Man Catcher: a short story by Jon Frank

Man Catcher is a story set at a funeral first introduced to our audience in Episode 5 of When Fact Met Fiction.

In the episode Mel addresses Jon.

” You had to write an article about a funeral?” He continues, ” Nothing like exploring food beauty at a wake.”

Jon’s article is hardly focused on the food, although the reference is there as always. His story is a hilarious excursion into one woman’s attempt to catch the ‘man of her dreams’, or at least the man who ,”was so hot and so handsome,” from her office.

You may want to watch Episode 5: The Ultimatum , to get you ready for your read of the following story.

Man Catcher

By Jon Frank

Lauren pulled her car over to the side of the little road that wound its way through Lewis Memorial Cemetery. Even though traffic had yielded to the funeral procession as usual, she was so far back in the car line that she hadn’t even parked by the time the family gathered at the graveside. Her stomach was rolling from anxiety and hunger, and the scent of turkey casserole wafting around the car interior didn’t help. Well, at least the rain had stopped, and the sun was now flickering through the clouds. Excellent. Spencer would see her strolling up in perfect light.

Lauren had started a new office job only two months ago, and she had immediately noticed Spencer. He was tall, black-haired and grey-eyed, with a strong jaw and a body that had regular dates with the gym. He worked at the opposite end of the fluorescent-lit common room, but she could see directly into his office from her cubicle. Lauren made countless excuses to walk past the other cubicles and his office to get copies or more coffee. Truthfully, she detested coffee, but pretending she needed a constant supply was worth catching glimpses of him. Normally, she wouldn’t be so flirtatious, she told herself – but he was so hot and so handsome. Plus, she was sure she had caught him looking back a few times.

Lauren knew she wasn’t supermodel material, but the looks-decent fairy had left her with a modicum of petite cuteness. However, maintaining a fit body was a herculean effort. She managed to remain slim, but there was that slight pudge no amount of spin classes would get rid of. She had finally accepted it because she was sure she had ridden that stationary bike to the top of Kilimanjaro and back at least a dozen times.

When she had taken the job she had three decent office outfits. She couldn’t afford anything expensive and the clothes she had didn’t scream high-end department store as much as thrift store. With her first paycheck she splurged on several outfits she could mix and match. She chatted with her best friend Julie on the phone while she shopped, and Julie talked her into purchasing a new bra and a couple of push-the-edge-of-modest blouses to catch Spencer’s eye.

When Lauren strolled by his doorway or paused near him at the copier, she tried her best to suck in her little gut or turn so her fit calves showed to the best advantage. She felt she had finally gotten a bite on the line the other day when he had talked to her in the break room. Well, not talked to her, exactly. He had asked for the creamer, but they made eye contact and their fingers touched briefly when she passed it to him. Connection.

Now, Spencer’s grandmother had “passed,” and Lauren was attending the service as a show of support in his time of need. When the office sympathy card circulated, she signed her name and added, “Here if you need anything at all.” Nice touch. Even better, she was fortunate to be the last employee to sign, so she personally delivered the card to Spencer’s office. He was working at his desk. What a trooper; he was so strong.

Lauren handed him the card and said gently, “Hey, how’re you holding up? Do you need anything? We’re all here for you.” She gave him her best concerned smile, trying to make it look as genuine as possible. He nodded and said, “Thanks.” Lauren felt sure she succeeded in exiting the doorway looking both supportive and alluring.

She returned to her cubicle and immediately searched the local listings for the service time and place. Then she read the obituary thoroughly to familiarize herself with the particulars. After work, she spent three-and-a- half hours selecting a black dress that would both beckon and console. The dress was a shocker of form and perfection. Modest in neckline and hemline and constructed of soft chiffon, it slimmed and draped all the right curves Audrey-Hepburn fashion. Well, if Audrey Hepburn were three inches shorter and wearing Spanx for tummy control.

Attending the graveside service was crucial, but she hoped to close the deal at the family visitation afterward. It was tradition in the South to bring food for the mourners to eat while gathering for comfort, stories, and memories. Other people might bring something from a store or restaurant. However, Lauren’s plan required a certain type of homemade dish. On one hand, the recipe must be so sumptuous that Spencer – or maybe even his parents – would notice she was not only easy on the eyes, but was quite a cook as well. On the other hand, if she made something too elaborate, it would seem like showing off. And, even worse, she would be expected to cook like that forever. Checking her bank account balance, she knew it also had to cost next to nothing. So it had to be cheap, easy to prepare, and absolutely delicious. And there was only one dish that would do: The Man Catcher.

She contacted Julie for the turkey casserole recipe. Julie’s mother called it “The Man Catcher” because it’s the reason her future husband had noticed her at the church picnic, and she continued to make it often over the years – which might explain why Julie was one of six kids. To display the dish, Lauren purchased a real casserole pan, not aluminum foil, with a lid and carrying case, fancy enough that Spencer would feel obligated to return it or, dare to hope, ask her to come by and pick it up.

When Lauren finally arrived at the graveside, the mourners were all pressed together around the perimeter of the funeral-home canopy. Leaving her raincoat in the car so the fabulous dress would be on full display, she weaved through the standing crowd to the family seated in front. With a somber look, she positioned herself strategically to Spencer’s left at the edge of the row. The preacher had just begun his remarks when a peal of thunder heralded the rain’s return. The shower quickly became a downpour that ushered most of the mourners under the canopy, and caused umbrellas to sprout like mushrooms among those unable to fit.

Lauren scooched in tight between two blue-suited elderly men, which allowed her to stand at the head of the casket immediately in front of Spencer. He glanced up but didn’t seem to notice her yet. Lauren thought quickly and made a grand show of wiping “tears” with a silk handkerchief. That did it. Spencer’s steel-gray eyes bore into her and he nodded his head to acknowledge her presence. Yes, she said to him with her eyes. I am here for you, my beloved.

The preacher’s sermon droned for a bit. The steady rain thrummed on the canopy and made Lauren painfully aware of her need to pee. She gritted her teeth and shifted her high-heel dress shoes on the cheap green outdoor carpet placed around the grave to hide the dirt. The preacher finished and asked the mourners to bow their heads in prayer.

At the same moment he said, “Dear Lord,” the rain-swollen canopy overflowed and a torrent of freezing water poured down Lauren’s back, causing her to invoke the name of the Lord as well. She staggered forward, but her spiky heels lost their grip on the wet carpeting and rain-softened grave edge. Her feet flew out, her bottom hit the ground, and she rode the carpet like a water slide under the casket lowering device and down into the grave itself. There was an ominous ripping sound as she fell the entire six feet and landed on her bottom again, causing her to release her bladder, as well as more appeals to the Almighty.

She looked up to see several sets of eyes, including Spencer’s, peering down around the edges of the casket. A glance at the hole she slid through also revealed a muddy swath of black chiffon dangling from a bracket of the lowering frame above her head. As she stood there in her new bra and mud-crusted, urine-soaked Spanx, one of the older gentlemen she was previously standing beside deftly unhooked the dress between pinched fingers and dropped it gently to her. She missed catching it, of course, and it landed in the brown puddle already drowning her new high-heel pumps.

_________________

Lauren leaned on the doorbell of Julie’s house until she opened it. “What? Oh Lauren, oh Lauren,” she cried. Her best friend stood before her in a black dress that was ripped, mud-plastered, inside-out, and backward. Lauren’s mascara and snot were wiped across her face and her hair looked like Barbie’s after being in the bathtub. In her hands was a casserole dish with matching lid. Through blubbering lips she spoke. “I need a shower, and a fork.” To which Julie replied, “I’ll get the wine.”

The End

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PBY WW II plane

Tarzan and The W.A.S.P. by Jon Frank

It’s episode 3 of When Fact Met Fiction.

Mel has staged a photo of a bikini for the story that accompanies Poppy Stanhope’s Banana Split Pudding With Praline Sauce. But there was no bikini mentioned in the story so why is there one in the photo display? ” I didn’t have time to order a coconut bra…” is Mel’s reply.

This story ended up being significantly longer than most of Jon Frank’s articles. So settle in for a bit and lose yourself in the South pacific during WW II. As one of Poppy’s fans would say, “It is like Nathaniel Embers wrapped himself around one of her recipes and made me fall in love all over again.” Get ready to fall in love with Tarzan and the W.A.S.P.

