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Thank You for Choosing Alien Abduction

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Thank You for Choosing Alien Abduction ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“State prison death house. Mullendorfer speaking.”

“Hello there. My husband is supposed to be electrocuted at midnight tonight and I wanted to know if there’s been a stay or if the governor has granted a last-minute commutation.”


“Cherry Wiley.”

“Your husband’s name is Cherry?”

“No, I thought you meant my name. My husband’s name is Clement Wiley.”

“Hold on a minute. I’ll check and see if any new information has come down on that.”

“Thank you.”

“It looks like, um…”


“It looks like, um, Clement Wiley has opted for alien abduction.”

“Oh, he didn’t tell me that!”

“About eleven-thirty he’ll be taken up to the roof and at midnight they’ll pick him up.”

“I wish I could be there to see it.”

“No witnesses are allowed. There’s really nothing to see, anyway. The alien spacecraft doesn’t come close enough to see it. They send a beam of light down and pull the condemned man up through it. Don’t ask me how it works.”

“What will they do to him?”

“That’s something we never know. The only thing the aliens promise is that the condemned will be treated humanely.”

“Well, I guess it’s better than frying in the electric chair, isn’t it?”

“Some people think so. It’s a matter of taste, I guess.”

“If it was you, would you choose death in the electric chair or alien abduction?”

“Between you and me. I mean, completely off the record, I think I’d take the electric chair. It’s just too uncertain what they do to humans on an alien planet. They might cook them and eat them. They might use them as laboratory animals. Who knows? They might treat them like kings.”

“Do you know what planet he’ll be on?”

“No, I don’t. If I could pronounce the name, I wouldn’t remember it for five seconds. All I know is that it’s not in this solar system.”

“Since he’s not being electrocuted, I guess there’s a chance that I might see him again someday.”

“I think the chances of that happening are very slim, ma’am. The planet is very, very far away. Even if he’s alive out there somewhere, I think you should probably give up all hope of ever having any contact with him again.”

“He’s always been a rat and a no-good skunk and now he’s a murderer, but I love him in spite of all that. He has his good qualities. He’s a human being, too, you know.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Maybe someday in fifty or sixty years, if I live that long, I’ll look up and see him coming toward me on the street and he’ll look just the same as he does now.”

“I guess you might say that anything is possible, ma’am.”

“I don’t suppose you could bring him to the phone and let me tell him goodbye, could you?”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am. That’s against regulations.”

“Of course. You have your regulations.”

“The time for goodbyes is past.”

“You know what? You sound like a really nice person. Kind of sympathetic, like. Not just an unfeeling machine. I’m glad I got you instead of some jerk.”

“I’m the only one here right now, so it’s me or nobody.”

“Well, I’ll be crying myself to sleep tonight, thinking about all the good times my little Clemmie and I had before he went to prison. I hope he has a real nice life on that planet where he’s going. I hope he’ll be with good people where he’ll be treated decent and given a fair shake.”

‘Yes, ma’am.”

“He’s had a hard life here. Since the day he was born. I don’t blame him for choosing alien abduction. Maybe he’ll have it better there than he’s ever had it here.”

“There’s always that chance, I guess, ma’am.”

“Maybe he’ll find a way to get a message to me to let me know how he’s getting along there.”

“It can’t hurt to hope, ma’am.”

“I’ll bet you’ve got a sweet wife, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”


“A boy and a girl.”

“Well, you give them a big hug and a kiss for me, will you?”

“I’ll do that.”

“Before they take Clement tonight, tell him I’m thinking about him. Every night of my life I’ll go outside and when I look at the stars I’ll see him. I know that someday we’ll be together again in the life that comes after this one.”

“All right, ma’am. I’ll tell him.”

“You won’t forget?”

“No, I won’t forget.”

“Well, good night, then. And thank you ever so much for your kindness.”

“Not at all, ma’am. And you have a really pleasant night now. Goodbye.”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Go Home and Forget About Me

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Go Home and Forget About Me ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Nothing so jarring as the ringing of the phone at midnight. Fitzie Garston reached for it before she was fully awake and overturned the lamp and knocked her glasses to the floor where they dodged handily underneath the chest of drawers. She would have to get the yardstick to fish them out.

“Yes!” she said when she had managed to get the receiver over her ear, a little too loud and too eager.

“Mother?” a faraway voice said.


“Nobody calls me that anymore.”

“Who is this?” she asked. “Do you know what time it is?”

“I go by the name Lewis now.”


“I know you were asleep and I’m sorry to startle you this way but I need your help.”

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m downtown. Right here in the city.”

“Well, why don’t you come home, then, and…”

“I can’t come home. That’s the problem.”

“What problem?”

“I can’t explain fully now, but I’m being held prisoner in a way.”

“Who’s holding you prisoner?”

“They’re not exactly holding me prisoner, but they’re keeping me here until they get something I have.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a package that I left at your house one day when I stopped by and you were gone.”

“You mean you were here when I was out and I didn’t even know it?”

“I still have the key, mother. Remember?”

“Oh, yes. The key.”

“Are you listening to me? Are you hearing what I’m saying?”


“After we hang up, go into my old room. Go to my old beat-up desk and open the bottom drawer on the right. Have you got that?”

“Bottom drawer on the right.”

“Underneath some old books and things in the drawer is a small, square package wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. I need you to bring it to me as soon as you can.”

“Do you mean now? Tonight?”

“I’m really sorry to have to ask you to do this, but I’m afraid there’s no other way.”

“What’s in the package?”

“I can’t tell you now, except to say that it’s terribly important.”

“I think I should call the police.”

“No! Don’t do that! That’s the worst thing you could do right now.”


“You don’t want to know. Just believe me when I say it’s better not to get the police involved.”

“You’re in some kind of trouble, aren’t you?”

“Brilliant deduction, mother.”

“I wish your father were here. He would know what to do.”

“Get dressed, get the package out of the drawer in my room and  bring it to me. After this is all over, we’ll have a nice visit and I’ll explain the whole thing.”

“All right, Lloyd.”

“My name is Lewis now. Try to remember that. And don’t drive your car down here.”

“Why not?”

“It can be traced and, besides, you’re not familiar with the streets in this part of the city and you’ll get lost. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

“I could take the bus.”

“Buses stop running at midnight. I think the only thing for you to do is to call a cab. That’s better than the bus anyway, isn’t it? More comfortable?”

“I suppose so.”

“You won’t fail me now, will you?”

“No, I’ll do what you ask. It’s just that…”

“Just what?”

“I don’t like going out by myself this time of night.”

“Don’t be a goose, mother. The cab driver will be with you the whole time. Just tell him to bring you to the Imperial Hotel at the corner of Ninth and Dominion. Will you remember that?”

“Ninth and Dominion.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s the slums, isn’t it? The poor part of the city they used to call Skid Row?”

“You’ll be fine mother, believe me. You’ll be back home in less than an hour and back in bed. I’ll come around tomorrow and we’ll talk the whole thing over.”

“All right.”

“Now when you get to the hotel, come up the stairs to room three-twelve. I don’t think the night clerk will give you any trouble, but if he does tell him you’re delivering a package.”

“Dominion Hotel, Ninth and Imperial, room three-twelve.”

“No, mother! The Imperial Hotel at Ninth and Dominion! Go get a pencil and some paper and write it down.”

“I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember.”

“Are you sure?”


“And don’t let yourself be distracted. I’m counting on you.”

When she hung up the phone, she kept repeating the words I’m counting on you over and over in her head. He had counted on her so many times before and she had always come through for him, but wasn’t it terribly unfair that she had never been able to count on him for anything?

He had always been a difficult boy. Always in some trouble or other. Not like anybody else in the family. Suspensions from school for fighting and stealing. Finished high school in juvenile detention. After school, in and out of jail. His mother and father didn’t know what to do with him. He blamed her for Lloyd being the way he was; she coddled him too much, he claimed. She had two children die before Lloyd was born. When Lloyd came along, she wanted to make sure he had every advantage that a mother could give him. She wanted the world to love him as much as she did. She spoiled him, gave him money, always bought him anything in the world he wanted, put him above every other consideration. And what good did any of it do? She was a failure as a mother. In her more despairing moments, she believed she would have been better off if he had died, too. Still, though, she was his mother, and she would do whatever she needed to do to help him.

In the long intervals that she didn’t hear from Lloyd, she subscribed to the no-news-is-good-news theory. He would be all right, she said. He just needed to grow up, and when he did he would be the kind of son she always wanted him to be. He would come back home and live with her. She would cook and clean for him and make his life as comfortable and secure as she knew how. And when it was time for her to leave the world he would be there to see to things, to call up the funeral home, to mourn for her and to see that she was placed in the grave alongside his father. And on the other side of her grave was a grave waiting for him to claim as his own when the time came, if only he wanted it.

After dressing herself in dark-colored, going-downtown-after-midnight clothing, she went into Lloyd’s room and retrieved the package from the desk drawer. She placed it in a brown canvas book bag to make it easier to carry and went downstairs and called a cab, which arrived in less than five minutes.

Sitting in the back seat of the cab, she paid little attention to the labyrinth of dark streets, and in a few minutes the cab pulled up in front of the Imperial Hotel at Ninth and Dominion. She paid the driver and got out and the cab sped away. As easy as if she did it all the time.

