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HIS ROPE’S END

McGinty always found a way to keep his wits about him. An analytical mind was not something with which this cow poke had been blessed, and yet things worked out for him.

He was chosen ranch foreman because he had been at this for a long time. Add to that the fact that he could lasso better than anyone “the Boss” had seen, Mac was a shoe-in for the position.

Driving this beef had been arduous lately. The terrain seemed rougher and rougher, the cattle having grazed the old paths clean. There was space in the high country that was relatively untouched. McGinty thought if he could take them through Cherub’s Pass, he’d kill two birds with one stone.

The incline was rather gradual, so the strain wasn’t overtly terrible. But the ledge of the Pass seemed to narrow as they went further up. Mac thought of scrapping the idea, but he had too much time invested in it, plus he didn’t need some ambitious hand taking him down. On they went.

Near the rear of the pack, McGinty heard a rather raucous noise; his animals were in distress. One of them anyway, but the rest of the herd sounded the alert. A young calf, had strayed behind and had gotten too near the edge of the ravine. It was a minor drop, but it still had separated it from the rest of the herd.

McGinty secured his rope around a stump and then around his waist. The other hands lowered him to the calf. As he worked to calm the animal he felt something hit his back. It was the other end of his lasso. He needn’t worry about an ambitious hand; an unscrupulous one was just as dangerous.

“You babysit, Foreman! I’ll take ’em from here!’ shouted the villainous varmint.

He had been duped. And there McGinty sat, stroking the calf and trying to think his way out of trouble. Surely he had come to the end of his rope

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LIFE AFTER DEATH

“It is required of every man,” the ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Marley’s ghost haunts still. It was His will to offer me absolution and contrition, but Marley’s mission seems to go beyond that. He has become somewhat of a practical joker. Never mind the poorhouse, Marley had better go to the nuthouse and reduce the surplus population of whatever plane he is assigned to remain upon.

I praise high heavens for the transformation I was afforded. Nephew Fred has embraced the opportunity to take this old fool back into the familial fold.

Cratchett is a devoted partner and friend; more friend than Marley ever was, I’d say without a doubt. But if it was without young Tim, I’d never had gotten him to branch out and become the clark I expected.

Tim. He walks amongst us as if his deformity was not at all normality. I assure him it was we who were crippled in our minds to find him less alive in his malady.

I work less; I walk more. More involved as a human being than being a businessman. And all the better for it, I might add.

The true spirits visit as well, but in celebration of the man I have become. Even the Future Spirit smiles more; at least he does not waggle his boney finger in my direction as much. For that I am most grateful. A fool and his money are happily separated when it is used to fete humanity. To Hades with vanity, Scrooge will be as good a man as this world has seen lo these many Christmases. God bless us, I have tried.

THAT’S FRONKEN-STORM!

“THAT’S FRONKENSTORM!”


“Meteorology be damned!” Fredrick declared.

“My grandfather’s research into the migratory weather patterns was always missing one element!
It was very… mundane, very humdrum!” the lecture continued.

“But Professor Frankensteam, didn’t your grandfather summer in the south of France? His weather theories are just something I cannot wrap my brain around!” a student interjected.

“That’s Fronkensteam!” he laughed. “My grandfather was a nincompoop. What he knew of weather I could fit into this petri dish filled with formaldehyde! Trust me weather is an extremely fickle mistress!”

“Professor? But your theory lacks the legs to stand on!” the indignant pupil pondered!

“YOU STINKING, LOUSY SON-OF-A-BITCH! LEGS? You want legs? I can give it legs! I can attach arms as well. I can give it a pert little smile! I CAN MAKE THIS THING A MONSTROUS EVENT!” Fredrick ranted.

“You don’t scare me with your weird science and your ‘Frankenstorm’!” the young man blustered.

“THAT’S FRONKENSTORM! I’LL SHOW ALL OF YOU!” he shouted and the lightning flashed and the rains started to fall wildly. “IT IS ALIVE!”

FROM HELEN BACH…

“One may very well start with Helen’s letters to her sister.”

The last three pieces of correspondence had gone unanswered. That was unusual for Sylvia. She loved to hear her thoughts spring to life and her skill in letter writing was indeed poetic and heart fulfilling.

But Helen Bach, was worried. Sylvia had remained in the family home long after their parents had parted this earthly plain. The neighborhood had become decrepit, and the old homestead reflected as such. And Sylvie could no longer care for the house, or herself for that matter.

Helen had planned to visit her sister. Two of those letters that were returned unopened, stated so much. She had been prepared to change her plans on a moments notice, and stay with Sylvia until she could get back on her feet. But sadly, Sylvia had lost the use of her legs in a fall from the second landing of the staircase.

Her taxicab turned down Mallory Road and as it approached the driveway, Helen noticed something strange. A scarecrow adorned their front yard. It was dressed in Sylvia’s favorite frock, it’s arms draped over the wooden crossbar dangling in the wind. Helen could swear it moved its head. There was no wind of which to speak, so Sylvia ruled that out completely.