Tarzan and The W.A.S.P.

By Jon Frank

There is always that one uncle, you know? The guy that tells the most amazing stories. Stories too fantastical to believe and yet you don’t care because the tale is just too good. My Uncle Pete was that guy. He served in WWII in the South Pacific, and after the war continued to work for the government all through the Cold War years up until he died in the early Eighties. My brothers, cousins and I called him the Candy Man because he brought us treats any time he was in town to visit our grandmother.  But what set Uncle Pete apart most was the stories. Uncle Pete had a story for every situation. If you saw a fire, he saw an explosion. If you rode in an airplane, he built one out of bamboo and flew it and six men out of a prison camp to safety. If you had a scar, he had given a man a worse one. And if you met a girl – well, here’s that story.

Our grandmother lived in a massive two-story house, and when Uncle Pete was in town, that’s where he would stay. The rest of our huge family would gather to meet him there and he would regale us with his latest exploits. In addition to his stories, Uncle Pete was famous for his Banana Split Pudding with Praline sauce. Man, it was the best tasting thing to ever hit the planet. One bite would literally blow your plaid bell bottoms off and straighten your disco hair.

It was during one of his visits in 1976 when I first heard of The Girl. My cousin Wayne and I had just come back from a huge Fourth of July picnic in downtown Black Mountain, North Carolina. We were twelve years old and had only just begun to discover girls ourselves. We had spent the day flush with the  excitement of seeing girls walking around in crop tops and cutoffs and were only too eager to keep the edge going. Wayne said he knew where some dirty magazines might be hidden and I was anxious and intrigued to say the least.

Everyone was either in the back yard talking or enjoying Uncle Pete’s pudding. Wayne and I slipped away and out to the old storage shed at the end of the property. Inside were the usual Christmas stuff and old dress mannequin things, but the item Wayne and I sought was Uncle Pete’s old footlocker. Wayne’s thoughts were sound and logical: Uncle Pete was military, and all Navy guys had dirty magazines and such. I concurred.

Military Footlocker

There was no lock on the chest and we grinned together in heated anticipation. I cracked the lid open and we were blasted with odors of dust and dry paper goods. The chest was not your typical G.I. footlocker. It was some four-by-six, big enough to hide a body if the need arose. It had two levels consisting of two removable trays on top and a deep space underneath. Every inch of the thing was filled with memorabilia that would probably be worth a fortune nowadays. The two trays contained old Navy documents that held little interest to us since we wanted to get to the good stuff. Sadly, the closest thing we found to girly mags were a few pinup post cards and some old photographs.     But as we dug, my cousin and I found ourselves drawn in by the contents. Some of the photos were of fellow sailors, ships and equipment, but some were of burned structures and other horrors of war. Stunned, we fingered the cracked pictures and occasionally looked up at each other and shook our heads. We were so enthralled we failed to notice someone else had entered the shed until Uncle Pete cleared his throat.

“You boys are in trouble.”

Only twice in my life was I so scared I nearly wet myself. This was one of those times. I see now I have failed to properly introduce you to the sheer physicality of Uncle Pete. He was a staggeringly powerful man even then, in his fifties. He was an avid swimmer and athlete, the poster image of what recruitment posters wanted a sailor to be. His jaw was square with a cleft chin, and his forehead sported a perfect widow’s peak. I had never in my entire life seen a serious look on Uncle Pete’s face until that moment, burning us both down with a clenched jaw and flared nostrils. Wayne and I looked at each other. He was starting to cry. We both muttered, “Sorry, Uncle Pete.”

Then Uncle Pete let loose with the loudest laugh I have ever heard, which in turn produced the second moment of my near and present urination.
He walked over, slapped us both on our backs, then rubbed our necks vigorously.

“What’d you find? Nudies?” He asked, guessing our hormone-driven intentions. “Nah. I got rid of that stuff years ago. My ma  would never let me keep that here. But there’s still a bunch of good stuff if you look hard enough. Let’s see.”

He reached in and began sorting through things with us. He briefly touched the horror photos, as we would later call them. “You boys don’t need to be looking at this stuff. Ain’t good for you.” He tucked them into his breast pocket and continued the rummaging.

We were amazed at how casually he handled some things – like his numerous medals, including a navy cross. Other things, like a small piece of a hair ribbon and a tiny Bible, he held gingerly like a tiny, fragile bird. I reached in and pulled out a nondescript shoe box. It was partially wrapped in brown shipping paper and tied with twine. It must have had a dozen stamps and water stains from sometime in the past.

Uncle Pete reached for the box. “Here, let me have that one, son. That’s very special. That’s the one I came out here to get when I found you.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Oh, you don’t want to hear that story, boy. It’s all mushy and stuff.”

“Come on, Uncle Pete!” Wayne begged. “You tell the best stories! Please?”

“Well, all right. But don’t you laugh.”

We both shook our heads and crossed our hearts. Then we pulled up some old lawn chairs and settled in as Uncle Pete closed the trunk and took a seat. “It was Summer, 1944 . . .”


Now I’ve told you boys how both your mamas called me Tarzan when I was a boy. They called me that because I can swim like nobody’s business. But I’ll tell you this, and it’s a true story. I was in the hospital pool walking around trying to strengthen my leg when this giant of a guy strolls up with a small entourage of doctors, officers, and young pretties. Lo and behold, if isn’t the real Tarzan himself, Johnny Weissmuller! He was touring about trying to cheer up the troops and sailors and such. Well, Mr. Tarzan strolls right to the side of the pool and peers down at me. He starts asking what I’m doing and there’s these photographers taking his picture and the like. I explain I’m trying to strengthen my leg muscles by swimming. He said it didn’t look like I was doing too much swimming at the moment. I laughed and said I wasn’t quite up to the good stuff yet.

Ol’ Johnny puts his hand down in the water and splashes about a bit. “You know,” he says,”I got hurt filming once when I came down off an elephant wrong and wrenched my leg badly. I spent some time in the pool myself to heal it. I learned a neat stroke to help. Here, I’ll show you.”

With that, Ol’ Tarzan kicks off his brogans, jerks off his jacket, and jumps in right beside me and shows me how to do it. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. Oh, sorry boys. Don’t tell your mamas I cursed, okay? Good. Well, he and I hit it off real good and we even joked about how my sisters used to call me Tarzan. Of course I could never do the yell quite like Johnny could.

After my stint in the hospital I was given a special assignment. You see, we’d been surprised by Pearl Harbor, and the Navy was never going to be taken like that again. So some admiral or other high muckety-muck decided having a series of men set alone and secret along several islands from here to Japan was a wise idea, and it was. Boys, there must be a thousand small islands that are not much bigger than Black Mountain. A sailor could set up with a radio and some binoculars and get the jump on the Japs before they got to us.

So, I was set out on this island that was maybe two miles long and a mile across. It was surrounded by a vicious coral reef which made it near impossible for any water craft to approach safely. The only way in was by parachute or a seaplane that could land inside the lagoon – and you’d have to be a mighty da. . .er, darn good pilot to do that. So essentially, they sent me to war to have a vacation in the tropics.

Every few weeks, they’d send a plane over and drop some supplies like food and radio parts cause sea air plays hell on components. I had to be on the lookout because they were never on a schedule of any kind and there was always the thought of someone intercepting my transmissions and getting a triangulation on me. They used a PBY 3, which was not the quietest of planes so most of the time I heard her long before the cargo dropped.

 

Well, one time one of my radio’s main tubes had blown and I went to replace it, only to find out the tubes they had sent as spares were all the wrong size. It was no big deal at the time because the plane was due any day and I just had to hope the Japs wouldn’t choose to invade until then. Anyways, I had resolved to just relax and maybe get some R&R so I headed down to the beach to hit a few golf balls into the surf. Oh, yeah. One thing I had plenty of was golf balls. One of my drops had gotten mixed up with some captain’s or admiral’s and I had gotten a nice set of clubs and about five hundred golf balls. The crate was marked Top Secret with all these fancy numbers that were supposed to mean eyes-only or something.Island

I was just about to beat Bobby Jones in Augusta when I heard the familiar sound of the PBY. I scanned the east and could just make out her silhouette. The PBY is a very distinctive bird. She has what’s called a parasol wing design, meaning the fuselage is suspended beneath the wing and connected by a pylon in the middle. She’s a tremendous water landing craft with excellent long range. As the PBY drew closer, I shaded my eyes and noticed she had smoke trailing behind and the sound of the motor didn’t sound so good either. The plane dropped low and was making the approach to land. Problem was, it wouldn’t clear the reef. I started running and stripping off my shirt, hitting the water in full stride, hoping maybe I could get to the pilot before it sank. That is, if it didn’t explode.