The lobby of the hotel was deserted. She slipped past the desk clerk, who seemed not to notice her, and went silently up the stairs to the third floor. She found room three-twelve and knocked.

“Who is it?” a voice called from behind the door.

“Is Lloyd Garston here?” she said.


“His name is Lloyd but he goes by the name Lewis.”

The door opened suddenly with a creak of hinges, startling her. A man whose face she could barely see in the dim light faced her. “Who did you say you’re looking for?” he asked.

“His name is Lloyd but he says he goes by the name of Lewis now.”

“It’s her,” the man said over his shoulder to someone else in the room.

“Let her in,” a deep voice said.

She found herself in a shabbily neat room with two large beds and two windows. One of the windows was open, a curtain billowing in the wind. Over to the right was a round table with chairs. A man sat alone at the table smoking a cigarette. He was middle-aged, balding, a small moustache.

“Come in,” he said, motioning for her to sit at the table.

“Is Lloyd here?” she asked.

“I don’t know no Lloyd,” he said.

“Lewis, then. Is Lewis here?”

“Well, he’s on the premises, but he ain’t in the room, as you can see.”

“I’m his mother. I have a package that he says is very important to him.”

“Do you know what’s in the package?”


“What if I was to tell you there’s nothing in the package but some useless papers?”

“I don’t understand.”

He laughed and stubbed out his cigarette, lit another one. “Would you like a drink?” he asked.

“I’d like a drink of water,” she said.

“Get the lady a glass of water,” he said to the man who had opened the door. “And make sure the glass is clean!”

When he brought her the water, she sat in the chair at the table and took a long time drinking it, stalling somehow, as if she might put off something terrible that she believed was going to happen.

“I want to see him,” she said.

“Not so fast!” the man at the table said. “You’ll see him. You just have to be patient.”

“I brought the package that he says he has to have and I want to give it to him myself.”

“All right. All right.”

He went to a phone between the two beds and picked up the receiver. “Bring him down,” he said.

In a couple of minutes the door opened and Lewis came into the room, accompanied by a very young man with a gun. Lewis’s hands were tied, but the young man untied them, keeping the gun in view all the time.

“Hello, mother,” Lewis said.

“Lloyd!” she said, standing up and taking a step toward him. “What is this all about?”

“I’m sorry to drag you into this,” Lewis said, “but I had no other choice.”

“You look terrible.”

“I know. I’ve been through a bad time.”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“This bum owes me a bundle of money is what’s the matter,” the man at the table said with a smile.

“Why do you own him money?” she asked Lewis.

“It seems that our little friend was bitten by the gambling bug and his luck hasn’t been so very good lately.”


“Yeah, you know. Cards and dog racing and stuff like that.”

“Oh, Lloyd!” she said. “Is there any vice you haven’t been lured into?”

“My name is Lewis now. I told you that on the phone. I never liked the name Lloyd. It never did fit me.”

She took the package out of the bag and set it on the table. “I brought you this,” she said. “I hope it’s what you need to get yourself out of the trouble you’re in.”

“Thanks, mother, but I’m afraid it’s just a prop.”

“A prop? What do you mean?”

“The package isn’t anything. It was just an excuse to get you to come down here.”

“Why did you need an excuse?”

“It was my idea,” the man at the table said. “What mother wouldn’t come to the aid of her child? Calling after midnight, when you know the old lady is sure to be asleep, was just a little extra touch to make it more dramatic, if you know what I mean.”

She sat back down in the chair, beginning to see the picture. “How much?” she asked.

“Altogether about a hundred and ten thousand,” the man at the table said. “It’s really more than that, but I’m giving the kid a break since me and him are such great pals.”

“We were never pals,” Lewis said with a sneer.

“You expect me to pay the money,” she said.

“Lewis said he was sure you had the dough and would pay it willingly to save his life.”

“I’m sorry, mother,” Lewis said. “There was just no other place I could look to for that kind of money.”

“What if I don’t pay it?” she asked.

“Then this is the last time you see your son.”

“You kill people over a hundred and ten thousand dollars?”

“When it’s that much we do. If it was less—say a few thousand—we’d just rough him up, maybe break a couple of bones, and throw him in a ditch.”

“I’m going to the police.”

“And it wouldn’t do you a bit of good.”

“What if he gave you part of the money now and the rest later?”

“I’ve already tried that, mother,” Lewis said.

“We don’t work that way,” the man at the table said. “We get all of our money that’s owed to us and we get it all in one lump.”

“That seems terribly unfair.”

“We’ll give you a couple of days to raise the money. We’re not animals. Mortgage your house or do whatever you have to do. And in the meantime we’ll keep Lewis here with us where he’s safe.”

“I don’t want you to do it, mother,” Lewis said.


“I know I’ve been nothing but trouble all my life and I don’t want to go on this way. I don’t mind dying. I deserve it.”

“I’ll pay it,” she said.

“I knew you would,” the man at the table said, “or I don’t know nothing about human nature.”

“Please don’t pay it, mother!” Lewis said. “Just get yourself a cab and go home and forget about me!”

“I’ll have the money for you within forty-eight ours,” she said to the man at the table. “Just tell me where you want it delivered.”

“No!” Lewis said.

He grabbed the gun that the young man was holding and pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger. The concussion knocked him over against the wall.

The man at the table stood up, knocking over the chair he was sitting in, and ran out of the room as though escaping a fire. The other two men, the man who had opened the door and the young man with the gun, ran out after him. The young man first picked up the gun where it had landed after Lewis shot himself.

She was alone in the room with her son. She knelt beside him and cradled his head in her arms, not minding the blood.

“I’m glad,” he said. “This is the best thing that could happen.”

“Don’t try to talk, Lloyd” she said. “An ambulance will be here in no time and you’ll be all right.”

“No, no, no,” he said. “Not Lloyd. Lewis. I need you to remember that.”

“What’s money compared to your own child?” she said, but she knew he had stopped breathing and didn’t hear.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp


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Schizophrenia ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

The hallway was a gray tunnel with a black-and-white tiled floor. The boy kept his eyes on the window at the end to keep from having to look into any of the rooms as he passed them. When he and his father came to the last room on the left, his father pushed open the partly closed door and they went inside.

He hardly recognized his mother. Her hair was flat and dirty-looking, without the curl that he was used to seeing. She sat in a chair beside the bed, unmoving. Her face was very pale.

“Say hello to your mother,” his father said.

The boy stepped forward two steps. His mother moved her eyes away from a spot on the wall and looked at his face and then looked away again, as if she didn’t recognize him, or, if she did recognize him, she wasn’t interested.

“Shock treatments,” his father said. “It takes a while for it to wear off.”

“Hello, mother,” the boy said. “How have you been?”

He touched her lightly on the wrist, believing that his touch might wake her up, but she didn’t respond.

“I don’t think she knows me,” the boy said. “What should I do?”

“Don’t do anything,” his father said. “She’ll remember later that you were here.”

“Why does she have to have shock treatments?”


“I don’t like this place.”

“I don’t like it, either, but she’s where she needs to be.”

The boy sat in one of the straight-backed chairs against the wall. “Will I have schizophrenia, too, because she does?” he asked.

“I don’t see it in you the way I always saw it in her,” his father said, “but we’ll see. The first sign I see that you’re that way, I’ll have you committed.”

“When will they let her come home?”

“Maybe not for a long time yet. We’ll have to get along without her the best we can, at least for the time being.”

“Don’t you think she’d get well quicker at home?”

“How would we be able to take care of her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the doctor could stop by every now and then and see how she’s getting along.”

“Doctor’s don’t do that.”

“I think she’d be all right,” the boy said, “if she just didn’t have to sit by herself in this dark room.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” his father said, sitting down and taking a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it.

“If she would just say something to me to let me know she knows who I am,” the boy said.

“Why is that so important?”

“I don’t know. It feels funny to have your mother stare off into space and not know who you are.”

“I think it’s good for you to see her this way.”

“Why?” the boy asked.

“You need to know what things are really like. Then when she comes home and seems normal, you’ll have the picture in your mind of what she was like when she wasn’t normal, and you’ll know what to expect when it happens again.”

“Maybe it won’t happen again.”

“Maybe not, but it’s something you’ll always be thinking about.”

“I just want her to be the way she was before she got the way she is now,” the boy said.

Outside a lawn mower roared past the window. She turned toward the sound and pushed herself up out of the chair. The boy and his father watched her closely as she shuffled the few steps to the window in her old-lady booties.

“She can walk!” the boy said.

“Of course she can walk,” his father said. “There’s nothing wrong with her legs. It’s her mind that’s diseased.”

The boy went and stood beside her, to help her if need be. She watched the man outside pushing the lawn mower, first one way and then the other. When he was finished with that section of grass and went farther away where she could no longer see him, she turned toward the boy.

“I know him,” she said. “I used to go to school with him.”

The boy smiled at her and helped her back to the chair, happy that she had shown some signs of life.

“Do you want me to go get you a Coke?” he asked when she was sitting down again.

She shook her head and the boy was further encouraged.

“I think she does know who I am,” he said.

