New Novel

Recently finished my fourth novel, tentatively titled “All is Not Well.”

It’s mostly set in Wilsonville, where two of my other novels were set, and is about a girl who is a once in a generation athlete, and as a result is ostracized by the boys because she is better than them, and the girls because she doesn’t care about girly-girl things. This is well before Title IX and as she grows up she becomes ever more frustrated because she can find no outlet for her talent. Her becoming a woman is interrupted by a horrific event that changes her life forever. I’d be giving too much away if I said anymore.

Now begins the thankless task of trying to get it published. I say I’ll give it a year but probably won’t last that long before I self-publish it.

A Quick Death / a story by Tom Evans

“Good morning, Mr. Captain,” said Mr. Barnes, drolly.

“Good morning, Jack,” Mr. Captain replied. “What brings you here so early?”

“I’m not sure,” said Mr. Barnes. “No one’s in the office yet, and I’m expecting a big shipment, so I just thought I’d pass the time here, if you don’t mind.”

“’Course not, want some coffee?”

“Don’t mind if I do. Have you seen Gordy around lately?”

“Can’t say as I have, not that I mind. He’s nothing but bad luck. Oh I know he helps you out, and can’t help the way he is, really, but he can be a real pain. I expect the worst when he’s around. Not to mention the smell.”

“Don’t I know it, but he means well, and has been a big help, what with my boys being in school now and not being able to come with me to the office. I don’t know how I’d get along without him. I sure hope he comes around today, I’m going to need help unloading that big shipment of Valentine’s Day candy.”

Mr. Barnes looked out at the leaden sky on that cold crisp day and, as he often did, couldn’t help but wonder if it would be his last, although every day was a bonus as he’d been expected to die five years ago, having been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his adrenal gland. Because of it the sweat poured off him, even on such a raw day as this. 

He felt awful most days, had just managed to get out of bed that day for the first time in what seemed like weeks, and only because he had to for that damn shipment. He’d cut way down on the traveling, especially during the rough winter months.

“How about a little taste, Jim?” He knew he shouldn’t but maybe it’d give him some strength.

“Sure thing,” Jim said, and fetched the CC of the shelf and poured a slug into Mr. Barnes’s coffee. He looked around and felt glad to be alive, safely ensconced in the familiar warm bar, a home away from home, really. Not that he ever drank that much, he just enjoyed the camaraderie, not to mention the food. Jim Captain was the best short order cook in Buffalo and he didn’t care who knew it. Mr. Barnes had been all over the east coast, and if you could find a better beef on weck or hot ham sandwich elsewhere, he’d sure like to know about it.

Things hadn’t been going so well on the home front lately, in fact things had kind of gotten out of hand. He’d neglected things and now they’d come to a head. How he regretted all those years on the road but what other choice did he have? He’d built up that business from scratch and given his blood sweat and tears to it and by God he’d made a go of it and now what was going to come of it? He’d taught his boys as much as he could about it but they weren’t ready and certainly had no head for business. All those years on the road and seemingly nothing to show for it but a nice house and a new Oldsmobile every other year. He had a lot of sweat equity in that business. He’d better contact his lawyer and make his terms known in his will. It made him tired just to think of all there was left to do. And then there was that candy shipment…

“‘Nother?” Jim Captain stood in front of him with the coffee in one hand and the bottle of CC in the other.

“Sure, why not?” Mr. Barnes replied, fishing a couple of Garcia y Vegas out of his suit jacket pocket, handing one to Jim, sticking the other in his mouth, then striking a match and lighting them.

“Here’s to better days,” he said, brandishing his cigar and taking a slug out of his coffee cup. “Boy, that’s good,” he sighed.

Strange day, he thought to himself. He’d gotten off on the wrong foot, that was for sure, and now the whole day was probably ruined. No one knew the trouble he’d seen. Strong silent type. Air Force, WWII. He’d been a flight instructor out at Lowery AFB, too old to see any real action. That was the argument that had precipitated his son Wesley’s leaving, or at least one of them, as it seemed there’d been a lot of them lately. He just couldn’t understand young people’s thinking these days. Hell no I won’t go they were saying, a mantra that was being taken up by an entire generation, and he just didn’t understand it- didn’t they know just how fragile and precious freedom was, to be guarded closely round the clock and fought for on every front? There’d been no question about it in WWII, why should there be now? And his own boys repeating this, right at the dinner table. Not to mention the drugs and hippies. What was the world coming to? He’d be god-damned if he’d have that in his own house, especially from two pimple-faced kids who didn’t know which end was up.

The door swung open and some of the regulars began straggling in. He’d get no argument from them that was for sure. They knew exactly what he was talking about, which was becoming a rarity these days.

But he had to admit that ultimately it had been a misunderstanding that had precipitated Wesley’s leaving, and he hadn’t had the strength to press the issue. He sure wished he’d come home, though, he couldn’t believe it had come to this. Good riddance to bad rubbish, Mrs. Barnes had said, typically, which made him feel even worse. Rory (his twin) tried to talk him into coming home, but he wouldn’t. That hurt Mr. Barnes no end, he wouldn’t even come home knowing how sick he’d been.