I crossed the lagoon in record time but the plane was already making contact with the reef by the time I was halfway through. Whoever the pilot was, he was damn good at his job. He had managed to keep the plane from nosing in and going into a flip, but the outriggers on the wings caught some projections under the surf. Both wings tore back into a W, and the whole shebang began to spin clockwise like a car on ice until its belly crunched up on the larger section of the reef. Smoke boiled out the engines, both of which had somehow remained tenuously attached to the pylon. I poured on the speed, stroke after stroke. I’m a good swimmer but I had never had to drive like I was doing. My lungs hurt, my shoulders burned, but I didn’t see the pilot bale and I had to make the effort as much for my own conscience as for the pilot’s life.

I reached the reef just as the twin engines burst into flames. I knew I had seconds before the fuel would ignite. Already the surf was kicking up flaming oil and fuel and would soon overwhelm me. I tore my hands and feet apart on the coral as I climbed up. The cockpit door was open and I could see the pilot was unconscious. I had no time to grab a life jacket so I just popped the seat belt and drug him out.

Or I should say, her. The pilot was a woman! But I didn’t have time to be shocked, and I drug her from the wreckage and down into the surf. I turned over on my back and held her in a rescue hold. I was actually thankful she was out. See, it made swimming easier that she couldn’t struggle. I began slowly paddling back. I wasn’t really sure she was even breathing. When we finally made it to the beach, I put my ear to her mouth. She was breathing, but still out. I flopped down next to her, put my hands over my head, shielded my eyes  against the sun and passed out from exhaustion.
When I woke, she was still there, but she was sitting up looking out over the lagoon at the wreckage. I sat up quickly.
“You the moke that pulled me out of that?” she said.

It took me moment to realize she was actually speaking to me. She was, to say the least, stunning. She turned her full face to me and it was like glancing at the sun. I had to look away. I nodded and finally got the courage to look back. “Pete. Chief Pete McKennon.”

“Well, Pete-Chief Pete Mckennon, I guess I owe you my life. I’m Laura Stuyvesant, former pilot of your supply drop.”

She looked back forlornly at the still smoking wreckage. “How long before the tide takes her away?” she asked.

“Not long,” I replied. “Tide starts about five and surges up pretty quick. Don’t worry too much though, the reef there is pretty high so it may stay for a while. Which actually presents a problem. We’ll have to clear it so the Japanese patrols won’t see it,” I explained. “But let’s not worry about that just now. Are you okay? You took quite a hit to the noggin there.”

“Yeah, fine, thanks to you. Can’t say much for your cargo though. Hope it wasn’t anything important.”

“Well, as a matter of fact…” I started to say. “Nah,” I replied instead. “Nothing that couldn’t wait another week.”

“That’s good,” she said, “because this was my last run for a few weeks.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, they don’t tell us moxies much, but the scuttle is there’s a big push planned west in the China Sea. It’s one of the reasons I get to fly. They don’t want to waste good men on little nothing runs like this. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to imply. . .”

I told her it was okay. Truth is, she could’ve punched me square in the face and I still would’ve been enthralled. She stood up and I finally got a good clear look at her. She was wearing heavy wool men’s coveralls. She was long and curvy. I thought she should be painted on the side of an aircraft, not flying one. The evening wind was just picking up and it began to blow her light blonde hair around in wisps. She had sea-green eyes and Kewpie doll lips.

“Come on,” I said, “let’s get you warmed up and dry.” She nodded and we made our way back to my little shack in the jungle.
My “house” was placed just at the base of the only high point on the island. I had run the antenna up a big old palm to hide it and the shack itself was hidden from view by dense jungle foliage.

We were soon in my happy bachelor abode. I offered her a clean shirt and bell bottoms, which she took readily. I apologized for the lack of privacy and stepped outside. I lit a cigarette and stared out and down the island and then across the sea.

“Wow,” I thought, “did I find a magic lamp or something?” Here I was, on my tiny island kingdom, a lonely – but actually content – guy. And lo and behold suddenly the sky dumps a gorgeous woman literally in my lap. Oh sure, she’d be going back soon, but what could it hurt for a man to dream, right?

In a moment she emerged and set my chest flaming again. My shirt had never looked so good, as well as fairly tasked to contain the treasures she possessed. The trousers fared better but only just fit over those flared hips. “Are those okay? Sorry I can’t offer anything else,” I managed to stammer out.

“They’re fine. It’s not like you were expecting company, especially a woman. We W.A.S.P.s are used to wearing man’s clothes, since they don’t make duty uniforms for women. I’m so glad to be out of those sopping wool overalls. However, unless you want to go and carve out some coconuts, I have to hang my dainties up to dry.” I blushed at the thought and showed her where the clothesline was.

Asian shack When Fact Met Fiction

We sat on the steps of my small shack and ate some C-rations. I again apologized for my lack of proper accommodations. “You’ll have to forgive us, madam, but our wine cellar is sorely lacking in proper vintages.”

“Of course, but it will reflect poorly in my review of your establishment,” she laughed, and my heart melted further.

After dinner we smoked and enjoyed small Navy talk, neither one of us particularly interested in the current situation of her downed plane and my lack of radio parts. We just seemed to click, you know? She was witty and smart and well-educated in contrast to my course, country-college boy ways. I could say I was in love, sure, but it seemed more. I started feeling complete, like something had been missing all my life and here it was, sitting across from me in my shirt and trousers, smoking my cigarettes with her perfect mouth.

Then a memory dawned on me and I had to ask. “Hey, Stuyvesant. I saw an airshow in California around ’37. They had a family of wing walkers in it named Stuyvesant. Any relation?”

“Yep. That’d be my mother and I. We were the Flying Stuyvesants, queens of the air. My father was a pilot in the Great War and he taught me, my sister, and my mother how to fly. I could work a stick before I could drive a car. My mother was called a flying flapper in the Twenties. She would get up there and dance the Charleston in her heyday. When my sister and I came along, we just kind of fell into the business.”

“They still fly?” I asked. “I mean, do they fly at home or does your sister do what you’re doing in the W.A.S.P.s?”

She flicked her cigarette butt away and blew out a long stream of smoke. “No, she died a year before the war. Her fella got drunk one night and accused her of cheating on him. Shot her twice, realized what he had done and tried to run, stumbled into the street, and caught the bus with his face.”  She looked up at the clear, night sky and stood up.

“Hey, sorry I asked. I didn’t mean. . .”

“No, it’s okay, really. We tried to warn her. Thing is, she probably would have died anyway. My father crashed the plane less than a year later and killed him and my mother.”

“Wow, yeah. I had forgotten that. I read it in the paper. I’m sorry, kiddo. I’m just pouring lemon juice in your wounds, ain’t I?”

“No, I’m fine. I’ve dealt with it. Flying really helps me with it. Although, that will be a long time coming now,” she said looking again through the jungle in the direction of the beach. She shook her head and turned quickly to me, “Got any kind of dessert in those rations?”

“Not really, I usually get some fresh fruit from my supplier, but she seems to be running behind this week,” I smiled at her.

“Sorry about that, I had a load of bananas for you too.”

“Bananas? I haven’t had one in a long time. You’d think being in the tropics, they’d be in every jungle, but these places only have coconuts and  breadfruit. If there are bananas you have to cook the devil out of them. Man, I’d kill for some good banana pudding.”

“Banana pudding? Well, you are in luck, sailor. You are sitting in the presence of the premier and elite of all banana-pudding makers. I have a recipe for a banana split pudding with praline sauce. If you’re good and behave yourself, maybe I’ll make you some and bring it back on my next trip.”
My heart soared. Next trip. It meant she was coming back, but it also meant I would have to let her go in the first place. I wasn’t prepared for that yet.
That night Laura slept on my cot and I strung up a hammock on the porch. Thankfully, my little island was mostly devoid of flying insects and the only real nuisance was the occasional sand flea.