Soon visiting hours were over and the boy and his father had to leave. As they walked past the nurses’ station, two nurses were sitting there, a young one with red hair and an old one with a scowl on her face. The boy’s father stopped and leaned casually on the desk.

“Well, hello there!” the redheaded nurse said when she looked up. “How’s your wife today?”

“Just peachy,” the boy’s father said. “Is her doctor in today? I’d like to have a word with him.”

“He was here earlier,” the nurse said, “but now he’s gone. He won’t be back until tomorrow. I can leave him a note telling him you’d like to speak to him.”

“Would you?”

“Of course!”

“You know my name?”

“Yes, I believe so,” the nurse said. “It’s Mr. Dunlap, isn’t it?”

“Mr. Dunlap has a first name, you know.”

She giggled and her face turned a deeper shade of pink. “I think I know that, too,” she said. “It’s Dick.”

“Hah-hah-hah!” he laughed. “You get a gold star!”

“I’m very good at remembering names and faces,” she said.

“I suppose I should feel flattered. Your name is Miss Hull, isn’t it?”

“My friends call me Vilma.”

“That’s an unusual name, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever known a Vilma before.”

“I think my mother knew somebody once by that name.”

“Well, it’s very pretty.”

“Why, thank you!”

“Well,” he said, “visiting hours are over and I have to leave, but I’ll be seeing you again real soon.”

“Why, yes!” she said. “I’m sure to be sitting right here the next time you come in.”

“I look forward to it,” he said with his most charming smile.

On the way home, the boy asked his father, “Who was that woman?”

“What woman?” his father asked.

“That woman you were talking to.”

“How should I know? She’s a nurse.”

“Do you think she’s pretty?”

“I don’t know. I guess so. Why?”

“Her lips were really red.”

“Were they?” the boy’s father said. “I didn’t notice.”

“You seemed to like her.”

“It always pays to be friendly to people.”

“You weren’t friendly with the other nurse sitting there. The ugly one.”

“What are you saying?”

“Why were you only friendly with the pretty one?”

His father took the cigarette out of his mouth and looked at the boy. “I’m not going to be cross-examined by a twelve-year-old who doesn’t know anything!” he said.

For the rest of the day the boy gave his father the silent treatment. He refused to eat with him at the table. In the early evening he locked himself in his room, took off all his clothes except for his underwear, and examined himself in the mirror for any signs of schizophrenia.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Know the Devil by His Name

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Know the Devil by His Name ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

It was a long time ago. I was walking along a deserted country road through hills and farm country. I didn’t know where I was going or why I was going there. I didn’t know where I had been or what I had seen or known. My feet ached and my throat was dry, but I wasn’t bothered by those things. I believed that all I had to do was to keep moving forward and everything would come right with me.

Birds twittered over my head in the trees. A small brown fox came out from behind a tree and watched me pass. I heard a dog barking faintly, a long way off, but I never did see a dog or any living soul the dog might have been attached to.

Until I heard the sound of a wagon coming along behind me on the road. I heard it long before I saw it. When I finally turned around and looked over my shoulder, I saw a man in a devil costume driving a small, neat wagon pulled by one handsome brown horse. I stopped and turned toward him and he pulled up beside me.

“Where you headed?” he asked as though we were old friends.

Not knowing what to say, I just pointed in the direction in which I had been walking.

“You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” he said.

“Is that common in these parts?” I asked.

“I could use some company and I believe you could use a sit-down,” he said. “Why don’t you hop up here and ride with me, at least for a short distance, anyway?”

“Do you have any water?” I asked.

He reached behind him and produced a canteen, which he tossed at me. Liking him already, I smiled and got up beside him on the seat; he jiggled the reins to make the horse start moving again.

I drank and then drank again. “That is the best water I ever tasted,” I said.

He nodded his head and inclined his right horn toward me, which was above his right eye about three-and-a-half inches.

“Are you on your way to a costume party?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“I didn’t think you were, because it isn’t anywhere near the time of the year for Halloween, is it?”

“Time of the year don’t matter to me,” he said.

“Are you the devil?” I asked.

“I’m not the devil. I’m a devil. There are lots of us. I’ve never even seen the devil, the one we call Beelzebub. I’m not important enough.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“There are angels who do the work of the Lord. Don’t you agree?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“Well, if there are angels doing the work of the Lord, there’s also the reverse side of the coin. There are devils doing the work of Beelzebub.”

“I think I should probably have you stop the wagon and let me out right here,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Anytime I find myself in the company of a devil, it’s probably not a good thing.”

“You could do worse,” the devil said.

“I don’t know how! What’s worse than a devil?”

“You’d better hope you never find out.”

“No, if you’ll stop right here,” I said. “I think I’ll get out and walk the rest of the way.”

“If you do that, you won’t fulfill your destiny,” the devil said.

“And what is my destiny?”

“Just stay with me a little longer. I guarantee you won’t be sorry you did. If we stay on this road, we’ll come to the big city. You’ll love it. There’s everything you want in the city.”

“I don’t want to go to any city, especially with you! It’s nothing personal, but you are the devil.”

“I’m not the devil, I told you. I’m a devil.”

“It’s all the same to me.”

“There’s just one problem about the two of us going to the city,” the devil said. “We’re going to need some money to be able to have a good time there. We’ll need to buy some clothes and get a room in a fine hotel and order lavish meals from room service.”

“I don’t need money to have a good time in the city because I’m not going there!” I said.

Ignoring me, the devil pulled up in a front of a little house set back from the road prettily in a grove of trees.

“What are we stopping here for?” I asked.

“There’s an old lady that lives here,” the devil said. “She always keeps lots of money on hand. All you have to do is hit her in the head and knock her out and take her money. I’ll wait right here.”

“That is the most outrageous thing I ever heard!” I said. “I’m not knocking anybody in the head and taking their money!”

“You don’t have to kill her. Just stun her.”

“I’m not doing any such thing!”

“The devil commands you!”

“You’ll have to find somebody else to command. I won’t do it.”

“If you don’t do it, somebody else will.”

“I suppose I ought to go warn her, then,” I said.

I jumped to the ground and went up to the house and knocked on the door. In a moment a little old lady in lavender and lace came to the door. When she saw me, she smiled and beckoned me to enter.

“It’s that devil again, isn’t it?” she said with a cluck of the tongue.

“He told me to knock you in the head and take your money. I have no intention of doing it, but I wanted to warn you that if I don’t do it somebody else will.”

She surprised me by putting her hand over her mouth and giggling like a schoolgirl. I had the feeling she was laughing at me for believing what a devil would say. She picked up a canvas bag from a desk and opened it; took out a handful of fake stage money and handed it to me.

“Tell the devil that’s all the money he’ll get from me,” she said, “and a fat lot of good it’ll do him!”

“He’s not the devil,” I said. “He’s a devil. Apparently there’s a difference.”

When I went back to the wagon, the devil was examining the backs of his hands in the sunlight as if he had forgotten me. I climbed back up beside him and handed him the fake stage money.

“Humph!” he said. “I see she’s up to her old tricks.”

“You know her?” I asked.

“She’s just another old devil,” he said. “She’s been at it a lot longer than I have.”

“She certainly didn’t look like a devil,” I said. “She looked like somebody’s grandmother.”

“Another lesson learned,” he said. “You can’t always go on the way a person looks. A good-looking person can be a devil and a horrible-looking guttersnipe can be an angel.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Things are not supposed to be too easy for us,” he said. “We’re supposed to figure things out for ourselves. With me it’s different, though. I wear this devil costume so people know as soon as they look at me that I’m a devil but not the devil.”

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to hit her in the head, anyway,” I said, “even if she is a devil. I guess if I had had to hit her in the head, though, knowing she was a devil would have made it easier.”

The devil gave me a look as if he was getting tired of me already. “Inescapable logic,” he said.

He looked at the fake stage money in his hand again and tossed it into the back of the wagon.

“Well, I believe I’ll be getting out just about here,” I said. “If you’ll stop the wagon there by that little bridge.”

The devil seemed not to hear me. “We’ll have to put our two heads together and figure out somewheres else to get some money,” he said thoughtfully.  

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp

Remembering Gertrude Bines

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Remembering Gertrude Biles

Remembering Gertrude Bines ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

El-Vee had a lucrative beauty parlor on Main Street between a hardware store and a delicatessen. All day long, every day, she stood on her feet, curling, cutting and dyeing hair while listening to an endless stream of blather, innuendo, distasteful personal revelation and catty gossip from her customers. At closing time she was so tired and frazzled, so sick of the sound of the human voice, that she wanted to pull out her own hair, but she looked at all that beautiful cash in the cash drawer and that was what made it all worth the effort.

One Friday afternoon (Friday was always her busiest day), while she was just finishing up on up on Mrs. Coolidge’s hair—a foot-high confection of swirling, pink-tinged white cloud—she heard the roar of a truck outside and loud voices and, looking out the window, saw that a new business was moving in across the street. As she was to learn a few days later, when the place opened for business, it was called Gertrude’s Wig Shop. It boasted in signs in the windows its stock of wigs of all kinds, hairpieces, hats, scarves, turbans, babushkas, and other assorted headwear for women and girls.

