Good Fortune Comes Your Way ~ A Short Story

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Good Fortune Comes Your Way
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

This morning I gave my seat on the bus to a lady midget without one. A seat, I mean. She was only about half as tall as anybody else and I felt sorry for her because people were ignoring her and she looked as if she might be crushed. When I caught her attention, I pointed to my seat to let her know that since I was sitting on it I owned it for the moment and I would gladly relinquish it to her if she wanted it.

She squeezed past the assholes over to where I was sitting and smiled up at me.  She had an oval head the shape of an enormous potato and what I think they call a beehive hairdo the color of honey. She wore a little yellow-and-white waitress’s uniform that looked like it might have been taken off a doll. The nametag on her chest told me that her name was Marlene. Marlene the Midget. I liked that.

After making sure that Marlene was ready to grab the seat as soon as I stood up, I lunged for the nearest unoccupied pole and grabbed onto it. I couldn’t keep from smiling to myself as I hung precariously onto my greasy pole because I had a done a “good thing” for someone less fortunate than myself. I looked over my shoulder at her one time with proprietary interest to make sure she was comfortable. Her eyes were closed and she was clutching her handbag to her chest like a life preserver. She got off in two stops and somebody else took the seat.

As soon as I got to the office, any happy feeling I might have derived from my good deed had vanished. I made my way to my desk, head down, trying not to attract attention. I didn’t want to give anybody the bright idea that I had just arrived at work and needed something to do. I took off my coat and hung it on the rack behind my desk, thinking about how many hours I had to get through before I could put it on again and leave.

I sat down at my desk and took out my yellow legal pad and a handful of pens and red pencils. I took out some papers and covered the desk with them to give the impression that I was working, when, in fact, I planned on doing nothing at all. I could usually go the entire day without doing anything, while giving the impression that I was deeply immersed in an important project for Mr. Junius “Groucho” Wexler, the business genius who started the company from nothing and turned it into the colossus it is today. The  best thing I could say about Mr. Wexler was that I hardly ever saw him.

I picked up my pen and made a few notes on the yellow legal pad. Sometimes when I was pretending to be busy, I wrote a couple paragraphs of my novel that would bring me literary fame and would make it possible for me to quit my job and never have to spend another day of my life cooped up in an office. (They want to turn my book into a movie? How thrilling!)

After a few minutes of pretending to be busy, I became terrifically sleepy. I might toss and turn in my bed half the night, but as soon as I arrive at work I feel like I’ve taken a powerful, sleep-inducing drug. I might try to lean my head on my hand and close my eyes and snatch a few seconds of sleep in the upright position, ever wary of approaching footsteps, but I’ve tried this and it doesn’t help. It somehow makes the desire for sleep even more powerful.

Besides being sleepy, I was also hungry, having skipped breakfast altogether. I went to the break room to see if anybody had brought in any donuts. There were no donuts but there was a pack of chocolate chip cookies on the table. I ate one and when I saw it wasn’t too stale I took two others and put them in my pants pocket before anybody saw me. (I had to remember to take them out of my pocket before I sat down again.) I wasn’t a coffee drinker so I fixed myself a cup of tea and stood looking out the window while the water heated.

With my tea and cookies, I returned to my desk, prepared to stay put until lunchtime, pretending to work, while my mind, every second, was on anything other than work.

Once when I was about five years old somebody gave me a helium balloon on a string. It was a novelty for me. I had never even seen a helium balloon before, let along being lucky enough to own one. While I was outside in the yard, admiring my balloon on the string, it somehow got away from me in a gust of wind. I stood there, watching it, feeling helpless that it was gone and I couldn’t get it back, no matter what I did. I watched the balloon rise in the air until it was just a tiny speck and then could no longer be seen at all. I had a hard time holding back the tears. I still think that balloon is somewhere up there in the sky waiting for me and I might one day get it back.

My mind was aswirl with these and other memories when I heard footsteps approaching my desk. I began to write furiously on my pad, copying meaningless phrases from an open book in front of me.

The footsteps belonged to Freda Himmler, general office manager.

“What are you working on, Elliott?” she asked.

This. I’m working on this.” I leaned back so she could see the papers on my desk.

“You shouldn’t be working on that,” she said. “That was finished two weeks ago. You need to be working on something more relevant.”

She wasn’t the boss, but she thought she was. She dropped out of the sky several times a day to check up on all of us and report back to Mr. Wexler. She was his eyes and ears.

Freda Himmler was a squat woman with broad shoulders and even broader hips. She was anywhere from fifty to a hundred years of age. She wore boxy, unattractive clothes forty years out of date. Her hair was pulled into a severe knot at the back of her head, so that her large ears were always prominently displayed. She had no eyebrows to speak of so she drew them on; they were never the same two days in a row. Her mouth was always slathered with blood-red lipstick, which sometimes overextended her lips in a clownish way. She had about her a peculiar smell that might have been formaldehyde or some other chemical used in embalming corpses.

