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.

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.