Road Trip

We’re just a couple of weeks from my favorite holiday—Halloween!  What follows is something to get you in the mood, especially if you’ve ever harbored concerns about the cleanliness or safety of those rest stop bathrooms…

I think most of us have been there.  You’re on that road trip, and suddenly you feel it, that undeniable call that tells you that you shouldn’t have eaten Mexican at that little restaurant off the interstate.  But those little places, the ones crowded by locals, away from the factory fast food, are always the best, you’d said.  But this place hadn’t been crowded by locals and it was small and dingy and—

Ahead, you can just make out the sign—Rest Stop—and you hit the gas.  Only a mile now, but a mile is forever, with your stomach cramping and your colon threatening to explode.  And of course, you’re not alone.  The children are crying and your wife is in a panic at your behavior.  You can’t help it.  As much as you would like to calm them, one thing and one thing only demands your complete and undivided attention.

Almost there now.  You scream down the off-ramp and almost miss the turn into the Cars Only parking lot.  Finally, safely in a parking slot, you turn off the car, grab the keys, and bolt out the door.  Your wife’s pleas for help taking the children to the bathroom echo behind you, ignored.  Your entire gastric system is redlining, how could you possibly stop?

Up the sidewalk, each step filled with pain.  Up the steps and through the doors, then you stop.  One side of the bathroom is closed for construction.  The other side—mercifully, there is another side—and you pull the door open.

The entrance is blocked by a man with a shirt that proclaims in large red letters, “Go Dawgs!”.  You can barely see past him to the sinks and urinals.  There is a line of five men ahead of you.  you can also see that of the six toilet stalls, only one is operational.  The other five have large Out-of-Order signs on them.

You curse under your breath as rivulets of sweat flow down your face, and you have the growing fear that if you don’t get to the toilet soon, the toilet it may be a moot point.  You may have a greater need of a shower than a toilet.

But you wait, you have no choice.  And you wait.  And other men join the queue behind you, as the ones nearest the stall begin to grumble.  Their anger is palpable.  There are suggestions that the man in the stall must be reading a book, War and Peace, perhaps?

Then it happens, knuckles against the stall door.  No response.  Another rap on the door, this time more insistent.  It is answered by a terrible groan and a disgusting gurgling sound, like words stifled by some liquid.  But not water, you think, something other than water, thicker.  But there has been no sign or sound of vomiting.

It is obvious something is wrong here, and the men in line are actively trying to determine their options—go up the road, go outside, break open the other stalls?  A few made their decision and walked out, while others stood their ground.

And you think to yourself, maybe someone needs find out if that guy is alright.  Maybe someone should call 9-1-1.

“There must be someone here who can check on this guy, don’tcha think?” asked one of the men.  Someone said they’d go check, and disappeared into the night.

“Christ, what’s that smell?” asked another.  There had been an odor when you first walked in, but there’s always an odor in rest stop bathrooms.

From behind you, from beyond the door, comes a woman’s voice.  You can’t see her, but her voice is tremulous and old and filled with concern.  You catch a few words.

“William,” she shouts, “are you still in there?”

A man intervenes.  She explains that William is her husband and that he has been gone a long time.  She wants to make sure that he is okay.

You hear the name and shout out, “William, are you okay?”  No response beyond the groaning now.

“He’s not well,” she says.  “He needs a doc—“  Then she collapses.  You can’t see it, but you can hear her fall and the scurry of footsteps around her.

“We need to open that door,” you say.  “There’s a sick man inside.”  The rush of adrenaline has temporarily relieved the pain in your stomach.

Now a man pulls himself up to look over the stall door.  He falls back, deadly pale, and runs out the door.  A few others quickly follow him, but three stalwarts tear at the door until they can break it in.  When they do, their eyes grow large and their faces pale and full of terror.  Even so, you approach to witness their discovery.  And what they have discovered is death.

Upon the toilet, his pants around his ankles and his shirt stained with blood, is an old, gray, black man—his skin ashen, his eyes filled with blood and protruding.  Upon his arms and face are festering wounds, oozing a nasty, dark puss.  And now, the problem of a leaking anus is the least of your concerns, because you realize that now all the stalls are occupied.

You run past the men waiting, past William’s wife, dying on the sidewalk, and to the sanctuary of your car, where your wife has been waiting not-so-patiently.

“What was that all about,” she asks.

