I’m still working on narrowing down the list of short stories for the anthology that’s coming out later this summer. It’s called Stories That Leave You Thinking, and I posted re-runs of several of my stories a couple weeks ago in case you readers could give me some feedback about any of them that you liked or didn’t like. Here’s six more — totally different from what I posted last time. If you read any of these that you especially like or especially don’t like, let me know. It may help me with my final decision. I’m not choosing from all my stories. The ones for this book have to be stories that deal with a thought-provoking subject or that end in such a way that the reader is left to decide exactly what happened — or what is going to happen soon.
Story # 1: LOVE POTION ALA CABBAGE
Two old cronies sat on a bench at the edge of a small city park, their 78-year-old bones soaking up the sunshine.
“Ahhh, just smell that!” Harry said, taking in a deep breath, rapture shining from his face.
“What?” asked George.
“Love is in the air,” Harry replied, breathing deeply once more and smiling. “Mm-mm; Yes sir – love is in the air.”
“You’re daff, Harry. That’s just the cabbage cookin’ in the diner across the street. Wind’s from the south today.”
“Oh, come on, George, don’t be so mundane. Give yourself over to your senses, man.”
“Senses? Why, Harry, you ain’t got the good sense God gave a duck.”
Looking offended: “Why would you say that?”
“Well, look at you. 78 and a half, if you’re a day, and you’re sittin’ here on this comfortable bench with not a care in the world, but you’re talkin’ about love like it was somethin’ glorious and somethin’ you want.”
“Well, it is somethin’ I want.”
“No it ain’t. You done had it – four wives — and all it did was cost you lots of money – first for getting’ married, then for buyin’ houses, then for buyin’ your wives everything they wanted, then for the divorces, and now – every month – for the alimony – four alimonies.”
“But it’s Spring, Harry! Don’t that make you feel alive and ready to take a chance on love again?”
“No, it don’t! I’ve had it with love. It’s three square meals a day, a nice warm bench to rest on, and a trustworthy buddy or two that makes life worth livin’. Those things are better than what you call love any day.”
“Well, I do remember hearin’ a quote by somebody once that said havin’ all your own teeth and a good solid bank account beat marriage for makin’ a body happy.”
Nodding his head, George answered. “There you go. Now you’re talkin’ sense. And since we both have our own teeth still yet, and money in our pockets, what say we go across the street for a big helping of Archie’s corned beef and cabbage? It’s smellin’ so good right now my stomach’s growling.”
Sighing, Harry got up from the bench. “Okay, George. I guess it is time for lunch, but I still say I can smell love in the air.”
“It’s the corned beef and cabbage, you dope. Cain’t you tell the difference?”
“George, my friend,” Harry said, placing his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they jiggled their legs to work out the stiffness, “It may smell like corned beef and cabbage to you, but it’s got magic in it. In fact, I have this feelin’ that love is just around the corner for me.”
They both started across the street, but just as they reached the center of the road, a car came swerving around the corner and squealed to a halt, just missing George and knocking Harry flat. A beautiful woman jumped from the car and ran to kneel down beside Harry.
“Oh, sir, are you alive? Are you alive?”
Harry opened his eyes, looked up into her delightful face with its halo of golden curls, and grinned broadly. “By golly, I told George love was just around the corner.” He got up and dusted himself off. Taking the young woman’s arm, he escorted her to the curb. “How about I buy you lunch, pretty lady,” he said, beaming at her. “Let’s step into the diner, here, and talk about our future.”
George followed them into the diner but went to sit at the lunch counter all by himself, shaking his head in frustration.
“What’ll you have?” Archie asked him.
“Confound it! Just give me a order of that love potion you got brewin’ in there.”
“You know – that derned corned beef and cabbage.”
Story # 2: FOR LOVE OF BERNADETTE
Herbie was a barber. He was good at his job, and he had customers from all over the county. But Herbie didn’t like his job. He’d inherited the business from his father, but he’d never enjoyed it.
What he really wanted to do was own a dairy farm. Every evening when he finished work, he drove out of town and cruised by Old Man Swagle’s farm, looking at the fields of cows and the neat homestead – and dreaming.
Sometimes he’d stop, walk to the fence, and pet the cows. They knew him by now and came to him, but there was one particular brown and white lady who made sure she got the most of his attention. It made him feel loved.
If only he could manage to buy the farm. Old Man Swagle had put it on the market last year, but so far no one had met his price. Herbie had some money saved, and he’d talked to the bank about a mortgage, but Isabelle, his betrothed, said he’d be a fool to leave a secure business and go into debt for a cow farm. He used to love to talk about his dream, but lately, he’d just stopped mentioning it to Isabelle. He didn’t like the quarrels it led to. Sometimes he wondered …. But … they’d been engaged a whole year. It wouldn’t be right to back out now.
