Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Walking Among the Waves: A New Free Kindle Book

January 13, 2019

Walking Among the Waves: Three Short Stories from Everyday Life is now available on Kindle. This new book features three short stories set in South Portland, Maine. The foreword is an essay on signs. The text is supported by bead mosaics from eight bracelets and a loom-framed wall hanging. Like the other books I have published on Kindle, this new book is listed at the minimum price of 99¢. 

If anyone is interested, Walking Among the Waves is available free, Sunday & Monday, January 13 & 14.

You do not need a Kindle device. The book can be read on a PC, Mac or phone. This book can be reached by clicking on the image below or with my earlier books on

my Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/mikesmetzer

 

front cover - Walking Among the Waves by Mike Smetzer

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The One Who Saw God: A Short Story for Spring

April 20, 2018

 

Mrs. Kenworthy’s cows watched the heads of a dozen members of The Goodmen’s Benevolence Society bouncing like balloons above the iron-hard seats of the retired school bus. The Goodmen were hurrying ahead of the storm on their way down the gravel shortcut that led to Waterwheel Estates, the small new development where many of them lived.

It was Tom, staring out into the gloom of the dark afternoon sky, who first saw the tornado. It was tiny in the distant south. He couldn’t figure it out at first, and he wondered if it were only a dense body of rain held aloft in the clouds. But as he watched, the distant churning moved down to the earth, though its point of contact was hidden by the hills and trees that formed the horizon.

Tom’s announcement came with all the drama of a hiccup and just before the punch line of Bud’s joke about Brittany Jones, the local TV anchorwoman. “Isn’t that a tornado?” he asked. The crowd of men looked first at him with mild irritation, paused, then looked with a rush at the windows, following his gaze into the distance.

“My God! It is a tornado!” said Jack. “How far off do you think it is?”

“Can’t be more than three miles” Bud reflected, “or we’d never be able to see it against that dark sky.” General agreement followed. “Where do you think it’s going, Elias?” someone asked, and everyone turned to listen to the old man’s opinion.

Elias lived on what was left of his small farm. For fifty years, he had kept the farm going by working full time on a section gang repairing the railroads in northwestern Indiana. That was before most of the lines were abandoned and the tracks pulled up. For ten years now he had lived retired and virtually alone with his paralyzed wife in a warped old shack of a house in the little woods next to the development.

The ground on which the development sat had been his corn field, but now he sat for hours on his steps and watched his old barn slowly fall to ruin. Everyone knew Elias, and respected his knowledge of area geography; but not much was ever said to him and even less was ever heard from him, though the Goodmen sometimes carried him along on their baseball outings as an easy gesture toward their charitable mission.

The wrinkles tightened around the old man’s eyes as he watched the cloud. “It will be in Palmer in a minute,” he said, almost to himself.

“There’ll be the Devil to pay in Palmer,” announced Bud. “Damn glad I don’t live there!”

“Shouldn’t we call someone to warn them.” suggested Jack. Jack had a social conscious, which led him into more volunteer work than his wife, or his fellow Goodmen, could appreciate. “What will people think of us if we don’t even call?”

“Do you even know anyone in Palmer, Jack?” Bud responded. “Anyway, I guess the people in Palmer will know in a minute if they don’t know now.” He lit a Camel and looked out with eager interest at the storm. Tom remembered how much Bud enjoyed watching contact sports. Physical drama brought him to life.

Jack dialed 911 on his cell. No connection.

Elias sat deep in thought. Tom wondered if he were praying. Elias was known to be the oldest member of the little country church that served the remaining farmers in the area. The people of the development didn’t go there, although it was only a couple miles away. They went to large stained-glass churches in the nearby cities, or else they slept late.

Elias never swore or drank and was known to read the Bible daily. People respected him, in a patronizing sort of way. They thought about all those years he had taken care of his wife instead of putting her into a nursing home. It was sobering. It was a little frightening, too, all those days and nights living with a woman who could only make cries like an animal to tell him of her moods and needs. People couldn’t imagine what the world looked like inside his habitual and watchful silence.

