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False Alarm

False Alarm image 2

False Alarm ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Little Thelma Kane and her mother, Nova Kane, presented themselves in the principal’s office.

“We want to see Mr. Middledyke,” Nova Kane said.

Ima Chiclet, Mr. Middledyke’s secretary, eyed Nova Kane with contempt. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“No.”

“Well, then, you can’t see him without an appointment. He’s a very busy man.”

“Look, doll face,” Nova Kane said. “I’m in no mood. I took off from work to be here.”

“What is the nature of your visit?”

“That’s none of your business. It’s for Mr. Middledyke to know.”

Ima Chiclet sighed and stuck the tip of her tongue out between her ruby-red lips. “I don’t think Mr. Middledyke will see you without knowing the reason.”

“Just tell him I need to see him on a personal matter.”

“Name?”

“Mrs. Nova Kane, mother of eleventh grader Little Thelma Kane.”

“I’ll see if he’s free to see you.”

She stood up from her desk, went to a closed door behind the desk, tapped on it and went inside. In a moment she came back out.

“Mr. Middledyke says he’ll see you on one condition,” she said.

“What’s that?” Nova Kane asked.

“That you’re not carrying a gun.”

Nova Kane held open the sides of her coat and whirled around. “No guns,” she said.

“How about you?” Ima Chiclet asked Little Thelma.

“I don’t have a gun, either,” Little Thelma said, “but I wish I did.”

“If you’re both clean, then you may go right in.”

Mr. Middledyke was a small, dapper man with protruding ears and a thatch of sparse black hair on the top of his head. In his pinstriped suit, he looked like a junior-league gangster. He remained sitting at his desk and looked up from a crossword puzzle he was working.

“Yes?” he said. “What’s on your tiny little mind?”

“I’m here to sign the parental consent form,” Nova Kane said.

“Consent for what?” he asked.

“For my daughter, Little Thelma Kane, to quit school.”

“She wants to quit school? Why, if I may be so bold?”

“She’s getting married.”

“How old is she?”

“Sixteen.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little young?”

“I’m in love,” Little Thelma said.

He put down his pencil and looked Little Thelma up and down. “Are you a student here?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”

“Yes,” Little Thelma said. “For years and years.”

“She’s Little Thelma Kane,” Nova Kane said.

“Oh, yes,” he said, clearly confused. “Have a seat.”

After Little Thelma and Nova Kane were seated in the soft high-backed chairs facing his desk, Mr. Middledyke laced his fingers together and smiled, showing his long, crooked teeth.

“Whenever anybody tells me they want to quit school,” he said, “it’s my job to try to talk them out of it. Have you considered the consequences of quitting school at your age?”

“Yeah,” Little Thelma said, yawning.

“Without a high school diploma, you will be hard-pressed to face life’s challenges.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Nobody will hire you, even to flip hamburgers, if you haven’t graduated from high school.”

“I don’t want to flip hamburgers,” she said.

“May I ask who it is that you intend to marry?”

“His name is Buster Foster,” she said. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“Is he a student in this school?”

“No, he don’t go to school.”

“He’s twenty-seven years old,” Nova Kane said.

“He used to go to school,” Little Thelma said.

“You’re sixteen and you’re marrying a man twenty-seven?”

“Uh-huh. And he’s got a good job, too, so I don’t need to worry about flipping hamburgers or anything else.”

“What does he do?”

“He works in a scrap metal place. People bring in stuff to sell and he weighs it and gives them the money for it.”

Mr. Middledyke turned to Nova Kane. “And you approve of this marriage?” he asked.

Nova Kane lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “It doesn’t much matter if I approve or not,” she said. “It needs to happen.”

“It’s a question of maternity, then?” Mr. Middledyke asked.

“There’ll be no bastard children in my family,” Nova Kane said.

Mr. Middledyke buzzed Ima Chiclet into his office and told her to get a parental consent form.

“Consent for what?” she asked.

“To drop out of school.”

Ima Chiclet looked from Little Thelma to Nova Kane and back again. “This young girl wants to quit school?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Mr. Middledyke said.

“Oh, honey!” Ima Chiclet said. “You’ll be sorry if you quit school!”

“She’s getting married,” Mr. Middledyke said.

“Oh, don’t do it, honey!”

“That’ll be all, Ima! Just bring me the form.”

“I’m not sure where it is.”