What could I have done to hurt him that badly? He had a pretty good idea but didn’t want to think about it. There was George Privitera, a friend from way back. Oh boy, it was going to be a long day of revelry, especially if he was here for the duration. These were his old stomping grounds, but he was still surprised to see him.

“What brings you here?” He asked.

“I had a feeling you’d be here,” George said. “Jim, I’ll have a J&B rocks. I heard you’d been sick, but when I called the house, Sally said you were at the office. The branch office I thought to myself,” he said, guffawing at his own joke.

Mr. Barnes felt a slight tinge of resentment at Mr. Privatera’s familiarities. After all, they hadn’t been real close since he broke Wesley’s snare drum that Christmas Day several years ago. Totally soused, scotch dribbling down his chin, he’d sure ruined everybody’s Christmas. Wesley’d never go near a drum set again and he’d been so excited just that morning when he’d seen them under the tree. The Privatera’s were old friends but that had been too much. Still, they went a long way back, to the days when he was single, and it was good to see him.

Mr. Barnes looked out the window and it seemed dusk was beginning to lower. No way he’d been there so long the day was gone. Where was Gordy? He looked at his watch, which had stopped. The skin on the back of his neck tingled. What gives, he thought.

Just then the door opened as a rush of air surged through the narrow bar, and a woman suddenly appeared who made Mr. Barnes start, as she was the spitting image of his Sally when she was young and they were very much in love, right down to the scarf, angora sweater, and shoulder-length bobbed hair.

He felt the need to talk to her immediately but hesitated, instead looked down the bar and called out to Jim Captain in his perplexity: “Jim, get down here!”

“What’ll it be Jack?” Mr. Captain asked once more, looking for all the world as if it was just a normal day in mid-February.

Mr. Barnes said, “Make it a Manhattan this time. Mix up a pitcher, will you?”

“Coming right up,” Jim Captain said.

Mr. Barnes stared straight ahead and said nothing. He’d wait to see what happened next. Naturally the young lady in question came over and sat down right next to him.

“Haven’t I seen you some place before?” Mr. Barnes inquired, and burned red the instant the words came out of his mouth.

“I highly doubt it,” the woman replied wryly.

Jim Captain sauntered down to their end again and inquired, “What’s your pleasure young lady?”

“Beefeater martini, up, with a twist, very dry- just wave the bottle over it.”

“Certainly, coming right up,” Jim replied with arched eyebrows, while Mr. Barnes tried to get his attention to indicate the drink was on him.

He returned shortly afterward with her drink and set in front of her, saying, “Compliments of the gentleman sitting next to you.”

“We haven’t met,” the woman replied, but, turning to Mr. Barnes raised her glass and said, “Just the same, thank you”.

Mr. Barnes, at a loss for words, stammered something unintelligible, at which point Mr. Captain rescued him by saying, “This suave gentleman is Mr. John Barnes. And you are?”

“I’d prefer not to say for now, if you don’t mind,” she replied. “Woman’s prerogative.”

“You’re the boss,” Jim Captain rejoined, with a slight nod, and went to the other end of the bar.

Suddenly there was a welter of activity at the entrance, and, along with several regulars who came in Mr. Barnes saw other familiar faces rush by: his brother Teddy (who’d been dead  these ten years), his other brother Bobby (who’d been in California for a decade), his beloved mother Regina and father Arthur, Harry Brost (an old business partner), Pastor Catthau (an old nemesis, now the Grim Reaper?), and George Johnson, now extremely well off as an original stockholder in the Xerox Corporation.

Mr. Barnes was beginning to panic, and, sweating profusely, felt his equilibrium let go. It was not a good position he was in. Where was he- heaven?  He highly doubted that, though it was sure beginning to seem at the very least like Old Home Week in there. Plenty of heavy drinkers, too. Nobody was going anywhere for a while, that was certain. He looked outside, saw the ominous leaden snow clouds moving into position above and thought once more, where’s Gordy?

Maybe he’d better go outside and watch for him. He’d never think to come in here. He slid off the barstool and saw he was very unsteady. Without looking back he sidled out of the bar, stood for a minute looking both ways then crossed Genesee Street. The wind was coming up and the snow clouds were amassing directly above him. It was going to start snowing in no time. That delivery should have been here by now, he thought. Maybe they got snow already in Rochester, that’s where it seemed to be coming from. No sign of him, so he went back across the street and stood outside the entrance of Jim Captain’s for a while, not certain he was ready to face what awaited him inside.