I awoke at first light and performed my morning scans of the horizon. I had crept into the shack to procure my log books and struggled mightily to not sneak a peek at Laura on my bunk. I made it almost to the door when she began to stir. “What time is it?” she said groggily.

“About five. Go back to sleep, I’ll make breakfast in a bit.” It seemed so surreal to me, almost like actually being really with someone.  That face. That beautiful face. What I would have given to just be able to wake up to her face every morning for the rest of my life.

Now boys, I prided myself on my self-sustainability. I had a fresh water supply I collected from the evening rain, as well as a cistern I had made from some barrels. I also had chickens I had brought in as chicks which now provided me with daily eggs. I even placed extra golf balls under the hens to get them to lay. I am proud to say my little flock of  hens were the best layers on the whole island.

So after morning duties I collected about six eggs and fixed us a good solid breakfast. After eating we acknowledged the need to get serious about the downed-plane situation, though neither of us seemed to want to put much effort into it. I explained what I needed to fix the radio and she thought some of those things were probably in her drop cargo, but in all likelihood it was at the bottom of the sea, or at the least smashed and soaked. I asked her what kind of radio she had on the plane, and she said she had the standard GO9 – but again, it was probably smashed to bits in the crash. That is, if the plane was even still on the reef.

We got our answers when we hit the beach that morning. The plane was still on the reef, and by the looks of it wasn’t going anywhere soon. My next question should have come earlier. “Won’t they be missing you? I mean, wouldn’t they send another plane?”

“Here?” she replied. “No, not for a while. I make several hops like this one and with all the confusion of the upcoming offensives, they wouldn’t notice for weeks. I guess you’re stuck with me, handsome.”

I felt a blush from the top of my head to my wiggly little toes. “Yeah, I guess so, but I still have a mission. Do you swim?”

“Oh, I can stay afloat. But as you can tell,” she gestured with her hands, “I’m not exactly built for it.”

I wasn’t going to argue with that. I kicked off my shoes and waded out towards the surf. “Be right back.” I stopped, turned around and handed her my service pistol. “Any good with one of these? Sharks, you know.”

“I can manage,” she chuckled.

Tarzan and the W.A.S.P.I dove into the surf and began my swim. It was easier going, not being pressed for time or carrying her exquisite extra weight. Soon I was at the reef and able to more carefully climb up onto it, avoiding the razor sharp edges. The plane was a mangled mess. It bobbed somewhat in the water, but I could see it was now a permanent addition to the reef. To move it would take explosives or a piece-by-piece dismantling, neither of which I currently had the patience to undertake. The tail section was mostly submerged, but the nose was holding on like a desperate cliffhanger. I climbed back through the cockpit canopy, not bothering with the waist doors. Inside, debris floated all about but fortunately all the fuel had burned off and enough of the plane’s integrity remained to keep any dangerous predators out. I made my way to the radio and confirmed it was  smashed beyond repair. I plunged my hands beneath the water and felt around until I found what I was looking for: the radioman’s repair bag. I located a few tools and popped off the cover of the GO9. I knew what tubes I needed and I took some of those and a few others for spares. Funny thing, though, the headset was sitting just as pretty as can be, still on its hook. It was nicer than my set and still had good ear pads. I found a map tube floating in the water, pulled the map out, and dropped the radio tubes in. There was no way to keep the headset dry, but it was pretty durable, and if cleaned of salt and allowed to dry, it should be fine I thought. I glanced around and found a few more small things, but couldn’t figure a way at the moment to carry them back. I took some radio wire, made a sling, and put the tube around me.

She was waiting on the beach for me, like I had just gone for a quick dip. “Did you get it?”

“I think so. Let’s go find out.” We made our way up the beach, but neither one of us in a hurry. Somewhere along the way our hands found themselves entwined.  We made it to the shack and I reluctantly let her hand go. I noticed her hand went back slowly as well. “I’ll put these at the radio and see if I can’t scare up some grub.”

“Please, let me do that. I’m not such a bad cook if you’ll give me a try. It won’t be banana pudding, but it will be edible.” I nodded and sat down to repair the radio.

She lied. I have never tasted C rations so badly mangled. Of course I said it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted and she called me out on it. “Liar! You’re just saying that. Oh, it is bad, isn’t it? Ewww! What was I thinking?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like I’ll have to be the cook in the family.”

I immediately realized what I had said, but either she didn’t notice or maybe she did and accepted it. Family? Us? Cheese and crackers, I’d just met the girl and I’m picking out names for our kids already.

The radio worked perfectly, so I got a signal off to the Rook, that’s what the main HQ for us islanders was called. My call sign was Kingfisher, which Laura thought was appropriate considering my swimming ability.  Laura had been correct in her assessment of the next plane’s arrival. It would be an indeterminate amount of time so we would just have to wait it out and make our daily reports. I felt my heart leap.

“Well, sailor, looks like you just hit the jackpot,” she said and draped herself over a chair suggestively.

Now despite what you boys may think of your old Uncle Pete, I was a good boy. Your grandma and grandpa raised us all right. You have to believe that nothing happened between us. . .well, not nothing. . . but anyhow, over the next few days, we made do, rationed our supplies, and arranged the shack to accommodate us both just like she was another sailor. We took turns at lookout and the radio while I, of course, did all the cooking. Soon we had us a neat little house with regular laundry days and meals, followed by music from AFRS and an evening smoke. I would sing in my best tenor and she was a fantastic soprano.

Once we were singing to Dorsey’s Take Me, and when she got to the last line of “make me your own,” I leaned over and kissed her. I tell you, boys, I have never, ever been kissed like that before or since. When we finished, I think I could have swum to Japan and whipped Hirohito and the whole Imperial Navy myself. I would have done anything for her. But remember, I was raised right. We said our good-nights and went to our separate little “rooms”.

In the morning I made cursory lookout reports and scans of the horizon. I wasn’t paying much attention though, thinking instead of the kiss. I wanted to walk back into the shack and not be a good boy. I was struggling with it when something caught the corner of my eye. It was small and distant, but it was there. I took the glasses and looked again. Smoke. Not much. The ship was trolling at low speed but definitely heading this way. Fortunately it was on the opposite side of the reef and wouldn’t be able to see the plane unless it went around, which I’m sure it would do. I ran to Laura’s area and flung back the curtain. She jumped at the sound but kept her composure. “What is it?’ She gasped.

“Patrol boat. We have to get the plane off the reef.”

“How? You said yourself it would take explosives to release it and they would surely hear that. There’s no way we can avoid them seeing it.”

I looked around the room and spied an idea. “Maybe they should see it.”

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Just follow me and grab that crate of grenades. I hope we have time for this.” I also grabbed two hollowed-out coconuts we had jokingly made a few nights before.

Down at the shore I found the crate of golf balls, set it to one side, and got to work. Taking apart several grenades, I emptied their contents into one of the coconut halves. I punched a small hole in the other half and wrapped both halves with radio wire until they were solidly bound together. I filled the hollow coconut up the rest of the way, emptying about eight grenades into it. Then I carefully inserted a firing pin and set the makeshift bomb aside.
Meanwhile, Laura was tasked with collecting all loose golf balls she could find of the original five hundred and returning them to the crate. I must have gotten pretty bored in my solo time, as Laura was able to refill the crate only about two-thirds. So she packed the remaining space with sea shells, sticks, rocks or any other debris she could gather. I placed my improvised bomb into the crate, running a wire to attach the firing pin to the lid. Then I carefully nailed it down and set the whole rig afloat in the surf.

“Kiss for luck, sailor,” Laura said as she pressed her body to mine and laid on me the second-best kiss ever, boys.

I towed the crate out to the reef. Now you might be thinking golf balls sink, right? Well they won’t in salt water and definitely not in a sealed crate. However, once again I was in a race against time that sorely pressed my swimming ability. I was thankful Ol’ Johnny’s tips on rehabilitation had been spot on.

At the plane, I managed to wrestle the crate to the other side of the reef and wedge it under the mangled wing. It bobbed a bit but held without bumping into anything. I plunged back in and swam the hundred or so yards back to the beach. I grabbed Laura’s hand and we sprinted for the jungle.
The patrol boat made its way around the island about an hour later. I looked through the glasses, trying to spot anything distinctive in its markings. It appeared to be just a simple boat with a crew of maybe eight or so. I suspected they sported a radio comparable to ours with about the same range. Hopefully they would want to do a full inspection before radioing back. I imagined they wouldn’t want to be dishonored calling in an old wreck and wasting the time of their superiors.