Not that they worried about it. Elias was a small rock in the stream of their lives. Their conversations and projects bubbled around him without them really noticing his presence. If he didn’t function as a part of their society, he didn’t disrupt their society either. They just would once in a while notice that he was there.

The bus finally stopped at the entrance of Elias’s long driveway, and he began moving toward the door. “Hey, you’ve got a CB receiver, don’t you, Elias? Maybe we could pick up something on the air.” Tom did not want to go onto Elias’s land or into his house with the paralyzed wife. He wanted to go home to his wife and daughter.

“Come on, Tom!” ordered Bud. “You’re the one who called this thing,” and Bud pulled him out of his seat.

Five of the men piled out behind Elias and filed down the gravel path that curved around the head of a gully to the old single-story house hidden in the trees. Jack tried his cell again. Nothing. Following at the end of the group, Tom noticed how firm the ground was underneath the grass in the middle of the driveway. He felt like he was walking on pumped muscle. In the trees the tornado could not be seen. The cluttered old woods was dense with tangled brush and decay. The tornado was like a dream among the gently rustling oaks, except for the blackness of the southern sky.

Tom couldn’t imagine the old woods on a sunny day. If sunlight ever penetrated the treetops, he felt the woods would vanish. The woods was a cold place, dark and menacing like the sky. Together they seemed to form a world far removed from his life in Waterwheel Estates.

Everything in the Estates was carefully packaged and maintained. The waterwheel was a fake. There wasn’t even a creek nearby. The hollow plastic wheel sat in an artificial pool at the entrance. An electric motor pumped water up a small pipe to fall onto the blades and make the wheel slowly turn. Everything at the Estates was diagrammed and easy to understand.

Tom put his hands in his pockets and hunched up his shoulders. He heard no birds. He saw no squirrels. Everything in the woods was unnaturally silent. It reminded him of the Flying Dutchman, the phantom ship, tattered, with no living crew, that appeared to doomed sailors. What sins could Elias have committed, he wondered, that he and his wife should be the sole dwellers in this woods. But Tom felt his own inadequacy here more clearly than Elias’s remoteness. He had never been comfortable in nature, at least outside a city park. In a park you would have pleasant little squirrels to watch, and someone would have cleaned up all these dead limbs and brush.

Maybe Elias liked the woods. Tom couldn’t imagine why. There was nothing to do here. You couldn’t picnic in the brush and weeds. You could sit on a fallen log, he supposed, and watch the mushrooms grow. Could you eat the wild grapes that wound their vines up into the trees? Could you even reach them? There were patches of what Bud had told him were Mayapples. Bud said inside they were sweet and slimy and full of seeds. The thought of sucking out their pulp made him shudder. If there were worms, Bud said, you could spit them out with the seeds. What could Elias do in a woods like this?

Yet it seemed the right place for him. Both were old and decayed, with no real usefulness anymore. Both were forbiddingly silent and ghostly, deep but at the same time opaque. Like the black sky to the south, he thought, and he wondered if all the invisible churning and violence within those clouds had some parallel within Elias’s woods, inert and silent as it seemed. Perhaps a slow violence was moving just beneath the leaves, a violence in the ground to match the violence in the clouds, only much slower, too slow for men to notice who moved only on its surface, and harder to define or measure.

As they approached the house, Tom felt his skin tighten. He thought the house disliked him. The old house in the old woods seemed like a setting in some fearful fairy tale. What was he doing coming here with these men? The best answer he could give was that he was doing what he had always done – follow someone else’s plan. He hadn’t wanted to move out to the development. All his life he had lived in suburbs close to Chicago, comfortably surrounded by people like himself. But his wife wanted to raise their daughter in the country, so he had brought them to the development and now commuted forty miles to work.

Mrs. Kenworthy met the men at the door. She had been watching Elias’s wife, as she had off and on for twenty years, but now she wanted to hurry back to her farm before the storm.