 When he was ready he entered, and as he did the warmth and hubbub hit and took him aback, disorienting him a little. Everything suddenly looked extremely bleary and his stomach sank queasily toward his knees, sweat soaking his shirt. Maybe Jim would let him lie down in the back room. Suddenly he felt himself going down…

When he woke up, he was in the back room, sort of, up by the ceiling hovering over the proceedings, with a bird’s eye view, legs spread-eagled and arms akimbo like a parachutist against the sky. There was what appeared to be an intense and rowdy game of high stakes poker going on, with acrid tobacco smoke wafting up toward him, perhaps the accumulating cloud even enveloping him, as no one seemed to be aware of his presence. The aforementioned George, Harry, his brother Teddy were there- and Wesley! When had he arrived? Mr. Barnes was overjoyed to see him. My boy has come home, he thought. Now I can be at peace.

Instead, for some reason, he found himself becoming agitated, and, wanting to leave before the card game was completed, wished to descend, or at least escape the room unnoticed. But how?

He thought of the woman sitting at the bar and had the sudden urge to speak to her. He must. It was a matter of life and death. He looked over at the door and saw the transom was partly open and, moving as slowly as he could so as not to cause any stirring, slipped through it undetected.

So far so good. But what to do next? He was hovering right over the aforementioned woman, who was nursing her martini, fiddling with the swizzle stick, her head lowered like an eremite before an icon. He liked this new power he had, and certainly the vantage point, though he was afraid it might end at any minute and he would go crashing down atop some innocent bystander. The barstool next to her was still vacant so he alit on it before she knew what had happened.

“Can I get you another one?” he asked.

“Where’d you come from?” she asked, whipping her head around. “Better yet, where’d you go? I’m feeling rather fuzzy I have to admit. I hope you won’t take advantage of me, she said, coyly. My name is Jean, by the way.”

“I wouldn’t think of it,” Mr. Barnes replied, signaling Jim to get her another drink.” I’m glad to meet you Jean. I’m John Barnes, by the way. ”

“Well, aren’t you the proper gentleman, Jean said, with a toss of her hair. “But we’ve already been introduced. People sure come and go around here pretty quickly, I must say.”

“Really,” said Mr. Barnes, “I hadn’t noticed.”

“That’s because you haven’t been here,” replied Jean. “Stick around a while, you’ll see. You’d think there was a turnstile in that front door.  Where did you go, anyway? I thought we had something going.”

Mr. Barnes, distracted, murmured vaguely,” Oh just across the street, to my office.” He felt a sudden urgency again, as if something was going to happen and he needed to get things settled, there was so much to do, but Gordy still wasn’t here and either was that candy shipment, and he had to talk to Wesley and Teddy before he (they) left, it was vitally important, though what it was he needed to speak to them about escaped him. He went to get off the barstool but Jean put her hand on his arm and said, “Stay awhile with me, I need the company.”

 Mr. Barnes, ever the gentleman, readily obliged her, though the slightest bit uncomfortable at her forwardness. Then he remembered the reason he’d come out here was to talk to her, and his agitation abated.

“Where you from Jean?” he began.

“Cleveland, she replied. “You ever been there?”

Hmmm, same place Sal was from, he thought. “Have I,” he replied. “I lived there all through the thirties, off Eddy Road. Met my- had family there. Still do, as a matter fact.”

“Myself, I couldn’t wait to get out of that dump,” Jean replied, huffily. “And then to find out this place isn’t much different. Same dirty, cold, snowy lousy old city.”

“Gee, that’s too bad you feel that way. I kinda like both places.”

“You would,” Jean replied. “Give me California any day.”

“Have you been there?” I asked. “I have a brother out there, coincidentally, in San Diego. Always wanted to go out there.”

“No, I’ve never,” Jean said, sheepishly. “The weather wouldn’t be hard to take, though, I’ll tell you that.”

“You remind me of someone,” Mr. Barnes said, obliquely, although he knew exactly who he meant, but didn’t want to get into that right now. And the fact that she was from Cleveland cinched it for him, although he didn’t recall having this conversation before. Once again a sense of urgency was tugging at his sleeve and he barely heard her say, “Yeah, you said that already, but I bet you say that to everyone.”

He wanted to go back in the back room and see how that card game was progressing, see the fellows and Wesley (it seemed perfectly natural for him to be there, he’d brought both boys there every Opening Day for the Bisons) but didn’t want to abandon Jean again. How to manage that? And he needed to find Gordy too, before the day was through. No rest for the weary, he thought ruefully.