At first she wasn’t sure how a wig shop was going to affect her beauty parlor business, or if it would affect it at all. When they put up a huge sign across the front of the wig shop that proclaimed in large red letters You Don’t Need a Beauty Parlor—You Need a Wig!, she was disconcerted, believing it was a direct shot across the bow of her ship. When she saw a full-page ad for the wig shop in the newspaper, she began to be worried. The ad read, in part: Don’t Spend Beaucoup Dollars Getting Your Hair Styled Every Week! Buy a Wig Instead that Stays Styled! Nobody Will Ever Know It’s Not Your Real Hair!

Wondering if such tactics were legal, she consulted a lawyer, a boy she had known since seventh grade named Leroy Follett.

“I can’t see there’s any harm in it,” Leroy said. “Certainly nothing for you to take legal action against. Just think of it as healthy competition.”

“What if it takes away some of my customers?”

“You have the right to do the same to them.”

“How do I do that?”

“When you find out,” Leroy said, “you let me know.”

When she began to see a falling off in her business and hence in her profits, she attributed it to curiosity. Her customers would flirt with the idea of buying a wig but then would return to their old habits of having their twigs twisted every week. Wigs were fakery, no matter how good they looked. There was nothing like one’s natural hair, even if it was brittle, ugly, thinning and unhealthy-looking. To try to lure in new customers—and retain her old ones—she hired a manicure girl and offered free manicures. Then she hired a cosmetologist to give facials and makeup tips. These two extra people ate into her profits, of course, but she believed that hiring them would prove beneficial—in the long term if not in the short term.

After a few weeks, she and her two new employees were doing a lot of sitting around doing nothing in the long gaps—sometimes two hours—between customers. She began to worry about how she was going to meet expenses for the month when she decided to go across the street to the wig shop herself, something she had vehemently avoided doing before, to see what all the excitement was about.

She winced when she saw how busy the store was and how many people were spending money. When a sales clerk came forward and asked her if she needed help, she said she needed to speak to Gertrude herself.

Gertrude was a large, broad-shouldered woman with red hair and lots of makeup. As she approached El-Vee, she wore her fixed, professional smile.  “Help you?” she asked.

“Are you Gertrude?” El-Vee asked.

“Yes. How may I help you?”

“I just want you to know you’re hurting my business.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“My name is El-Vee Persons. I own the beauty parlor across the street. You’re taking away my customers.”

“Oh, boo-hoo! And just what do you want me to do about it?”

“Move to another location.”

“Hah! Now, why would I do that. Because you want me to?”

“I could always bust you in the nose,” El-Vee said.

“I could always have you arrested for assault.”

“My brother is a career criminal with mob ties.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Not exactly, but it’s something you might want to keep in mind. You can’t destroy another person’s business and expect them to stand idly by and allow you to do it.”

That night, as El-Vee was trying to get to sleep, a thought came to her unbidden from deep in the recesses of her mind. Gertrude was somebody she had known at one time, although she couldn’t remember the last name. She got out of bed and pulled a box from the back of the closet.

She hadn’t looked at her old high school yearbook or even thought about it in a dozen or more years. She turned on the light and sat down on the couch and began thumbing through the pages. Soon she found what she was looking for: seventeen-year-old Gertrude Bines in the eleventh grade—elaborate red hairdo, self-satisfied smile and a “beauty mark” on her cheek.

It all came back to her. She and Gertrude had been rivals in high school. Rivals for homecoming queen, rivals for yearbook editor and rivals for love. (They fought over the school’s star football player who turned out to prefer members of his own gender). They both seemed to be good at the same things. If one of them could bake a lemon cake, the other could make a lemon chiffon cake. If one of them could make a party dress, the other could make an evening gown. El-Vee hated rivalry then and she hated it now. Rivalry only made life more difficult and ruined everything. In a perfect world, she thought, she would always be at the top of the heap and there’d be no such thing as rivalry. With a flick of a switch, she’d make it disappear.

She contacted her brother, Everett Persons (the one of her three brothers who flirted with gangsterhood), and asked him to meet her at a restaurant out on the highway for supper. She was buying, she said, and she had something she wanted to talk over with him.

After she explained the situation to Everett, he said, “I’m afraid she’s got you over a barrel, sis. She’s not doing anything wrong.”

“Yes, I know,” El-Vee said. “It’s just healthy competition.”

“I could have her roughed up a bit for you. Break her legs.”

“No, I don’t like that. How much to kill her?”

“You’d want a professional job. Between five and ten thousand, depending on who you got to do the deed.”

“Any other ideas?”

“We could start a little fire to put her out of business,” Everett said, “but there’s no guarantee she wouldn’t just clean up at the expense of her insurance company and reopen.”

“No, I don’t like a fire, either. It could hurt others besides her.”

“How about a little fear and intimidation? Death threats? A brick through the front window?

“I don’t know if any of that would work.”

“Well, I’ll think about it and talk to a couple of my friends and get back to you. I’d advise you to go slow with this thing. Don’t do anything you can’t undo or that you’re going to be sorry you did.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me!” El-Vee said.

“And if you decide to do the deed yourself, I’m sure I can get some of my associates to dispose of the body for you.”

One morning a few days later when El-Vee was alone in the beauty parlor before her first customer arrived, Gertrude Bines came rushing in.

“I need to speak to you,” she said.

“Sorry,” El-Vee said. “We’re all booked up. You’ll need to call for an appointment.”

“My store was broken into last night,” Gertrude said.

“What do you want me to do about it? Bust our crying?”

“They didn’t steal anything. All they did was break some things and make a mess. I believe it was some kind of warning or intimidation.”

“Did you call the police?”

“They’re there now.”

“Well, good luck with finding out who did it.”

“I think you know who did it,” Gertrude said.

“That’s silly. How would I know?”

“I think you’d do anything to get back at me.”

El-Vee laughed and began washing some brushes. “I’d like to stand here and chat all day,” she said, “but I’ve got lots of work to do. So, if you’ll excuse me?”

“I wondered if you recognized me when you came into my shop the other day,” Gertrude said. “We used to know each other in high school.”

“I didn’t give it a thought,” El-Vee said.

“I was the prettiest and most popular girl in school,” Gertrude said. “You were a distant second. Or maybe third.”

“What a memory you have. Those things don’t matter to me any more.”

“Isn’t it ironic that we should meet again all these years later after we detested each other so much when we were younger?”

“I didn’t go to college,” El-Vee said, “so I don’t know what words like ‘ironic’ mean.”

“I think you know what I’m talking about. I can see it in your body language.”

“Well, I guess I’m just not as smart as you are.”

“Why don’t you admit you’re defeated?” Gertrude said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“All your former customers are buying wigs from me. They don’t want their natural hair anymore. A wig is easier and is cheaper in the long run, too.”

“Well, to each his own.”

“Why don’t you admit your business is kaput? I have bested you once again, as I did at every turn in high school. I think you’d do better if you moved to another location.”

“I’ve been here for five years,” El-Vee said. “I have no intention of moving.”

“Even after I’ve taken away all your customers?”

El-Vee walked around behind Gertrude and began looking at the back of her hair. “You’re not wearing a wig,” she said. “You need a trim.”

“My hair is perfect,” Gertrude said.

“No, really,” El-Vee said. “You have a few little loose hairs right at the back of the neck. Sit down and I’ll take care of it for you. No charge.”

Gertrude sighed and sat in the chair. El-Vee put the cape around her shoulders and turned the chair around just so.

“You do remember me from high school, don’t you?” Gertrude asked.

“My memory is not as sharp as it should be,” El-Vee said. “When I was in the state mental hospital a few years back, I had electroshock therapy. What they call shock treatments. It removes certain memories from your mind the same as if they never existed at all. I guess you were just one of those bad memories that was just swept away.”

“We needn’t have any bad feelings,” Gertrude said.

“Needn’t we?”

“I’d like to think we were friends.”

“Why would you want to be friends with me?”

“I just don’t like ill will, is all.”

“There’s no ill will here. Anything that happened between us is forgiven and forgotten.”

“Then you do remember me?”

El-Vee snipped at the back of Gertrude’s hair. Her hand was trembling a little so she took off more than she intended. “I remember lots of people,” she said. “It’s all a mixed-up blur.”

“I want to make you a business proposition,” Gertrude said.

“Go ahead and make it,” El-Vee said.

“I’ll buy out your shop and you can come and work for me.”

“Doing what?”

“I haven’t got that far yet. We’d think of something.”

“You’d do that for me?”


“I’ve never worked for anybody else before.”

“Don’t let pride stand in your way.”

“I don’t think I could stand to work for you,” El-Vee said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t like you. I don’t like your type. I don’t like your looks. I despise everything about you. I detest everything you stand for and represent.”

Gertrude met El-Vee’s eye in the mirror. “You do remember me, then, don’t you?”

“Yes, I remember you.”

El-Vee picked up her longest, sharpest scissors and plunged them into Gertrude’s neck, severing the carotid artery. With blood gushing from her neck, Gertrude fell to the floor and flopped around like a fish out of water. She tried to pull herself up but couldn’t. She burbled blood out of her mouth until she lay still and stopped breathing.

When El-Vee was sure Gertrude was dead, she dragged her body by the ankles across the floor, opened the door to the dank cellar that was never used, and pushed her down the stairs. After cleaning up the blood the best she could, she was ready to receive her first customer of the day.