The men stumbled their way through the tools and old clothes that were heaped about the narrow porch, walked through the kitchen and took various places leaning or sitting about the tiny living room where Elias had an old 23-channel CB receiver. Most of the men had never been in the house before, and the grunts and cries of his speechless wife in the next room made them glance about uneasily. An old leather-bound Bible lay open to Revelations on the table surrounded by bent nails, a coffee cup, and odd pieces of machinery and wire. The CB was on a shelf with old books and emergency candles.

After a few seconds of scanning they picked up a conversation.

“. . . she went right through Palmer and headed east. It looks like the end of the world over there. Go ahead.”

“Have you been able to pick up anything about the people?”

“I heard on the sheriff’s channel that someone reported six dead already, a couple of them children. I wonder . . .”

“It is Jehovah,” Elias whispered to himself.

“What?” asked Tom, but he was cut off by Bud.

“Six dead! Did you hear that? And in a village only three miles from here! Do you think we’ll make the national news? God, I’m glad I didn’t buy that house near Palmer!” Bud was always proud of his foresight.

“It is Jehovah,” said Elias, calmly but with force. “He has come to claim us.”

Everyone looked at Elias. Tom first tried to put his hands into his pockets, then folded them together and pressed them between his knees. He felt uncomfortable in this decayed house. He didn’t really know Elias, and he would have gladly gone home, if he could have slipped past Bud blocking his way to the door. The old man’s assertion frightened him almost as much as the tornado. What kind of man was he?

Jack reached over and began scanning the channels again.

“I wonder where that bugger’s going now,” Jack worried.

“The guy said it was going east,” replied Bud. “What will it hit east of Palmer, Elias?”

“Jehovah won’t forget us,” muttered Elias. Then, glancing sideways at Bud, he added, “It will hit nothing east of Palmer.”

A crack in the east window began to whistle softly and a branch began rubbing against the side of the house. “The wind has shifted around,” said Jack.

“Hey now, Elias, there must be something east of Palmer,” urged Bud, his eyes bright with enthusiasm. “What about that little place called Hurlbert? Isn’t that east of Palmer? They were both right along the railroad.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard of a Hurlbert,” said Jack. “It must be pretty small.”

“Yeah, they used to load cattle there. What do you think about Hurlbert, Elias?”

Elias said nothing. He sat listening, with one hand clenched on the table. Tom thought Elias looked like a prophet, and he felt as if he himself were among the worshippers of some false god about to be consumed by fire out of heaven.

He found himself staring at Elias. The old man’s eyes had never seemed so clear and full of life. But it was a life he could not fathom. It made him want to run. Elias wasn’t a man like him. He seemed an apparition conjured out of the forest, a spirit with which he had no way to deal. Tom felt like one of the children of Bethel must have felt when they saw the she-bears of Elisha coming out of the woods to maul them. He chewed hard on his lip and glanced quickly about the room.

“Hey, listen to this!” Jack had found something on the CB.

“. . . just about that corner. Then the damned thing turned back around. Hell, I think it’s heading back past Palmer but further north. I can still see it from my car. I’m gonna follow, if the road’s clear. Say you know it looks like it may hit that little Waterwheel development north of Palmer. . . .”

“Shit!” said Jack, “He said it’s heading here.” Everyone looked out the window, but all they could see were the gently swaying trees at the side of the house.

“Jehovah has come!” announced Elias, and he rose up beside the table. All the men poured through the house and spilled like marbles into the front yard. About a half mile before them in the sky the tornado loomed, twisting, weaving back and forth above them like a black cobra with a shifting hood of clouds.

“I’m going home!” cried Tom.

“My God! There are no basements in the development!” gasped Jack. “And we can’t even get home before it hits!”

Jack and another man grabbed Tom and held him back.

“Elias must have a cellar,” cried Bud.

The men turned to see Elias braced in his doorway with his wife in a wheelchair and a double-barreled shotgun in his hands: “Jehovah has come and we must meet Him.”

Christ, man! You can’t leave us out here to die,” pleaded Bud. “Quick, let’s get in the cellar.”

“No! You must give yourself to God! We shall meet Him on the hilltop.”