Suddenly he became distracted and then things began to whirl before him and he felt a stirring in his brain as everything began to coalesce and then jumble/jangle like a kaleidoscopic or cinemascope mélange and then he was sucked into a vertiginous vortex and found himself hovering once more just below the ceiling, monarch of all he surveyed, and then not, as he felt himself to be losing it, and then he was everywhere, mingling and mixing, tossing a beautiful word salad with such clarity he knew it couldn’t be his voice but he merely the instrument and then out of the blue there was Gordy, he’d finally arrived and simultaneously he saw the semi pull up in front of his office- the candy shipment was there- everyone was there, in fact, no one was missing, he saw his life in Panavision, rotogravure, replete with color and sound, yet it was much more beautiful, vivid, and harmonious than he ever imagined/remembered, and he added them all up and nobody was missing…

                                              —–o—–

 Wesley arrived home too late that frigid evening, the frozen branches of the tree above him etched against the moonlit sky, but just in time to see them carry Mr. Barnes down the front porch steps strapped to a gurney, his lifeless body wrapped in a white sheet, and Mrs. Barnes standing at the front door screaming at him into the still crystal-filled air, “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

                                                THE END

“The Kissing Girl” / a story by Tom Evans

I first encountered her in the lunchroom at grade school, going from table to table and swooping down on a boy of her choosing, first wiping her mouth with her arm then planting a wet one on his unsuspecting cheek. I watched her like a hawk so it never happened to me, though whether it would have anyway, I’ll never know. What repulsed me most, besides the act of kissing or the invasion of one’s corporeal bubble, was that she often did this with her mouth full.

          I lost track of her soon after that, having transferred to a different school, which I attended for the next six years. Besides, she didn’t live anywhere near me, so I never had occasion to run into her.

          I caught up with her very soon, however, when I began attending public school after my 8th-grade graduation. Her reputation had preceded her, and she, too, seemed to have graduated far beyond her kissing days in elementary school to something more serious. You know how rumors spread, and I heard about her the very first week in homeroom, and, even though her name was never mentioned (it was there’s this girl…), I immediately got a vague feeling of deja vu, and sure enough, it was she.

         The way I first heard it was: she sucked them like candy, which was how she smelled. They came quickly and she sent them away. They lined up in an orderly queue, one after another, skipping out of classes to meet her in the long weeds behind the baseball diamond by the electric company. She seemed older than them somehow, though they were mostly in the same grade. None ever acknowledged her presence in the school halls (she was seldom there) afterwards, but when she was you couldn’t miss her: long thick bright red hair cascading down beyond her shoulders, freckled cleavage already showing in her low-cut blouses, her tight jean skirt riding up her dappled thighs. Though they had no inkling, she’d ruined them for their subsequent girl friends and wives, and they’d grow to long for her when they began to experience their mid-life crises.

          She lived a Huck Finn kind of existence in a poorer section of town, seemingly free to come and go as she pleased, the only child of a blowzy mother and absent father who was said to slap her around when he was home. I envied her freedom, as my childhood was very restricted not realizing at the time how things really were for her.

         All the poorer kids seemed to have that freedom, for no reason I could readily understand at the time. Only later did I realize they mostly came from broken homes, where the harried mother had enough just to keep body and soul together with menial, low-paying jobs, or often, even where the family was still intact, there were a passel of kids and little education, the father working a low-paying job and often drinking up his meager earnings, which the worn-out mother tried to augment any way she could, often times getting the back of his hand for her efforts.

          No one else gave her much thought otherwise. I never partook in the actual thing, and certainly never watched, but fantasized about her a lot, which was just as bad, I suppose. But I also truly cared about her, wondering how she would end up, while these peach-fuzzed “innocents” who were on the fast track, went on to careers in law, medicine, finance, or perpetuating the family business. I never even talked to her, not once, though I wanted to, as well as wanting what all the others were getting, though I never acted upon it. I wanted it to be of her own free will, to be treated specially by her, though she never even knew I existed.

                                               —–o—–

          It just so happened, that, like her, I didn’t go to college right away after high school, and we ended up working at the same restaurant together, a place called the White Inn, she a waitress, I a parking valet.  I saw this as a dream come true, if only I could take advantage of it.

         Things didn’t exactly go as planned, there being a pecking order among the restaurant employees based on frequency and type of interaction, with the waitresses and waiters being at the top, and the valet literally left out in the cold, never mind that he garnered the biggest tips, drove all the big shots’ cars, and witnessed some of the sordid things that went on in the back seats of them after a night of eating and drinking. In addition, they mostly hung around amongst themselves, and as a result, I was shunned by those on the inside.

         It was depressing when it became clear that the main reason Grace had become a waitress was to have access to males of all different ages, and readily took advantage of it, that this was what she wanted out of life and was quite successful at it.

          Still, I was able to be of service to her one late evening when she came outside looking rather disheveled, her hair, lipstick, and clothes a mess. I had just finished my shift and the restaurant was closing. Surprised to see her unaccompanied as she usually would be by one of the young waiters, I knew something must be wrong. I shut the light off in the valet booth and locked it, then set off to intercept her, trying at the same time not to startle her.

          “Grace,” I managed in a stage whisper toward her retreating silhouette.

          She stopped in mid-flight and turned around, not at all certain who it was.

          “Who’s there?” she said quickly in a breathless whisper.

          I wondered if she’d even know my name but didn’t want to say the valet so I took a chance and shot out, “Wesley Barnes.”

          She hesitated at first, then said, “Oh yes. What is it?”