Any time Freda Himmler came near me, I had to swallow my loathing before I could speak to her.

“This is what Mr. Wexler said he wanted,” I said lamely.

“You’ve been sadly misinformed!” she said. “Meet me in Miss Wexler’s office immediately about lunch! The three of us need to have a little talk!”

The “three of us” meant, of course, Freda and Mr. Wexler and me. I’d rather eat sand and wrestle an alligator than meet with those two for one of their little “meetings.”

Freda Himmler had interrupted my flow of work, so I figured it was time for a break. I stopped by the men’s room, took care of some business, and from there went on to the break room. My friend Lonnie Dove, kindred spirit, was standing at the sink washing his coffee cup.

“What day is it?” he asked. “Is it Friday yet?”

“Three days to go,” I said.

“Do you absolutely hate this place, or what?”

“I think I probably hate it every bit as much as you do.”

“Doesn’t it make you want to go up to the roof and jump off?”

“I wouldn’t want to give anybody here the satisfaction of knowing they had driven me to suicide,” I said.

Abhorring the thought of going back to my desk and risking another encounter with Freda Himmler, I got into the elevator and rode the six floors down to the lobby. I went outside and walked down to the corner and when I got to the corner I turned around and walked all the way back to the other corner. I had the feeling that Freda Himmler knew exactly what I was doing and was watching me out the window every second.

After another torturous hour-and-a-half spent at my desk pretending to be busy, it was time for lunch. I left as fast as I could before anybody spotted me. The trick was not to let anybody know what time you left, so then when you got back they wouldn’t know how long you had been gone.

I wanted something good for lunch so I walked a couple of blocks away to a little restaurant called Manny’s Fine Eats. I had been there before and I knew the food was good and the service excellent. I was gratified to see the place wasn’t crowded; I sat at a small table next to the window beside an enormous potted plant.

My waitress, I was surprised to see, was Marlene the Midget from the bus, in her little yellow-and-white uniform with the name tag. I smiled but I wasn’t sure if she recognized me from the bus. I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs. I didn’t have long to wait long before Marlene set the steaming plate of food down in front of me.

The spaghetti was delicious with just the right amount of garlic. When I finished, I was sorry there wasn’t more. I finished my iced tea and gestured for Marlene to bring me my check.

“Will there be anything else?” she asked.

When she handed me my change, she also handed me a single yellow carnation.

“Good fortune comes your way,” she said with a cheery smile.

I thanked her and before I had a chance to say anything else she was gone again. It was lunchtime and she was busy.

I walked all the way back to the office carrying the carnation in front of me like a charm to ward off evil. I dreaded my upcoming meeting with Mr. Wexler and Freda Himmler. I knew she would put me on the spot and make me feel like a fool in front of the boss. As I went up in the elevator, I felt a bad headache coming on and a sharp pain in my abdomen. I felt like I might be sick.

Getting off the elevator on the sixth floor, I met Lonnie Dove. He was smiling and obviously happy about something.

“Where have you been?” he asked.

“I was hungry, so I went out for lunch.”

“You missed all the excitement.”

“What happened?”

“Freda fell down the elevator shaft.”

“Oh, my gosh! Is she dead?”

“No, she only fell about twenty feet or so. They came and took her to the hospital. I didn’t see her after she fell, but they said she probably has some broken bones. Where’d you get your yellow flower?”

“A midget gave it to me,” I said.

“I think it’s our lucky day,” he said.

I put the carnation in a glass of water and set it on the edge of my desk where I would be able to see it. I sat down and picked up my pen and pretended to be working, but I knew there was no way I was going to get any work done for the rest of the day. A party atmosphere had taken over the entire office. Someone had a bottle of whiskey and was passing around drinks.

Ding-Dong, the witch is dead!” they all sang together. “Which old witch? You know which one!” 

I had a couple of drinks and then I sneaked out the back way and took the early bus home.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Out to Lunch ~ A short Story

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Out to Lunch
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

On Friday morning I was about an hour late for work. I sat at my desk all morning, pretending to work but not doing much of anything except manicuring my nails and balancing my checkbook. Then I took an extra long lunch and when I got back Nipple Nose was waiting for me.

“I need to see you in my office right away, Aaron,” he said.

I hung up my coat, put on the best put-upon expression I could manage on such short notice, and went into his office.

“Sit down,” he said.

I sat in the smelly chair facing his desk and cleared my throat. “What is this about, Mr. Nipp?” I said defensively. “I have a pile of work to do.”

“You were late for work again this morning,” he said.