“I’m sure you’ll find it,” he said.

“We haven’t got all day,” Nova Kane said, taking a cigarette out of her purse and fumbling it in her fingers.

While Little Thelma, Nova Kane and Mr. Middledyke were waiting in strained silence for Ima Chiclet to bring in the form, the fire alarms in the building went off, a shattering wall of sound foretelling doom.

Ima Chiclet burst into Mr. Middledyke’s office. “Fire on third floor!” she yelled.

Mr. Middledyke ran out of the room, as if he was the one on fire, leaving Nova Kane and Little Thelma sitting there in their bewilderment.

“We’re evacuating the building!” Ima Chiclet said. “Everybody out! Now!”

Little Thelma and Nova Kane pushed their way out of the building, along with everybody else trying to make it to the big double doors at the end of the long hallway. When they made it outside and to the car, Nova Kane gunned the engine and lurched away from the curb just as the fire trucks were pulling up.

“School is not usually so exciting,” Little Thelma said.

The next day the thing happened that told Little Thelma there was to be no baby. On her usual Saturday night date with Buster Foster, she told him the news.

“We don’t have to get married now,” she said.

“I thought you wanted to marry me,” he said, nearly in tears.

“Well, I thought I did, but I see now I didn’t.”

“Can’t we still go out together?”

“I don’t think so. I’m all finished with dating and men and things like that. You find you a nice lady about thirty.”

“But baby!” he whined. “It’s you I love!”

“You’ll get over it,” she said.

She wouldn’t have wanted her baby to die, but she was glad there was to be no baby in the first place and glad also that the fire at school kept Nova Kane from signing the form. She had had a narrow escape but things worked out just right for her, maybe for the first time in her life.

She wouldn’t squander her good luck. She would keep going to school if it hadn’t burned all the way to the ground and see it through to the end even if it killed her. And then? Morning would follow the night.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Interstellar ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Interstellar

Interstellar ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In the new movie Interstellar, the earth is dying (a recurring theme in today’s pop culture) and cannot sustain its six billion people. NASA scientists have discovered a “wormhole” in space just outside our solar system. This wormhole allows for space and time to be compressed (remember the theory of relativity) so that earthlings can get to a hospitable, pristine, earth-like planet where human earth-life can begin again. Who made this wormhole, or who allowed earth people to know of its existence? The characters in the movie can’t bring themselves to say that it is part of God’s plan, presumably for fear of offending somebody. Welcome to the world of political correctness.

Matthew McConaughey plays a character known simply as “Cooper.” He is a disaffected farmer whose farm is being ruined by the bad old environment that people themselves have destroyed. He is also a widower, a father, and an engineer. Who better to lead the secret mission through limitless space to the wormhole and on to another planet (unknown, except that it is earthlike) that earthlings can call home? Of course, on the mission there is also the toothsome daughter (Anne Hathaway) of the genius (Michael Caine) who thought it all up but is too old himself to go along, and two male colleagues (one black and one white). Cooper reluctantly leaves his two children behind on earth, promising to return whenever he can. His daughter, with the odd name of “Murph,” will play a significant part in what is to come. (The revelation that comes to Cooper later in the story is that the mission is not to save him or his own family but to save the human species.)

Interstellar is long (eleven minutes short of three hours) and loud, with a pulsing music score that, even though it’s good music, seems to get in the way at times of the audience being able to hear what the characters are saying. My problem throughout much of Interstellar is that a lot of the dialogue is incomprehensible. I might have felt more engaged by the whole thing if I had known what was happening as revealed by what the characters were saying. And when the explorers land on another planet, it’s disappointing because all we can see is water. Where are the exotic inhabitants and strange (to us) plants and animals? Who wants to see only water and waves? We have that on earth.

I got a similar feeling from Interstellar that I got from Elysium, Inception, Prometheus, and other movies. The cleverness of it gets in the way of the story. I don’t want to be blown out of my seat by special effects, gimmickry, and sound design. I want to be blown out of my seat by a believable and beautifully written story that I’ve never seen before.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Fury ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Fury

Fury ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Rather than a remake of the 1936 Spencer Tracy/Sylvia Sidney movie of the same name, Fury is a gritty World War II drama set in Germany in April 1945 in the closing days of the war. Brad Pitt plays Sergeant Collier, the battle-hardened (“I’ve killed Germans in North Africa, Belgium, France, and now I’m killing Germans in Germany.”) leader of a tank squadron. American tanks are inferior to German tanks, so, besides Sergeant Collier, there are only three men left in his group. When a very young recruit named Norman (played by Logan Lerman, who was Noah’s son earlier this year) is assigned to them, they soon discover he is all wrong for the job he is supposed to do. He has been trained as a clerk typist to type sixty words a minute and has not been battle-tested.