          I’d finally caught up to her. I’d never been face to face with her before and was quite daunted. It was a fine summer evening. A gentle breeze blew through her hair, the stars were twinkling brightly, and I began to stammer a bit, “I-I…just thought something might be wrong, and wondered if I could help.”

          “Why how observant of you, Wesley, and kind,” she replied, “I’ve never had a knight in shining armor before. Are you my knight in shining armor?”

          Reeling from the effect of her saying my name while at the same time wondering if she was mocking me slightly, I steadied myself and began to stammer once more, “Well I wouldn’t go as far as…”

          My words trailed off as I drew ever closer, close enough to notice the miniscule black dot in each of her sea-green eyes, smell the alcohol on her breath, and realize she was quite tipsy.

          “How are you getting home?” I asked. “Why don’t you let me give you a ride?”

          “I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Grace replied, smiling slyly. “I’ll just bet you would. You probably know all about me, how I’m everybody’s next one.” Her mascara was beginning to run as tears welled up in her eyes.

          “No, no,” I said. “It’s nothing like that, please believe me. I just want to see you get home safely.”

          When she hesitantly acquiesced, I put my arm around her and steered her back toward my car as she slumped limply into me.

          Passed out, I thought. Just my luck. Now what?

          I bent down and scooped her up in my arms and began to carry her back to my Comet, not all that easy as she was a dead weight.

          “Mmmmmmmh?” she mumbled.

          Uh boy, I thought. I’d better get her home quickly. I knew where she lived, on S. Autumn, only five minutes away.

         I poured her into the car and drove to her house as quickly as I could, not knowing what to expect when I got there. She stirred every now and again, mumbling something unintelligible, now sprawled halfway across the front seat, her head almost in my lap. It was so dark out that the headlights of oncoming cars glared suspiciously into the car, as if I was doing something wrong, even though my intentions were good. I looked cautiously into my mirrors for any police cars.

          When I got to her house, a two-story double that had been converted into 4 small units. I parked the car in front and attempted to rouse her. Nothing doing, she was out cold. The house was dark, all the houses on the street were, only the streetlights were on. People sure go to bed early around here, I thought, as I had for the hundredth time over the years. Saturday night. Probably have to get up for church tomorrow.

         I had no idea which floor she lived on either, but knew if I got her keys, I’d figure it out. What if she had a boyfriend living there or her parents, and were sleeping and I woke them up? Not much I could do though, I had to go through with it and get this night over with. She probably wouldn’t remember a thing, and I wouldn’t get any good karma for being a gentleman. I fished through her purse and found her keys, then got out of the car and went to the other side to get her out. She started stirring a little, and then her eyes were wide open.

          “Where am I? What happened?” she asked querulously, still quite out of it.

          “You’re home,” I replied as reassuringly as I could. “Let’s get you inside. Can you walk?”

          “I think so,” she said, “with your help.”

          “Come on then, lean against me,” I said. She did so, and we managed to stumble up the walk, then the porch steps, and up to the front door, which was open and led into a little hallway. Her apartment was on the right, an upper, as it turned out. I asked if she could make it from there all right and she replied, “I think so, but I’d like you to come up if you want.”

          She unlocked the door and led me inside. The first thing I noticed was that it was immaculate. The second thing was that she began taking her clothes off, starting with her blouse, under which she was naked. The view was spectacular, what I’d always wanted to see, but not like this. I figured I’d better quit while I was ahead.

          When I told her I should go, Grace replied, “but I want to thank you for bringing me home.”  

          “You already have,” I said, “and I think I’d better be going. I’m just glad you’re home safely.”

         “But I insist,” she said, ‘and I usually get my way.”

          “Not tonight,” I replied. “I’m really sorry, Grace, but I think I should go. Get some sleep, and I’ll see you at work. G’night.”

          With that I went back to my place, thinking all sorts of things as I lay on my pillow and second-guessed myself to sleep.

          From that moment on I was her sole confidante, not exactly a role I relished, but one that suited me perfectly. Anything to be near her. It gave me some status in the pecking order, too, and I was actually allowed to come in out of the cold from time to time and partake in some of the banter at the bar. It turned out she was in between boyfriends the night I took her home, the breakup with her latest that precipitated her jag having taken place that same evening. Rumors were swirling that I had taken her home, but I wasn’t about to say anything. Let ’em think what they wanted, they’d get nothing out of me, not that there was even anything to tell.

          The fact was that she really liked men, young men, she confided to me, she genuinely did. Liked making them feel good, smelling and tasting them, being around them, as many types as possible, needing them, but monogamous to the core with each one. They didn’t last long but this didn’t seem to bother her. And I heard about every last one. I accepted that it wasn’t going to happen for me. I was just glad to be there for her.

                                                        —–o—–

          Even my inertia didn’t last forever, though, and the next fall I finally moved on to college at the other end of the country. While I was at school, I asked friends about her every now and then but heard nothing. I finally came back to the area after graduation, this time living nearer the city, and, after much inquiry, heard she was still around, but nothing more.

