Randall Smithwithers was coming home. Finally. It had been a struggle reconciling his thought toward coming back to the family manse. So many memories which with Randall just couldn’t come to grips. But the place must be so neglected, he thought. Coming back to Norbal took some doing.
Father had a stranger sense of humor. He had called their home, Norbal. As a boy, Randall had once asked why father had been saying normal wrong. The elder always proclaimed the end of family vacations as “Returning to Norbal” It meant time to go home. It was a stranger quirk his father possessed.
The drive up the boulevard gave Randall the sense that something was wrong. Things had changed, he thought. Different in a strange way. The cab driver kept glancing back at his passenger.
“You okay, Pal?” the hack asked.
“I don’t know. Are you sure this is Caufield Boulevard?” Smithwithers inquired.
“Look Buddy, I’ve been driving this burg for 15 years. I know my way…” the cabbie started.
‘No, I mean… it’s just that I don’t remember…” Randall interrupted before tailing of into an inaudible mutter.
Silence filled the car. The driver continued to look back at his suspicious charge. Turning into the rather long driveway of the address Randall had given, the cabbie saw Randall face again, looking rather puzzled…again.
“Here we are, Fella!”
Randall stepped out and paid the man and watched as he navigated around the curve drive toward the street. Then he turned back to face the house. Taking each step tentatively, the returnee took in every sensation that overcame him. Slowly, he turned his key in the lock. He dreaded coming back to restore the place to livability.
As the door creaked open he noticed that the slip covers were all removed from the furniture. Not a speck of dust to eradicate. He heard soft music. Randall smelled a wondrous aroma. Roast Beef. Placing his bag on the floor, Smithwithers went to investigate.
The music he heard was coming from the drawing room. He recalled the years of his youth sitting here with his rock and roll records, driving his father crazy with its volume. The furniture was arranged as he had remembered, except that father’s chair had been replaced by an overstuffed recliner.
He walked through the alcove to the library. He noticed his books were missing. The shelves were empty, save for the brick-a-brack and knick knacks. His books! Stories of adventures. Collections of poetic works. Encyclopedias and such. Gone. All gone. This was upsetting Randall.
He heard noises from the kitchen. There was no longer a staff on duty to care for things. He had been gone far too long. Puzzled now. Puzzled and upset. Randall peered around the corner into the brightly lit room. A woman, standing near the counter with her back to the doorway in which Randall stood. She was busy in preparation of a meal. He could not process what was happening.
Softly, Randall cleared his throat. The woman turned dutifully, not startled or afraid. It was as if she was expecting “visitors”. Reaching back for her apron strings, she untied the bow and acknowledged the man.
“Randy! Oh my dear. It’s wonderful to have you back home. I’ve prepared your favorite…” she halted in mid-sentence and rushed to the confused Randall.
She thrust her arms around him in an exaggerated hug. Smithwithers had no clue. His lack of response made the woman pull back and her sad look gave Randall a start.
“You’ve been gone for so long… don’t you remember?” she said wiping a single tear.
He looked at her, studying her features. Something was familiar, but he didn’t know what it was. But he did know something was amiss.
She started to cry now, loud sobs that touched Randall deeply. He reached to console her, but he didn’t know why. Her perfume, a gentle scent, triggered something. He pulled away to look at her. Something… in her eyes, something.
“Pamela?” he asked, almost as a whisper.
Tears streamed harder now.
“You’re remembering, aren’t you?” she cried happily.
He embraced her again more for purpose than comfort.
“The doctor said it would take some time. I’ll be patient. You were in the coma for so long!” Pam reassured him. “The amnesia is expected, he said. But, I’m here. I’ve always been here.”
Randall took consolation in her words. It made some sense now. He wasn’t sure what to expect. But he just knew he was returning to Norbal at the right time!
Randall Makepeace stood at the edge of the town of Craven. It was a strange hamlet, a glimpse of Armageddon long before the first volley of war. A hellish lot, Makepeace believed, not fearful of death or the wrath of God. He had plans to change all that.
There on the outskirts, his entourage set stake to ground and proceeded to raise the tents for the planned revival. It was a matter of their spiritual survival, Randall reasoned. He was sure he need to go extra heavy on the brimstone this time out. Standing at the top of Harding Avenue looking down the center of the town, he readied himself for the service.
The lack of curiosity of the town folk bothered Makepeace. Usually the looky-loos come out of the woodwork and he could “grease” the crowd; get a feel for their needs as he saw it. He wondered how to get into their heads. Randall decided to venture into town.
