Category: Short Stories

The Grouch is inflicting yet another short story on the world. Check out “An Overcast Day,” if you dare. 

Here’s a complete list of Grouch’s short stories with links (in green):

 

 

 . grouchyeditor.com Rusty   “Rusty” — Happy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com revelation   “Revelation” — Unhappy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com homebodies   “Homebodies” — The people next door.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com ass   “The Porthole” — Be careful what you wish for.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com the ufo   “The UFO” — Stand by me … and a UFO.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Tales From Grouch   “Carol Comes Home” — The spirit of Norman Bates.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com thwup   “Thwup!” — The case for eating more (or less) beans.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Wisdom   “Wisdom” — Cabin in the woods.

 

.        “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”  Thelma helps a guest.

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Americans    “The Americans”  — Kevin goes for the gold.

 

.        “Margaret” — The greatest love story of all time?

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Asmat     “The Hot Tub”  — Elites enjoy some “quality time.”

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Earl Smilius     “The Climate Changer” — Earl has a secret weapon.

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Holger     “An Overcast Day”   — The important thing in life.

 

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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An Overcast Day

by J.D.H.

 

 

“People talk about ‘the end of the world,’ and how we must do everything we can to avoid it,” said middle-aged, bespectacled Jon Higgensen.

He was sitting on the veranda with his much-younger wife, Shanna Hilton, and he wondered if she’d listened to a single word he’d been saying.

He studied her. There was no question but that she was a homely girl. At 28 years old, she was cursed with what uncharitable people called a “horse face.” When Shanna smiled, the result resembled a death rictus, all teeth and barely suppressed malice.

But his wife also possessed what for Higgensen was essential in a mate — the most spectacular ass he’d ever beheld. It was not flat, nor was it large. Her stallion-esque legs climbed to a derriere that was part teenage boy, part all-woman. Unlike the tushes of so many modern females, Shanna’s backside was not Peloton-honed muscle, but natural and … well, Higgensen could gaze at it all day.

He glanced over his wife’s shoulder at the hills in the distance and took note of the ugly, brownish-orange clouds forming on the horizon.

“But when you think about it,” he continued, “the ‘end of the world’ is going to come for each of us, eventually. What difference does it make to a man on his deathbed if Kim Jong-un nukes America, or if global warming floods the East Coast? Everything ends for that man when he draws his last breath, either way. For him, it is indeed the end of the world.”

Shanna sipped from her cup of coffee and flashed her rictus-grin. She said to her husband, “I fucked your partner last night.”

Higgensen was not surprised. This infidelity was not her first, nor would it be the last.

“His cock is much bigger than yours,” she continued. “And it lasts much longer. And, oh God, does he ever produce buckets of the stuff. I think I’m still dripping.”

Shanna leaned in for the kill. “I almost forgot — we filmed it! Would you like to see the video?”

 

**

 

Higgensen was only half-listening to his spouse. The ugly cloud formation was growing larger and moving toward them at an alarming speed.

“Some people say that ‘God is dead.’ I don’t know,” he reflected. “The older I get, the more it seems that anything is possible. Aliens from outer space, Donald Trump, dogs and cats living together.” He chuckled at his own joke.

“But what if God is not dead? What if God is very much alive, and God is in fact quite insane? That would explain a lot, would it not?”

Shanna issued a snort. “I felt God last night. And I expect to feel him again tonight. And tomorrow, and the next day …

“Silly boy told me he forgot to bring his condoms. But that’s what he told me the last time. Oh, well.”

 

The brutish cloud formation was now directly overhead. They began to feel the first droplets.

Our marriage is dissolving, thought Jon Higgensen, and so are we.

This, as the black rain began to burn the flesh of their faces.

“Ah, sweetheart,” gasped Higgensen. “You did have such a fine ass.”

 

THE END

 

 

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

 

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The Grouch is inflicting another short story on the world. Check out “The Climate Changer,” if you dare. 

Here’s a complete list of Grouch’s short stories with links (in green):

 

 

 . grouchyeditor.com Rusty   “Rusty” — Happy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com revelation   “Revelation” — Unhappy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com homebodies   “Homebodies” — The people next door.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com ass   “The Porthole” — Be careful what you wish for.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com the ufo   “The UFO” — Stand by me … and a UFO.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Tales From Grouch   “Carol Comes Home” — The spirit of Norman Bates.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com thwup   “Thwup!” — The case for eating more (or less) beans.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Wisdom   “Wisdom” — Cabin in the woods.

 

.        “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”  Thelma helps a guest.

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Americans    “The Americans”  — Kevin goes for the gold.

 

.        “Margaret” — The greatest love story of all time?

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Asmat     “The Hot Tub”  — Elites enjoy some “quality time.”

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Earl Smilius     “The Climate Changer” — Earl has a secret weapon.

 

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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The Climate Changer

by J.D.H.

 

The newly sworn-in junior senator from Wisconsin surveyed the nearly empty senate chamber from his vantage point in the gallery, and he frowned.

It wasn’t the first time Senator William Wilkie, 34, had beheld the storied room. His orientation sessions, after all, were complete, and he had visited the chamber innumerable times, both as a private citizen and again once the good voters of Wisconsin saw fit to send him to Washington.

Senator Wilkie knew that he would spend countless hours in this room, and he swelled with pride. In time, he would join the Congressional Black Caucus, he would be assigned to various committees, and, with any luck, one day he would actually chair one of them.

But at the moment, he was struck by one peculiarity of the famed senate chamber: its vacancy. Other than a few scattered aides and two or three staffers, he could discern only one other person in the room below: the elderly senior senator from Utah, who appeared to be asleep in his chair. It was 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. 

 

***

 

Thurgood Nosgood, Wisconsin’s senior senator and Will’s mentor, stood beside the freshman congressman in the balcony, took note of his mentee’s puzzled expression, and chuckled. “Get used to it, son. Unless the C-SPAN cameras are on, this is how it usually looks.”

Will looked at Nosgood. “Where are they all?”

“Same place you’ll spend most of your time. On the phone, fundraising. Like I said, get used to it. Utah down there is retiring. He doesn’t need to fundraise anymore, so he’ll just sleep out the rest of his term. Either that, or Earl Smilius just left him.” Nosgood issued a hearty guffaw.

 

***

 

Three hours later, Will surveyed the office-turned-party-room and activated his mental file cabinet. The reception for incoming congresspeople was populated with faces both familiar to him, and unfamiliar. Many of the elder senators he recognized from television. A few of them he knew from brief introductions. The senior senator from Utah, Will noticed, was not in attendance. Probably still napping on the senate floor, he thought.