         Once a year I ventured into Wilsonville to try to relive those awful high school years at an annual festival called “Town Days”, the culmination of which was a Friday night bash under the beer tent in a local park.

         As most of the best and brightest had left decades ago, this gathering was mostly a collection of those who stayed home, whether from choice or nowhere better to go, though as in most things I was just an observer. I met the same group of friends there year after year to catch up on things, as it was the only time we saw each other. As you might imagine, it could become pretty maudlin by the end of the evening, when much of the crowd spilled across the street into the Raven’s Nest, the most popular watering hole/restaurant/hotel in town.

         It was there I saw Grace from afar one year. It was packed inside and I lost sight of her for a while. She seemed to flit in and out of my consciousness when I suddenly realized she must be working there. A bar maid now, I thought condescendingly, and began to make my way through the crowd toward her, never quite getting there. Beginning to lose all hope of saying hello, I turned around to leave, having had my fill of it all, when there she was right in front of me. I was gratified she remembered me with a big broad smile of instant recognition after all those years.

          “Why hello, Grace. How have you been?” I said, rather shouted, over the din, but we couldn’t really have a conversation with all the noise, so I left, promising to keep in touch.

                                                        —–o—–

          The next time I heard anything about her it was a decade later and bad news. A friend told me she was in the hospital with cancer, and that it was terminal. I don’t know why, but my immediate inclination was to rush there to be by her side. I just had a feeling she was alone, and needed someone. I called the hospital about visiting hours and went there after dinner one night. It was a beautiful August evening that reminded me of the summer we had worked together, and a hospital was the last place I wanted to be, but it wasn’t about me.

         I knew from previous experience I didn’t have the best bed-side manner. What could I say that would comfort? I was filled with trepidation but was still determined to see her when normally I would have turned tail and run.

          I asked at the Information Desk for Grace’s room number.

          “Friend or family?”

          “Friend,” I said.

          “Sign the sheet and take the elevator over there… Room 308.”

          Famous for getting lost in these hallway mazes, I found Grace’s room relatively easily. The door was ajar and I poked my head in. It was a single room and I soon spotted her shockingly emaciated form lying still on the bed, attached to several monitors, her beautiful hair now brittle and sparse. I couldn’t tell if she was awake and didn’t want to startle her, so after closing the door I walked as softly as I could across the polished linoleum floor until I was right next to the bed. I reached out and put my hand gently on her arm, so thin it almost encircled it.

          “Grace,” I said softly.

          Her head moved slightly and her pale eyes flickered briefly in recognition, which made me extremely grateful.

          “Wesley,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “How nice. I’ve been alone here for so long,” she said, until her voice broke off into a sudden fit of coughing that wracked her body so I thought it would break.

          “Don’t talk, Grace,” I said. “It isn’t necessary. I came as soon as I heard.”

          “You always did, Wesley. You’ve been so good to me, and I never deserved it.”

          “Just be quiet and relax”, I said quietly, “I’m here, as I’ve always wanted to be.”

          “I don’t know what happened,” she whispered. “All those years just flew by, and now look at me.”

          I patted her hand, not knowing what to say, her monitors the only sound in the room.

          Just then there was a slight rush of air and the door opened. It was an obviously good-looking young man bearing a bouquet of fresh flowers.

          Grace suddenly sat up, clapped her hands together in delight, and said, in a surprisingly strong voice: “You came, you came. I just knew you would!”

          I stepped aside as the younger man approached the bed and leaned down to receive her embrace. Suddenly the room seemed very hot and I was overcome by the smell of the hothouse flowers, which always reminded me of a funeral.

         I left the room as quickly as I could, so quietly no one even noticed.

                                               THE END

Book launch!

My third book “So Long Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” is now available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086MGNX86 I went the self-publishing route this time and so far it’s only available in ebook format, but I will make it available as a paperback if I get enough requests.

A sequel to my first book “Where Do the Children Play,” https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/books “So Long, Ma” takes the Barnes twins through their adolescence, with all its concomitant experiences, and reveals further complications in their relationship with their adoptive mother, Mrs. Barnes, who it seems has it in for them.

Thanks for your indulgence. I’d appreciate your support.

Ebook “Where Do the Children Play” 99-cent sale Sept. 1-3 2019

click link to purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Where-Children-Play-Tom-Evans-ebook-dp-B07K32JXJ2/dp/B07K32JXJ2/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1540442761

Ghost Riders / a short story by Tom Evans

It’s so stifling hot and I can’t escape. Even if I could there’s nowhere to go in this godforsaken place. No houses for miles around, at least I’ve never seen one and I’ve been here for a while. It’s flat you see, there’s no perspective in this barren land, no sound all day long (not even a bird or stray dog) unless it’s a solitary car or truck hauling ass through here.

That is until a few days ago when I heard a rumble in the distance and waited until it got closer, growing louder as it approached, and then nothing until all of a sudden a gang of motorcycle riders flashed by in a blur accompanied by a deafening roar.