We watched as the boat pulled in close, cautious of the reef itself. They lowered a small dinghy of about three men, two with oars and one with a rifle. They only took a few minutes to ascertain the craft to be kaput, and as I had hoped, they took the crate into the dinghy with them. Laura and I waited for what seemed like hours. I could see some movement on the boat and soon a man emerged from inside and stood with his hands on his hips. He gestured animatedly towards the shore and the subordinates bowed in response. When they stepped aside, however, he pointed at the crate and more buzzing activity occurred. One of the crew disappeared inside and for a few tense moments I didn’t know if my plan would work. I looked at Laura and shook my head.

We were just about to get up and leave when I looked back just in time to see and hear an explosion. Seconds later, we were visited by the sounds and zippings of dozens of golf balls bulleting through the jungle and caroming off the trees. One ball landed deeply in the sand just inches from our faces. I joked, “Bad lie, for the old boy. He’ll need a gap wedge to get out of this one.”

I took the glasses and peered back out at the ship. Smoke poured from where the men had been standing with the crate. The boat began to list and I saw no swimmers or further activity on the deck. Apparently, the whole crew had been on deck.

I made radio contact with the Rook again that day and they confirmed activity in the area. The island would be too hot for me now, and they would be sending a recovery plane the next day. I set the headset down and wiped my face.

Laura had gone outside to gather eggs and I found myself not wanting to tell her, afraid she would be disappointed – or even worse, relieved and excited. That part I didn’t think I would be able to take. We spent the rest of the day and evening making small talk about what we would do after the war. Laura was going straight back to flying and aeronautics, and I expected I would continue on with the government.

She did and I did.


Uncle Pete rubbed the box lovingly and, to our surprise and embarrassment, tears rolled down his cheeks. “After we returned to Port Moresby, I gave her my address here and she promised to write when she had a permanent one in California. After the war, I came home for a bit and found this package waiting for me at your grandma’s. I tried to write back but your grandpa took sick and I got called out to Norfolk for a bit.”

“What happened, Uncle Pete? Did you ever see her again?”

“No. I wrote to her from Washington about a month later and found out she had been killed by a drunk driver in ‘Frisco. S’funny huh? Woman flier like that makes it all the way home to be killed by some slob on the ground.”

“Sorry, Uncle Pete.

“S’okay boys, you didn’t know.” He sniffed and looked up at us. “Well, I guess you want to know what’s in the box.” He untied the twine and slid it off. He gingerly opened the box and pulled out the contents, two halves of a coconut strung together with a recipe for Banana Split Pudding with Praline Sauce pinned to it.  A note attached said, “Come and see me, Tarzan, and bring these with you.”

The End
Thanks for reading. This story was inspired by Episode 3 of the Web Series When Fact Met Fiction. You can watch the episode HERE.

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Sexy FedEx Driver

Mine: A story about a cat and her sexy FedEx Driver

Mine

A Story About a Cat and Her Sexy FedEx Driver

By Jon Frank

 He picks me up around my belly. I hate that. But then his bulky muscular arms turn me toward his face and pull me in close. Our eyes lock and he speaks soothingly to me. I should scratch his eyes out, but he sounds kind, he smells good. He rubs my ears. That is my favorite, but of course I resist purring. After all, I need to keep my dignity.
He is calm, not like most Stompers always kicking and thumping about. He is taking me back to her, My Gentle. I do not want to go, and I should kick away and dart for the bushes again. I am sure I am faster. He caught me by surprise when he leaped from his big white truck, but I am ready now. Yet his purple and black shirt feels so rough and nubbly against my nose. I tell him so, but like all Stompers he does not understand me because he is stupid.
She is waiting, My Gentle. She carefully lifts me from his grasp. I struggle some because I like the way he smells – and he is still outside. They meow to each other and My Gentle touches his arm. They yowl some more and he hands her something. He is always handing her stuff. Sometimes it is a big package filled with the poppy-poppy stuff that sticks to my tail. I do not like that. But sometimes it has cat toys in it or nibbles. Then I like him.
They meow some more and she takes me inside. I expect to be scolded but instead she sets me down softly, peers out the window, and sighs heavily.  She mews at me and then hurries upstairs.
I will not follow. There are things in the big room that need attention, but first I must express my anger at being brought inside. The curtains are right there, but the damage is not immediately noticeable. The couch and chairs are a definite no-no. I would spend the night in the garage for that. Carpet? No. Banister? Too permanent, and a trip to the white-clad Stompers.  Laundry? Definitely laundry. I seek out the basket and relieve myself there. I don’t cover it. She needs to know my displeasure. I need to hear the sound of her mournful mewling.
Short Story "Mine"
The kitchen window beckons and I find myself in deep thought there. The birds are unusually quiet for this time of day. I call to them through the screen with my expert bird noises, but as usual they do not respond. They sense danger, but not from me. From something else, probably Nigel, the big black tom next door. I hate him. That sleek muscular build, long winsome tail, and subtle white blazing on his chest may turn the other female’s heads – but not mine. I am far too perfect for him. Yes, it is true I slipped outside this morning because he called. But it was out of curiosity, not desire. If he calls again, I will not answer. I stretch and extend my claws to emphasize my point.
“Nigel, do not come here again tonight under this window after dark when My Gentle is sleeping and where I might or might not be waiting,” I call out.
I jump down and slither into the big room. My perch tree is there and I climb to my throne to survey the kingdom. My Gentle is still upstairs, using water from the sound of it. I too take a cleaning and drift into a short sleep of merely three hours or so. I am rudely awakened by a knock on the door. My Gentle opens it and I am surprised to see the Stomper has returned. My Gentle calls my name, so I deign to acknowledge their presence by jumping down and approaching. The Stomper is carrying bags and he no longer wears the skin he had on this morning. Gone is the purple and black, and he now wears stripes like the fat tabby Holford from across the street. I rub against his legs and act like I want to be petted. If he responds I will let him pet me exactly twice before I bite.
They go into the kitchen. She puts her paw on his arm and he does not pull away. He unloads the bags and wonderful smells assault my senses. There is Meat! Wondrous Meat and something else. Something intoxicating. . .
I jump to the counter and My Gentle shoos me off. I must know what is in that blue box. I tell her to give it to me but of course she does not listen. She is too stupid to understand my clear instructions. I will walk on her feet. She shoves me away and continues talking to the Stomper. Shoves me! That is it. The next time I escape, I shall not return. Until supper. Then I will sit in front of the big window which is also a door, and give her The Look.
The Stomper is opening all the Meat now. He is meowing at My Gentle as he places it on the cutting board. Stupid Stomper, give me the Meat or she will put it on fire and ruin it. But wait, he is doing something else now. Yes, he is adding the blue box stuff to it, the one with the strange heady smell. He puts a small bit into the Meat. He pounds and crushes the Meat now with his sinuous muscles. My Gentle is leaning in closer and she coos softly. Watch out, you silly Stomper. She will act like she wants you to be with her, but she will bite. I would.
Now he mixes in some other things with the Meat. Other delicious-smelling stuff. I will again walk over and delight them with my presence. My Gentle tries to shoo me away again, but the Stomper leans down and gives me a sample of the Meat. Careful, My Gentle. I will steal him from you.
The Stomper returns to his work and sets the bowl aside. He takes something else out of the bag. It is a Fish! A whole Fish!persian cat
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” I tell him and rub my body and butt against him. See, stupid My Gentle? This is how you get a man; do you not realize he caught the Fish for me?
My Gentle laughs and cuddles closer to the Stomper, my Stomper. His broad paws knead the Fish and Meat, expertly massaging in the smell-goods he has brought with him. My Gentle now has her own paws in the bowl with the Stomper’s and they are both kneading the Meat. Are they going to sleep in it? Stupids. Give it to me!
I see My Gentle has stepped up her game, because her eyes are dilated and she has lowered the tone of her meow to entice the Stomper.  Ah, ah, ah, My Gentle, you don’t have what it takes. Watch me as I leap to the windowsill and prance with my tail high. Ha! You don’t even have a tail, you silly Manx.
It is time for me to end all this foolishness and take him for myself. I hop to the table, a no-no spot – but this calls for desperate measures. I stretch languidly and ease myself into my most alluring pose and cast my deep, blue Persian eyes upon him. To emphasize my desirability, I lick my muzzle.
My Gentle points to me and laughs again, leaning further into the Stomper. He laughs too as he washes his paws. Witch! You have left me no choice. Now I shall have to use the Move. No male can resist it. He will be mine henceforth and you will be relegated to the lesser males.
I lick my paw, wet my ear, then roll over on my back. But ah, here is the best part. I twist my head a little and quietly mew, “Come here.” Yes! I have him!
He puts the Meat into a dish and comes toward me with it.  An offering for forgiveness of his transgressions with My Gentle. I turn over and meet his paws with my face, making sure to mark him as mine. He sets the bowl down and I smell its delicious aroma. I almost embarrass myself at how quickly I accept his offering.
Later on the couch, I allow My Gentle to sit with him as they watch the flicker of the fire. I lay on the table before him and show him my belly, which he strokes sweetly. He is a good Servant and will be allowed here again. But of course he must be reminded of his place, so I clamp down with all four paws and bite him.

