The Back Pew: My Short Story Of the Week

THE BACK PEW

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No such luck.

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded once.

“Do you need to talk?”

She shook her head.

“You sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her hand shot out of his.

“I’m Josh.”

“Alice,” she mumbled.

“Nice to meet you, Alice.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you sit back here?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s ridiculous,” Josh chuckled.

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

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

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

“Seriously?”

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

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

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

“Carpenter.”

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

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

She did not pull away.

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

“Don’t most people call him ‘Dick?’”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” Alice choked.

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

“He took my sons,” Alice cried.

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

“Yes,” Alice responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright © 2005/2020 by Scott William Foley

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Now Is The Time To Join Dr. Nekros

Back in 2011, I started publishing the eighteen episode odyssey of Dr. Nekros.  It’s hard to believe there are now only two episodes left in the (mostly) bi-monthly electronic serial.  The next installment will release in late June, and the final one will arrive in late July.

Years ago I promised love, betrayal, monsters, reunions, ghosts, trickery, revenge, death, black magic, and battles … but I wasn’t too sure about salvation.  Unfortunately for Dr. Nekros, I’m still not decided on that matter.

This has been an electrifying journey, and I invite you to join me  now before it concludes.  Where better to start than the beginning?

 

Dr. Nekros - the story so far.  Only two episodes left!

Dr. Nekros – the story so far. Only two episodes left!