“I was up until two this morning watching the Joan Crawford festival on television and I couldn’t get up at the regular time. Have you ever seen The Damned Don’t Cry?”

“You were gone an hour and fifty-seven minutes for lunch.”

“You timed it?”

“Yesterday you were gone an hour and thirty-seven minutes for lunch and the day before an hour and fifty-one minutes.”

“You timed it!”

“This is a highly competitive business,” he said, “and we need to operate efficiently to maintain our standing in the industry. We can’t afford to employ slackers.”

“Slackers?” I said. “What exactly are you saying?”

“I’ve noticed—and others have noticed—that you don’t take your job seriously enough. We want people here who believe in what they are doing and who want to succeed for themselves and for the company. I’m afraid we’ve come to a parting of the ways. You’re all washed up here.”

“Do you mean you’re firing me?” I said.

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

“What if I told you I have a good reason for taking extra long lunches?”

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t make any difference. Mr. Miggles and I have discussed this matter. He has already signed off on it. I’m afraid his decisions in these matters are irreversible.”

“If you fire me, I’ll probably have grounds for a lawsuit.”

“I believe I’ve heard that one before,” he said with a little laugh to let me know he wasn’t to be bluffed.

“You think I won’t sue you?”

“I think you’ll do what you believe you must do.”

“You enjoy firing people, don’t you, Mr. Nipp?” I said.

“No, but it’s part of the life of an executive.”

“I’ll bet you belong to the country club, don’t you?”

He sighed and looked over my shoulder at the closed door. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“In all the time I’ve been here, you’ve fired a lot of people, haven’t you?”

“I don’t believe that’s any concern of yours.”

“You fired a single mother with two small children. You fired a man nearing retirement with a heart condition and a woman with a sick child who needed to take a lot of time off. You fired a young man just out of school for making a joke about your secretary’s falsies. I think you should reinstate all of them, or at least call them and make the offer, although I don’t know why anybody would want to come back to this place after they’ve left it.”

“You may collect your personal things from your desk and then I want you to leave. Remember I can always call security.”

“I need to speak to Mr. Miggles before I go,” I said.

“He isn’t in and, even if he was, he wouldn’t want to be disturbed.”

“I am in possession of some information that I’m sure he would want to be apprised of.”

He picked up the phone to make me think he was calling Big Shirley, the head of security, former lady wrestler and nightclub bouncer.

I looked across the desk at him with narrowed eyes. “Do you know there’s at least one embezzler in the company?”

He put the phone back and looked at me. “What? Just what are you implying?”

“May I speak candidly?” I asked.

“I don’t see that there’s anything to be candid about.”

“You’ve been skimming funds from the company for years, to put it politely. Small amounts, to be sure, but lots of them.”

“I don’t have time for your little games,” he said wearily, going to the door and pulling it open.

“If people start looking around,” I said, “you might have trouble explaining your Swiss bank account in your wife’s name.”

He reclosed the door and went and sat back down at his desk. “It’s not exactly a secret,” he said. “It’s my wife’s inheritance.”

“That would be easy for an investigator to prove or disprove.”

“I have nothing to hide.”

“I know where Mr. Miggles lives,” I said. “I’m sure he’ll be willing to speak to me when I tell him I have some information that’s vital to the well-being of his beloved company.”

I stood up to leave.

“Wait a minute!” he said. “I won’t let you go to Mr. Miggles with a story like that!”

“Why not?”

“For one thing, it’s not true!”

“Yes, it is true, Mr. Nipp. You know it’s true and I know it.”

“Mr. Miggles has a bad heart. You don’t want to get him upset by making these false allegations.”

“I think he would thank me a thousand times for telling him what’s been going on behind his back.”

“No, don’t go to Mr. Miggles! Please!

“You said you have nothing to hide.”

“I don’t! It’s just that Mr. Miggles is an important man with a thousand things on his mind. You don’t need to bother him with trivial matters.”

“I doubt he’d find the theft of half-a-million dollars trivial.”

“I tell you what I’ll do,” Mr. Nipp said. “I’ll bring the matter up at the next board meeting. We’ll discuss it and take a vote.”

“No! I’m not going to let you get away with that!”

“I just fired you! You’re not in a position to make demands!”

“All right, then. How about if I go see my lawyer? His office is just a couple of blocks from here. I’ll tell him the whole story and he’ll advise me what to do. I’ll let him inform Mr. Miggles of all the hanky-panky that’s been going on this office.”

Mr. Nipp lowered his head and blew out his breath. It was as close to a gesture of defeat as I could expect.

“Just what is it you want?” he asked.

“You know what I want. I want you to apologize for firing me and say you didn’t mean it.”

“All right, I apologize for firing you.”

“You don’t seem to really mean it, Mr. Nipp.”