Sergeant Collier is a kind of father figure to the men in his group, as unlikeable as they are. He has promised them he will do whatever he can to help them make it through the war alive and we see he is very committed to delivering on his promise. He has to be brutal to “toughen up” Norman to make him overcome his natural reluctance to kill the enemy. As he explains to Norman in one of their quieter interludes, “Ideals are peaceful; war is violence.” We see that, in war, one sheds ones ideals and does whatever it takes to survive, even if doing so seems “wrong” at the time. The emotional core of the movie is the friendship between Sergeant Collier and his men and, specifically Norman, the young, naïve, untested boy/man.

After more than seven decades, World War II continues to be a mine of rich material for filmmakers. David Ayer wrote and directed Fury, and there’s nothing pretty or romantic about it. It’s gritty, brutal, dirty, ugly, down-in-the mud fighting. The only real glory is coming through it alive. If you were there, you might reasonably say, “I am in hell.”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Frankenstein 1931

Frankenstein 1931 ~ 

Frankenstein is a morality play, the moral being that scientists shouldn’t mess around with trying to reanimate dead tissue, no matter how “mad” they are. It will end in disaster and will spawn many sequels.

Dr. Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant rob graves.

Dr. Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant rob graves.

The wrong brain. This one belonged to "Abby" somebody.

The wrong brain. This one belonged to “Abby” somebody.

After they get all the body parts they need, they assemble them into a monster.

After they get all the body parts they need, they assemble them into a monster.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Now what shall we throw into the river?

“Now what shall we throw into the lake?”

The torch-bearing mob, a staple of horror films of the era.

The torch-bearing mob, a staple of the horror films of the era.

Frankenstein 1931 poster

 

Broomstick

Broomstick image 1

Broomstick ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post on my website.) 

She was old and stayed shut up inside her castle high on a lonely mountaintop. There was one night in the year, though, that she had to go out into the world, and that night was Halloween. She wouldn’t be much of a witch if she didn’t fly on Halloween.

As the sun sank behind the mountains in the west, she woke up her old black cat, Lucifer, who was sleeping in front of the fire, and told him to get up and have a snack and wash his face in preparation for leaving.

“I’m not going with you this time,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“I’ve seen enough of the world. I’ve flown with you on countless Halloweens. I just want to be left in peace.”

“Well, suit yourself,” she said. “You’ll be missing a good time.”

“I’ll guard the castle while you’re gone,” he said, going back to sleep.

As she flew off on her broomstick, she realized she hadn’t flown since the previous Halloween. She really needed to get out more. She was a little wobbly at first, as if she might fall off, but soon she hit her stride and did a couple of loop-the-loops and reverse maneuvers to prove to herself that she still could.

After she had flown a good distance away from her castle, she felt an urgent need to do something bad, to cause some mischief and mayhem, as witches do on Halloween. Seeing a church in a village, she threw a ball of fire that caused the steeple to burst into flame. Then, outside the village, she caused some railroad tracks to buckle so that the next train to come along would derail. She turned a cow standing in a field into stone and two small children into white mice. Feeling less than fulfilled, she redirected a creek so that it would flood some farmland. These things were nothing, though, compared to what she did next: Hovering over the roof of a maternity hospital, she cast a spell that would cause the next baby to be born to have two heads. Now there was a fiendish accomplishment!

As good a time as she was having, she felt that something was missing. In the old days of her witchery, she always had somebody with her; if not a victim, then a fellow witch. Doing bad things just wasn’t as much fun if there wasn’t somebody along to tell her how terrible she was. She needed to hunt up the old gang to see what they were up to.

She flew on until she came to the environs of her youth, the place where she got her start as a witch. The forests, mountains, and rivers all looked the same. The village was much the same but had grown shabbier and poorer. The witches’ nightclub, Eye of Newt, was still there, thank goodness! She went inside, carrying her broomstick in her hand.

A hunchback dwarf greeted her at the door. She recognized him at once.

“Raphael, is that you?” she said.