Bud stepped toward Elias, but the old man cocked both hammers and pointed the gun into his face. Bud backed off and turned to look at the approaching funnel. They all looked at the black twisting cloud before them. The roar came to them through the gently rustling leaves. They could not see the impact as it entered the development on the far side, but debris flew in the air above the tree line.

“Let’s get in the gully!” cried Bud.

The men broke and ran for the wooded ravine. Behind them they could hear Elias calling, “No! Jehovah has called you! Stand up with the elect!”

Tom and the others slipped down the eroded sides and hesitated among the trees at the bottom. Decades of rains had washed out much of the soil beneath the old trees. They stood there like giant, ruined pillars of the old forest, raised above the ground on arthritic roots that twisted everywhere into the clay. Some of the trees had broken down. Many leaned into each other or rested against the gully’s side.

“Get inside the roots!” cried Jack, and each man ran to a tree. As the other men squirmed their way beneath their trees, Tom heard a slow creaking above him in the wind. He looked up to see a tree with half its branches dead, leaning like an old slate tombstone neglected in a pioneer graveyard. He imagined its roots waking up around him, twisting like snakes, strangling his body, tightening, squeezing, choking off his throat and guts.

Tom ran up the side of the gully toward his house. “I’m going to my family!” he cried, more frightened by the gully than the storm.

“Tom, come back!” cried Jack. “You can’t make it.” But Tom reached the top and disappeared running toward the development.

The cloud came to the gully’s edge, roaring, black, angry, raging up to heaven, up into the dark sickly green richness of the sky, oversaturated with icy rain and power and what seemed a hatred of mankind. Then the men’s ears popped and, looking up, they saw someone flying in the sky.

*

Tom no longer felt the impact of the wind and debris. He felt quiet and at peace. Tom relaxed from his fetal position and opened his eyes. As he looked down he saw the world below circling round and round him. All kinds of things were moving with him in the air but no longer hitting him since all were moving together at the same speed. In the distance, he saw the ruins of the development. Nothing remained standing.

Then he saw Elias far below blowing like a rag across the fields. His wife’s wheelchair tumbled behind. In the gully the trees still writhed in their death agony, twisting around on their convulsing roots like berserk peasants treading grapes to wine. Tom thought he saw the wine seeping out from some of the roots. Inside the vortex Tom saw the development’s waterwheel spinning wildly like a dreidel, a little wheel spinning in the air within the giant wheel of the vortex.

Then Tom was carried further aloft through the clouds and up into the thunderhead above. The tornado must have passed over a lake because Tom found himself drenched with the smell of the marina and surrounded with a multitude of fish. A bluegill was suspended next to his face, its mouth slowly opening and closing. The updraft lifted him up and up.

Near the top of the thunderhead, tremendous and continuous lightning witnessed nature’s power to the clouds and earth below. A cloud tunnel suddenly opened above Tom, and looking into the upper sky far above the storm, Tom beheld the serene and solemn face of God. He was looking to the west, toward the sunset, looking intently at something far away from the dying people and fish and trees below. Then the cloud tunnel closed with cold, green clouds, and an intense downdraft of driving hail battered Tom’s body back toward the earth.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

“Grackle’s Ascension,” a precursor to this story, was published in Little Balkans Review. It is a different treatment of the same situation.

 

Angel with the Book - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Angel with the Book – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

 

The First Visit: A Story of the Early Sixties

January 24, 2018

 

Paul was sitting alone in his apartment over the Rexall where he worked. As he had finished supper, Paul had listened on the radio to Jack Kennedy declare support for President Diem and liberty in Indochina. Now he was half listening to a radio episode of Gunsmoke. Paul had a lonely life. The brutal realities of the Cold War and life in the Old West were unlikely to cheer him up. But he was very happy. Aunt Emma, his last remaining relative, had finally died.

Her death itself did not make him happy. He had liked Emma, a bit. But Paul’s aunt had left him enough money to buy new clothes, rent an apartment with a private bath, and buy a new Studebaker Lark convertible. He was signing the lease on the apartment tomorrow morning, and it wasn’t over the Rexall where he worked. He was talking to the Studebaker dealer tomorrow afternoon. By next week Paul’s friends might start to respect him.