At nine o’clock that night El-Vee called her brother Everett at home. “There’s a big dead rat in my basement at the beauty parlor,” she said. “I need you to take care of it for me.”


“Can you manage it?”

“I don’t know why not.”

“Go in the back way. Nobody will see you.”

The next morning El-Vee was snipping away at an old lady’s hair when she looked up to see three men coming across the street toward her: an older man in a suit, flanked on both sides by young, uniformed police officers. She stood up straight, took a couple of deep breaths to steady herself, and went to the door to meet them. If she was kind to them and cooperative, they would have no reason to suspect she had done anything wrong.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Billie Jo, Betty Jo and Bobbie Jo

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Billy Jo, Betty Jo and Bobbie Jo image 1

Billie Jo, Betty Jo and Bobbie Jo ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

I always wanted to watch Petticoat Junction on TV and couldn’t. We only had one TV and I never got to choose what was watched, except on the rare occasions when I happened to be at home by myself. Our TV was almost always tuned to westerns, war or police dramas, or, of course, the news. Comedies were unacceptable. Anybody who wanted to watch a situation comedy had severe mental problems, or worse (especially if it had the word “petticoat” in the title). If you were a “normal” person you didn’t want to see a show that you could laugh at and talk about at school the next day. Life was just too serious for that. If you weren’t seeing men on horses shooting guns or men fighting battles with other men, you just weren’t entertained. That’s the way the cards were stacked at our house.

Anyway, Petticoat Junction was so cheery and so far removed from reality that it made you forget your problems for a while. It was set in the country (as opposed to a city or town), presumably somewhere in the United States, but what state or what part of the country it was in was never specified. (The nearest town was called Hooterville, if that helps at all.)

In this country setting was a hotel called the Shady Rest, run by an old woman named Kate. The actress Bea Benadaret played Kate. She also played the part of cousin Pearl Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies and did the voice for Wilma Flintstone. No matter which side of the fence you are on regarding Miss Benadaret, you have to admit that is quite an impressive track record for any thespian!

So, Kate the country hotel owner didn’t have a husband but had a trio of perky daughters, named, appropriately, Billie Jo, Betty Jo and Bobbie Jo. They were the reason we watched the show in the first place. They were apparently in their teens but, unlike teens in the real world, they were perfectly groomed—never a hair out of place—and were never sullen, angry or angst-ridden. They never seemed to go to school or do much of anything, but they did, however, swim in the water tank beside the train tracks, as evidenced in the show’s opening every week, slinging their petticoats over the side—hence the title Petticoat Junction.

Also part of the Shady Rest family was irascible Uncle Joe. He had a big belly and wore a bow tie and a funny hat; took a lot of naps in the rocking chair on the porch and could be counted on to say funny and inappropriate things, stimulating the laugh track more than anybody else. He was played by the gravelly voiced character actor Edgar Buchanan, who, during his movie career, was in a lot of westerns and played the helpful friend, Applejack, of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in the tearjerking movie Penny Serenade in 1941.

When Kate needed food for her guests at the hotel, she bought it from Sam Drucker, a skinny, baldheaded man who wore a garter on his sleeve and a long apron. His general store, right out of the nineteenth century, had a potbellied stove, a phone with a crank (just turn the crank and you’ll get Sarah, the telephone operator), a display of brooms for sale, and shelves of canned goods behind the counter. Sam Drucker might have been a love interest for Kate as there seemed so few eligible men around, but, on second thought, he probably wasn’t.

And then there was the train, the Cannonball, which we usually saw or heard about when the action moved outside the hotel. More often than not, the Cannonball brought interesting guests to the hotel, such as a sick child and her overly protective mother, an old beau of Kate’s from her youth, or the mean old miser who wanted to buy the Shady Rest and tear it down. The engineer and the conductor of the train were two old country gents who, like Uncle Joe, could be counted on to elicit laughter. Their names were Smiley Burnett and Rufe Davis. They weren’t very smart but we didn’t care because nobody else was smart, either.

As the sixties wore on, Petticoat Junction changed, and not for the better, either. It went from black and white to color, as did every other show on television. The actresses who played the three gals weren’t always the same. When there was a different Billy Jo, Betty Jo, or Bobbie Jo from what we were used to, I think we weren’t supposed to notice, but we did, and it was disturbing. (One of the gals, we heard later, was the girlfriend of Nat King Cole.) When Bea Benadaret became ill and died, the show tried to continue without her, but her absence was felt too much to retain the feeling it once had.

Given the popularity of Petticoat Junction, it was inevitable that there would be an offshoot. It was called Green Acres and it had the same pastoral setting and even some of the same characters as Petticoat Junction, including Sam Drucker. It was about a sophisticated New York couple who moved to the country and set themselves up on a farm. The best thing about Green Acres was Eva Gabor, the Hungarian-accented Park Avenue socialite who had to adapt herself to being a farm wife. (“Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue!”)

Eventually the kind of gentle, unsophisticated rural humor of Petticoat Junction fell out of favor with audiences and was replaced by more caustic, politically conscious offerings like All in the Family. The simple sixties passed away and became something else entirely. Would I want to go back and live the sixties over again? Not if it means I have to repeat the hellish ninth grade.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Wrath of the Grapes

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The Wrath of the Grapes

The Wrath of the Grapes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

She wore a soiled white uniform and her duty shoes were worn-down and scuffed the color of dirt. Every time she passed the mirror she stopped and examined herself, tucking her long gray hair behind an ear or checking her teeth. She swatted at the furniture with a rag in an approximation of dusting and emptied the ashtrays into a bag. She threw the loose clothing and towels into the closet and closed the door.

“I’ll put those in the laundry next time,” she said.

“Hmm?” the woman on the chaise longue said. She was dozing and had forgotten for the moment that she wasn’t alone.

“Anything else before I go?”

She opened her eyes and pulled herself partway up. She was haggard, old beyond her years. “I must get up,” she said.

“I wouldn’t get up if I was you, dearie,” the pickup woman said. “You’re wobbly on your feet.”

“Bertha Belvedere is coming to interview me for The Hollywood Beacon. They’re going to do a lavish treatment of my life in advance of my next picture.”

“If you say so.”

“Is Neville still here?”

“I ain’t seen him.”

“If you see him anywhere about, tell him I’m not to be disturbed for the next little bit.”

“I don’t think he’s here, but if I see him I’ll tell him what you said.”

“Thank you for cleaning my room. If I need you again, I’ll call.”

“You owe me fifteen bucks. I ain’t doin’ this for fun, you know.”

“We’ll settle up next time. I’m a little short right now.”

The pickup woman sighed and, with a clink of empty liquor bottles, she was gone.

The woman on the chaise longue was Nema Gerova, the famous film actress. Life hadn’t been very kind to her lately. Her last four pictures had lost money. Her kind of Old World sex appeal was worn out, passé. The public wanted jazz babies with fresh faces, youth and vitality. The studio unceremoniously canceled her contract, informing her in a five-word telegram.

Almost overnight, it seemed, she went from Monotone Studio’s brightest young star—a string of impressive money-making hits to her credit—to a drug-addled, drunken floozy with four ex-husbands and a hundred pounds of unwanted weight. The picture business had built her up to heights she never dreamed possible and then brought her crashing down to the black abyss. What an ugly, cruel world it was! A world all too willing to forget she ever existed.

She looked over to the table and felt some comfort in what she saw there. As if they had been part of the set design of one of her pictures, a nearly-full bottle of gin stood artfully beside a glass. She poured two fingers of the delectable nectar into the glass, drank it down, and poured again. When she was beginning to feel herself going into that fuzzy world of not caring or feeling, she remembered that somebody was coming. Who was it? Oh, yes,  a female journalist to talk to her about her life and her upcoming picture, The Wrath of the Grapes.

She needed to make herself more presentable. She stood up and made her way across the room to the dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror. She hardly recognized the person looking back at her. Her face was pale and puffy, her eyes merely two slits. With shaking hands, she dabbed some rouge on her cheeks and lipstick on her lips. She ran a comb through her hair and, going back to her chaise longue, had another drink, just one, to steady her nerves.

An hour passed and more. She was in the delicious gray area between waking and sleeping when she heard a tiny knock at the door.

Entrez,” she said cheerily, pulling herself upright.

The door opened and in came Bertha Belvedere, a pig-like woman of great dignity. She wore an expensive-looking suit, a fox fur piece and a black hat trimmed with feathers.

“How do you do, dear?” she said in her simpering tones.

“Bertha, darling!” Nema said. “How wonderful to see you! Please forgive me if I don’t get up.”

Bertha squeezed both of Nema’s hands in hers before seating herself on the love seat facing the chaise longue. “I’ve so been looking forward to my interview with you,” she said as she took pen and pad out of her bag.

“As have I,” Nema said. “it’s just been ages since I’ve seen you. You’re looking so well.”

“As are you, my darling!”

“And I was so thrilled when I heard your paper wanted to do an article on me and my next picture, The Wrath of the Grapes. I’m sure it will help to get word out to the dear public about what a splendid picture it is and how much they shouldn’t miss seeing it.”

“Tell me,” Bertha said, grasping the pen in her hoof-like hand, furrowing her brow. “When will the picture be released? I haven’t been able to get any definite answer yet to that question.”