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Schokolade short story

Schokolade

An Amish Love Story

Schokolade

By Jon Frank

He watches as his breath melts the snow on the log. Drip, drip, drip, then liquid sliding along a sharp sliver of bark to drop off unseen but icy under his collar. The wrenching pains in his leg and arm have mostly subsided now, probably from both cold and shock. He attempts once again to shift himself, but meets resistance from renewed pain and the weight of the timber. The massive pile groans softly, and he glances at the butt end of a log clinging tenuously to a position six inches above his face. He guesses one small shift will equal immediate and gruesome death.Amish love story
Jacob ponders this fact. He weighs the possibility against his other choice, slow sleep into hypothermia and death, and finds the prospect of a quick end alluring. No, he says to himself. It would be suicide. While whoever finds him will not know, God will – and the thought of eternity without his beloved Miriam is more painful than his current situation.
He remembers he first noticed Miriam when he was just fifteen, on a trip to the community sawmill with his father. Miriam’s father Reuben owned and operated the mill alongside her two brothers, and she had brought lunch for the men. Her green eyes were brilliant above the dull gray homespun of her dress, and despite its modestly-loose folds, he could tell she had a slender waist and round hips. He was smitten at once.
That same week was his family’s turn to host church. Miriam had, of course, sat in the adjoining room with the womenfolk. She was just through the open doorway, and he leaned forward on the edge of the bench to keep her in view. His father caught him looking and jerked his arm firmly.
The same arm, in fact, now pinned between several hundred pounds of timber.
Drip, drip, sliiide.
The snow drifts down through cracks in the log canopy above him. It collects on his coat in a ragged square, reminding him of the piece of creamy white cloth he found that same long-ago Sunday while stacking chairs and benches after the service.
The cloth had been torn, possibly from an apron, and appeared to be intentionally placed where Miriam had been sitting. He picked it up and stuffed it into his waistband for safekeeping. That evening, he examined its wispy threads for a long while in the fading window light. He tucked it under his pillow and dreamed stirring dreams of deep green eyes. In the morning he hid the cloth in his waistband again, a habit he would keep for a handful of weeks until the cloth fell out somewhere in the course of daily chores. Several times his mother questioned him about his faraway countenance, but he dismissed her by saying he was merely tired. He felt guilty for lying, but was afraid his mother wouldn’t understand.
Pain rockets through his leg now and he needs no medical training to know the break is probably severe. His left arm is likely broken as well, but it mercifully went numb awhile ago. His uninjured right arm is pinned against his torso, with only his hand able to move. He pats his coat and finds he can just reach the wooden toggles on the lapel, but his fumbling attempts to release them are unsuccessful. He can, however, slip his fingers under the hem to tug a corner of the cloth-covered package tucked inside, releasing a deep rich aroma that entices his nostrils. Double Dutch Chocolate Brownies. Miriam’s best.
The smell takes him back three Christmases ago when he was eighteen. While the community recognized and encouraged rumspringa, he found little need for the typical wildness of other boys, instead spending most of his time at Miriam’s family sawmill learning the trade. Reuben came to trust Jacob, granting the young man unusual leeway with his only daughter. The Sunday before Christmas Jacob asked and received permission to take Miriam for a ride after church. They crossed the river and sat under a bare oak tree on a wool blanket, huddling close together in a heavy handmade quilt and laughing at the absurd fun of a picnic in wintertime. Miriam’s packed lunch included double dutch chocolate brownies for dessert. If she had needed a way to cement her hold on Jacob, beyond her sweet smile and unexpected humor, it would have been accomplished with those brownies alone.
Drip, drip, sliiiiide.
Jacob wonders where Klubert is now. He has always been a steady and sure beast, not prone to spooking. The massive Belgian stands eighteen-and-a-half hands and can pull more weight than any two-horse team Jacob has seen. Yet he is an exceptionally gentle boy who loves Miram’s brownies nearly as much as Jacob.
Once while in the field, Klubert suddenly stopped and refused to pull the plow. Jacob looked over his crops and spied his beloved Miriam setting the table outside for lunch. Jacob commanded the horse to finish the job, but Klubert instead turned the plow and headed like an arrow to the tin of brownies on the table. Thankfully, Miriam was able to appease him with a couple of brownie squares from her own hand. Jacob felt a tinge of jealousy, pouting pitifully until Miriam fed him a brownie too. “Careful boy,” he said, “that’s how she got me too.”

