright © 2013/2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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