“Well, we haven’t actually started on the picture yet,” Nema said, “but I’m told it will be any day now.”

“What? I understood it was just wrapping up!”

“Well, there were delays, as there usually are with these things, but we’ll get going with it real soon.”

“And do you really believe you’re right for the part of Caroline in the picture, who sacrifices her lover for the greater good?”

“I feel it right down to my bones. I was born to play the part of Lady Caroline.”

“I heard several other actresses were vying for the part.”

“That’s true but I beat out all of them.”

“And who will direct the picture?”

“We don’t actually have a director yet, but my husband, Neville Marks, will produce. He’s in negotiations in with several of the top directors, all of whom want to do the picture. It’s just a matter of ironing out the details.”

“And who will be your leading man?”

“Well, we don’t know that yet, either, but you can bet it’ll be somebody top-notch, with not only the physical presence to carry the part but also the acting experience to convey the deep emotional torment of Captain Witherspoon.”

“Can you tell me who might be in consideration for the role so I can inform my readers?”

“Well, so far as I know, there’s Herman Dare, Dalton Dixon, Matthew Robinette, and a couple of others.”

“Oh, my, but that is an impressive pool to draw from!”

“Yes, we want only the best,” Nema said, placing a cigarette in her holder and lighting it.

“I hesitate to bring up an unpleasant topic,” Bertha said, “but your last few pictures haven’t been as successful as you might have wished. I’ve heard that Monotone Pictures lost money last year and will lose even more this year. Do you believe The Wrath of the Grapes will be successful enough to lift the studio out of its financial doldrums?”

“I have the utmost confidence that The Wrath of the Grapes will be the biggest hit of the year and will restore Monotone Pictures to its rightful place of prominence in the motion picture industry.”

“Not to mention what it will do for your own career.”

“Of course! A motion picture career is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Although my last couple of pictures haven’t sold well with the public, I assure you it’s only a temporary aberration and The Wrath of the Grapes will put me right back up there on the top where I belong.”

“And you don’t believe that Monotone will cancel your contract?”

“Of course not! That’s just an ugly rumor being perpetrated by the hordes of people in the industry who are jealous of my success. There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that my contract has been, or ever will be, canceled. Just the other day, Mr. T. T. H. Gottschalk, head of the studio, assured me that my position there is inviolable.”

“How reassuring it must have been to hear that!”

“Yes, yes, yes!”

“Now, getting on to other matters, I wonder if you might tell us something of your early life and of how you got your start in pictures. It’s a well-known story, of course, but I thought it would be fun to hear it from your own lips.”

(The truth was that she was born, out of wedlock, to an alcoholic mother in a tenement slum on New York’s Lower East Side, but that wasn’t the story she liked to tell.)

“I was born in Budapest to an American mother and a Hungarian father. My father was a physician and my mother a magazine illustrator. We moved to New York when I was ten years old. In school I performed in amateur theatricals and eventually enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. When I was seventeen years old, I entered a beauty contest in Atlantic City at the urging of friends and, when I won the contest, was given a screen test in Hollywood. My mother and I went by rail across this huge continent in the middle of July. Can you imagine?

“The screen test turned out well and I was offered the lead in a film they were just then preparing entitled The Call of the Virgin, even though I had no acting experience. The producers took a chance on me based entirely on my looks and my personality. And I had such a wonderful director—Carleton Fiske—that it didn’t matter that I had never acted before. He extracted—there’s no other word for it—the performance from me as if it had always been inside me. I became an overnight sensation and a big, big star and married Carleton Fiske, even though he was thirty-eight years older than me.”

“Bless your heart!” Bertha said.

“He died soon after but I always felt that he was the one person, more than any other, who was responsible for my success in films.

“My first year at Monotone Pictures, I starred in four pictures. My next picture after The Call of the Virgin was Night Wind and it was just as big a hit as the first one. Then came Queen of the Dust Bin and The Lady is Indiscreet, all making vast amounts of money for the studio. And everything had come so easily to me, as if it had always meant to be. You hear about people struggling to achieve success, but I never had to struggle at all. It just seemed to come naturally to me!”

“It happens that way sometimes,” Bertha said in her knowing way, “but it is very, very rare.”

“Yes, very rare.”

“Now, if you will indulge me for a bit, I want to ask you about your domestic life. Our female readers especially love knowing about that side of the lives of our Hollywood luminaries.”

“What side is that?”

“How is your marriage with Neville Marks?”

“It couldn’t be better. He and I are very, very close. Soul mates, you might say. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have his strong shoulders to lean on and his wise counsel guiding me in my career.”

“Is he at home today? I was hoping to get his take on The Wrath of the Grapes and to get a couple of snaps of the two of you together in your happy home.”

“I’m sorry. He’s out scouting locations for our picture.”

“Of course. Well, perhaps next time.”

“Yes. Next time.”

Here she fell into one her dozes and when she awoke she was alone, as she had been alone ever since the pickup woman left. She had another drink and then another, and then she stood up and made her way across the room, the act of walking a delicate balancing act for her.

She went to the window overlooking the back of the house and from it saw the open door of the garage and the empty space in the garage that had recently held the car of her husband, Neville Marks.

He left her three days ago for a much-younger woman, a twenty-one-old ingénue who had recently made a splash in her first picture, just as Nema had made a splash in hers all those years ago. And his leaving her had been the cruelest cut of all, the one thing she could not tolerate and go on living.

She went into the bathroom and, standing at the sink, swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills that her doctor had told her to take sparingly because they were very strong and dangerous if not taken according to directions. She washed them down with plenty of cold water and, when she was finished, she went to the bed and lay on her back to await the coming of the blessed blankness, weeping, as she did, for the poignancy of her own passing.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Bye Bye Blackbird

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Bye Bye Blackbird ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The year Nellis Folts was eleven years old was the year he decided he would enter the school talent contest. He chose Bye Bye Blackbird for the number he would perform, and he wouldn’t just stand there and move his lips to some stupid record the way some people did. He would actually sing the song. He asked Miss Mullendorfer, the assistant music teacher, to accompany him on the piano and she readily agreed, saying that she thought it was “simply splendid” that a boy like Nellis, who was usually so standoffish, was going to participate in something she knew was going to be “lots of fun.”

“I’m not doing it for fun,” he said. “I’m doing it for the prize money.”

That evening when Nellis told his mother at the dinner table that he was going to perform in the talent show, she was less than enthusiastic.

“Are you sure you want to be up there on the stage in front of all those people?” she asked. “They’ll laugh at you.”

“I know. They laugh at me anyway.”

“I didn’t know you could sing.”

“Well, I can.”

“I’ve never heard you.”

“I want you and father to come to the talent show. You can hear me sing then.”

“I’m sure your father will be too tired to go out after having worked all day, but I’ll try to come if it’s a night I’m free.”

“You’re free every night.”

For two weeks before the talent show, he practiced Bye Bye Blackbird every night in front of a full-length mirror in his bedroom, with hand gestures and a couple of dance steps that he made up himself. He sang in a quavery tenor that sometimes verged on the soprano:

Pack up all your cares and woes.
Here I go, singin’ low.
Bye bye blackbird!
Where somebody waits for me,
Sugar’s sweet and so is she.
Bye bye blackbird!
No one here can love or understand me.
Oh, what hard-luck stories they all hand me!
So make the bed, light the light!
I’ll be home late tonight.
Blackbird byyyye byyyye!

(At the end of the song, he held out his arms and went down on one knee.)

For his clothes, he would wear black pants, a white shirt, and, from a trunk in the attic, a decades-old yellow sport jacket with wide shoulder pads and a red-and-yellow bow tie. Just the thing.

The night of the talent show brought with it heavy rains and thunderstorms. Nellis’s mother heard on the radio that storm warnings had been issued, but Nellis was not to be deterred. At six o’clock, one hour before the talent show was to begin, he put on his yellow plastic patrol-boy raincoat and, with his satchel containing the clothes he was going to perform in, walked the half-mile to school. He was soaked all the way through when he got there but was gratified to see that a lot of people had already shown up and taken their seats in the auditorium. The school was abuzz with excitement, in spite of the weather.

Without speaking to anyone, Nellis went into the deserted boys’ room to prepare. He took off his raincoat and set his satchel on the floor and opened it. His hair was still wet, so he took a wad of paper towels and dried it off the best he could and poured some Vitalis into his palm, rubbed his hands together and smoothed down his thick mess of dark hair. He then combed his hair exactly the way Sammy Davis Junior would have combed his if he had been there. He felt certain that anybody who owned a television set could not fail to make the comparison.

After dressing, he checked himself in the mirror and, when he was satisfied with the way he looked, especially the bow tie, he went “back stage,” where he and all the other contestants had been told to gather at seven o’clock sharp to draw their numbers out of a hat to determine in what order they would appear on stage. When he picked his number from the hat and realized he was last, his heart did a little thump-jump inside his ribcage. But no matter, he told himself. He didn’t mind being last; he would be freshest in the minds of the judges.

To begin the show, Mrs. Pepper, the music teacher, went out on the stage and waved her flabby arms to shush the audience. She was only four-and-a-half feet tall and almost as wide. Somebody in back of the auditorium whistled at her and yelled “Oh, baby!” but she pretended not to hear.