Nosgood materialized at his side, cradling a glass of champagne and sporting a smirk. “Get used to it, son. If you idolize any of these pillars of government, you won’t for much longer. They’re just human. Too human, most of them.”

Around the room, introductions were made. Congratulations were proffered. Liquor was consumed.

A side door opened, and a hush fell over the room.

 

***

 

The legendary senator from Mississippi had entered the party room.

Will, like everyone else at the crowded gathering, gazed at the man from Biloxi, Earl Smilius III. Will ransacked his mental file cabinet and came up with:

Powerful, low-key, perpetual Mona Lisa half-smile, rarely on television, enigmatic. But above all, powerful.

Will couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The man looked so unprepossessing, even humble, yet he seemed to command immense respect — or could it be fear? — from his colleagues.

But then, Smilius’s accomplishments were mythic. In the House, he had served on Ways and Means, Defense, and Budget. Later, as senator from Mississippi, he eschewed most committees. He didn’t seem to need them to exert influence.

 

***

 

Will couldn’t take his eyes off Smilius. Whenever the stocky senator approached a group at the reception, he was greeted with much deference. Everyone assembled would hush, waiting for Smilius to speak. Sometimes the portly politico would oblige them; sometimes he would simply smile and just stand there, sipping from a glass of whatever it was he chose to drink.

Smilius’s reputation was impressive. Especially for such an apparently low-key congressman. Reportedly, Smilius had once prevented a nuclear confrontation with Russia by dismissing a delegation of Russians and Americans and sitting down privately with Vladimir Putin. After just five minutes alone with the notorious strongman, Smilius had emerged from the session with that Mona Lisa smile and assurances, in his own words, that “all is well.”

No details from the meeting ever emerged, from either side. Smilius had simply sat down with Putin and moments later declared victory.

 

***

 

Will studied the group of people now surrounding Smilius in the reception room. There were a few forced smiles, a bit of head-nodding. But one woman, a newly elected senator from Minnesota (Will knew her, slightly, from orientation), was turning green in the face. She looked down at the floor, muttered an apology, and bolted from the circle of dignitaries.

 

***

 

Nosgood chuckled. “Earl Smilius is headed our way,” he said to Will. “You won’t want to offend him. He’s not an unreasonable fellow, but nevertheless, you ought not offend him. You might not guess it from looking at him, but Earl always gets his way. Always.”

“But what does he care about?” asked Will. “What motivates the man?”

Nosgood considered this for a moment. “I’d say … climate change.”

“And what makes him so powerful?”

“He presents his opponent with two alternatives. Choice A is to go along with his way. Choice B is … unbearable to most of them.”

 

***

 

Smilius shuffled over to the two men from Wisconsin and studied Will, a twinkle in his eye.

“And you might be the new senator from Oshkosh?”

“Yes, sir,” said Will. “It’s an honor to meet you.”

“Oh, I ain’t nothin’,” said Smilius. “They say I’m just another blowhard from Mississippi.” He winked at Nosgood.

 

***

 

Will noticed that the freshman female senator had come back to the reception and rejoined the cluster of people across the room. She kept glancing, worriedly, at Smilius. Will strained his ears, trying to catch what she said, but only caught snippets: “For the love of God … not possible to … make it stop!”

Will wondered if Smilius was sexually predatory.

“What exactly do you hope to accomplish in these hallowed halls, son?” Smilius asked him.

“Well sir, not much at the beginning. I understand that I’m here to absorb and to learn. With any luck, I’ll someday be able to put that knowledge to good use.”

Smilius grinned. “Not bad. Not bad. I used to think that way. But what I discovered is that the most important thing in this town can be summed up in one word. Can you guess what that word is?”

“Not off the top of my head. No sir.”

 

***

 

“Chemistry,” said Smilius. “The word is chemistry. If you develop the right chemistry for a person, you can see that he or she will almost always come around to seeing things the way you want them to. Am I right, Senator Nosgood?”

Nosgood, who had been eyeing Smilius warily, nodded affirmatively.

“You might have heard about my encounter with the hot head from Russia. You might also notice, in future, that folks here in D.C. tend to come around to my way of seeing things, and my way of doing things.

“No, I don’t blackmail them, or threaten them, or intimidate them by saying I will withhold this funding or go to the press about that rumor. What I do is always within the bounds of law, doesn’t violate a single congressional ethics guideline. But it always works, because the person sees no other way out of the situation but to comply with my wishes.”

Will still held his drink, but he didn’t drink. He was mesmerized by this stocky little man, who seemed to hold the magic key to power in the most powerful place on Earth.

 

***

 

“Let me demonstrate for you, son, just a bit of what I’m talking about. See Middleton over there?” Smilius gestured toward Howard Middleton, senate majority leader from the opposing party.

“The esteemed Senator Middleton is withholding a vote on my energy bill. He thinks I don’t want it badly enough. And he’s correct,” Smilius chuckled. “I don’t really care, one way or the other. But I’m going to get my way, regardless. Watch.”

Smilius left them and meandered over to Middleton’s group. The majority leader’s eyes widened as he watched the approaching menace. Smilius said a few words, left the group, and returned to Will and Nosgood. Middleton had turned noticeably green, as had two or three other senators, and all of them left the reception.

 

***

 

A nauseating smell permeated the room. People stopped talking, attempting to locate the source of the noxious odor. All eyes, fearful or accusing, landed on Senator Smilius.

“My aides, you might or might not have noticed, are all heavy cigarette smokers,” Smilius said to Will. People kept vacating the room. “That’s intentional. If you’re a heavy smoker, you tend to lose your sense of smell. That’s how they put up with it. That’s why I hire them.”

Will began to feel light-headed.

“Putin couldn’t handle it. I told him that I would refuse to leave the room. This was after I’d loaded up on Russkie beans. For lunch. I asked Putin what he thought of my chemical weapon.”

The stench became unbearable. Will began to teeter. He noticed Nosgood lean forward and commence vomiting on the carpet.

“Chemistry, son. People will do anything to avoid it, if you’re good at it,” said Earl Smilius, a twinkle in his eye. “It’s a special talent I have. Chemistry.”

Those were the last words Will heard, before he swooned and pitched face-first onto the floor.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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The Hot Tub

by J.D.H.

 

“I want. To use. The fucking! Hot tub!” barked the stunning woman on the fancy sofa. “Is the fucking hot tub ready? Will the fucking hot tub ever be ready?”