The dwarf squinted up at her in the dim light. “Have we met?” he asked.

“It’s Mignonette, the witch. Don’t you remember me?”

“Oh, yes! Mignonette! Of course, I remember you, but I thought you were dead.”

“Not yet.”

“My eyes are not what they used to be.”

“Any of the old crowd here?”

“I think you’ll find a few of them at the table in the corner.”

As she made her way through the crowd to the last table against the wall, nobody turned to look at her. There was a time when she could command an entire room with her presence.

Two witches and a ghoul were sitting at the table. She recognized the two witches from the long-ago, but she didn’t know the ghoul.

“And who might you be?” one the witches, the one known as Hildegard, asked.

“Why, it’s Mignonette,” she said. “Your old friend.”

“I don’t remember anybody by the name of Mignonette,” Hildegard said stubbornly.

“Why, of course you remember her!” the other witch said. (Her name was Carlotta.) “There was the time that Mignonette was the toast of the town.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now,” Hildegard said. “She tried to kill me once.”

“Only once?” the ghoul asked, standing to hold the chair out for Mignonette as she sat down.

He was Erich, a holdover from the Third Reich. (People always wanted to hear the stories about his association with Herr Hitler.) He wore a top hat and pince nez. With his long, emaciated body, skin the color of ivory and black circles around his eyes, he was every inch the ghoul.

“I’m so happy to make your acquaintance, mademoiselle,” he said in his smooth continental accent, taking Mignonette’s hand in his own and kissing it.

“Likewise, I’m sure,” Mignonette said.

He motioned for the waiter and ordered a round of witches’ brew.

“So, I’m wondering where all our old friends are this evening,” Mignonette said. “Ethelbert, Lulu, Patsy, Lucille, Laverne and the others.”

“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Carlotta asked.

“Heard what?”

“Lucille and Patsy are dead. Ethelbert got married and went back to the Old Country. Lulu’s in a hospital for the criminally insane and, last I heard, Laverne was in jail for something or other.”

“So, it’s just the two of you left in our little coven?” Mignonette asked.

“I’m afraid so.”

“There are lots of new young witches coming along,” Carlotta said, ever the optimist. “I’m thinking we can recruit some of them to join us in our crusade of evil.”

At the mention of young witches, they all turned to look at the crowd that was hemming them in against the wall. The young witches were nothing like the older generation, which included Mignonette, Carlotta and Hildegard. They were sleek and didn’t go in for scary ugliness as the older generation had done. They had done away with the long black dresses, pointed hats, green skin, facial hair, and warts. Some of them didn’t even look like witches. They seemed to be more interested in flaunting their assets than in casting spells and riding around on broomsticks.

“I’m afraid things have changed,” Hildegard said.

“The old ways are still the best,” Mignonette said. “We can still have fun doing what we always did.”

“My motto exactly!” Erich said.

“It’s the one night in the year that witches should be having a good time.”

“Yes, yes, that’s so true,” Hildegard said.

“You’re not going to sit here all evening and drink witches’ brew, are you?”

“Well,” Carlotta said, “Hildegard and I were thinking about kidnapping a couple of teenagers from lovers’ lane and scaring the hell out of them. Make them think we’re going to kill them and then let them go at the last minute.”

“We’ve done all that,” Mignonette said. “Time and again. Maybe it’s time of think of other things to do.”

“Like what?”

“May I make a suggestion?” Erich asked. “Forget your teenagers. Some friends of mine, fellow ghouls, are getting up a party in the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost for around midnight. It’ll be a lot of fun. Skeletons dancing around a fire and that sort of thing. I’d be happy for the three of you lady witches to accompany me. And you won’t have to fly on your broomsticks. I have my car outside.”

“Can you imagine three witches and a ghoul in a car on Halloween night?” Carlotta said. “What do we do if a policeman stops us?”

“You either turn him into a toad or we tell him we’re on our way to a costume ball,” Erich said.

“It really isn’t any of his business,” Hildegard said.

“You three run along,” Mignonette said. “I don’t think I’ll come along.”

“Why not?” Carlotta asked.

“I think my time as a witch has passed. Do you know that I haven’t even left my castle since last Halloween night? My black cat, Lucifer, didn’t feel like coming with me tonight. It just isn’t the same without him.”

“Oh, I haven’t had a black cat for years,” Hildegard said.