The visiting sister gasped in horror when she realized the effigy had indeed moved under its own volition. And it did wear Sylvia’s clothes, being that it was Sylvia that hung in the front yard. A cruel prank by the area thugs who had broken in and ransacked the home.

The officers who had responded to Helen’s enraged call were disgusted in kind as the poor woman was gingerly removed from her perch.

The detective was handed pages of a letter that they found on Sylvia’s kitchen table. It was in Helen’s hand.

“One may very well start with Helen’s letters to her sister.” the investigator posed.

She spoke of coming back home to “hang out” with Sylvia. She had given the scumbags the idea. Helen felt pangs of guilt for leaving her sister to fend for her own independence. Her decision was made for her; she decided to stay.

TO THE HEIGHTS, AND DEPTHS AND BREATH

J.P.’s father had given up the ghost. Or at least his body did. His heart carried on the struggle.

John Panella, Sr. had battled liver cancer for the last four months, relinquishing fourteen of the months he had been allotted. But he had lapsed in and out of consciousness, flirting with coma for the past three days.

Here lay a man who had been the pinnacle of who J.P. wanted to be. He wondered how a man of such lofty stature could fall so far, so quickly. Sedated now, morphine became his extreme solution in heavy doses.

“To make him comfortable” the nurse offered.

“To render him unreachable” John Jr. thought.

As so he sat at his father’s right side; his sister on the left. They took turns talking to the man who had given them every bit of life he could.

“I love you, Daddy!” his sister Louise whispered to her un-hearing father.

John smiled at the sentiment. But the reality hit him sharply. He couldn’t remember the last time he and his father had exchanged such words. It just wasn’t the way the men in his family handled things, he thought. He surely knows, J.P. thought.

Hours spent clamped to their father’s bony hands, black with necrosis and faintly gripping back. Breathing was a chore he had no energy to undertake, but it kept insinuating itself into his routine. The elder John gagged and gurgled. His children thought it was his last gasp. They held their own breath as well. But his chest fell and rose again. Still erratic, but still expelled.

John Panella, Sr.’s face was ashen and his eyes occupied deep depressions in his skull. His lips were turning blue and his hands were cold and still. His eyes flashed momentarily and a slight smile graced his face. His chest rose one last time ending in a long drawn-out exhalation. His last breath.

J.P. noticed that death felt the same as life did mere moments ago. His father’s battle was over. He needed not fight any longer. Now John Jr. and his sister could breathe easier.

The young man leaned close to his father’s right ear to whisper what had always remained unsaid.

 

Copyright © Walter J. Wojtanik – 2012

PLAID DEFINED HIM

He was tall. Lanky, they called him but never by name. No one knew his name. Even he had no idea. And so far, no one came forward to offer any insight into who he was. Or from wence he came. He just wandered.

His facial hair was patchy, tinged with flecks of silver and bare skin. An unintentional beard for an unidentifiable man. Steel blue eyes revealed nothing of his former self. His past had indeed passed him by. All identifying features were random scars on his cheek and a nasty bruise on his right temple. Both appeared to be a symptom of what rendered his identity null and void.

His shoes were scuffed badly, having dragged him through mud holes and ravaging rivulets that ran from the building downspouts to the sewer receivers. There was a tear down his right pant leg, from just below his knee down to his pant cuff. Pockets were empty, no change for bus fare (and nowhere to go anyway). No comb to rake through his matted and disheveled hair. His back pocket held no wallet to identify him. The remaining pocket contained a tattered handkerchief.

“How you doin’, Sport?” the other indigents called to him. As far as he knew, that was his name. Ask him, and he’d tell you that and nothing more.

But the “tag” paid more attention to the plaid sports coat that was clutched to his chest, than the man in consumed. It had see better days. But then again, so had he. “Sport” had no idea where he belonged. And he knew that wasn’t a good thing. How could one fall so far that the face of the earth was not recognizable?  The guy in the plaid coat just didn’t recall.

ON THE WATERFRONT

Boat after boat, ship after ship, Virgil kept his guard up

Virgil stood at dockside, observant; watchful. The security threat had been posted and every man appeared to be extra vigilant.

Reports of vandalism and sabotage had heightened of late, making the last few weeks before his retirement more stressful than the past twenty years. They had dangled that early retirement carrot before his eyes, but it wasn’t about any sweet financial package. Virgil loved being productive and helpful.

Boat after boat, ship after ship, Virgil kept his guard up for anything suspicious. Arrant barnacles had been mistaken for plastic explosive by one of the night shift inspectors, and he still catches flack from the crew. New guys were always conscientious to a fault. But. Virgil believed you were better safe than sorry.

He watched and waited. Three more weeks without incident, and Virgil could put his blue helmet into storage. Until then, Virgil kept vigil.