One afternoon, when Herbie didn’t have any appointments, he spent a couple hours sitting on the fence, talking to the cows and petting his favorite. As he glanced toward the farmhouse, he saw Swagle’s 11-year-old grandaughter came running across the field. He knew she visited often, and today she hailed him. “Hi,” she said. “Grandpa sent me to fetch Bernadette.”
“Oh, is that her name?”
“Yep. Grandpa let me name her.” She gave him a speculative look. “ My Grandpa said you want to buy this farm.”
“He did, huh? Well he’s right, but I don’t think I can.”
“Oh,” she said, hanging her head in disappointment. “I sure wish you could buy it.” She looked up. “My Grandpa is getting really tired and wants to come into town and live at my house with me and Mommy and Daddy. I stayed all night last night, and I heard Grandpa praying a long time that God would send someone today to buy the farm and take care of the cows the way he does.”
Herbie felt tears rush to his eyes.
“Why can’t you buy it?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Well … the lady I’m going to marry doesn’t want to live on a farm.”
“But you love cows. I can tell. I’ve watched you petting them and talking to them.”
“And you’d keep them and take care of them just like Grandpa does.”
Herbie nodded again. “If I could buy the farm.”
They were both quiet for a few moments — each lost in personal thoughts. Finally, she looked up at him with determination in her eyes.
“You know what I think?” she said.
“I think you should tell that dumb lady to marry someone else, and you should come and live here with Bernadette.”
Herbie looked at the child thoughtfully for a few moments. Then a huge grin spread across his face. Suddenly, he hopped off the fence and jogged toward his car.
“Where you goin’?” the girl called after him.
Herbie glanced back over his shoulder, but he didn’t stop. “To the bank!”
Story # 3: GOODBYE, SNOOKY
“Here we are, folks: the legendary bar where Snooky Adams was gunned down by his partner, Lila Corbell.” The young tour guide positioned himself against the bar to imitate the gangster, leaning on one elbow and scanning the group with a cocky light in his eyes. He was dressed in Snooky’s signature red turtle-neck and gray, pinstriped jacket, his hair slicked back in Snooky’s oily-smooth style. The resemblance was perfect — disturbingly so.
He continued to relate the history of Snooky and Lila, the gangster’s lover and partner in crime. As he came to the events that led to Snooky’s last minutes, he turned from the audience and looked into the wide mirror behind the bar, intending to make eye contact with his group again via that reflection. But instead, as his eyes focused in the mirror, he suddenly shouted, “Lila!”
His audience jerked heads to look behind them at the same second the shots rang out. But seeing no one else in the room, they all turned back to their guide. He was on the floor, three bullet holes in his chest.
Lila’s reflection lingered in the mirror, smoking gun in hand. The tour group stood speechless, thinking surely this was a staged production. But the gruesome realization that the bullets had entered the guide’s chest, rather than his back, struck them completely dumb. While they stood entranced, the guide bled his life out onto the scuffed wooden floor, and Lila, a satisfied smile on her lips, faded from the mirror.
Story # 4: WHAT IF?
“What’s the latest report?” Oneida asked Tron.
“The planet Verdure is still in a state of internal combustion,” he replied, his face pinched. He looked at the camera relay screen. “Watching that planet disintegrate right before my eyes and knowing I can’t stop it is tearing my guts out.”
“How long do we have?”
“I’ll know more when Beryl and Oma return. They’re out measuring the light levels in the power garden.”
“That red gas is our main enemy?”
“Yes, as our energy pods absorb it, their energy – the energy that holds this planet together – is drained off and absorbed by the gas.”
He panned the camera across the power garden of mushroom-shaped growths from which the planet drew all of its life. “See how many of the healthy purple pods have absorbed the gas until they have turned red and shrunk to half their original size?”
He panned to the pod where Beryl and Oma were still at work. Oneida spoke: “Look, Oma’s starting to descend. Maybe they’ll be back with their report soon.”
“Yes, but I’m not sure I want to hear it. Sometimes, I think we should turn off all the surveillance equipment so we can’t see it all happening one step at a time. Perhaps we should all just gather in the communal hall and do our best to comfort each other until it comes.”
“Until the end comes, do you mean?”
“Of course! What else?”
She looked at him gravely. “I’ve been thinking ….”
“Well … I’ve been wondering … Did we just happen?” Tron looked at her quizzically, and she continued: “I mean … well … I find it hard to believe this whole planet of Mushroom just happened – and that all of us who live here were non-existent one second and then – bang – here we were!” She looked at him hopefully.
“I don’t think I’m following you. What does it have to do with Verdure’s decomposition and destruction of everything within its electro-magnetic sphere?”
“Don’t you see? If we didn’t just … happen … then someone or something more intelligent, more creative, more powerful than ourselves had to have created us. And if that someone cared enough to make us, then wouldn’t it – or he – care enough to save us?”