Mike Zipperstein looked at her out of the corner his eye. Even though he was the second-richest man on Earth, and despite the fact that his corporate creation, “Mega,” was the most-powerful communications entity in the civilized world, Zipperstein was intimidated by this woman. At heart, Zipperstein was still an awkward teen, and this lady with the fury in her eyes sent him straight back to his high-school insecurities.

Luckily for Mike, he and this famous, snarling female were not alone in the bunker lounge. There was a third person, Ben Jurion, sitting quietly in a corner, calmly watching Carly Cocoon as she glared at both men. And ranted.

Also, luckily for him, Mike knew that whenever he felt the need, he could retreat, in his mind, to the comfort of numbers and algorithms. Or to mental images of dirty pictures that people posted on the Internet.

Zipperstein owned the world’s largest collection of dirty pictures, because he and his company had access to every nude selfie ever posted by every man and woman on the planet. Even the supposedly deleted ones. Especially the deleted ones.

But his collection of naughty photos and videos was an escape, just a hobby. This angry woman on the sofa, ranting about the hot tub, was here in the flesh. Six feet away from him. She was terrifying.

 

***

 

Nude selfies were nothing to Carly Cocoon; she did not have a sex tape on the Internet, she had seven sex tapes on the Internet. There were hundreds — probably thousands — of naked pictures of her online. Mike had watched all of her sex tapes, but that did nothing to alleviate his current anxiety. If anything, the memories of Carly Cocoon in bed with her lovers caused him to perspire and lock down.

“Will someone please go up and find out?”

Ben Jurion sighed and addressed Carly Cocoon directly: “I checked with Montenegro this morning. He said ‘soon.’ But I’ll go up and check again.”

 

***

 

Ben Jurion, middle-aged, nondescript, and a filthy-rich industrialist, left the bunker’s sitting room and entered a cement-walled hallway. Not for the first time, he wondered if the hellish world above might not be preferable to the hellish world below, in which he was trapped with eight of the world’s wealthiest people.

Of course, there were nuclear explosions above, and biological terrors and chemical terrors and, worst of all, no one in control. But the fallout in this underground, New Guinea jungle hideaway, emanating from the pampered, privileged “lucky ones,” was often unbearable. He had endured weeks of it.

Ben rode the elevator to land-level, and addressed the swarthy Montenegro, who stood vigil at the main door. A computerized meter on the wall showed outdoor radiation at green, or “safe,” levels.

“Afternoon, Monty,” said Ben Jurion. He looked down at the floor and sighed. “She wants to use the Jacuzzi. She wants the fresh air. It would be a blessing to all of us if we could get rid of her for a time.”

Montenegro squinted at Ben Jurion, who was just about the only rich bastard in the bunker that he could stomach. He exhaled smoke from his cigarette and smiled at the industrialist. “Couple more hours, Mr. Jurion. Let my people make sure the locals are clear of here. Everything should be fine.”

 

***

 

Zipperstein couldn’t comprehend it. The bunker, obviously with limitations, and not exactly a private resort in the Caribbean, was nevertheless luxurious. It had every generator-operated convenience: gigantic televisions and movie screens, a swimming pool, a game room, a bar, a restaurant (with two chefs), and too many bedrooms to count.

And yet Carly Cocoon, despite laying claim to the largest bedroom in the shelter, was undressing right in front of him, here in the sitting room. She was stripping to prepare for the coveted hot tub, of which it was now apparently safe to use. She bent to retrieve some article of clothing from the floor and jutted her (rather large) buttocks just inches from Mike’s face.

His eyes narrowed as he examined a mark on one butt-cheek. It was a small, pink tattoo in a floral pattern. A rose, he decided.

Without turning around, she said: “Do you ‘like’ what you see, Mr. Mega? Would you like to ‘friend’ me?’”

She stood up and faced him. She winked at him.

“Do you think my ass is fat? Some people say it is.”

No reply. Also, no eye contact.

She saw he was beginning to sweat. Profusely. “Aww, you’re just a little boy, aren’t you?” She smiled and with one hand swept aside her long, brunette hair. “I like that. I like you. I want to friend you.”

Mike mustered a gulp.

 

***

 

It wasn’t only Carly Cocoon; everyone in the bunker wanted to use the hot tub (save Ben Jurion, who chose to remain below in the bunker). It wasn’t just the comfort of warm, bubbling water that appealed; nor the cushioned headrests and massaging jets of the Jacuzzi. It was the rare opportunity to breathe fresh air. The hot tub was an excuse. Compared to the claustrophobic confines of their underground shelter, the outdoors was a beckoning Eden. It had been weeks since any of them had experienced fresh air.

So, in the tub they all (save Ben Jurion) now sat: Zipperstein; Carly Cocoon; computer mogul Will Bates; weapons dealer Steele Dropp; Mrs. Steele Dropp; Steele Dropp’s girlfriend, the actress Ginnifer Florence; a politician none of them knew; and the comedian Phil Moseby, who appeared to be asleep.

Will Bates surveyed his companions and inwardly smiled. He was the smartest person in the group, no doubt. Will knew this because everyone always told him how smart he was for turning his little startup, MicroPens, into what it was today: MaxiPads. Computer software and hardware. He became the world’s richest man. If you were smart enough to become the world’s richest man, then you must be the world’s smartest man. That was simple logic.

And so, Bates eventually took on politics and economics and ecology, because the world expected the world’s smartest man to solve its problems. And Will agreed with the world.

 

***

 

Bates looked at youthful Mike Zipperstein and smiled again. Once upon a time, Will had been like Mike, socially awkward and insecure, especially around females. In time, thought Will, you will mature, and I’ll pass the torch to you.

Zipperstein, for his part, could only summon the courage to periodically glance at the great Will Bates. Bates was Zipperstein’s idol, a man of whom he had been in awe since childhood.

Everyone seemed relaxed in the hot tub. Now might be a good time for Mike to pose a question to his hero: “Mr. Bates, how long do you think we’ll have to stay here? In New Guinea, I mean.”

Bates smiled at the young man. He looked at the others and said, “Boom chucka. Boom chucka boom.”

Everyone laughed at this, save the arms dealer, who simply stared at Bates.

“That’s just … gibberish,” said Steele Dropp.

Bates replied, “I’m the world’s smartest man.”

“You’re the world’s richest man,” said Dropp.

Bates smiled. “And the difference is?”

No one had an answer to this.

Carly Cocoon cut in: “I’m the world’s most famous woman.”

Everyone stared at her breasts.