It seemed deserted. He could faintly hear the sounds of a radio broadcast coming from the General Store. Peering into the front window, he saw no signs of life. Strolling further up the main thoroughfare, he felt the uneasy feeling of being watched. It was starting to spook him out. In his head Randall searched for the words of Psalm 23. He couldn’t remember the passage; he just repeated “The Lord is My Shepherd…, The Lord is My…”
There, nailed to the telegraph pole he saw it. A handbill of sorts… a memo to the townsfolk(?). The memo was yellowed and faded, some letters stood out from the other as if highlighted for visibility.The entire text read:
THe town has ISsued a restriction on unwelcomed vISitors HEre. Leave us aLone!
Makepeace read the message and searched over his shoulder for a sign of some life. He found none. He heard a thumping sound emanating from his chest. His heartbeat was loud and rapid. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the memo again. Now all he read was:
THIS IS HELL
“In the name of all that is Holy, come out and be seen!” Randal demanded.
The sound of sinister laughter echoed from vacant doorways. Unseen eyes peered at him, seeing into his soul to view the hypocrite Makepeace truly was.
A thunderclap of a voice reverberated.
“I CAN SHOW YOU THE LIGHT!” Randall Makepeace defied loudly! “IF HIS WORD DOES NOT SOOTHE YOUR HEARTS, MAY I BE STRUCK DEAD!”
The voice was silenced. The laughter resumed. Randall Makepeace should surely have made peace with his maker. His distorted body lay sprawled on the dirt, eyes wide and heavenward. His mouth grotesque and misshapen; a look of pure terror on his face, as if he had seen the devil himself.
Brother Jeppison came searching for his pastor. Strolling further up the main thoroughfare, he felt the uneasy feeling of being watched. The sound of laughter was horrifically familiar. Jeppison had heard it before. It was surely Makepeace.
“Pastor Randall?” he called.
The thunderclap of a voice resounded again.
It was the pastor. Jeppison turned tail and ran for the tents.
“THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, THE LORD…”
Ed Nelson was not fond of traveling. He got seasick at the mere mention of the ocean. You’d never get him on an airplane. The pressure nearly made him pass out once. It seem that headache would never go away. Trains were OK, but they took too damn long. Having his choice, Ed would have rather stayed put.
That’s why his colleagues found it strange that Nelson decided to drive to the consortium. It was cramped in his small compact car. And the drive would take longer than any mode available to him. Longer than even taking the train.
Ed Nelson did alright for himself in his sales position. But he had run into a brick wall. He hadn’t advanced his station in years; though he’d have been made a full partner by now. Instead he found himself hauling ass down the interstate to cross state lines before darkness set in.
Up ahead in a clearing he saw it. A Farris wheel, he thought. Or the maddening loop of one of those anti-gravity roller coasters. But as he neared the structure, Ed was sure he had no idea what it was. A sculpture maybe? He laughed loudly. It could be a Druid icon! What ever it was, it looked hideous on the side of the road.
Between exits this monolithic doughnut stood, maybe fifty feet high – a monstrosity. Interwoven like a wreath, bars and crosses, spheres that appeared as heads of some civilization climbing to the heavens. He was so taken by the piece of “art”, Ed Nelson hadn’t noticed the line of people.
Standing at the gaping portal were approximately 40 people dressed in white waiting their turn. On this grey and depressing afternoon, Nelson saw blue skies through the opening. There was sunshine. It was a beautiful day. But only inside the ring. He pulled to the shoulder of the road near the median and stepped out of his car to investigate. Apparently not dressed for the occasion, Nelson was stared at and ignored.
Taking a place at the end of the cue, he tapped the shoulder of a pleasant looking older woman.
“Excuse me Ma’am” Ed began. “What’s going on here?”
“Young man, do you see this monument?” she said softly. “It is the way out of your despair. Through that opening… is redemption!”
“Redemption” Ed Nelson repeated. It sounded nice. He was in need of a change. The “rat race” would have to carry on without him.
But suddenly, the crowd stared to disperse. He stood confused.
“HEY!” he called. “Where’s everyone going? What about redemption?”
One man looked at Nelson and then back at the sculpture.
“Redemption? It’s an ugly piece of art!” the man said incredulously! “Do you have any idea how much of our tax dollar are tied into this… this shit!”
‘Then why is it here?” Ed Nelson finally wanted to know.
The elderly woman who have duped Nelson earlier overheard the question.
“You moron, it’s art… for the sake of Art, you nabob!” she stormed away with the rest of the crowd. Ed Nelson felt foolish and greatly let down, standing by himself. He never saw the placard.
“SPHINCTER” dedicated to the people of this Great State by Governor Art Decoupage.
“Art for Art’s sake” he thought to himself. What a waste of resources! It was only fitting this piece was named after it’s patron!