“Nothing,” you say, “the stalls were all full.”  And you drive off into the night, without giving further thought to the uncomfortable gurgling sensation in your lungs or the patches of dry skin, gray and broken and never seeming to heal.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

One Solution To The Story

My Halloween post included part of a story and I posed the question as to where you might take the story, given its various elements.  Today’s post includes one solution for the story.  Certainly there may be others and if you’ve given the subject some thought I certainly hope you’ll share them with me.

But before we move on, I have another short story, “Grayson’s Mountain”, in this month’s issue of eFiction Magazine.  You can download eFiction for free, so I hope you’ll check it out.  If you do, please be sure to let me know if you enjoyed it.

Sock Monkey, Crucified

Chester Hendricks was not a superstitious man by any standard definition of the word.  He wasn’t scared of black cats and he cared nothing about breaking a mirror or walking under a ladder.  He considered himself firmly rooted in reality, assured that whatever happened could be explained with science.  He brought that understanding to every part of his life and all his relationships.  But it wasn’t easy; his surety of the preeminence of reason often put him at odds with his daughter and her husband, both evangelical Christians.  Worse, it threatened his relationship with his granddaughter whom he loved as much as life itself.

It was his granddaughter he was thinking of that cold Halloween evening when he pulled into the driveway in Stammerfield.  As he stepped out of his car his left hand pulled his coat tight around him in a vain attempt to escape the bone chilling wind that carried waves of sleet from an early nor’easter.  His right hand clutched a black leather valise. He carefully made his way to the front door and knocked twice.  It opened quickly, as if to do so might admit only him and not the terrible storm.

“My God, Dad, why are you out on a night like this?” asked Martha, his daughter.

“You know damned well.”  His voice was rough, strained, forced, betraying obligation rather than desire.

“Bill is at church.  The Fall Celebration is tonight.”

“Good, the less he knows the better.”

He pushed his way past her and towards the stairs that led to Trisha’s room.  She tried to stop him, tried to keep him from doing what he had to do, what he had no choice but to do.  His steps resounded in the stairwell, quickening as he approached the topmost landing.  He thrust his right hand into the valise and without trying the door, forced his way through it.  Trisha screamed a heart-wrenching little girl scream to ward off her attacker, but with a single fluid practiced motion he removed his hand from the valise, grabbed his terrified granddaughter, and pulled her close to him.

“Dad, please don’t,” his daughter pleaded above the child’s crying.  “She’s only four.  She won’t understand!”  Hendricks ignored her.

“Mommy,” cried Trisha, “Mommy!”

The child’s pleas were heart wrenching and he was not immune to then, but this had to be done.  Her grandfather let her inch away from him, but still held her firmly with his left hand.  His right hand, the one that had been in the valise was now behind her, clutching something unseen.  He looked into her tear-filled, terrified eyes.

“Trisha, my darling, Grandpa won’t hurt you.  Grandpa wouldn’t ever hurt you.”  With his left hand, he stroked her soft auburn hair and wiped away some of the flood of tears that glistened on her cheeks, but he never surrendered control to her.  He wished that he could just hold her and rock her and pretend everything was alright, but it wasn’t.  She was of age, yes, even one so young, and it was time for her to know.

“Trisha, you need to listen to Grandpa.”  This was a command, not a request.  “There is no Santa Claus.  There is no Easter Bunny.  There is no Tooth Fairy.  There is only the Sock Monkey, and him crucified!  Only the Sock Monkey that bears our sins!  Only the Sock Monkey that is truth!”

From behind Trisha’s back, clutched in his right hand, was revealed the Sock Monkey.  Its cloth covering was faded and tattered, evidencing the wear of a thousand hands.  Its face, consisting of woven eyes mouth and nose, seemed at first sight unremarkable, dumbly bereft of expression.   And yet, there was something, something contradictory in it.  Remarkably cruel and compassionate, the sight of it brought Martha to her knees.  She clasped her hands together in silence now, watching her daughter coming to know the fullness of it.

“Before we were, there was the Sock Monkey.  Before the Sock Monkey there was nothing.   It is all that is or will ever be.  It is that which connects us to the beginning and leads us into the future.  It is through the Sock Monkey that we shall someday return to that which was before all things.”

Trisha’s countenance had changed from tearful terror to wistful curiosity.  Hendricks handed her the Sock Monkey and she held it at first tenderly, respectfully, then wrapped her arms around it as if it were a long forgotten friend.

“That’s better,” said Hendricks.  “The Sock Monkey is yours now.  You must keep it safe.  You must care for it.  You must feed it.”

“I will take care of it, Grandpa.  I promise.”  Her eyes were filled with sleepy delight.

“Just remember, sweetheart, the Sock Monkey isn’t just a gift, it is a responsibility.”