 

***

 

Bates studied the brassy woman with the artificial breasts. He did not care for her. He preferred the girls who worked in his office, fresh out of college, naïve, and starstruck by him.

The woman he looked at now in the hot tub was born into wealth. She hadn’t scraped and clawed her way to the top, like he had. She had privilege and was what they called a feminist. “Feminazi,” thought Bates. Spoiled and, thanks to Instagram and Tik Tok and such, on the ascendency in American culture. One of her kind was even in Congress, representing Brooklyn or some such liberal hotbed.

It was a gradual process, but effective, rued Bates. The world was hypnotized by youth and beauty and, in the face of crumbling norms and institutions, ordinary people foolishly turned to youth and beauty to save the planet. Big mistake, Bates thought. The world needed brains to solve its problems. And everyone knew that Will Bates was the world’s smartest man.

Bates tried his best to avoid this woman in the hot tub, who had risen to prominence on reality TV. But that was near-impossible in this hell hole in the middle of nowhere.

 

***

 

Ginnifer Florence surveyed her companions in the Jacuzzi. She considered what they had in common: money. Certainly not their politics. Nor their backgrounds. Nor their appearance. Nor their age.

She looked at the elderly black man slumped in the water across from her. His name was Phil Moseby, and he had been a well-known comedian back in his day, long before Ginnifer’s time.

There had been some kind of sex scandal, and now the old man was disgraced. Since they had arrived at their New Guinea sanctuary, Ginnifer had never seen him awake. Right now, his eyes were shut and his chin was submerged in the bubbling water.

The man’s past did not concern Ginnifer. He appeared harmless, and Ginnifer’s good friend, the producer Marvin Bernstein, had also been embroiled in a sex scandal — many of them, actually — so that sort of thing was nothing new to her. She had been through a scandal or two of her own.

None of it mattered now, anyway. They were removed from the cares and concerns of the world because they had that one thing in common. Money.

 

***

 

Ginnifer was afraid that the sleeping comedian might drown. The lower half of his face kept dipping beneath the surface of the water. She turned to the others: “What’s wrong with him?”

Bates answered: “BCI implant. Didn’t take. Sometimes he’ll speak, say something nonsensical.”

“Yes!” cried Steele Dropp’s girlfriend. “He keeps saying ‘Jell-O.’”

 

***

 

Steele Dropp took a sip of iced tea and squinted at his latest conquest, the starlet from Hollywood. He couldn’t prove it, but he was reasonably certain that she was banging Montenegro’s son, an 18-year-old boy responsible for operating the bunker’s generators and ventilation system.

That was OK by Dropp; he was too old and exhausted to satisfy both his wife and the insatiable Ginnifer.

 

**

 

Meanwhile, in a jungle clearing not far from the elites’ hot tub, Montenegro conferred with a small group of Asmat tribal elders. He was showing them a video on his cell phone, in which some sort of experiment was being conducted.

“It’s called ‘the boiling frog,’” explained Montenegro in the Asmats’ native tongue. “Let me read to you from Wikipedia —

 

‘The boiling frog is an apologue describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.

‘While some 19th-century experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true if the heating is sufficiently gradual, according to modern biologists the premise is false: a frog that is gradually heated will jump out.’”

 

“Then it won’t work!” cried one of the Asmat.

Montenegro clicked on his screen to a video, recording from a camera above the hot tub. As the elites began to grow uncomfortable from the warming water, Montenegro pushed a button and a glass lid arced down, securing all eight of them in a domed semi-circle.

“Now it will,” chuckled Montenegro.

 

***

 

The Asmat — men, women and children — sat on the ground and enjoyed their feast. One young member of the tribe plucked a particularly juicy slab of meat from the spit and began to chew on it.

Boiled human flesh was a delicacy, and everyone was in good spirits. The Asmat, after all, were one of the last known tribes of cannibals on Earth.

The young man gnawed his meat and said to the fellow on his right: “This is rump, I can tell. Not bad. But a bit fatty.”

The other fellow stared at his companion’s slice of steak and frowned. “What is that?”

The young man smiled and replied: “Looks like a picture of a flower.” He sank his teeth into it. “I like it.”

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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If you enjoy short stories with a twist of the bizarre, check out Tales From The Grouch.  Here’s a list with links (in green):

 

 

 . grouchyeditor.com Rusty  “Rusty” — Happy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com revelation   “Revelation” — Unhappy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com homebodies   “Homebodies” — The people next door.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com ass   “The Porthole” — Be careful what you wish for.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com the ufo   “The UFO” — Stand by me … and a UFO.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Tales From Grouch   “Carol Comes Home” — The spirit of Norman Bates.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com thwup   “Thwup!” — The case for eating more (or less) beans.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Wisdom   “Wisdom” — Cabin in the woods.

 

.        “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”  Thelma helps a guest.

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Americans    “The Americans”  — Kevin goes for the gold.

 

.        “Margaret” — The greatest love story of all time?

 

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Margaret

by J.D.H.

 

 

The servants of Mumsford House, composed of the cook, the maid, and the butler, were respectively atwitter, aflutter, and aghast.

News had arrived that morning that the master of the house, Lord Arvid Mumsford, was on his way home. He was expected to arrive at Mumsford House that very evening.

“Mercy me,” declared Lily Evans (atwitter), the portly cook, speaking to herself in the kitchen. “I’ll have to prepare something special. This is a fine occasion, and the master deserves no less.”

 

***

 

“Harrumph!” barked the butler (aghast), Seymour Evans (no relation to Lily), to the timid maid, a girl named Marcie Pootz. “The man is certifiably insane.” He glared at the girl, daring her to object. She simply stared at the floor.

“Nevertheless, he is the source of our income, and we are duty-bound to adhere to our contract. As such, you must see to the condition of the entire house, and in particular the parlor. Oh, yes, especially the parlor.”

Marcie Pootz (aflutter) was intimidated by Mr. Evans, whom she considered the true master of Mumsford House. This, because in her short tenure as the newest employee, she had yet to meet the mysterious Lord Mumsford. He was always abroad and visited rarely.

As for the lady of the house, well, although she resided just upstairs in the main bedroom, that is where she remained all day, every day, being an invalid. Marcie was responsible for the upkeep and cleaning of every room in the house – save Lady Mumsford’s room, which she had yet to behold. Mr. Evans himself saw to the maintenance of that room.

Marcie had never set eyes on poor Lady Mumsford. As far as the girl was concerned, the inhabitants of Mumsford House numbered just three: herself, Mr. Evans, and Mrs. Evans.