Paul finally had enough money to live. People said he should be happy he wasn’t still a stock boy, but Paul knew he had no future standing behind a soda fountain in a drugstore. Jerking sodas is cool when you’re eighteen, but not when you’re thirty-two. Today the bank had transferred the funds for a new life into Paul’s new personal checking account. Paul was very happy indeed.

Paul was sipping Champale when he heard heavy footsteps on his stairs. Since he had the only apartment at the top of stairs, he got up to answer the knock he expected. But before he got there, both the latch and the bolt lock released themselves. The door swung in.

A muscular arm ran up from the door knob into the shadows above the door frame. Only the chest and lower body could be seen behind the opening door. Then the shoulders dropped as the giant ducked his broad face under the door frame and strode into the room. The giant stretched himself to full height, straightened his sharkskin suit, and looked around with satisfaction.

Paul stepped back. “What do you want?”

Turning, the giant folded his arms and smiled down at Paul. His eyes were a warm brown, and his smile seemed good humored. Paul watched him reach up and tease a corner of his dark mustache.

“I want your money, Sonny Boy.”

“What?”

“Come on. Fork it over, Paul. Everything you’ve got.”

“I only have ten dollars, and change. Honest.”

The giant cupped both hands and stuck them down below Paul’s chin, as if to catch the jackpot from a slot machine. Paul emptied the bills out of his wallet, Then dropped his change into the giant’s hands. His money seemed so small in those hands.

“That’s all I’ve got.”

The giant moved about the apartment, dumping out drawers and occasionally pocketing small objects. He didn’t even glance at Paul. But once, as he passed, he bent down, parted Paul’s hair quiff, and looked inside. “Any gold in here?” Then he laughed and patted Paul’s head.

The giant pulled a book of counter checks from his pocket and handed it to Paul. “Now write me a check. Make it for the amount in that rockin’ new checking account of yours. I’ll go by your bank when it opens and cash it.”

“I only make minimum wage.”

The giant laughed. “Now put down what’s in your account, Paul. And don’t you forget what your sweet auntie left you.”

How could he know? Paul opened the book and found dozens of signed checks, each drawn on a different account. He found many names he knew. John Dickens, the pharmacist. His landlord, Mr. Ladd. Patty Schmidt, who worked beside him at the soda fountain. Even Rex Masters, the Chief of Police! Finally he found a blank check. His name, bank and account number were already printed in.

“Put it down as a visitation fee.”

Paul saw a chance for delay. He wrote down seven dollars more than what was in his account. In the morning, his bank would refuse the check and he would have time to find help. Surely someone would help! Paul handed back the book, but he couldn’t look into those brown eyes. All he could see was the giant’s mustache, and a spreading smile.

“That will do for now, Sonny Boy.”

Paul followed the giant to the door. He listened to the steps going down the stairs, so unhurried, so sure.  He didn’t know who could help. Half the people he knew were in that book. He leaned against the sides of the open door. The radio inside his apartment had moved on to Sam Cooke singing “Wonderful World.”

Then the giant reappeared as a shadow that filled up the lower hallway and moved to the foot of the stairs. As he started back up, a step creaked and Paul felt hot urine rushing down his leg. The giant paused near the top to study the puddle still forming around Paul’s feet.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I have a bit of trouble with young folks. They don’t respect me when I first visit. But you will respect me, Paul. And we will have a long life together. Tomorrow I will give this check to the teller and watch it bounce. Then you will cover the amount, and more.”

The giant looked up and Paul saw that his eyes were blue. His face still seemed the same, all but those eyes. Such a bright blue! Paul blinked and saw that the giant’s mustache had turned white. Paul could no longer feel his shoulder against the doorjamb or even the wetness of his pants.

The giant slid Paul’s Gruen watch off his wrist. “Ten p.m. already, Sonny Boy,” he sighed, dropping the watch into his pocket, “and I have so many people like you to visit.”

The giant guided Paul back into his apartment. Then he gently shut the door.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

1960 Studebaker Lark Regal Convertible - cars on line

1960 Studebaker Lark Regal Convertible – Cars On Line