“I have another suggestion,” Erich said. “The two of you run along and I’ll stay here with Mignonette. I’ll even lend you my car. You know how to drive, I trust?”

“Well, I like that!” Hildegard said. “She’s still doing it, after all these years! Stealing away all the men!”

“I’m not stealing away anybody,” Mignonette said.

“It’s parked just down the street,” Erich said. “You can’t miss it. It’s a 1932 Cadillac V16 Fleetwood sedan. The keys are in the ignition.”

“Let’s go,” Carlotta said. “I haven’t been to a cemetery party in years. We’ll have the pick of the men there.”

After Hildegard and Carlotta were gone, Erich ordered more drinks and moved his chair over as close to Mignonette as he could get. He put his arm around her waist and whispered in her ear.

“My place is very cozy,” he said. “I have embalming fluid.”

“Why me?” she asked. “I’m just as old and ugly as they are.”

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re different.”

“I’m not.”

“Wouldn’t you like to see my collection of Nazi memorabilia?”

“If I go with you, will you tell me all about Herr Hitler?”

“Would you be surprised if I told you I have his body in a trunk in my bedroom?”

“What for?”

“We’re going to try to bring him back to life.”

“Who is?”

“Come along with me and you can meet them.”

She blushed and pulled the brim of her hat down farther so her eyes were hidden. He stood up and took her by the hand.

She hadn’t had a passenger behind her on her broomstick for many years, especially a man. As he leaned forward and put him arms around her waist, she felt a quickening in her blood that she thought was long dead. He was a gentleman, she could see, and a Nazi gentleman at that. It was turning out to be a very fine evening after all.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween tree

All Hallow’s Eve ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This is a re-post on my website.)

Farnsworth ate the liver and onions without tasting. When his mother was satisfied he had eaten enough, she let him go. He ran upstairs and put on his costume.

He was a ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he would try to dig up something different; more than two years as the same thing was boring.

The false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but he didn’t care. It was his spit. He put it on and checked himself in the mirror. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.

Mother was in the living room and heard him come down the stairs.

“Come here, Farnie,” she said, “and let me look at you.”

He stepped reluctantly into the living room.

“You be careful now, won’t you?” she said.

“We’ve already been all through that!” he said.

“Just a couple of years ago you wanted me to take you around trick-or-treating in the car. What was wrong with that?”

“Nobody does that anymore.”

“Who are you going with?”

“I already told you. Some friends from school.”

“What are their names?”

“Charlie, Eric, and Stan.”

“I’m going to call their parents and speak to them.”

“Please don’t do that!”

“As young as you are, you need adult supervision.”

“I think Charlie’s older sister is coming along.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know but she’s in high school.”

“That’s not exactly an adult.”

“We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

“Be home by nine-thirty. Ten at the latest. You have school tomorrow.”

“No, I don’t,” he said as he went out the door. “Tomorrow is Saturday.”

He was glad to finally be out of the house. He breathed deeply of the cool air that smelled of the fallen leaves and began running. Trick-or-treaters were already in his neighborhood in twos and threes, even though it wasn’t all-the-way dark yet. The littlest kids were accompanied by their mothers.

He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Charlie the Long Ranger. Charlie’s sister, Oda May, was smoking a cigarette. She wore a tight tweed skirt that came to below her knees and a boy’s jacket. In her hand was a gorilla mask.

“You had that same stupid ghost costume last year,” Eric said.

“So what?” Farnsworth said.

“Let’s get going,” Charlie said. “All the good candy will be gone.”

Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.

A few of the houses were dark, meaning stay away, but most were brightly lit. Oda May was the leader of the little group. She chose the houses and rang the doorbells or knocked as fitted the occasion. When people opened their doors and saw her in her gorilla mask and tight skirt, as tall as a grown woman, they looked alarmed and readily forked over the candy. After an hour or so on the same street, their bags were getting heavy.

“And that’s how it’s done,” Oda May said as she sat down on the curb, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.

“Where to now?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t know about you punks,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”

“What about us?” Stan asked.

“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”

“It’s all right,” Charlie said. “We don’t need her.”

“And don’t you dare follow me!” she said, and then she was gone, carrying her bag of candy.

“Leave the mask on!” Charlie called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”

“What will she do with all that candy?” Farnsworth asked.

“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”

“Who is her boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”

“He’s a criminal, I think,” Charlie said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. I think he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”

“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.