“Welcome to the annual school talent show!” Mrs. Pepper said in her whiny voice, training her myopic gaze on the middle distance. “It looks like we’ve got a capacity crowd! I’m happy to see that so many of you have braved the bad weather to be with us tonight! And I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! We’ve got a great show for you!”

The public address system squawked and sputtered, eliciting whistles and hoots from the audience.

She tapped on the microphone before continuing. “To make our competition a little more interesting,” she intoned, “our first-place winner, as decided by our three judges, will win a prize of fifty greenbacks. Our second-place winner will win twenty-five greenbacks, while our third-place winner will receive a complementary pass for dinner for two at the Lonesome Pine Restaurant and Grill on Highway 32.”

“Woo-woo-woo!” somebody in the audience yelled. Mrs. Pepper frowned for a moment before resuming her smile. “So, without further adieu,” she said, “we now bring to you our little show.”

The first contestant was Cecelia Upjohn, wearing lots of makeup, even though she was only twelve years old, and a skin-tight, glittery costume with red-white-and-blue diagonal stripes. She twirled her baton to a recording of I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, all the time with a fixed, doll-like grin on her face. When she tossed the baton high above her head, she somehow caught it without even looking at it. She finished her routine with a perfect split, one leg in front and the other behind as she went down on the floor with seemingly no effort at all. The audience rewarded her with resounding applause.

Then Ralph Krupperman with his hair the color of a new penny and Belinda Cornish took to the stage to do their Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance routine. He wore a tuxedo with a swallow-tail coat and she a curly blond wig and a satiny white dress that clung to her immature body and dragged the floor. He flung her around and around at a dizzying pace to keep time with the music as the tails of his coat flapped and she tried hard to keep from falling. After a frenetic five minutes, the music ended and the routine was over. Ralph and Belinda clasped hands and smiled like onscreen lovers as they took their bows and exited stage left to polite applause.

When Curtis Bellinger came onto the stage, a questioning murmur arose from the audience because he carried a chair in one hand and a saw in the other. (What was he going to do? Saw the chair in half?) He carried the chair to the middle of the stage and set it down. Then he sat on the chair, put the saw between his knees, and, producing a violin bow, began playing Some Enchanted Evening. The audience was transfixed as the mournful sounds of the saw carried over their heads and out the doors into the rainy night. When the song was over, the audience applauded enthusiastically—more for the novelty and daring of the act than for its musicality.

(As Curtis Bellinger was leaving the stage, a huge crack of lightning caused everybody to gasp and the lights to flicker, but the lights stayed on, and the moment of danger, if that’s what it was, was forgotten in the wake of the next act.)

Three large-for-their-age girls, who looked enough alike to be sisters but weren’t, came onto the stage, their hair in snoods and dressed in women’s army uniforms. They stood side-by-side, looking silly and self-conscious as they waited for their music to begin and, when it did, they began swiveling their hips and moving their arms like marionettes. They moved their lips to Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy, while everybody (even the most naïve person in the audience) knew they weren’t really singing.

The next act was Gus Goldblatt, a fifth grader who already weighed over two hundred pounds and wore men’s clothes. His grandfather had started teaching him the accordion when he was only two years old and since that time he had become steadily more proficient with that instrument. He favored the audience with Lady of Spain, segueing smartly into I’m Just a Vagabond Lover. The audience was most appreciative.

Gus Goldblatt’s exit brought Bertha Terhune to the stage. She was dressed in a black, full-body leotard with red ribbons in her hair and what appeared to be a bedroll under her arm. She curtsied in the direction of the audience, and, spreading out the bedroll that was really a tumbling mat, began her routine. She did a series of cartwheels, then forward somersaults and backward somersaults. She jumped into the air one way and then the other, twirled, twisted, leapt, spun, and turned, all with the agility of a flea and so fast that she was only a blur. The audience hooted and whistled.

Nellis watched all the acts from the wings as he waited to go on. He stood near a window and was aware of the storm, but what the weather might or might not do was the least of his worries. He knew he could remember all the words to Bye Bye Blackbird, but what he was worried about was “putting the song over,” as they say. The audience had sat though a lot of acts. Would they be ready for his? Would they laugh at him, as his mother had said? Would they boo him off the stage? Suddenly he wanted the whole thing to be over and to be back home where it was safe and quiet. He took deep breaths, felt light in the head, and hoped he wouldn’t be sick.

Miss Mullendorfer was standing beside him with her sheet music when Mrs. Pepper came to him and told him it was time for him to go on. He took a deep breath and walked out onto the stage. When he was installed behind the microphone, he looked out at the audience and tried to smile and they looked back at him, waiting to see what he was going to do. Two hundred eyes trained just on him, waiting for him to begin. Could he remember how the song began?

When Miss Mullendorfer from the piano played the little intro she had worked out, Nellis opened his mouth to let out the first notes. That’s when the storm hit with all its force and fury. The row of windows behind the audience blew inward as if from an explosion. The audience screamed, a prolonged wail of terror, and, as if being awakened from a dream, jumped to their feet and began running in every conceivable direction, except toward the exits and safety.

Nellis was stunned. He didn’t know what was happening. He looked over at Miss Mullendorfer at the piano to see if she might give him some cue as to what he should do, but she was gone. He was all alone on the stage, grasping the microphone stand in both hands. The thing sputtered and sparked. He might have been electrocuted if the power hadn’t failed at that moment, bringing him to the reality of the situation. He was just able to make his way out of the building in the dark as the roof was picked up and deposited someplace else and the walls around him began to collapse like a house of cards.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Hillbilly Women on the Moon

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Hillbilly Women on the Moon ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

“I heard you was gettin’ married to a Mr. Chin,” Mrs. Vogel said. “Had a diamond engagement ring and everything.”

“Nope,” Mrs. Chuffey said, blowing a perfect cloud of smoke into the air. “Ain’t marryin’ nobody.”

“Why don’t you go ahead and marry him, then, if’n that’s what he wants?”

“He’s got scales all over his body,” Mrs. Chuffey said. She shuddered and closed her eyes to show how much this quality offended her. Took a pull on her jug and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

“You could all ways get used to a few scales,” Mrs. Vogel said. “Many a woman has had to put up with more.”

“I’d like to see you married to a reptile!”

“He ain’t asked me!”

“No, and he won’t, neither!”

“There’s no use gettin’ all uppity about it!”

“Even if I wanted to marry him, I couldn’t. I’ve got my retarded granddaughter, Ollie French, to take care of now, ever since her mama upped and drownded herself.”

“Oh, yeah, I forget about Ollie French,” Mrs. Vogel said. “I guess Mr. Chin wouldn’t want to be a-livin’ in the same house with her.”

“No, it ain’t that. He’d like living in the same house with Ollie French. He’d like it too much! He’d be in a position where he might easily take advantage of her, especially since she’s gone so batty in the head.”

“And her only a child,” Mrs. Vogel said.

“She’s twenty-two. That ain’t exactly a child. But, as dumb as she is, she’s got her womanly wiles.”

“Somebody said they seen her down at the river and she was trying to swim acrost in her clothes and she sank like a stone. Some fellow that was there called out to her, ‘Hey, Ollie French! Why don’t you take off all them clothes? It’ll help you to swim better’. And you know what she done, don’t you? She took off every stitch but she still couldn’t swim acrost. The current was too much for her. But there she was naked in front of all them people and they was all a-laughin and a-hootin at her.”

“Being naked in front of people don’t bother her none,” Mrs. Chuffey said. “She ain’t got no more modesty than a toad.”

“Some people is like that,” Mrs. Vogel said dreamily.

“Speaking of the devil hisself,” Mrs. Chuffey said. “I see her coming from up the road a piece.”

Mrs. Vogel swiveled her head and shaded her eyes with her hand. Sure enough, there was Ollie French coming toward them. She had on a clean-looking dress and was carrying a little book that turned out to be a Bible.

“She’s growed up into a right fine girl,” Mrs. Vogel said.

“It don’t do her much good, though, Mrs. Chuffey said. “She ain’t got the sense the good Lord gave a goose.”

Mrs. Vogel clicked her tongue and, by this time, Ollie French was crossing the door yard, just a few feet away from them.

“How you?” Mrs. Vogel asked politely, spreading her skirt over her knees.

Ollie French sat down on the step to the left of Mrs. Vogel. “I’m happy,” she said. “Do you know what happened to me this afternoon?”

“No, child. What?”

“My future was laid out for me.”

“What you talking, you crazy thing?” Mrs. Chuffey asked.

“No, it’s true, granny. I know now what I want to do with my life. I won’t have to sit around this old place forever waiting to die. I won’t ever have to try to swim acrost no rivers naked, ever again! I won’t have to hope for a decent man to come along and want me to marry him. He don’t exist, anyway!”

“Are you gonna become a nun?” Mrs. Vogel asked.

“No, better than that. I have been accepted to become a missionary in Darkest Africa!”

Mrs. Chuffey scoffed. “What do you know about bein’ a missionary?”

“I don’t know much yet, but I’m learnin’.”

“Well, they eat people over there. You know that, don’t you?”

“I ain’t worried.”

“When you leavin’?”