“I mean it, Aaron. With all my heart.”

“And what else?”

“You’re not really fired. Go back to your desk as if nothing happened.”

“I’m also going to need an apology for the remark about being a slacker. That really hurt my feelings.”

“I’m sorry I called you a slacker.”

“Apology accepted. I’m going to need a raise, too, though.”

“I can’t give you a raise now, Aaron. It just isn’t going to happen.”

“I think fifteen percent to start. Don’t you think that’s reasonable?”

“I’ll have to pull some strings, Aaron. I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’m sure you can pull all the right strings, Mr. Nipp.”

“Before I do all these things for you, Aaron, you’ll have to promise me to never breathe a word of this to anyone.”

“A word of what, Mr. Nipp?”

“About the half-million dollars.”

“Do you mean the half-million you embezzled from the company?”

“Please don’t use that word! Do you want to go to prison?”

“I didn’t do anything, Mr. Nipp. If word gets out, you’ll be the one to go to prison.”

“Let’s just forget the whole matter. Shall we? None of it ever happened.”

“Well, we’ll see how good I am at forgetting things,” I said.

I gave Mr. Nipp a gracious smile as I went out his door. I went from his office down the hall to the men’s room. It was vacant, so I went into a stall and closed the door. The tiny tape recorder was still recording inside my pocket. I rewound the tape and listened to it from beginning to end. It was all there. Every word as clear as the nose on Mr. Nipp’s face.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Strange Innertube ~ A Short Story

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Strange Innertube
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

Like the four points of a compass, they sat evenly spaced around the table. Miss St. Clare and Miss Wheaton were north and south; Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Dade east and west. When addressing each other, they never used first names, but were always Mr. and Miss. They clung to the old formalities.

No one had spoken for several minutes. Miss St. Clare made little clicking sounds with her knife and fork as she attempted to cut her meat. She lost control of her knife and dropped it. Mr. Faulkner had been nearly asleep but the sound of the knife hitting the floor brought him back.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Just somebody being clumsy,” Miss Wheaton said.

Mr. Dade laughed and stuck his fingers in his mouth to straighten his dentures.

“You know, this spring weather makes me want to go on a cruise,” Miss St. Clare said.

“Yes, let’s all go on a cruise,” Miss Wheaton said.

“Where shall we go?”

“I hear Havana is nice.”

“Farther than that. How about Rio?”

“Yes, I think Rio would be perfect.”

“I can’t go,” Mr. Dade said. “I get seasick.”

“Well, you fly down, then, and we’ll meet you there.”

“I’ve been to Rio,” Mr. Faulkner said. “If I was going on a cruise, it wouldn’t be South America.”

“Where, then?”

“I don’t know. Up the west coast to Alaska or up the east coast from Florida to New England.”

“A domestic cruise,” Miss Wheaton said.

“Oh, that sounds lovely,” Miss St. Clare said.

“None of us are going anywhere,” Mr. Dade said.


“I said none of us are going anywhere.”

“That’s true,” Miss St. Clare said, “but it never hurts to indulge in a little fantasy.”

“To help get us through,” Miss Wheaton said.

“What is this meat?” Miss St. Clare asked.

“I think it’s veal,” Mr. Faulkner said.

“It doesn’t look like anything I ever saw before,” Mr. Dade said.

“I think it’s made from old innertubes.”

“It’s funny you should mention innertubes,” Mr. Faulkner said. “When I was three years old my grandfather took us swimming to a river in Ohio. I remember floating on an innertube. I thought it was the most fun in the world. And not only an innertube, but I was wearing water wings. When was the last time you saw water wings? Last night it all came back to me in a dream. I could see myself. I was three years old again.”

“I hate it when people talk about their dreams,” Mr. Dade said.

“He died not long after that,” Mr. Faulkner said. “My grandfather, I mean. He was only in his fifties. He was an alcoholic. We went out for his funeral. I was a little thing.”

“I don’t think young people even know what innertubes are anymore,” Miss St. Clare said. “You have to be our age.”

“What do you mean ‘our’ age?” Mr. Dade said. “You’re four years older than I am.”

“I think people make too much of age,” Miss Wheaton said. “It’s only a number. I think of myself as still young.”

“When was the last time you looked in the mirror?” Mr. Dade said.

“I avoid mirrors. They have no meaning for me. What matters is not on the outside but on the inside.”

“You know, I’ve had four husbands,” Miss St. Clare said, “but I think I’d get married again if I had the chance. I find Dr. Wolfe awfully attractive. He’s like a combination of Cary Grant and Burl Ives.”

“You’ll have to hit him over the head and drug him,” Mr. Dade said.

“Which one is Dr. Wolfe?” Miss Wheaton asked.