Tron’s eyes grew large. Oneida could see that it was a concept he’d never imagined. But now … with no other possible avenue of hope … perhaps even he thought it was worth considering.
She continued. “I guess I’m wondering if we were to look back in all the records of Mushroom – especially the copies of those old black books the leaders buried underground last century — ”
“You mean you think there might be answers to our origins in those books? But the leaders insisted that they were lies and made it illegal for any citizen of Mushroom to read them.”
“But what if we could find out … and … what if … just what if we learned that there was a creator … and we could find a way to connect with him —”
“Is it? Our survival is impossible as we are now. But, just think, Tron … What if ….?”
Story # 5: THROUGH GEOFFREY’S WINDOW
Special thanks to Bob Mielke at Northwest Photographer for his gracious permission to use this picture, which inspired the story. We used this photo for the cover of an eariler anthology which featured this story as well.
“Oh, look!” Sally called out to her brother as she ran toward the odd wooden door that had a window with a giraffe painted on it. Jackie followed more slowly.
“That’s sure a funny-lookin’ door,” he said. “It isn’t hooked to any walls.” His eyes searched the area on either side of the door. “And, look … there’s nothing behind it either!”
“But it has a pretty window,” Sally answered.
By that time, they both stood before the door, staring up at the giraffe in the window. Suddenly the giraffe spoke: “Hello, there.”
The children sucked in their breath at the same time and looked at each other with eyes made huge by the shock.
“Did you hear that?” Jackie asked.
Sally nodded and turned back toward the window. “Did you say something, Mr. Giraffe?”
“Yes, I did. I said Hello.”
“Oooh, Helloooo!” Sally said. “We didn’t know you were real.”
“Well, I’m not real to everybody, of course.”
“No, no. In fact, most people just pass right on by and never even stop to look at me, so I remain just a picture to them.”
“Then why are you real for us?” Jackie asked, skepticism in his young voice.
“Because you believe in make-believe,” the giraffe replied.
“May we come in?” Sally asked.
“Don’t be so dumb, Sally,” Jackie said, taking hold of her arm. “There’s nothing behind the door.”
“I’m back here,” said the giraffe.
Sally reached up and turned the knob.
+ + +
Suddenly jolted out of her reverie by the ringing of the phone on her desk, Sally jumped. She had been reminiscing again. She smiled. She did love to remember how it had all started some twenty years ago. She picked up the receiver. “Hello.”
“Hey, sis, how’s it going?”
“Great. Just finished the 10th book in the series.”
Jack laughed on the other end of the line. “I just can’t get over it, Sis. Who would have thought your turning that doorknob to step into Geoffrey Giraffe’s world would have landed you nine best-selling children’s books.”
“Well, Geoffrey was so grateful, you know. He had lived in there for so many years with no one believing, and was so lonely for friends.”
“He certainly found a faithful one in you. And your Through Geoffrey’s Window series has made him famous.”
“Yes. And now thousands of children believe. You know, I think it’s about time I went back for another visit. I’ll read him this new story, and I know he’ll love it.”
Story # 6: CELLO LOVE
They’d met at a rehearsal in this very theater. He, with his polished coat of dark walnut, was instantly captivated by her honey-maple coloring – but even more so by the sweet voice she gave to every note assigned her in the performances. Standing beside her during a performance always brought out something in his own tonal quality that he knew would not have been there if he hadn’t been playing to impress her. And as the sounds from each of them blended in the symphonies, his heart soared.
Eventually, bravely, he’d professed his love to her, and she’d responded exactly as he’d hoped. From that moment, their harmony became something so rare that many a conductor had commented on it to the musicians who owned them, and they had made exquisite music together for 74 years.
Now, with their respective masters in their graves, the two aging instruments rested against the wall of an old closet behind the stage of the theater that had been home to so many of their performances. His coat was battered and marred significantly. But her luster still had the power to draw music from him every time he looked at her. They sighed quietly – in unison. They still had each other – and the music that lived within them. His strings touched hers in a gentle caress. Her instant response released the beginning notes of a new song.
Outside, people slowed their stride as they passed the old theater. “There it is again,” said one young lady, as she stopped and inclined her head toward the old building. Others stopped. “Do you hear it?” she asked them. They nodded, looking at her oddly because the theater was completely dark, and the doors had been boarded up.
An elderly gentlemen ambled toward them and stopped as soon as he heard the music. “Aaahhh, yes, I thought it was about the right time.”
The young woman looked at him. “So you were expecting to hear it too?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Every evening.”
“That’s what’s so strange,” she said. “Every night, I’m sure I hear music coming from inside — some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. But there is never anyone there.”
The old man smiled. “My dear, there may not be any people inside, but somewhere within these old walls, there is still love. And where there is love, my dear, there is always music.”