I found out not too much later there was a nearby canyon and the motorcycle gang was supposedly holed up there. One of the other foster kids had heard the adults talking and I immediately knew I just had to see it for myself. I didn’t say a thing to anyone, just bided my time and began planning my escape, hoping nobody would find out in the meantime.

Lying in the crowded fetid bedroom one night I pretended I was asleep, as usual paying no attention to the nightly ruckus going on around me. Trying to be as still as possible I imagined I was camped out under the stars, a lonesome cowboy hoping to be part of my own hole-in-the-wall gang some day. I lay rigid, my hands straight by my side under the sheet like I was in a coffin, hoping the adults wouldn’t hear the commotion and come charging up the stairs to see what was going on.

I must have fallen asleep and been dreaming because next thing I knew I was looking over a ledge into a very deep canyon with a stream at the bottom so far away you couldn’t even tell it was moving, and what looked like ants crawling along its banks. Then all of a sudden I saw something hurtling through the sky so quickly it was upon me before I could even duck. I managed to catch a glimpse of a grungy biker with greasy hair, matted beard, and behind him a red-haired Bonnie Raitt lookalike who glanced back and beckoned me to follow with her crooked finger, her wild hair streaming behind her.

The roar of the bike in the dream was so real it must have woken me up. It took a while to get my bearings, but once I did remembered the dream I’d just had as clear as day, which was unusual because I never remembered my dreams or even if I had been dreaming in the first place.

I said nothing to anyone, but when the new girl came the next day, unannounced and unwelcome, it changed everything. You could tell there was something odd about her right away. Her face was fixed in a lopsided grin or sneer, it was hard to tell which. She looked to be about ten, which put her in the middle of all of us age wise, but that and it being only her first day there didn’t stop her from taking charge immediately after she was settled in.

First she went off on a wild tangent in the back yard about how her parents were movie stars and she had five or six siblings and they were a very loving tight-knit family, and this was just a temporary vacation for her, she wouldn’t be there long. Unlike most of you, she added, all prim and proper like.

When she finished no one quite knew how to respond. Then one of the smaller kids piped up that she was full of it and that’s when the trouble started. Somehow she immediately knew who had said it and she began chasing him around the picnic table screaming “I’ll get you! I’ll get you!”

The unfortunate miscreant went round and round it screaming bloody murder and then let out a painful yelp and held his hand up, a flap of skin hanging off his wrist, bleeding profusely, courtesy of a rusty nail sticking out from it. She went all white when she saw the blood and ran in the opposite direction as fast as she could.

The foster mother finally came out of the house at a leisurely pace considering the situation and walked up to the new girl and said, “Why did you do that?”

The new girl didn’t deny it, instead she immediately launched into her spiel again but didn’t get very far when the woman interrupted her.

“I’m gonna have to report this to county agency,” she said.

The new girl blanched and said, “No, please don’t. I have nowhere else to go.”

The woman was having none of it. “I’m sorry, but this has to be reported. Besides, I don’t want you here, I have enough on my hands with these others as it is. The county’ll send you somewhere else”

“Yes,” the new girl said, “you just do that. I don’t like it here anyway.”

Someone from The County came to take her back later that day. She seemed pretty calm about it all, when I halfway expected she’d have to be dragged off kicking and screaming. I had a feeling I hadn’t seen the last of her

Later that night I heard something bounce off the window by my bed, then again, and once more before I got out of bed as quietly as possible and looked out. I couldn’t make out who it was at first but when I cracked the window slightly I heard a voice say, “It’s me,” the girl from this afternoon. “Come outside. I have nowhere to go but maybe we can think of something fun to do.”

She didn’t have to ask twice, I was raring to go. No one else seemed to have heard it, everyone looked to still be asleep, so I put my clothes on, climbed out the window, and we were off.

I asked her how she had gotten away from the county people and back to here, and if she knew it’d be me who would come to the window.

“Never mind how I got here,” she said, “I just did. And, yes, I knew it would be you. I saw where your bed was when I put my things away. Boy, do you ask a lot of questions.”

I’d never done anything like this before but it turned out she had so I felt like I was in good hands. Seems she had run away from her idyllic home many times because they just didn’t understand her.

It was a beautiful evening, very warm but tolerable as there was a light breeze. All was quiet as we stuck close to the road, walking west, the house receding in the distance. Suddenly I remembered the motorcycle gang and my dream and mentioned it to the new girl.

She grabbed my wrist and I stopped in my tracks.

“There’s a motorcycle gang nearby?” she asked.

“That’s what I heard,” I said. “And I saw them  ride by the other day.”

She grew very quiet when I said that, her eyes opened wide. I could see she was very interested.

We continued on down the road for a bit, not saying anything, though I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking.

“Are we going to try and find them?” I finally asked her.

“Don’t see why not,” she replied. “It’ll be hard to avoid them if we keep walking this way. Probably run right into them.”