“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Charlie said, passing them around and lighting them.

Farnsworth took a puff and began coughing, causing the others to laugh.

“I’ll bet you haven’t ever smoked before, have you?” Charlie said.

“I’ve smoked plenty!” Farnsworth said.

“It tastes terrible!” Stan said, taking the smoke into his mouth and blowing it out.

“Why do people like doing that?” Eric asked. He threw his cigarette down and spit on the ground.

“Oh, you big babies!” Charlie said. “I like to smoke! I inhale it all the way down into my lungs. Tastes so good! So smooth!”

“My mother says smoking is bad for you,” Farnsworth says. “She used to smoke but she quit.”

“Are you always going to listen to what she says? They’re always going to be telling you not to do things you want to do!”

“Why are we just standing here?” Eric said. “Let’s get going before all the candy is gone.”

They went into a neighborhood they didn’t know. After a couple of houses, a gang of older kids began chasing them to steal their candy, so they ran down an alley to get away. When they came out the other end they were almost downtown, so they kept going in that direction.

“This is just like The Wizard of Oz,” Stan said, “with the Wicked Witch after us.”

“This is nothing like The Wizard of Oz,” Farnsworth said.

They stopped at a delicatessen, where an old man ran them out with a broom as soon as they walked through the door.

“Ain’t givin’ away no candy here,” he said. “If you want to buy something, then buy. Otherwise don’t come in here in no spook disguises.”

“How’s that for hospitality?” Charlie said.

“Let’s play a trick on him,” Stan said. “It’s ‘trick or treat,’ remember?”

They were going to throw a brick through the front window, but no bricks were available, so they put chewing gum on the back side of the door handle and ran down the street giggling.

They had better luck at a tavern. A large man in an apron was standing outside the door, handing out candy from a plastic pumpkin.

“Yous kids need to be home in bed,” he said, as he threw handfuls of candy into their bags.

At a bakery a woman gave them day-old cupcakes, which they ate on the spot. A girl at a music store gave them each a miniature harmonica wrapped in plastic. Somebody at a fruit market gave them apples. They weren’t so quick to eat the apples but stowed them away in their bags.

“You have to check for razor blades before you eat them,” Charlie said knowingly, but the others didn’t know what he was talking about.

They came to a bright oasis of light that was a movie theatre. A crowd was milling about, waiting for the next feature to begin.

“Do you see what I see?” Charlie said.

Standing in line at the ticket booth was a person not to be missed, a woman wearing a gorilla mask and a tight tweed skirt. It was Oda May and she wasn’t alone, either.

“She’s got a kid with her,” Stan said.

“That’s no kid,” Farnsworth said.

“Oh, my god!” Charlie said.

They could see clearly that the person accompanying Oda May wasn’t a child but a fully grown man of a child’s size. He was dressed in a cowboy costume, including large white hat, chaps, boots, spurs, and guns and holsters. Oda May was leaning over to him with her hand on his shoulder.

“Her boyfriend is a tiny cowboy?” Eric said.

“It’s a midget,” Charlie said. “She’s dating a midget. And he must be thirty years old. I am definitely going to tell on her now.”

When it was Oda May and the midget’s turn at the ticket booth, Oda May went around behind him, put her arms around his waist and lifted him up. After he had paid for the tickets and had them in his hand, she set him back on the ground and the two of them went into the theatre, seemingly oblivious to all else except each other.

“Now I’ve seen everything,” Charlie said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Let’s go,” Eric said. “We’ve spent enough time here. If we’re going to do any more trick-or-treating, let’s do it before all the candy is gone.”

It was starting to rain and Stan figured it was about time to go home, so they worked their way over to his house, stopping to trick-or-treat at all the houses that still had their porch lights on.

Now, the interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Charlie said.

“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.

“Stan’s right,” Farnsworth said. “I should be getting home, too.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Charlie said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”

“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”

They were delighted to discover that Stan’s parents were out for the evening and they had the house to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done and then the adjoining room with its cabinets full of jars and bottles where the bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour, though, was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up for display. After removing their shoes, they were each allowed to lie in a casket with the lid closed to see how it felt. They were all subdued afterwards.

“I’m going to be cremated,” Charlie said. “That’s the best way.”

“I’m not ever going to die,” Eric said. “It’s too awful.”

“It’s only awful for living people,” Stan said. “Dead people don’t know anything that’s going on.”