“Yes, sir,” said Marcie to Mr. Evans, avoiding all eye contact with the imperious man. “But if I may ask, sir, when is the master expected?”

“This evening. Now off with you. There is much to be done. Lay emphasis on the parlor.”

 

***

 

Meanwhile, a hundred miles away in London …

 

Stanley Swinepool, heir to a fortune and man about town, studied the silver-haired man seated among a cluster of elderly gents in the center of the Devon Club’s lounge. Stanley turned to his constant companion, Sven “Sniveling” Snodgress, and pronounced judgment:

“So that’s the world-famous Lord Mumsford, is it? Back from his tour of the globe, is he?”

Sniveling Snodgress said nothing in reply.

“Doesn’t exactly cut an imposing figure, does he?” Stanley took a drag off his cigarette and left it dangling from a sneering lip. “I don’t see why he bothers to come back, after all. His reputation far outweighs his countenance in the flesh. If I were him, I’d stay in hiding rather than come out and disappoint everyone.”

“He comes back every year about this time. Wants to see his wife,” said Sniveling Snodgress.

Stanley considered this, never allowing his gaze to leave the huddle of men in the center of the lounge. “I read something about that. Some sort of tragedy, wasn’t it? Or was it a scandal of some sort?”

Sniveling Snodgress said nothing.

 

***

 

Lord Mumsford took in the ongoing conversation among his distinguished companions in the Devon Club lounge. Nothing but idle gossip, really. One of the club’s long-time members had recently dissolved his long-time marriage because, apparently, he’d grown repulsed by his wife’s appearance.

“Too fat for his taste,” said one man.

“Hogwash. Her teeth had fallen out,” chipped in another.

“Regardless, the husband said she was more suited to the stable than the bedroom,” quipped a third.

Amid the subsequent burst of laughter, Lord Mumsford cleared his throat. The chortling ceased.

“He sounds like a very foolish husband,” said Mumsford. “Let me explain. Margaret and I have been husband and wife for many, many years now. Physically, you might say the bloom is off the rose. Oh, yes. Certainly that.

“But there are more important things in a marriage. Things like common interests, similar values and, above all, shared memories.”

“All well and good,” snorted a gentleman. “But memories will only take you so far in the bedchamber.”

More laughter.

“As for that,” continued the lord. “A little imagination will work wonders. If a woman’s face no longer arouses a man’s passion, there are other means to attain the desired effect. For example, she can always lend you a hand. If you get my meaning.”

 

***

 

The preparations at Mumsford House had reached peak frenzy. The master had arrived for his annual visit and was expected at the house at any moment.

Marcie Pootz was startled by the change in Mr. Evans and Mrs. Evans (no relation) as the arrival of Lord Mumsford grew imminent. Marcie discovered Mrs. Evans frantically polishing house silver and simultaneously keeping an eye on the special meal cooking on the stove.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Evans. I can’t seem to find Mr. Evans and I knows he wanted me to do one more thing but it’s slipped my mind and –”

“Mr. Evans is upstairs, giving the lady of the house a manicure. After that, he’ll need to carry her down to the parlor. Have you cleaned the parlor as we instructed?”

“Oh, yes ma’am. Everything is clean and everything is tidy, just as you said. I don’t –”

“And especially the table by the master’s chair?”

“Yes ma’am. Especially that. I hope I’m not out of place, but Mrs. Evans I have to say I’m quite excited by this visit. I’ve been here some time now, and yet I’ve only seen the lord the one time, as he was leaving the house. And I have yet to see Lady Margaret.”

Mrs. Evans paused in her work, considering something. “You know, Marcie, the master and his wife, in my opinion, are one of the greatest love stories of all time. I daresay you might not think so; you might find their relationship a bit odd. But then you are a young lass, and you haven’t suffered as they have.

“It was a horrible accident, it was,” continued the cook, wiping away a tear. “I think of it every time I set foot on a train.”

Mrs. Evans composed herself and shot a stern look at the girl. “So it’s best you keep your mouth closed and learn from them. No matter what you might think.”

“Oh, Mrs. Evans, I do so adore a good love story!”

 

***

 

Marcie could not help herself. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but the temptation was simply too great.

The door to the parlor was not completely closed; Marcie had nudged it ajar, and now stood quietly in the hall, straining to hear the words of Lord and Lady Mumsford.

But it was a frustrating exercise for Marcie. Aside from soft murmurings and the occasional coo from Lord Mumsford — “my darling” … “love of my life” — she could make out very little.

She glanced back at the main entrance. Earlier, Lord Mumsford had greeting Mr. Evans and Mrs. Evans and had nodded curtly at Marcie, but that was it. He had handed his coat and hat to the butler and gone straight into the parlor.

She looked at the staircase. Mr. and Mrs. Evans were far away, occupied in the kitchen. The lady’s bedroom would be vacant. This might be Marcie’s only opportunity ….

 

***

 

Meanwhile, a hundred miles away in London ….

 

Snodgress and Swinepool sat in a seedy bar, having tired of the stifling atmosphere of the Devon Club. Smoke and working-class shouts filled The Black Dog, and a bored waitress stood patiently between the two men-about-town.

Swinepool sized up the waitress: a tallish, red-haired girl wearing spectacles. Not unattractive, he judged, but rather dead in the eyes. He reached behind her and raised her skirt to the waist, then squeezed a buttock.

“What’s the name, darlin’?”

“Kit, sir.” She remained expressionless.

Snodgress leaned over and squeezed her other buttock. “Kit what?”

“Mancini,” said the girl. “Would you gentlemen like another?”

“Certainly,” said Swinepool, as Kit leaned forward to wipe detritus from their table. “But before you go,” he tugged at the girl’s blouse, baring her breast, “let’s have a look at your top.”

 

***

 

As the girl sauntered off with their order, Swinepool turned to his companion. “Now, about Mumsford.”

Snodgress frowned.

“Nasty business, that was,” he said. “I remember it well. Mumsford and his wife had just returned from a trip somewhere or the other. At the train station here in London. The lady got off the train, but she oughtn’t. Bad timing.”

“Hmmm,” said Swinepool, who was distracted by Kit Mancini’s swaying backside as it crossed the dingy room.

“One of those parallel tracks, where one set is just a spit away from the other. Of course, just then a second train came along. Mumsford reached out for the wife’s hand, caught it, held fast … but too late. But he never let go.”

Sniveling Snodgress shook his head. “They say the old fellow never recovered.”