He saw her from a distance, a waif with a broad smile and bright eyes and a gait that would mesmerize. Waiting for something, someone perhaps and his lapse of concentration was telling. The players were yelling “GET IN THE GAME!”
Blake Daley was his name. Confident and sure with numbers, but horribly bad on the frozen ponds around which he worked. He blamed weak ankles as a kid. Blake never came forward with his lack of interest in anything athletic. When Blake was asked to act in the role of statistician for the rink, he reluctantly jumped at the chance.
But now his thoughts were elsewhere. There across the rink in the bleachers, where she sat with her friend. And she’d glance over and see him watching. He was far from inconspicuous. When their eyes met on those occasions, she’d grin widely and his cheeks would assume a bright shade of fluster. Blake was nervous around girls. Especially one as striking as Carol.
Her eyes were rich like cocoa, hot and searing, endearing himself to her. Her smile showed brightly, a wide grin full of Chiclets which she wore proudly like her badge of honor. Carol’s hair was the hue of autumn’s height, alight with the auburn which he associated with warmth and comfort. And there she was, so near. So far away.
The combatants completed their task. The game was over with little fanfare. And Blake decided he could no longer stare. He was determined to meet the one so fair with crimson hair.
As Blake approached her, Carol’s friend excused herself leaving the two to close the gap between them or fail miserably trying. Blake would be lying if he admitted to not being nervous. But her demeanor calmed him. Her look was soothing and inviting. Silent introductions and handshakes. His hand sliding to grip her elbow to help her keep balance on the rickety bleachers. And it stayed there as they shuffled to the aisle for their short descent to the exit.
“Can I call?” he asked shyly; softly.
“Do you have a pen?” she smiled.
As she wrote, Carol glanced up at Blake and their eyes embraced each other in looks of future’s promise. Her smile remained, a Cheshire cat in the frigid hockey rink,
Carol returned the pen and slid the scrap of paper into his gloved hand. And she leaned in… a tender kiss catching the corner of his lip.
A gentle peck. Their first “kiss”. He prayed it would last a lifetime!
Lorraine Jenkins was tired. Between going to nursing school, and pulling a double at the nursing home, Lorraine had every cause to complain. But what purpose would that serve. Her ambition was driven by the need to help people.
She had come up the ranks the hard way, a slim black woman with manly features, but a very compassionate heart. Her mother had done volunteer work in the black hospital in Selma. A product of segregation, Floridine took pride in her work.She put all the compassion she had into caring for her patients. Lorraine recalled how tired and worn her mother looked after hard days. She was touched by how her mother would cry for hours when one of her charges has lost their struggle with life.
And here she was, a single woman dedicated to her work so much that she knew nothing of a social life. Her dream was to finish school and be the nurse her mother always strived to be.
But Lorraine was tired after an exceptionally hard day, Mr. Kettering in room 14 was fighting Pancreatic Cancer. He had been failing rapidly. Lorraine felt the end was drawing near. But Kettering had a spirit; he put up a fight. He was determined to survive to the new year. He promised his granddaughter he would be around for the Holiday.
Lorraine knew such promises were not his to make. But she smiled and nodded. And her eyes had met Mr. Kettering’s and the twinkle that lived there mesmerized her. Somehow, she knew he would not falter.
As she turned on the lights to her small Christmas tree, she sighed. It was one week to the dawn of a new year. Mr. Kettering had made it to Christmas. She smiled inwardly. The old guy was half way home. Lorraine took comfort in that fact. A monumental achievement. A “promise” kept. A simple thing.
Funny name these humans gave me. “King” It sounds rather nondescript; what is a king? From my point of view, I must be a big deal. I feel important for some reason. They slather me with praise, always telling me I am highly qualified for this title. “Good King” I heard the hairy one say to me.
The tall, leggy one with the tail in the back of its head… she looks lost in this place. Apparently, my kingdom does not suit her, and the point is moot to her. She seems to be miles away as she stand right there. And that other animal they have… they put in down to play with me. But I am as afraid of it as it is of me. And it smells funny… a cross between baby oil and poop. If it needs to go out, they should let it out.
And what is it about my tail that fascinates it? Always pulling me backwards. Let me voice my opinion just once, and they bring out that rolled paper thing and tell me I’m a “Bad King”. I think I’m getting the hang of this “Good King/Bad King” thing.
But there’s a lot of activity today. It looks festive. A day fit for a… a… well, King! A day fit for … ME! It smells good in here, and I’m getting hungry. Let me get up here and get a closer view! Such a nice spread, I’m glad I stuck around and not followed that poodle to God-knows where. At least I get to keep what falls off the edge.
“HEY, GET THOSE BRUSSELS SPROUTS OUT OF HERE!”
The King is fed. Long live the king!