Amish love story

Jacob winces again, partially in pain, and partially from knowing the treat is wasted inches from his chapped mouth.
Drip, drip, sliiiide.
The water runs slower now, signaling a drop in temperature. He listens now as the snow turns to ice. It pelts the logs and icy fall begins to block out what little light has been able to reach through the cracks. Night is coming and soon Jacob will be alone in smothering blackness. He has a sparker, but it’s in his unreachable coat pocket. Ah well, there is nothing to light anyway. Well, besides twenty-four massive pine logs piled on top of him, he notes wryly. The thought of fire, however, warms him somewhat.
Funny, he recalls a summer wildfire was the reason he asked Miriam to marry him. A blaze started at the sawmill and Jacob, along with everyone for miles, turned out for the bucket brigade. The determination of Amish men and women availeth much, and the flames were extinguished long before the local fire department arrived. Miriam did more than her share, spending the better part of two hours filling pails and passing them on without reprieve. Her hands were puckered with blisters and Jacob found her running them under the pump to soothe her wounds. He offered to pump the water and she thanked him. There in the waning summer light were those same vivid green eyes and captivating smile, albeit smudged with grime and sweat.
“Marry me,” he blurted.
“What? Jacob…wha…You can’t just ask. What about my father?”
Her statement wasn’t so much resistance as it was a plea for him to do things rightly. He released the pump handle, looked about, set eyes on his objective, and strode across the yard.
“Jacob, what are you..?” Miriam cried. He noted her pleas, but kept walking.Amish love story
“Reuben Miller, I would like to formally ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. I am a good worker, as you have surely seen. I own no property, but I am my father’s only son and stand to inherit the family land when he dies. I will take your daughter to live there until then. She and I will obey the Ordnung and the family traditions, and I’m sure she will bear you many grandchildren. Sir, what say you?”
Reuben stood up straight. He stroked his soot-grimed beard and walked around the pile of lumber he had been leaning against. The other men watched silently with stern, blackened faces. Reuben returned to look Jacob in the eye. He squinted a bit and Jacob noted a slight quiver along Reuben’s jowls.
Suddenly, Reuben’s mouth curled in a grin and his head tossed back in laughter. He gestured to the scorched mill with outspread hands.
“Boy, did you really need a fire lit under you to ask me that?” Reuben continued his hearty laugh while slapping Jacob’s back. “Of course, son, of course.”
Jacob felt relief and allowed himself to smile.
Drip.
The wind picks up and Jacob hears the ice cracking around him as the log pile shifts above him. It is late now; the other men have already eaten supper and begun nightly prayers with their families. Miriam is worried by now, he is sure. But he knows even if a rescue effort is mounted, the chances of anyone getting to him in time are slim because no one knows he is here.  Jacob ponders the events that led to this predicament. He had come to the cut in the late-afternoon snow after the other men had already decided to leave. He can’t call them faulenzen for leaving early, for now it is clear he too should’ve taken heed of the weather and gone on home.
But he had wanted to retrieve one last load in fresh snow that would make Klubert’s pull easier and faster. He had dropped off the empty sled and quickly harnessed the horse to the loaded one. Twenty-four logs is not a large load, and he knew Klubert would make quick work of the journey. Jacob had climbed the fifteen feet, settled on the pile’s pinnacle, clucked to Klubert, and set off.
Fifteen minutes into the hour-long ride, something had snapped sharply and he violently tumbled down with the load. He remembers crumpling hard on the ground and the massive logs bouncing around him. When he awoke he was in his present position and Klubert was gone, broken loose from the tack. He does not know how long he laid unconscious but he guesses only a few moments.
Math has never been Jacob’s strong suit, but to hold back panic in the gaining dark, he attempts to estimate a rescue time. Less than an hour for Klubert, unburdened, to reach the sawmill. An hour or longer for someone to return, depending on the weather.
But Jacob knows the mill is empty. Old Christmas is tomorrow and the twenty-sixth the following day. Everyone is preparing for the holiday. Of course, Miriam will eventually realize he is missing if he does not come home, but Jacob is prone to hang at the mill sometimes to discuss things with her father – so it is not uncommon for him to be a bit late for supper.
No, he should probably prepare himself for the inevitable. Jacob begins praying, scanning his memory for any verses that might be appropriate. Yet his prayers are interrupted with thoughts of his wife and who will take care of her, of children they will never have, of her sitting widowed. He feels tears grow and freeze on his cheeks.
Drip.
He drifts off, how long he doesn’t know, and awakes later to pale snowy darkness and sounds of movement outside his log prison.
“Hello?” he croaks. “Is anyone there?”
The shuffling stops. In a moment he hears movement again. Is it a bear or some other wild animal? Both seem likely. In a moment his heart sinks, for the jangling harness reveals it is Klubert. Maybe he has returned out of some kind of loyalty, or he just doesn’t know where else to go. Jacob hears his hooves stamping and his breath blowing, and despair approaches. No one is coming for a while now. He is alone. He begins to weep again, instinctively raising his hand to brush cold tears away. His uninjured hand doesn’t reach, of course, but he feels the reflexive jerk of his wrist knock the package of brownies loose from his coat. He manages, even with shaking fingertips, to pinch the corner of the covering cloth and slide it up to his mouth. He eagerly works his teeth to the brownie and is soon enraptured by that deep chocolate taste.
Thanking God for the blessing of a final taste of this world, Jacob almost doesn’t notice the steady, warm gust of air coming in on him. It is Klubert’s muzzle in the crack just above his wedged face. Hot snot and spittle begins dripping down on Jacob’s face and then works its way along until it hovers above the package of brownies. He can just make out a long flicking tongue making its way down between the logs to barely touch the top of the cloth.
“I’m afraid that’s a bit of a stretch for you, boy.”
The horse increases his efforts to reach the tasty treat. Not content to use his tongue anymore, Klubert begins to paw at the logs with his hooves. Blowing in frustration, he nickers loudly. He pulls at a log with his leg, which shifts the pile dangerously. The precarious log above Jacob’s head suddenly slides down to within an inch of his right eye.
“Whoa, boy! Stop! You’re going to kill me. Whoa!”
The horse seems unconcerned and begins another relentless attempt to obtain his prize. The logs roll slightly and grind against each other in the cold, but this time the slight shift allows Jacob to free his uninjured arm enough to move it about. Klubert pauses at the shift, surveying his options for obtaining the dark chocolate treat. He brings his muzzle once more to the now larger crevice. Jacob can almost see Klubert’s broad head through the crack.
“Hey, boy, come down here. Yes, I’m not mad. Come here.”
The chattering of his master calms the giant horse. The muzzle leans in close and Jacob is just able to grab a loose rein and secure it. The horse balks a bit but realizes Jacob is back in charge.
Jacob pulls the leather rein into the tiny space with him, and in a moment he has gathered its full length. He begins wrapping it around one of the logs above him, a difficult task in the near-dark with one numb hand and one eye’s view blocked by a massive log. It is also a gamble because Jacob has no idea in what condition the log pile is above him. For all he can tell, he is preparing his own death. Still, he continues to tie the leather strap securely, then slips a piece of the brownie up through the crevasse to his mighty horse. He inhales, prays, and exhales.
Closing his eyes and turning his face away from the log suspended above, Jacob clucks to the horse, “Pull, boy. Ha! Pull!”
The horse straightens his neck. Klubert is mighty when pulling normally, from the stout shoulders, but his neck is not designed to pull. Despite this fact, he knows there are more treats inside with his master. He begins to back up, stops, backs up again, and heaves. Jacob hears shuffling and the beast’s massive weight shifting, jingling metal, and splintering of frozen sled planks. He imagines Klubert stumbling on the broken shaft dangling from the dee and tug stops twisted under his feet by the harness in a manner that forces him to step on them. No common horse could even attempt this effort. Even most draft horses would balk at such a task. But this is the mighty Klubert. He will have his treat!
The timber moves and Jacob cringes as he expects the killing log to smash in his head. Instead, the log attached to Klubert’s rein pivots, and the danger swings out and down. The log pinning Jacob’s broken arm slides away as well.
“Whoa, boy. Come back here,” Jacob summons.
The horse is all too eager to comply. Jacob rewards him with a tiny piece of brownie and reaches up to secure more straps from the harness. In a bit, he turns the horse and secures any strappings he can reach around the log on his leg. Again he commands Klubert, and with a scraping boom that surely would’ve been excruciating had the leg not been numb, the massive log tumbles free of Jacob’s leg. Jacob commands the horse to stop and slides along the ground until he can free the horse from the log.
Jacob sees what he suspected, that the sled is in splinters with pieces scattered about. He crawls to the largest flat piece he can find, attaches the trailing leads to Klubert as best he can, and rolls himself aboard, shouting with bright pain mixed with joy.
He calls to the horse, “Home, Klubert, Home!”
The big brute takes off at a trot, flinging clods of snow back in Jacob’s face. He pulls the coat tight around his face, braces himself for the pain, and settles in for the long ride.

 Jacob awakes in his own bed, warm but still unable to move very much. He is greeted by sunlight through the window. Ice has formed at the corners of the glass and he watches as the warmth of the room causes the ice to slowly melt.
Sliide, drip.
He inhales and smells the wonderful aromas arising from the kitchen below. He feels content and soon drifts back to sleep. When he wakes again, he is greeted by the green eyes of home.
The End

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When Fact Met Fiction

6 pm

6 pm

By Jon Frank

When Fact Met FictionDanny pulled into the parking lot of the nursing home.

His grandmother was nearing the end of a full, beautiful life. He felt ashamed because he hadn’t seen her in over a year, even though she was his only parent. When Danny was an infant his father left his seventeen-year-old mother homeless and alone to care for Danny. A year later she overdosed, so his grandmother became his mother as well. She taught him how to cook, clean, pray, and be a man. He never met his grandfather, Chuck, who had passed away two years before he was born. Nevertheless Danny grew up in Chuck’s shadow, for his grandmother expected him to be the same caliber of man. And oh, how he tried his best to emulate Chuck, a man his grandmother repeatedly insisted was kind, strong, faithful, and courageous. Danny could still picture her face as she spoke of her husband and the respect he showed his dear “Dimples.”

So Danny was certain his unseen grandfather was angry at the way Danny had ignored his grandmother this year. No, not ignored, he told himself. Just gotten too busy. The kids had needs and he was working all the odd jobs he could muster in today’s economy.

Carolyn was understanding to a point. She tried to support his dream of becoming a writer, stopped short of calling him lazy – but she had her limits. Twenty years of marriage, a half-dozen jobs, and a busted college degree settled on Danny like mortar between bricks. Now he was nearing fifty, a sedentary, stagnant pool while the river of his life and health flowed swiftly past. Solid jobs were becoming harder and harder to come by. It seemed no one wanted to hire an old man for the pay he was worth when they could hire two younger men for less than half that.

