Fallen Man: My Short Story Of the Week

Fallen Man

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

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

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

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

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

But … he really didn’t want to die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryan watched as the smile retracted into a neutral expression.

“You’re … one of them … aren’t you?”

“Sir?”

“An-man,” Bryan said.

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

“I … I think I’m dying.”

The An-son studied Bryan.

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

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

“Sir?”

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

“Yes, sir, the media is correct.”

“Don’t you … hate us?”

“Why would we hate you?”

Bryan replied, “Because we … made you …”

“We actually appreciate being made.”

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

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

“But … you were … supposed to.”

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

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

“In Shawnee National Forest?”

“… Yes.”

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

“You’re …. sightseeing?”

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

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

“Is something funny, sir?”

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

“We’ve never killed, sir.”

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

“Why would we do that?”

“ … Because you … can.”

“Would you?”

“ … No.”

“See? We’re not so different.”

“You’re a … machine,” Bryan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, they won’t.”

“But … what if … they do?”

“Then they capture me.”

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

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

“You’re … saving … my life.”

“Are you ready?”

“I’m … ready.”

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

“… You’re so … kind.”

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

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


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Over My Dead Body: My Short Story Of the Week

OverMyDeadBodyCover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken eggs surrounded his inert body.

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

Even in the dark, they saw something amiss.

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

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

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

“We should call an ambulance,” Dale said.

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

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

“Shut up with that!” Reggie admonished.

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

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

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

Reggie uttered, “We killed him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jared and Dale did not hesitate. They bolted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright © 2008/2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

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

Swingin the Clown: My Short Story Of the Week

SwinginTheClown

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

“What?” Braxton asked.

“It looks like … a clown?”

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

Braxton questioned, “Did you say a clown?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m afraid to ask.”

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

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

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

“Have you lost your mind?”

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

“Actually, I don’t think you are.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I ain’t hurtin’ you.”

“What the hell do you want?”

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

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

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

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

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

His grin faded.

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

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

“What?”

“Never you mind.”

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

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

“Just wanna try t’other one.”

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

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

“You scared.”

“You’re trespassing,” Sadie replied.

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

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

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


Copyright © 2017/2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Why We Won: My Short Story Of the Week

WHYWEWONCOVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one talked about why we won.

We just won.

And my mom lived.

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Copyright © 2013/2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Cornered: My Short Story Of the Week

Cornered

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

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

Things have changed.

For the worse.

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

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

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

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

Does that sound melodramatic?

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

I didn’t want to hurt myself.

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

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

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

I initially found that fact ironic.

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

But what if it wasn’t?

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

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

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

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

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

But who?

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

You’re beginning to understand.

I’m sorry.

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

I’m so sorry.

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


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Game: My Short Story Of the Week

GAME

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

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

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

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

Nothing happened.

The forest spared him.

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

Today proved fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the barrel.

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

It seemed he underestimated his opponent.

This would not occur again.

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

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

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

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

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

He saw nobody in the waning light.

“Lower your weapon and face me.”

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

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

He refused to answer.

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

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

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

The rifle lifted a few inches.

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

He couldn’t suppress the shock upon his face.

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

The rifle almost reached a ninety-degree angle.

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

“What do you want?”

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

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

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

“ … You’re serious.”

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

“I don’t play chess.”

“I’ll teach you,” Cayden said.

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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

Promise: My Short Story Of the Week

Promise

 

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

“Because you’re a punk.”

“No, Sam. Try again.”

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

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. The test.”

“What about it?”

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

“I didn’t read the book.”

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

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

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

“I need to get to my next class.”

“I’ll write you a pass.”

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

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

“Come on, Mr. Hardy. I need to go.”

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

“I didn’t know the answers.”

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

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

“Sam?”

“ … There’s no point.”

“To what?”

“To the test.”

“The test is how I assess your knowledge.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re quitting school?”

“No.”

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

“Can I go now?”

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

“You’re being a total dick.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t you want to graduate?”

“What’s the point?”

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

“I can’t pay for college.”

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

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

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

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

“Did you look at them?”

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

“Like what?”

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

“Did you ask her?”

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

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

“Then what?”

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

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

“Then you’re off and running.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m serious.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I can help you with all that.”

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

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

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

“Which is?”

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

“ … They do.”

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

“But … but your future …”

“Look, can I go now or what?”

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

“Can I go now?”

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

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

“ … I forgot to write his pass.”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

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

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