“He’s very distinguished, rather heavyset with graying temples and a big mole the size of a grape on his cheek. He’s about fifty, I think.”

“Oh, that one!” Mr. Dade said. “Haven’t you heard? There’s a rumor going around that he’s gay.”

“He is not!” Miss St. Clare said. “You’re just jealous because I said I find him attractive.”

“Have it your own way, lady,” Mr. Dade said. “Whatever makes you happy.”

“I’ve had two husbands,” Miss Wheaton said, “and two were enough for me. I wouldn’t get married again if Gary Cooper walked in here and got down on one knee and proposed to me.”

“Gary Cooper’s dead, but even if he wasn’t I don’t think he’d want to marry you.”

“You know what I mean! You don’t have to be so cynical all the time.”

“I was a newspaper reporter for thirty years. If that doesn’t make you cynical, nothing will.”

“What about you, Mr. Faulkner?” Miss St. Clare said. “What did you do in the world?”

“I was head of my own company. At one time, I employed as many as a hundred people.”

“What kind of company was it?”

“Wealth management. Securities, stocks and bonds.”

“Ever do any embezzling?” Mr. Dade asked.

“No, I never went in much for embezzling.”

“I hear embezzling’s the thing if you don’t get caught.”

“I knew some Faulkners once a long time ago,” Miss St. Clare said. Wasn’t your wife’s name Catherine or Margaret or something like that?”

“I never had a wife,” Mr. Faulkner said.

“What? You were never married?”


“Didn’t you get awfully lonely, being alone?”

“I didn’t say I was alone. I said I wasn’t married.”

“You had a girlfriend?”


“No wife and no girlfriend and you weren’t alone?”

“That’s what I said.”

“You must tell us all your secrets, Mr. Faulkner,” Miss Wheaton said. “We’ve told you ours.”

“I don’t think it’s any of your business, but if you must know, my partner in life was a man.”

“A man!” Miss St. Clare said.

“Well, I might have known!” Mr. Dade said. “I never would have guessed it, but I might have known.”

“Where is he now?” Miss Wheaton asked. “Is he still alive?”

“No, he died a number of years ago. His name was Patrick White. He and I had twenty-three wonderful years together. When I die…”

“Which might be any minute now,” Mr. Dade said.

“When I die, I’ll be buried right beside him.”

“That’s very sweet,” Miss Wheaton said.

“It’s kind of creepy if you ask me,” Mr. Dade said.

“Nobody did.”

“Well, we’ve learned a lot about you today, Mr. Faulkner,” Miss Wheaton said.

I had a wife,” Mr. Dade said, “and—believe me—she was a pain in my ass. She drank herself to death.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Miss St. Clare said.

“We had two daughters and—wouldn’t you know it?—they were both just like their mother.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. They never come and see me. When they found out I wasn’t leaving them any money, they dropped me like I had the plague. Family!

“We’re your family now, Mr. Dade,” Miss Wheaton said.

“All four of us sitting at this table,” Mr. Faulkner said. “We have nothing to live for. We have no one. There is absolutely no reason to go on another minute.”

“You never know what the day will bring,” Miss St. Clare said.

“Old reruns of Bonanza, unidentifiable food, enemas, bad days and worse nights.”

“When we’re finished with dinner, let’s play some cards,” Miss Wheaton said. “I think that will cheer us all up a little.”

“No! I hate cards!” Mr. Faulkner said. “I hate all the stupid games that people play!”

“Would you rather play charades?”

There was a flash of lightning, a rumble of thunder, and everybody looked toward the window.

“I think it’s going to rain,” Miss St. Clare said.

“Brilliant deduction,” Mr. Dade said.

“I like rain,” Miss Wheaton said. “I like to be inside when it’s raining and look out.”

“It got dark so quick,” Miss Wheaton said.

“That’s the way it is in the spring.”

“I like spring.”

“What month is it?” Mr. Dade asked.

“It’s April, I think. Or May.”

“No, I mean what time is it?”

“I don’t know. It was six o’clock about an hour ago.”

“What difference does it make what time it is?” Mr. Faulkner said. “We eat dinner, we sit around and watch some stupid shit on TV, and then we wait around until it’s time to go to bed. It’s the same thing every day. Every day. Every day until we die.”

The rain began to pummel the glass and Miss St. Clare got up from the table and ran to the window like a child.

“Oh, just look at it come down!” she said.

“I like storms,” Miss Wheaton said.

The next flash of lightning caused Miss St. Clare to suck in her breath and jump back from the window.

“That was close!” she said.

“That’d be a good way to die,” Mr. Faulkner said. “A bolt of lightning from the sky. Quick and painless.”

“How do you know it’s painless?” Mr. Dade asked.

“It would overpower you. You’d be dead before you feel anything.”