 

***

 

Marcie stood in Lady Mumsford’s bedroom and surveyed her surroundings. It was a lavish room, large and well-kept by Mr. Evans. Her gaze kept returning to the bed. It was so small, like a child’s resting place. Beside the bed, Mr. Evans had carelessly left tissue and nail polish, the remnants of his earlier manicure of the lady.

 

***

 

In the parlor, Lord Mumsford was kissing his wife’s hand. As he did so, he caressed a wedding ring attached to a finger of her left hand.

He raised his head, squeezing Margaret’s hand as he did so. Something putrid and vile dripped down the lord’s chin.

“Damn that man, Evans,” he muttered. He used his handkerchief to wipe the preservative from his lips.

“No one cares for you, Margaret, as I do. You know that. My love for you is undying.”

Mumsford took one last, loving look at what remained of his wife, then carefully lifted the pale-green, stiff appendage — cleanly severed beneath the shoulder — and placed it gently back into the large jar of formaldehyde on the table.

Margaret’s arm floated in its liquid preservative for a moment, then began to sink to the bottom of the jar.

“Evans!” Lord Mumsford cried. “I am done in here!”

Evans was aghast. Mrs. Evans, in tears, was atwitter. Marcie, as always, was aflutter.

 

THE END

 

 

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The Americans

by J.D.H.

 

 

Kevin Trapp watched the large-screen TV that was affixed to a peach-colored wall in the waiting room. The on-screen images changed rapidly: a crowd of thousands cheering wildly in a cavernous arena; a female gymnast navigating a horizontal beam; an Asian sports analyst interviewing a stone-faced athlete.

When the camera cut back to the crowd, Kevin noticed a small group — likely a family unit — passing a box of something edible from member to member. This made Kevin hungry, so he reached for an open bag of Doritos on the table at hand and began stuffing chips into his mouth. Outside the spartan room in which he now sat, he could hear the periodic, muffled roar of the crowd. He wiped crumbs from his chin.

He stared at his bag of chips and began to reminisce about his schooldays. His “misbegotten youth,” as he liked to think of it. He remembered the ninth floor of the dormitory which he shared with a score of other boys. He had not been particularly popular with the other students — except for on Saturday nights. Kevin closed his eyes and smiled as he recalled the familiar refrain: “Kevin’s down!”

 

**

 

On Saturday nights, he and the others would walk the six blocks to the town’s bar district, where they would do what young men have always done: drink heavily. Some hours and many pitchers of beer later, they would stagger back to the dorm and ride the elevators to the ninth floor. Five minutes later would come the call: “Kevin’s down!” Again. Everyone knew what that meant.

The dorm was coed, i.e., boys on odd-numbered floors, girls on even-numbered floors. Occasionally, the clarion call about Kevin would attract a few girls, but mostly it drew other boys. They would open their doors, peer into the hallway, and behold the sight of poor Kevin sprawled in the hallway, so drunk that he could move no more. The protocol then was that several of the boys, sometimes more, would be tasked with heaving him off the floor and guiding him to the safety of his room and his bed.

 

**

 

Kevin’s dirty little secret: After the first hallway episode, in which he was indeed quite drunk and indeed passed out, Kevin began to fake it. It was simply too much fun having the boys carry him to bed. It was now a favorite memory.

 

**

 

In the waiting room of the sports arena, Kevin waxed nostalgic about dorm life and munched on his bag of chips. He washed them down with a Pepsi.

He thought of the boys and girls in that long-ago dormitory. Those were hedonistic times for most of them. Kevin did not miss the wanton sex nor the drunken revelry. What he missed was the companionship, the camaraderie. The emotional closeness he shared with the guys.

Kevin did not dwell on sex. His diabetes had long since rendered him impotent. Thinking about sex was a waste of time. He munched some more chips.

His time was at hand.

 

**

 

Kevin looked up again at the TV screen. The Asian sports analyst was interviewing an American athlete. Kevin scowled.

Ten or 12 years ago, the American gymnasts had fallen into disrepute and brought shame to the entire United States delegation. A videotape had surfaced on the Internet. The video featured a shining star of the female gymnastics team, a pretty Hmong American girl who had already secured one gold medal and was expected to garner more.

But the video did not celebrate her gymnastic achievements. The grainy, shaky footage initially revealed the girl, 20-year-old Suni Wang from Minnesota (her popular nickname was “Butterfly”), lying naked on the floor at a raucous party. Suni was the only female at the gathering, which was punctuated by loud, drunken whoops and whistles emanating from young men. Male athletes from the men’s gymnastics team, it later came to light.

 

**

 

Whoever was holding the camera panned up and down the comatose girl, from head to tail. Someone in the background made a rude comment, but loud music and shouts rendered it inaudible.

The videographer zoomed in on the poor girl’s face; in her stupor, her mouth was half open.

And then the penises came into view. And then they took turns, in the infamous words of one drunken boy, “giving her something to drink.”

 

**

 

After the video appeared on the Internet, the men’s gymnastics team was disbanded. No one in the general public seemed to care because the team hadn’t medaled in many years.

As for the girl, her career, too, was effectively over.

Kevin, who had by that time lost interest in all things related to sex, remembered a single image from the videotape scandal: the pretty Hmong girl curled up on the floor in the fetal position, her back to the camera. Beside her lay the tattered remains of her fancy red party dress.

 

**

 

Kevin looked back at the TV screen and again heard a faint roar from the nearby stadium. It was a strange sensation, sitting there in a room thousands of miles from home, snacking on Doritos, sipping Pepsi, and counting the minutes until his moment on the Big Stage.

There were very few Americans participating in this year’s Olympics. After the fall of the men’s gymnastics team, the country began to lose interest in sports in general and the Olympics in particular. It didn’t help that it had been years since any athlete from the United States had medaled.

Except, that is, for Kevin and his teammates.

Kevin and his mates still brought home the gold.

America might have given up on Olympic athletics, but here in Beijing, as attested to by the thunderous crowd, the Olympics were still a very big deal.

 

**

 

There was a knock on the door. It was time for Kevin to go.

Half a dozen Chinese men, all of them fit and wearing matching white casual clothes, entered the waiting room and approached Kevin. One of the men glanced at the table near Kevin’s chair, but his expression betrayed nothing. The table was littered with bare plates, empty bags of chips, and numerous soda bottles, also emptied.

The men faced a daunting task, but they were rehearsed and issued no complaints. They surrounded Kevin’s oversize recliner, which was set on oversize steel wheels, and began to push.

Large folds of his morbidly obese body began to spill over the edges of the chair, impeding the progress of the men situated at the sides of Kevin’s rolling transport, but the Chinese men had done this before for the Americans, so they made good time rolling down the hallway and into the arena.