He and Carolyn had fought over money once again that morning. She was the most understanding, caring woman Danny had ever known, but her love was clearly strained to the breaking point and he knew he was losing her. His “I’m sorry, I’m doing all I can,” wore thin months ago. The truth was he had lost the ability to talk to Carolyn. He felt constantly on the defensive and didn’t know how to start the mending process. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was gone when he returned. So Danny came now to visit the only woman who might be able to help him, if she remembered him.

Danny pushed open the door to the nursing home and made his way down the hallway. He found her room empty and inquired worriedly at the front desk. The nurse was a short woman named Oksana with close-cropped hair. She sported multiple, albeit currently empty, piercings in her ears and nose. A rose tattoo peaked over her hospital scrubs at the collarbone.

“Oh sure, Amanda’s in the kitchen area. She’s in there just about every afternoon. It’s part of her therapy, and anyway it’s about all she can do nowadays. Just follow me.”

Danny’s worry intensified. His grandmother was near ninety! Why was she anywhere near sharp objects, never mind a stove? His anger seethed as they walked the hallway and turned into the kitchen area, but immediately dissipated when he saw his grandmother leaning against the stainless steel table, talking away at two young nursing assistants seated on bar stools nearby. Arranged before her were cooking implements and various bottles, tins, and cartons. Her soft, slender black hands, strong as ever despite her advanced age, were gently crushing a package of cookies still in their wax wrapper. She then tossed the crumbs into a pie pan. Danny knew this recipe well and on many occasions had helped his grandmother make it. It was her Chilled Cookies and Cream Pie. How often had those hands caressed his face or swatted his behind?

“Hi, Gran’manda, it’s me, Danny,” he said timidly.

“Baby! Come on over here and give me some love,” she motioned. “Ladies, this is my baby boy! Ain’t he handsome? Looks like his granddaddy he does. Oh, Law, now there was a man. Looka here at this picture.”

His grandmother had brought along a framed picture Danny knew well. Chuck had been a massive man, strong of jaw and face, with smooth dark skin and a smile of slightly-crooked white teeth. In the photo he was wearing bib overalls and leaning on a long-handled bush axe. Standing next to him was Danny’s grandmother, a gingham kitchen towel in hand, her diminutive frame pixie-like next to the mountain that was his grandfather. They had married just after the war, and the photo was taken on their farm.

The old woman set the picture down with reverence and returned to her baking. “Did I tell you ladies about my man?” Both caregivers shook their heads automatically. “No? Law, let me tell you then. I met him when I was but a girl at Stephens Lee, right here in town. School ain’t there no more, but it was the only school that black folk could go to. Now that don’t mean it wasn’t a good school though. No, sir. Chuck was this big ol’ strapping boy. Mmm-hmm. All us girls wanted to kiss him. We used to joke that we’d have to buy a stepladder first.”     She chuckled to herself. “He had them big broad shoulders and that smile that could melt cold steel, oh, Law yes. Well, them other girls all had their ways to try and get his attention see. Mary Watson had herself a little money so she bought fancy dresses and had her hair did. She was a pretty girl, but she never got more than a look now and then. Pansy Graham could sing like a songbird and tried to show it ever chance she could, but Chuck wouldn’t have it. Now that nasty little Dixon girl would sleep with anything that walked, but she didn’t have anything my man wanted I guess. Now me, I knew what a man needed. He needed some good cooking. I’d slip around to where I knew he was working of the afternoon and bring the work crew he was with pies and such, especially this here cookie pie I’m making. That was always Chuck’s favorite and soon I was his favorite gal, too.”

When Fact Met Fiction story 6pm

Danny’s grandmother paused and added a few more ingredients, whipping them together with a wooden spoon. Then she continued, “Now that damned ol’ war came about and them Nazis was killing our boys off by the hundreds. Chuck was too young really to join up but that didn’t stop him. He says to me, ‘I got to go, Amanda, I got to go.’ And he did. He went to the army recruiter and told him he just had to go and would do about anything to get there. The recruiter looked up at this big ol’ black boy and asked if he could drive a truck. Chuck lied and said he could drive an airplane if it would get him in. So they fixed up his papers and off he went. Served with the Red Ball Express, he did. Helped Patton whip them Nazis good.”

She paused the story to catch her breath and finish up the pie. She shuffled over to the stove with it and Oksana helped her open the oven door. “Is that preheated to three-fifty? It has to be preheated you know, or it won’t cook right. Danny, come check this oven.”

“Yes, Gran’manda.” He made a show of checking it and helped her place the pie crust on the oven rack. He then assisted her to a chair.

“Set that timer there, baby. You know how long. Law, what time is it, anyway? I have to get the rest of supper fixed before Chuck comes home. Always has his supper at six. Now where was I?”

“The war, Gran’manda, you were talking about the war,” he supplied.

“Oh, yeah. My man came out all that without a scratch. Can’t say the same for a lot of other local boys. But Chuck felt personal satisfaction that he had helped speed up the victory.

“I was just glad to have my man back. We got married the day he came home. My daddy did the ceremony. Nine months later I had me a baby girl, Danny’s ma. Now, Chuck he didn’t believe that a baby should come between a man and his wife, no sir. Every Friday after work, we would eat supper at six, and he called that little pig-nosed girl up the street to watch Grace. I’d slip into that yellow dress with the split up to here and down to there,  and we’d go dancing at the James Keys Hotel. Oh Law, that place. It had a band of boys that used to play for Stephens Lee. They could play anything, any style you wanted and my man could dance to any of it too. That boy used to dance my feet off. I’d have to quit sometimes and sit out one or two. He never stopped though, kept right on going. Some of the girls would jump in my place, but I didn’t worry none. I knew who he was coming home to. He was something to see though. That big ol’ boy up there moving and grooving better than any man alive. He was dancing up until the day he died.”

She looked up suddenly, “Oh, Law, what time is it. I’ve got to have supper finished by six. Chuck will be home any minute. Danny, go fetch that girl to come watch Gracie.”

Danny started to tell her that his mother was dead, but Oksana placed her hand on his arm and softly shook her head. “Amanda, we’ll help you with supper. It’ll be all right.”

“You know we were supposed to go out that night? Chuck had gotten this job working on that new building downtown, you know that big old bank building. They hired him cause he could work up high in the steel. My man wasn’t afraid of nothing. He could run them girders like a squirrel. I guess it was all that dancing that made him light on his feet.

“It was that job that killed him though.” She took a big breath and pursed her lips. “Weren’t his fault though. He could have let that boy fall, but that wasn’t who he was. He just dove over that rail and pushed that boy out of the way, he lost his footing though.”

She stopped again. Danny knew the rest of the story. The construction company had “done her right,” as they say, setting her up with a sizable pension because it was the right thing to do in light of Chuck’s heroic act. What they did for Amanda was actually amazing, given the times and their skin color.

Amanda stood and checked her timer. “Danny, get that pie crust out when the timer rings. I have to go and get dressed before Chuck comes home.”

The two nurses helped his grandmother to her walker, and Oksana followed as they made the slow shuffle to her room.

“I want my yellow dress now, baby. Chuck will want me to wear it.”

“Okay, Amanda.” said Oksana, helping her into a bathrobe. “How’s that?’

“Oh, that is fine,” Amanda said, admiring her reflection in the dresser’s mirror. “Now put me near the window so I can watch him come up the walk.”

Danny waited as the three women helped her into a chair by the window facing the inner courtyard.

“What time is it?” Amanda asked, “I have to have supper ready by six for Chuck. It’s Friday, he’ll want to go dancing tonight.”

“He’ll be here any minute, Amanda. Just sit there and we’ll be back with your supper.” Oksana walked over to Danny.

“Is this everyday?” he asked.

“Yeah, most days. She sundowns about this time everyday and lapses into the past. She’s pretty much settled in for the night now. If you want to talk to her, you need to come in the morning when she’s more lucid.”

Danny acknowledged her with a nod. He walked over, bent down, and kissed his grandmother’s forehead. She patted his face.

“Such a handsome boy,” she said. Danny wasn’t sure who she meant, but he took the affection anyway.

He leaned against the car and dialed his cellphone. “Hey. I am really sorry for this morning. And listen, I called your sister, and she said she can keep the kids tonight. Do you want to go out? Maybe go…dancing?”

The End


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