“You always get around to the subject of death, don’t you?” Miss St. Clare said.

“Do you know anything better to talk about?”

The storm gathered intensity. Lightning flashed. Thunder peeled. Wind howled. Rain fell in sheets. Windowpanes shook as though under siege. The storm seemed centered directly in the sky above their heads.

When the lights flickered and went out, Miss St. Clare screamed and grabbed her throat. Miss Wheaton patted her hand to comfort her.

Miss Wheaton stood up from the table. Seemingly able to see in the dark, she went to the sideboard and retrieved two candles in holders, lit them and set them in the middle of the table.

“Candlelight is so romantic,” Miss St. Clare said, having recovered her nerves.

“It transforms the room,” Miss Wheaton said. “Suddenly it’s 1816 and we’re in a medieval castle.”

“You’re a little off with your dates,” Mr. Dade said. “Eighteen-sixteen isn’t medieval.”

Miss St. Clare leaned back in her chair and cocked her head to the side. “Oh, listen!” she said. “Somebody’s playing the piano. Isn’t it lovely?”

“It’s Clair de Lune,” Mr. Faulkner said. “My brother and I used to play it for violin and piano when we were in high school.”

Miss Wheaton and Miss St. Clare stood up and began dancing together to the music. They danced around the table and then they moved farther away, to the middle of the room, where candlelight met shadows.

Mr. Dade leaned back in his chair and lit his postprandial cigar. Mr. Faulkner rolled his eyes and fanned his hand in front of his face.

“Look at those two old dames,” Mr. Dade said. “The candlelight makes them look young again.”

“No reruns of Gunsmoke tonight if the power doesn’t come back on,” Mr. Faulkner said. “The only thing to do is to go bed and listen to the rain.”

“You know,” Mr. Dade said. “I think I have something else to do.  I’m going to make love to both of them in my room. First one and then the other.”


“Miss Wheaton and Miss St. Clare.”

Mr. Faulkner laughed. “I don’t see that happening.”

The music continued. Miss Seaton and St. Clare kept dancing. Mr. Dade blew out a cloud of cigar smoke, which hovered around him like ectoplasm. Mr. Faulkner pinched his nostrils shut with his fingers. Rain lashed the windows. Lightning purpled the air. Thunder shook the trees to their roots. It was a ferocious display of nature. To anybody paying attention, it was a little bit like the end of the world.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Alligator Bag ~ A Short Story

Alligator Bag image
Alligator Bag
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

Her name was Margaret Isabel Arlen, but nobody used her real name anymore. Her street name was Toots. Years earlier, after discovering alcohol, she took up residence on the streets and alleyways of the city, relinquishing her good name and any semblance of respectability: home, husband, children, church, bridge club. And then it was as if those things had never existed at all.

To live, as others of her kind did, she engaged in the ancient art of “panhandling” (persuading strangers on the street to part with their money by appealing to their sympathies) or by stealing. Panhandling was distasteful to her (a little matter of pride), but she considered herself a master thief: a snatcher and a grabber. And after she snatched or grabbed, she ran. She outran her pursuers more often than not. She stole a melon from an open-air fruit market, gloves and costume jewelry from a department store, a fifth of whisky from a package store, a loaf of bread from a delicatessen, a can of tuna, a jar of pickles, a quart of milk, a cheap coat from an inattentive diner at a lunch counter, a man’s hat from a barber shop, a sign from a restaurant window that said Open All Night, a fox fur coat from the balcony of a movie theatre, a box of bird seed from the pet store, a pair of shoe laces and several pencils from the blind man on the corner, a bottle of aspirin from the drugstore, a movie magazine, a bottle of perfume, a hot water bottle, a toothbrush, a card of bobby pins, a box of suppositories, a small box of Valentine candy. The list was without end and included anything she might reasonably lay her hands on and carry away. What she couldn’t eat, drink, or use herself, she sold or gave away to friends.

On a blustery afternoon in November, she stopped in at the municipal bus station to warm her hands and feet. After using the restroom facilities, she washed up at the sink: face, neck, arms and hands. Lovely hot water and even lovelier soap! As much as she wanted and nobody to say a word! She would have taken off all her clothes and washed all over if she could have.

After she dried her face and hands, her clothes were wet and she was feeling chilled, so she went into the women’s lounge and sat on one of the benches: lovely benches spaced all the way around the room. Ladies came in and deposited their packages and coats on the benches while they went into a restroom stall and did what ladies do.

The lounge was warm and, for the moment, quiet. Ladies came in, one or two at a time, and then left. Toots would have laid down on the bench and gone to sleep, but just as sure as she did, one of the bus station employees would come in and say in a rude voice: Hey, you! No sleeping!