 

**

 

The crowd grew silent as Kevin steeled himself for the challenge to come. He had prepared for this his entire life, and he was ready. Looking at the six men who strove mightily to wheel him into the arena, he thought again of the boys in his old dorm. “Kevin’s down!” they had cried, staring down at his 340-pound frame on the hallway floor.

But that had been years ago, when he was comparatively light.

Today he tipped the scales (literally) at 440 pounds — which was in line with the size of his American teammates.

 

**

 

As he was wheeled into the stadium, Kevin briefly took in the crowd of thousands and then turned his attention to the gigantic screen suspended high above the center of the arena. The screen was where Kevin lived. It was his heart and soul.

He was the king of the only Olympic event in which Americans still excelled — “esports.” His specialty game awaited on the hovering screen, his control pad rested comfortably on his lap, and he put down his Pepsi. This was his moment.

 

**

 

Kevin kicked ass.

Kevin brought home the gold.

 

 

THE END

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

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© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

by J.D.H.

 

Thelma pushed her spectacles up the bridge of her nose and studied the contents of her medicine cabinet: Pravastatin … Lisinopril … Propanolol. In the background, outside of her tidy bathroom, she could hear Henry Popkins droning on and on. Now Henry was onto the nature of God and existence.

Geezus, the man was intolerable. His visits, frequent, were a trial to her. Thelma contemplated a translucent bottle of something called Verapamil, then slammed the cabinet door shut, unsatisfied. Henry’s voice boomed out from her kitchen.

“I ask you this, Thelma: Could it be that the Almighty created all — billions and trillions of birds, bees, people and animals — because He was bored?”

Thelma shuffled back into the kitchen and eyed Henry carefully. She would get no closer to him than an arm’s length; the man’s cologne was overbearing, but that was nothing compared to his halitosis. He needed a remedy for his bad breath, and if there was a spray or a pill for that problem, Thelma would find it.

 

**

 

“Think about it. Jus’ say you are God. If God was a woman,” Henry chuckled at his own joke.

“You are bored. It’s just you, and nothin’ else. So what do you do? You create things. But just a few things ain’t enough. You’re still bored. You need to create billions of things, so that there are billions of things havin’ thoughts, and it still ain’t enough. On account of those thoughts, none of ‘em, are new to you, ‘cuz you already thought of ‘em ‘cuz you are the Creator.”

Thelma sighed. She pulled a chair up to the kitchen table and eased into it. Her legs objected. Her legs objected to any change of position. To take her mind off her arthritis, she studied Henry’s hair. It oozed gel, it sparkled grease, and Thelma wondered if perhaps it was Henry’s hair gel that assaulted her nostrils, and not his cologne.

She did not want to look at Henry, and she did not want to smell him. And she sure as the dickens did not want to listen to him. Her cotton skirt had hiked up around her thighs, so Thelma contemplated her own varicose veins. And Henry droned on ….

 

**

 

“You take the Big Bang. We are told that the universe came about from mass no bigger than a pin’s head. But what do you suppose that mass was? Could that mass have been a thought — God’s thought? Is that all we are, Thelma, just a bunch of thoughts that God came up with because He was bored?” Henry felt triumphant. He waited for some sort of acknowledgment.

Thelma issued a grunt. “You shut up for 12 seconds and listen to me, Henry Popkins.” She leaned toward him, caught a whiff of his gel, and sat back again. “This talk of life being not real, you know who always says it?”

Henry was silent, so she continued. “I’ll tell you who says it — the idle. The dreamers like you. My daddy, your daddy, my mum and all them’s that works, them’s like the migrant field hands, they don’t cotton to this ‘God’s Dream’ talk because that’s a luxury of the idle.

“When the migrant comes in at night, and his hands are blistered and his back is broken, you think he’s a singin’ ‘Row, row, row your boat, life is but a dream’? Any who sweats for a livin’ knows he ain’t a part of nobody’s sweet dream. Not even the Almighty’s.”

Henry said, “Hmmmm.”

 

**

 

“Know what else is real, Henry Popkins?” Henry said nothing. “That life-killin’ breath of yours, that’s what’s real. And I know I ain’t a-dreamin’ when I am forced to sit here and inhale it.” She paused, and a sly smile crept across her face. “Boom-chucka, boom-chucka, boom-chucka-boom!”

Henry smiled back at her. Softly, he echoed, “Boom-chucka, boom-chucka, boom-chucka-boom.” It was a special thing of theirs.

 

**

 

Thelma studied Henry again. Something was moving in his hair. Wasn’t it? She leaned forward, squinting at him … sure enough, there just above his left ear, something small was moving sporadically, struggling in the hair goop. It was a fly, trying to work its way free. This had happened before, Henry’s hair so thick with goop, insects would check in and they wouldn’t check out. Row, row, row your boat.

Thelma frowned and got up from her chair. She peered out the small window above her kitchen sink and saw movement out in her beet field. The migrants.

 

**

 

When she was a girl, she and all her friends did what these migrants did today, marching up and down the rows, hoeing the beets. But she and the other kids were carefree and lazy, just killing time and earning soda money. The migrants were serious about their work, it was their little piece of the American Dream.

Thelma squinted out the window. One of the migrants, Jesus she thought it was, had an erection.

“Henry, come look at this here. Jesus got him a Johnny-on-a-Pole, I knows it.”

Henry did not stir, so Thelma shuffled back into the bathroom, humming as she went: “Row, row, row your boat, gently …

“Where now, woman?” Henry barked.

“You need things, Henry. Lots of things. Let me get one thing just for you. Jesus gave me somethin’ the other day, might cure your bad breath.”

“Bad breath, you say? Crud and nonsense. It’s all in your head, Thelma. Everything’s in your head!”

“Got something right here … hold on … from Jesus. All the way from South America.”

 

**

 

There was a knock on the door. Thelma sat in her rocker, half-asleep and half-contemplating the veins on her chubby thighs. Whoever was knocking was persistent. With a grunt and a sigh, the old woman rose and slowly made her way to the entry.

Jesus, clad in dirty khaki pants and a striped cotton shirt, removed his tattered hat as Thelma invited him inside.

“Miss Thelma, hello. Hello.”

Thelma glanced at the man. She didn’t need to examine him, his appearance never changed. She did notice that his erection was gone.

“I have more raw cassava for you.” He removed a plastic bag from his pocket and held it before her.

 

**

 

Thelma’s eyes brightened at the site of the bag. “Don’t say? Don’t mind if I take it off your hands.”