“I’m not sure yet, but it’s gonna be soon. They gonna be a-sendin’ me a letter a-tellin’ me when to come to ‘em. Ain’t it excitin’? I’m so excited I can barely breathe.”

“Who’s gonna do your work around here after you gone to Darkest Africa?” Mrs. Chuffey asked.

Ollie French shrugged and looked down. She was afraid Mrs. Chuffey was going to try to stop her going.

“Who’s gonna fix my dinner and my breakfast? Who’s gonna tote wood and wash my clothes and sweep the floor and pull the weeds and make the beds and keep things tidy?”

“You could always git you a hired gal,” Mrs. Vogel said. “I know of three or four gals right now that’d jump at the chance to do some work that they get paid for doin’.”

“I ain’t got no money to pay no hired gal,” Mrs. Chuffey said. “I don’t need me no hired gal, anyway, when I got my own little Ollie French to do them things.”

“I’ll do them things as long as I’m here,” Ollie French said firmly, “but after I’m gone you’ll have to make other arrangements.”

“Other arrangements!” Mrs. Chuffey said. “Well, we’ll just see about that!”

Ollie French stood up and went quietly into the house.

“She sure has changed since she got religious,” Mrs. Vogel said.

“She ain’t the same gal,” Mrs. Chuffey said. “I don’t hardly a-recognize her.”

“I’m thinkin’ now that maybe she ain’t as retarded as people always thought.”

“Retarded is good enough for her. She don’t need to be anything but retarded. It’d serve her well for the rest of her life if’n she would only kin to it.”

“Maybe the good Lord wants her to be more than just an ol’ retarded gal doin’ chores for her granny.”

“What about me? Is the good Lord a-thinkin’ about me? Who’s gonna help me out with the work around the house with my little Ollie French gone off to Darkest Africa?”

“The Lord will provide for you, too. Don’t he all ways?”

“It just ain’t a good idea for her to be thinkin’ about goin’ off to Darkest Africa or anyplace else. Any way you look at it, it ain’t a smart thing. She needs to stay right here with her own people the way she was intended.”

“Well, things ain’t always up to us,” Mrs. Vogel said. “Sometimes things is out of our hands.”

“Well, I don’t like it.”

“Church sometimes does funny things to people,” Mrs. Vogel said. “It changes ‘em and makes ‘em want to do things you don’t even begin to understand.”

“I’m gonna go have a talk with them church people and tell them to leave my little Ollie French alone,” Mrs. Chuffey said. “I’m afraid they preying on her feeble mind. She needs her granny to stand up for her and say ‘enough is enough’.”

“When you goin’?”

“Tomorrow, I guess. Why?”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“You can if you want.”

“Remember what you said earlier about Mr. Chin?” Mrs. Vogel asked. “About how you declined his marriage invitation and all?”

“I remember. What about it?”

“Well, I’ve been thinkin’.”

“About what?”

“There’s a full moon tonight. Awful sweet for romancin’.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I was thinkin’ how you might put in a word for me with Mr. Chin, if’n you was willin’. I don’t mind a few scales on a man.”

“Not so fast!” Mrs. Chuffey said. “With Ollie French goin’ to Darkest Africa, I might marry Mr. Chin after all. He could help with all the work around here that needs to be done.”

“Do you think he’d be willin’ to do that?”

“It don’t hurt to ask. I’d be willin’ to put up with his scales if he was willin’ to work for me.”

“With marriage as part of the bargain?”

“We’ll see.”

Mrs. Vogel stood up and stretched her arms above her head. “I’d best be gettin’ on home,” she said. “After I eat my supper and clean up the dishes, I’m gonna get into bed and look at the full moon through my window glass and dream about all the things that might have been.”

“It’ll keep you awake,” Mrs. Chuffey said.

“Don’t nothin’ keep me awake,” Mrs. Vogel said.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Buster’s Version

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Buster’s Version ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

I was walking home from school with my friend Buster Dahl. We went slow because Buster wore a brace on his leg. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with him but I had heard my mother tell somebody on the phone that he had tuberculosis of the bones. I didn’t know what that meant but I knew it sounded bad.

“Walking home is the best part of the day,” Buster said.

“Better than lunch and recess?”

“Oh, shit!” he said.

I was going to ask him what was wrong but just then I saw what he saw: Herman Dexter headed toward us.

“Just act natural,” I said, but what I meant by that I didn’t know.

“Why doesn’t he just die?” Buster said.

We were all afraid of Herman. He was three years older than we were and an acknowledged psycho.

“So, they’re allowing vermin on the street these days?” Herman said with his cruel smile when he saw us.

“We just saw a gorilla,” Buster said. “It was your mother. She was looking for you.”

“Oh! Funny!” Herman said. “I wish I had thought of that!”

Herman kept us from moving past with his blockish body. My skin crawled with revulsion at being that close to him. He had yellow, spaced-apart teeth and black splotches on his fat cheeks and forehead. I didn’t know if it was dirt or something more sinister.

“We’re not going to bother you,” Buster said, “so how about if you just let us pass and not bother us?”

“And miss the fun?”

“No fun here,” I said.

“No?” Herman asked. “I always think it’s fun beating the shit out of little kids.”

“If you want to beat the shit out of somebody, why don’t you beat the shit out of somebody your own size?” Buster said.

“Well, that’s just no fun at all!”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, Herman,” Buster said. “How many years was it you spent in third grade?”

I thought he was laying it on a little thick—the last thing we wanted was to make Herman mad—but I didn’t say anything. If we just waited it out, he would let us pass without too much damage.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Herman said. “What’s it like to be a cripple?”

“I’m not a cripple,” Buster said.

“Then take that thing off your leg and let me see you run around the block.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I just told you to, you little creep!”

“I may be a creep,” Buster said, “but at least I’m not a retarded creep. I only spent one year in third grade.”

“Take that thing off your leg and let me see it,” Herman said. “I want to beat you over the head with it.”

“Leave him alone, Herman!” I said.

“Oh, do you want some too, you little mama’s boy?”

He came toward me and insinuated his dirt-caked knuckles under my nose.

“We’re not bothering you,” I said. “We just want to go home.”

“Hah! Not a chance!”

“You’re a menace to society, you know that?” Buster said. “They ought to lock you up in the insane asylum and throw away the key.”

“If they do, I know I’ll see you there!”

I took Buster by the arm and tried to steer him around Herman but Herman was too quick for us. He held out his arms as though trying to enfold us in a big hug.

“You’re just a piece of dog shit,” Buster said. “Your whole family is dog shit!”

We all knew the story of Herman’s family. Father in prison, mother a snaggle-toothed drunk, two crazy sisters, one a prostitute and the other one a man living in a woman’s body. (It would be a few years before we could figure that one out.)

“You think you’re better than me?” Herman said. “Huh? You think you’re better than me, punk?”

I could see that impugning Herman’s family had made him madder than any of the other insults that Buster had hurled at him. He charged at Buster and viciously pushed him backwards. With Buster lying on the ground, struggling to get up, Herman straddled him like a wrestler and held his arms above his head. Buster struggled to get free but was no match for Herman.

“Let him up,” I said, pushing Herman by the shoulder with my knee to let him know I meant business.

“Make me!” he said.

“He’s not as strong as you. You’re going to hurt him.”

“Shut up!”

“If you hurt him, you’re going to be in really bad trouble!”

I could see that my words had some effect on Herman because he let go of Buster’s arms but stayed on top of him. With his arms free, Buster grabbed for the vintage book satchel he always carried, undid the strap, and pulled something out that to me looked like a yoyo. He held the yoyo-like object up and squirted it in Herman’s face. Herman flopped over on his back and began screaming.

Oh! Oh! Owwwww! It hurts! Oh, my god! What did you do to me? You blinded me!” He rubbed furiously at his eyes and I could see the tears streaming down his face.

With Herman writhing on his back on the ground and unable to see us, Buster and I got away as fast as we could.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Pepper spray. Police strength. My sister gave it to me.”

“Will he be able to see again?”

“Sure, it wears off after a while.”

“He’ll be really mad now!”

The next day the teacher came and told me the principal wanted to see me in his office right away. I went downstairs on shaky legs. I was afraid of the principal but not in the same way I was afraid of Herman Dexter. He sat me down in a chair in front of his big desk.

“I understand there was a fight yesterday between two boys, Herman Dexter and Buster Dahl.”

“Not exactly a fight,” I said, looking at the cigarette burns on his desk.

“You were there? You saw it?”


“I’ve heard Buster’s version and I’ve heard Herman’s version. Now I want to hear yours.”

I told him everything that happened without adding anything. It took about five minutes. When I was finished, he told me to go back to my classroom and not talk to anybody about the incident because Herman’s mother was threatening legal action against the school.

When I was walking home that day, Buster Dahl caught up with me. “Thanks,” he said.

“What for?” I asked.

“You told the principal the same story I did. I’m cleared now. It was a clear case of self-defense.”

“What about Herman?”

“Who cares as long as he leaves us alone?”

Not long after the incident with the pepper spray, Herman Dexter was involved in an accident. He fell off the back of a moving truck and broke both his legs. He would be out of commission for a long time. There was even a rumor going around that he wouldn’t be returning to school at all. We knew there was a God.

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp


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