 A tall woman with red hair came into the lounge and right away Toots recognized her as a woman of quality. She wore a fur coat and expensive-looking pumps. She held herself erect; her skirt swayed with every step. She took a comb out of her alligator bag and fussed with her hair in front of the mirror. After she put away the comb she applied lipstick and when she was finished she smiled at her image in the mirror, turning her head this way and that.

With Toots watching her, the red-haired woman sat down on the bench, slumped her shoulders and took a deep breath. She slipped off her shoes, first one and then the other, rubbed her toes, put the shoes back on. Standing up then, she took off the fur coat she was wearing, placed her bag on the bench and covered it up with the coat (as if that would protect the bag from theft), and then went into one of the restroom stalls and closed the door.

Toots eyed the fur coat with pleasure. It was so beautiful, the way the light shone on it. If it belonged to her, she would never want to take it off and winters would seem kinder. It would feel so good to turn the collar up when the north wind was doing its business. And wouldn’t she be the envy of all the other alley cats? She could just see their eyes popping out of their skulls.

The woman with red hair would be back any second. If Toots was going to snatch the coat and run, she couldn’t hesitate. He who hesitates is lost. She could be out the door with it in three or four seconds. Speed was of the essence.

No one else was in the lounge at the moment. There would be no one to see her. It would be so easy and in a few seconds she’d be outside, running down the street, blending in with the crowd. She could see herself standing on the corner, slipping the coat on over her shoulders. Whose coat do you have there, ma’am? Well, whose coat do you think it is? It’s mine, of course!

She stood up from the bench and, alert for any movement behind her, reached out her hands and put them on the coat. Just touching it was a pleasure; there was nothing else quite like it: soft, rich, luxurious.

But when she picked up the coat, she saw the even bigger prize underneath: the rich-looking alligator handbag with a gold clasp. Wouldn’t there almost certainly be a large stash of cash inside such a bag? The coat might be worth a lot, but there’s nothing like cash. Cash, enough of it, could buy multiple fur coats and anything else that madame desires.

After a quick glance over her shoulder, she grabbed the bag and slung the coat aside. With the bag clutched to her breast, she ran out of the lounge and, making a quick right turn, into the terminal itself and another fifty yards to the revolving door at the main entrance. Nobody tried to stop her; nobody noticed her.

She ran down the street, convinced someone was chasing her. She ran until she was gasping for breath and couldn’t go any farther. She ducked into an alleyway hidden from the street and, catching her breath, opened the alligator bag to see what was inside.

The first thing was the wallet, the most prized item in the bag. She opened it and looked at the woman’s driver’s license. Her name was Mrs. Melba LaForce, of 1506 Cordovan Place. She was forty years old, five feet, eight inches tall, with red hair and gray eyes.

There was also money in the wallet and that’s what mattered: twenties, tens, fives and some one-dollar bills. After counting the money twice with trembling fingers, she found she had scored two hundred and seventy-three dollars. Nothing to write home about but nothing to complain about either.

For the first time in a long time, she felt a glimmer of hope. She’d get herself a room and take a little vacation. She’d take a long soaking bath and when she was finished she’d take another one. She’d wash her hair and sleep in a real bed with sheets. She’d sleep until she woke up and when she woke up she’d go out to a restaurant of her choice and order anything on the menu. She’d have fried chicken or a steak or some Irish stew and cherry pie with ice cream on top. And maybe, just maybe, after she got herself cleaned up, she’d call her husband on the phone and see how he felt about a visit from her. She’d want to hear all about the kids, and she’d swear by all that’s holy that she had given up drink forever and ever.

Before she left the alleyway, she took the compact out of the alligator bag, along with a comb and lipstick. Opening the compact, she regarded her disreputable countenance in the little round mirror and gave a shudder. She combed her dreadful hair straight back from her forehead and, taking the dainty powder puff from the compact, powdered her forehead, nose, cheeks and chin. Then she outlined her lips with the blood-red lipstick and smacked them. When she was finished, she was certain she looked better than she had in a long time.

With the alligator bag over her arm, she left the alleyway and walked five or six blocks to Patsy’s Package Store, where she went inside and bought a big bottle of Canadian Club Rye Whisky. When she went to pay for it, she opened the alligator bag and counted out the money and handed it to the young clerk with a confident smile. When he handed her back her change, he expected her to carry the bottle away the way it was, but she insisted he put it in the paper bag, which was only proper for a lady.

From there, with the bottle tucked under her arm, she walked to the Knickerbocker Hotel, just on the edge of skid row. The Knickerbocker wasn’t the best hotel in the city, but it was far from being the worst. (My dear, where are you staying this visit? Why, darling, don’t you know? I’m stopping at the Knickerbocker!)