Jesus peered over the old woman’s shoulder at Henry, still seated at the table and apparently studying the contents of his plate. He hadn’t budged since Jesus entered the house.

She gestured to the kitchen table. “Last batch worked good. Come see!” She ambled over to the table and stood just behind Henry.

“Problem with old people, Jesus, yours truly included I suppose,” she chuckled, “is we get set in our ways. Comfortable. Too comfortable.

“Old Hank, for example. You can’t argue with the man. He doesn’t see reason; he only sees what he wants to see. So I’d argue and argue and get nowhere. It tires you, Jesus, it really does.”

 

**

 

Jesus made his way, tentatively, to the table. Henry, paralyzed and half-comatose from Thelma’s serving of the South American toxin, raw cassava, blinked once.

“Henry did not believe in pain, Jesus. Old Hank thought it was all in our head!” She chuckled. “So I had to learn him. Henry knows reality now, don’t you Henry?” She punched him, hard, in the smallish goiter that was forming on his neck. No reaction from Henry. Just a soft moan.

Thelma smiled down at Henry. “Row, row, row your boat, life is but a dream ….”

Henry’s lips parted. A tear trickled down his cheek. Two flies, trapped by the hair goop above his left ear, struggled in vain to escape their final resting place.

 

 

THE END

 

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© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Wisdom

by J.D.H.

 

The old man looked around for a spittoon, realized there wasn’t one, and spat a wad of something brown and chunky into the corner of the room. He shot a glance at the boy seated on a stool near the cabin door.

“Like that one, Johnny?”  The old-timer began to cackle but stopped when he recalled the duration and unpleasantness of his last coughing spell. Laughter, like everything else when you grew old, had become a health hazard for him.

The boy sat very still and quiet on the two-legged stool, which was no longer three-legged and was only useable if one leaned back against the cabin wall — Johnny’s current, precarious position. The old man winked at Johnny and began rubbing the crotch of his grimy overalls. Johnny kept his gaze on the rheumy, dewy eyes of the geezer.

“Want to see my manhood now, eh Johnny?” The old-timer got no reply to this; the boy apparently had no sense of fun. The old man waited patiently. No response.

 

**

 

“Tell me more,” Johnny said at last. “You can’t stop talking now.”

The smile vanished from the old man’s face when he realized that the boy meant business. He looked away from the kid, toward the mottled, disgusting wad of phlegm and tobacco he’d spat into the corner. Two ants were rapidly making their way across the floor toward the messy glob, sensing a meal.

“OK. OK, then, watch and learn something,” said the old man. He closed his bloodshot eyes, raised his face toward the ceiling of the old hut, furrowed his brow, and recited a quote from the Bible: “While I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came flying down to where I was. It was the time for the evening sacrifice to be offered.”

The man stopped and checked on Johnny, making sure his audience was paying heed. Satisfied, he looked again at the ants, now climbing atop the splash of spent tobacco.

“He said to them, ‘It is written: My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you make it a den of robbers!’”

The old man raised a boot and brought it down hard, squashing the ants as they fed. He bent low to the floor, retrieved what was left of one ant, and studied a spindly leg protruding between his fingers. The leg appeared to twitch once, and then ceased all movement.

“That was you, Johnny Blackwell. You and me. Tell me now, just before I sent them ants to kingdom come, were you concerned about their eternal souls? Answer me that!”

No reply. But Johnny was rapt.

“Them ants don’t belong here, no ways. Know what they be, Johnny? Robbers! Robbers and squatters!

“Squashed squatters!” He laughed uproariously at his own joke.

 

**

 

Johnny had watched as the old man squished life out of the ants, but now he returned the geezer’s stare. “You speak wisdom, old-timer,” he said.

“Damn right I do. Give me them preachers and them philosophers and them’s on TV and whatnot. So concerned about our souls! Who’s to say them ants don’t have no souls? Not you! Nor me!” The old man’s face expressed rage and revelation. He trembled. He smiled again. “Now, I ask you agin: Want to see my manhood?”

Johnny slowly shook his head. Sooner or later, their conversations generally came around to this.

He rose from his seat in the corner, careful not to topple the rickety stool. “As per usual, you speak wisdom, old man. But your horniness will get you in trouble one day.” Johnny shuffled toward the cabin door, felt his face flush a bit, and turned back. “Well, I reckon just a quick one then.”

The old man’s eyes lit up. He frantically tugged at the fly of his overalls ….

 

**

 

Johnny opened the door of the ramshackle abode and began walking away. Without turning back, he said, “We’ll do this again, old man. I allow that I still have much to learn.” And then he was gone.

 

**

 

The old man watched Johnny walk down the path. He turned to his gun cabinet, opened its door, and removed a shotgun. He knew it was loaded, and it took him no time at all to level the barrel at Johnny’s receding backside. Another Bible verse came to mind, and he spoke it to himself: “And as a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” He lowered the shotgun, cackled again, and re-entered the hut.

 

**

 

He examined the splotch of chaw on the floor, then studied what was left of the ants. He looked up at the ceiling and watched it implode.

Boards, dust, and dirt flew scattershot. A sudden blaze of sunlight nearly blinded him.

A chariot with teeth was descending toward him, like the vision of Gabriel: He came flying down to where I was. His mouth gaped wide.

The chariot with teeth lowered itself and took hold of him, clenching its jaws shut as it did so. The old-timer was hoisted up, up, and out through the roof, toward the blinding sun and, the old man had time to hope, toward his reward in the heavens.

 

**

 

Johnny, still walking down the dirt path, heard a crash from behind and turned in time to see an amazing sight: the old man, aloft high above the cabin and in the grip of a metal box. One spindly leg protruded from the claws of the giant crane. It appeared the old man was being crushed.

 

**      

 

City employee Jim Hagerstrom was in heaven. He sat in the cab of a brand-new MB excavator and watched in awe as its attached crusher emerged from a cloud of dust and climbed high above the cabin roof.

The MB was amazing, an incredible (and expensive) piece of engineering that made small-scale demolition — like that of this abandoned eyesore of a cabin — easier than ever. Jim Hagerstrom was proud of the expensive machine, and he was pleased that his supervisor had trusted him with such dear hardware. The excavator and its crusher together came to near $80,000.

As the dust began to clear, Jim thought he saw movement in the jaws of the metallic crusher. Almost looked like a man’s leg. Probably just a piece of furniture.

Surely that old squatter who they’d chased away in the spring was long gone … surely?

 

THE END

 

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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