“Yes, Grandpa.”  Trisha lay back on her bed, holding the Sock Monkey close.

“Now, let’s hang the Sock Monkey properly, shall we?”  Trisha handed the Sock Monkey to her grandfather without protest.

From the valise, Hendricks retrieved three nails and a hammer.  With these he hung the Sock Monkey, a nail in each hand and one for his two feet.  Trisha lay there staring at the crucified Sock Monkey until heavy sleep reclaimed her. With his mission accomplished, Hendricks placed the hammer back in the valise and stood to leave Trisha’s room.  Martha waited for him at the door.  Wordlessly she took his hand and led him to the stairwell.

*****

She offered him coffee, but he politely refused, saying that her mother would be concerned if he stayed away any longer.  Coffee was just an excuse to delay his leaving and he knew that.   did she, but there were words that needed to be said.

“Dad, I’m sorry for the way I behaved.  I guess over the years I’d forgotten how important this was.”

“You must never forget that the Sock Monkey is who we are.  That it is not a doll, but a living connection to the place from which we came.  No one else has that, only us, only our lineage.  And someday the Sock Monkey will receive the call that will allow us all to return.”

“But why deny her the childhood fantasies all her little friends share?  What’s wrong with believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?  She’s just a little girl.”

“Trisha’s mind must be clear and uncluttered by the foolishness of this world, if she is to return with us.  And the returning is all that matters.”

Martha looked thoughtfully at her father.  He kissed her forehead as he hugged her good-bye.  He pulled the door open and just as quickly Martha pushed it shut behind him.  Her brief exposure to the wintery wind chilled her.

Beyond the door Hendricks pulled his coat tight around him and cautiously negotiated the icy sidewalk that led to the driveway.  Suddenly behind him the front door opened and Martha was shouting to be heard over the sleet-filled wind.

“Dad, you didn’t tell me, what did you mean when you said Trisha had to feed the Sock Monkey?”

Hendricks turned and faced his daughter.  He smiled despite the bitter cold and stinging sleet.

“Don’t worry, Martha, the Sock Monkey will find something to eat.”  He said this nonchalantly, as if it was not the least matter of concern, then added, “What time does Bill get home from church?  He’ll probably eat then.”

So that’s my take on it.  I’d really like to hear other possible solutions or what you thought of it.  Feel free to contact me either on the blog or using other social media.  Thanks.
© Copyright 2011 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Sock Monkey, Crucified

It’s Halloween and I couldn’t let my favorite holiday go by without a post. Nothing eerie, nothing scary, just a little odd.

Think about this.

Chester Hendricks was not a superstitious man by any standard definition of the word.  He wasn’t scared of black cats and he cared nothing about breaking a mirror or walking under a ladder.  He considered himself firmly rooted in reality, assured that whatever happened could be explained with science.  He brought that understanding to every part of his life and all his relationships.  But it wasn’t easy; his surety of the preeminence of reason often put him at odds with his daughter and her husband, both evangelical Christians.  Worse, it threatened his relationship with his granddaughter whom he loved as much as life itself.

It was his granddaughter he was thinking of that cold Halloween evening when he pulled into the driveway in Stammerfield.  As he stepped out of his car his left hand pulled his coat tight around him in a vain attempt to escape the bone chilling wind that carried waves of sleet from an early nor’easter.  His right hand clutched a black leather valise. He carefully made his way to the front door and knocked twice.  It opened quickly, as if to do so might admit only him and not the terrible storm.

“My God, Dad, why are you out on a night like this?” asked his daughter.

“You know damned well.”  His voice was rough, strained, forced, betraying obligation rather than desire.

“Bill is at church.  The Fall Celebration is tonight.”

“Good, the less he knows the better.”

He pushed his way past her and towards the stairs that led to Trisha’s room.  She tried to stop him, tried to keep him from doing what he had to do, what he had no choice but to do.  His steps resounded in the stairwell, quickening as he approached the topmost landing.  He thrust his right hand into the valise and without trying the door, forced his way through it.  Trisha screamed a heart-wrenching little girl scream to ward off her attacker, but with a single fluid practiced motion he removed his hand from the valise, grabbed his terrified granddaughter and…

And what? 

What was in the valise? 

Why did Hendricks come on Halloween?  

Why did he force his way into Trisha’s room?  

And what about that title ― “Sock Monkey, Crucified”?

How would you explain it?  Where would you take this story?  Should I tell you what happens next?

Let me know.

And have a wonderful Halloween!
© Copyright 2011 by Kevin Fraleigh.