“Aren’t you scared?” I asked.

“Scared? Hardly,” she said. “My father was in a motorcycle gang. Besides, anything’s better than being where we are, isn’t it?”

She did make a lot of sense, I had to admit, even if she did act and look weird. I was going to tell her about my hole-in-the-wall gang fantasy but decided against it.

“OK,” she said, “let’s go.”

Almost before we knew it we were getting close, close enough to see hazy smoke and hear muted sounds. Then we were at the lip of a canyon looking down just as in my dream except that things were much closer this time. There were several dots of campfires and I could make out clearly the bikers and their “hogs”, but I didn’t see the red-haired woman, or any women, at least not yet, though it was probably too far away to tell.

At this point there seemed to be some hesitation on the new girl’s part. We sat there for a bit, so long the campfires below began to dwindle into faint flares.

“I thought you said there was a red-haired woman in the gang,” she said suddenly, startling me. “My mother has red hair, and if she’s there I’m not going down.”

She seemed to be growing angry now, more so by the minute. I didn’t dare remind her the Bonnie Raitt figure had been in my dream, but when I looked down again into the steep gorge, it didn’t seem to matter, there was no way we were going to get down there anyway.

“You go first,” she said, “see if she is.”

“I can’t go by myself!” I wailed, speaking up for the first time, “you have to come with me. There aren’t any women down there, look for yourself, and even if there were, why would your mother be?”

This must have somehow convinced her, because she seemed calmer.

“Shhhhh,” she said, “of course I’m going with you. Don’t blow our cover. I want to surprise them.”

Between her mercurial nature and my trepidation, our prospects for success didn’t look too favorable, but be that as it may, she said next, “Let’s look for a path so we can get closer.”

“Yes, let’s,” I said somewhat doubtfully, then, in spite of myself, immediately spotted an opening in the underbrush. “Over here!”

Feeling good that I was seemingly in command of the situation I motioned her to follow when she suddenly rushed up behind me and pushed me face first to the ground.

“Don’t you dare!” she said. “I’m first!”

She continued on as if I wasn’t there but I got up, dusted myself off, picked the small pieces of gravel out of my bleeding elbow and set out after her. It was a steep winding narrow trail faintly outlined through the underbrush and I soon caught up with her.

Just then she stumbled over a stone the size of a baseball that went tumbling down the rocky canyon slope, echoing, or so it seemed, like a monolith. The new girl looked at me with wide challenging eyes as if to say what are you going to do about it? I was surprised she didn’t try to blame it on me. It was difficult to tell if anyone had noticed it but we lay low for a while until things calmed down.

Soon all was quiet and totally dark, as the campfires spent and no discernible movement down below. We decided to make our way boulder by boulder until we were close enough to see the layout. After what seemed like several arduously painful hours we were final close enough to see. There appeared to be either five men or four men and one woman, whichever way you wanted to look at it, and the new girl and I looked at it in different ways, I assure you. What with it being dark and the scraggly nature of the five sleepers it was impossible to say, but the new girl wasn’t going anywhere until she was dead certain they were all men, or that the woman wasn’t her mother.

Again with the mother, I thought but not knowing what to say, didn’t say anything.

“Well, seems to me we’d be better off if they weren’t all men,” I finally said, “and besides, how are we going to figure that out before it’s too late?”

“You don’t know my mother if you think that,” the new girl replied. “Now get closer until you’re sure what’s what.”

Why me? I thought. Are you sure you trust me? I’m already satisfied one of them is a woman, I told you I saw her a couple of days ago, I said.

My conjecture hit the bullseye. The new girl’s eyes were bulging, she was fit to be tied. After a long moment she visibly contained herself and merely said, slowly and quietly, And I know its five men, so you just have to do is point out the woman to me and I’ll take care of the rest.

It seemed we were at an impasse, but regardless I had no intention of doing it.

“Why don’t we just wait until they’re asleep and then go look see? I suggested.

Before she could answer we saw someone stirring, and heard one of them call out in a man’s voice, “Who’s there?”

We both looked at each other in silence. Neither of us moved.

“Who’s there?” A grey figure said once more and got up to rouse the others.

Just then I heard some faint music and the sky grew lighter. Was it the music of the spheres I’d heard tell about? The music became more intelligible and I realized it was the theme song for “Sky King”, one of my favorite TV shows. All of sudden a vaguely familiar roar obliterated everything. I looked up in the sky and saw the bearded man and red-headed woman on their motorcycle blasting through the sky and yelled, “There she is, there she is!”

The new girl rushed up behind me and began pummeling me with her fists, screaming and crying, “NO NO NO! NO NO NO!” crumpling to the ground in a fainting fit.

I’d seen what I wanted to see, and was ready to turn back. Of course, I wish they’d taken me with them, but just seeing my dream come to life was enough for me at that time. And besides, I was certain that at some point they’d come back for me.

 

THE END