“I need to get home,” Farnsworth said. “It’s after ten o’clock.”

He walked part of the way home with Charlie and Eric, but they left him and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy, his treasure, in his arms because it was so heavy and the bottom was a little soggy and might easily break through. He was a little afraid that the older kids would jump out at him and try to rob him, but he encountered no one. Everybody seemed to have gone home.

His mother was waiting for him at the door in her bathrobe. “Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Now I can breathe easy. My baby is home.”

Without saying anything else, he took his bag of candy and went upstairs and locked himself in the bathroom and weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first with the candy and then without. He weighed eleven pounds more with the candy. It was the best Halloween ever.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp 

Without Sin

Without Sin image x

Without Sin ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Paranormal Horror Anthology and is a re-post on my website.) 

The service ended. All the mourners departed, and the caretaker, whose name was Lemon, was left alone. He stood beside the open grave, his hands in his pockets, looking off into the distance. He was waiting for the two grave diggers to come and finish the job.

He approached the coffin. The lid had not yet been secured; he lifted it and looked inside. The deceased was a woman with artificial-looking red hair, about fifty years old. He wondered, as he always did, what had taken her. She looked healthy enough. He had heard of many suicides—something inexplicable in the air, perhaps, that made people melancholy and want to do away with themselves. Maybe she was one of those.

She was wearing a necklace with one fairly large red stone, apparently a ruby, and several smaller ones. It could be a real ruby or it could be colored glass. Her family looked prosperous enough. They wouldn’t want her to go to her eternal glory wearing fake stones. She was also wearing a wedding ring with a medium-sized diamond and some smallish earrings, no doubt worth a lot of money. He shook his head in amazement, as he had many times before, at the foolishness of people. Burying precious jewelry forever in the ground where it will never do anybody any good.

He heard someone coming and closed the lid. He looked up and saw the two gravediggers coming toward him. Drexel was the older of the two and out in front. He walked with a swagger wherever he was, even when no one was around. He thought he was cock of the walk and wasn’t bothered one bit that he displaced dirt and buried dead people for a living. The profession, for him, had certain advantages. He had few rules and could always do the job no matter how drunk he was.

The other gravedigger was as much a boy as a man. His name was Lanier. He lived with his mother in town. People believed him simple-minded but he was a good worker and never complained or caused trouble. He was happy to work as a gravedigger and looked up to Drexel, who was his third or fourth cousin. The two of them got along well because Drexel didn’t mistreat Lanier and Lanier always did as he was told without question.

“Where the hell have you been?” Lemon asked.

“Around,” Drexel said. “We’re here now.”

“I could have you fired in a flash for not being here when you’re supposed to be.”

“Well, we’re here now,” Lanier said in the cheeky tone he used only when he was backing up Drexel.

“What have we got here?” Drexel asked, pointing toward the coffin.

“A good lady, waiting for you to send her off to her eternal slumber,” Lemon said.

Drexel raised the lid and looked inside. “Looks like she’s already started on that,” he said with a little laugh.

Lanier looked away when the lid was opened. He didn’t like looking at dead people.

“That’s a ruby necklace she’s wearing around her neck,” Drexel said. “Must be worth something, if I know my jewelry.”

“Not this time,” Lemon said.

“What do you mean ‘not this time’?”

“I mean the good lady keeps her jewelry.”

“How is it that you get to say? You’re not the only one here.”

“Every living thing on earth is part of a hierarchy,” Lemon said.

“Part of a what?”

“In the hierarchy of things, the caretaker of the cemetery is above the gravedigger in all matters.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“Nevertheless, it seems this woman is a distant relative of my mother’s. I don’t want to defile her person at a time when she is most unable to prevent it.”

“You haven’t got a mother.”

 “Very well, then. We’ll let a coin toss decide the matter.” He reached into his pocket and took out a coin. “Call it,” he said.

“Tails,” Drexel said.

“Very well. If the coin lands on its tail, we take the goods, bury the lady, and nobody is any the wiser. If, however, the coin lands on its head, the lady goes to her eternal slumber fully equipped.”

He flipped the coin into the air and made no attempt to catch it when it came down. It landed at his feet.

“Hah!” Drexel said. “It’s tails! I want the ruby necklace. I have a dear friend that it would look very good on.”

“I saw it first!” Lemon said. “The necklace is mine. And I’m not so stupid as to give it to somebody who might wear it in public and have it recognized.”

“Oh, and what are you going to do with it?”

“I’ll sell it to the acquaintance of mine in the faraway city who pays a good price and doesn’t ask questions, as with the other stuff. You see, there’s a way to remount a stone like that so the lady herself would never recognize it.”

“Says you!”

“A worthy rejoinder, if I ever heard one!”

“You talk like a damn fool. Let’s get the goods before somebody comes and get the old dame in the ground and get it over with.”

Lemon opened the coffin again and took hold of the necklace and gave it a tug. He couldn’t see how to get it off and didn’t want to break it, so he slipped it off over the dead woman’s head. Once he had the necklace in his hands, he held it up to his own neck, waggled his hips and took a few mincing steps.

“Oh, what a lovely girl!” Drexel said with a sneer.

Lanier had turned his back on Drexel and Lemon and didn’t want to think about what they were doing. He knew they were doing something bad and he wanted no part of it, although he did nothing to stop it.

“I’m going over there,” he said and walked quickly away out of sight.

“That boy is without sin,” Lemon said, “rather like those three little monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

Drexel removed the woman’s wedding ring with a devilish chortle and put it in his pocket. When he tried to remove the earrings, though, he couldn’t see how to get them off.

“There’s a little thing in back that releases them,” Lemon said.

He helped Drexel turn the woman partway over so they could see the backs of her ears. She was as stiff as a pillar of salt and didn’t bend at the joints.

“She’s really truly dead,” Lemon said.

“I think I hear someone coming,” Drexel said.

He let the woman fall back into place and took out the pruning shears. He cut off the woman’s earlobes neatly and wrapped them, earrings and all, in a rag and put it in his pocket along with the wedding ring.

“The good woman will arrive at the gates of heaven with her earlobes missing,” Lemon said. “St. Peter will take one look at her and believe she has met with an accident.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Drexel said. “When you’re dead, nothing matters.”

“Nevertheless, she shall be welcomed with open arms!”

Drexel whistled for Lanier to come back and began to secure the lid of the coffin.

“One moment!” Lemon said. “I wish to bid the good lady the fond farewell that she so richly deserves.”

He bent over and kissed the dead woman full on the lips. Drexel did the same and, not to be outdone, licked her lips and squeezed her breast.

“Ah-ah-ah!” Lemon said. “There’ll be no necrophilia in my presence.”

“As if you yourself don’t engage in the practice every chance you get!”

Lanier returned and they secured the lid and lowered the coffin into the grave. Before they were finished replacing all the dirt, another service began in another part of the cemetery. They tidied up the gravesite, cleared away their tools and left unnoticed.

Two days later Lemon and Drexel were both dead.

When Lemon failed to appear to perform his duties as caretaker, the cemetery owner and his assistant went looking for him, expecting to find him in a drunken stupor. Instead they found him in the caretaker’s cottage, lying on the bed in full woman’s rigging, including dress, stockings, shoes and curly red wig. Around his neck was the ruby necklace he filched from the dead woman. They thought to revive him but on closer inspection discovered he had been dead long enough to stiffen. His tongue was swollen out if his mouth and his eyes and ears were seeping old blood.

As for Drexel, an old farmer saw him standing in the middle of an empty field with his arms outraised. When the farmer went to him to find out who he was and what he was doing, Drexel was babbling and insensate. While the farmer was asking Drexel useless questions, he fell dead at the farmer’s feet. The farmer looked through Drexel’s clothing to try to find some clue to his identity and discovered the handkerchief containing the earlobes with the diamond earrings attached and the wedding ring.

The woman with the ruby necklace had sickened and died with alarming suddenness. Her doctors didn’t know how to treat her illness because they didn’t know what the illness was. How or where she contracted it was never known. It was obviously an illness that came about through contact with one infected, rather than through the air. Had the lady led a secret life of some kind?

Lanier never touched the woman or her jewelry, so he escaped the illness. His mother forced him to abandon his profession as grave digger, however, as she suspected that Lemon’s and Drexel’s deaths had something or other to do with acts they performed on a dead body when nobody was around. The thought sickened her.

When Lanier was asked what Lemon and Drexel were doing on that last day in the cemetery that might have made them sick, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled his benign smile. They were always doing and saying things that didn’t interest him, he said. He was in another part of the cemetery tending to some flowers he had planted, minding his own business while other people minded theirs.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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