She would have paid for the room in advance, but when she signed the hotel register Mrs. Melba LaForce, the desk clerk handed her the key and told her she could go on up and let herself in. She was wearing lipstick, for God’s sake, and her hair was combed. Those things make a difference.

She had to climb up four flights of stairs, causing her legs to nearly fold on her, but by the time she found her room, it was with pleasure that she opened the door. She entered the room and, with a flourish, locked herself in. It would be her room for as long as she paid for it, and nobody else could come in unless she let them in.  

The first thing she did in her room was to open the alligator bag and dump it out on the bed. In the wallet, besides the money, there were also credit cards to some of the finest stores in the city. She would get herself a pair of shoes, a coat, a pair of gloves. The thing about stolen credit cards, though, is that they must be used quickly. After they’re reported stolen, they’re useless.

A bath was the first order of business, though, before any shopping. She filled the tub with scalding water and, removing her filthy clothes, immersed herself to the neck. She soaped all over and when the water was dirty, she let it out and started over again. She washed her hair with the tiny, complementary bottle of green shampoo provided by the hotel. The smell of the shampoo was so wonderful she ended up using the entire bottle.

After she was clean, she hated putting the old things on again, but it would just be for a little while. After a little shopping trip, she could put the old things in the trash, and once she was dressed in new clothes she’d feel like a new person. She would be a new person, with all the bad things behind her. No more stealing! No more running away! No more drinking!

But first a little drink.

When she first came into the room, she put her bottle of rye whisky on the dresser with the label facing out. It was just as pretty as a picture sitting there, with the afternoon sun catching it. It had to be one of the prettiest things in the world. She twisted off the cap and took a restorative swallow straight from the bottle. It burned her throat and made her eyes water, but—oh!—what a feeling it gave her! With the bath and the clean hair and the drink, she felt just like heaven!

But it was absolutely going to be her last bottle. Her farewell bottle. She would use this bottle to taper off and, once the bottle was empty, she’d never buy another. As God is my witness!

She hurried into her clothes, stepped into her shoes and ran the comb through her hair. She’d have just enough time to catch the uptown bus. Before she went out the door, she noticed in the mirror how smart she looked, clean as she was, with the alligator bag over her arm.

On her way down the stairs of the Knickerbocker Hotel, she had a bounce in her step. She felt better than she had felt in a long time, as long as she could remember. Life was beginning anew for her and she was going to take advantage of her good fortune and not let alcohol spoil her chances once again.

She gave the desk clerk a little smile and laid her key on the counter in front of him. It was a good feeling to know the key would waiting for her when she came back.

She went out the door into the bright sunshine and bent down to fix her shoe, which had been falling apart for weeks. When she stood up again and began walking down the stairs, she noticed a woman standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up at her. The woman had a familiar look. She had red hair and was wearing a fur coat. Where had she seen her in the last day or two? Standing behind her was a young police officer.

That’s her!” the woman in the fur coat screamed. “That’s the bitch that stole my purse! I’d know her anywhere!”

Surprised out of her wits, Toots was unable to think. One part of her wanted to run, but another part of her knew it was no use.

The young policeman approached Toots in a threatening manner, towering over her. “It this true?” he asked. “Did you steal this lady’s bag at the bus station?”

“Why, no!” Toots said. “I haven’t been…”

“She’s lying!” the woman in the fur coat said. “What else would you expect from her kind?”

Excuse me!” Toots said, once again finding her tongue. “You don’t even know me! I think you’d better be careful about who you’re accusing!”

You piece of filth!” the woman in the fur coat said. She reached around the officer and grabbed the alligator bag from Toots and held it up in front of his face. “This is it! This is my purse! What more do you need to know?”

“You’d better look inside and make sure it’s yours,” the officer said.

“I don’t have to look inside! I know it’s mine!”

“All right. Look inside anyway. I want you to show me your ID, so we can make sure the purse belongs to you.”

“It’s mine, all right! See? Here’s my driver’s license! What more do you need to know before you take this trashy bitch away and lock her up?”

She stepped forward and began pummeling Toots in the face and head with her fists, first with one hand and then with the other.

“All right!” the policeman said. “That’s enough of that!”

“Why do they let people like that out on the streets?”

“Why do some people have it all?” Toots said.

The woman in the fur coat hit her once again with her fist, just above the ear, nearly knocking her out.

The officer put the handcuffs on Toots and led her to the police car just around the corner of the Knickerbocker Hotel. He opened the back door and gently pushed her into the back seat, while the woman in the fur coat stood and watched with a satisfied smile.

A small crowd of bums had gathered at the side of the Knickerbocker to watch. A few of them waved to Toots and blew her kisses. A wino named Louie stepped out of the group and snapped a picture of her just as she was getting into the police car, using a camera he had stolen from a man in the park.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

The Human Oddity ~ A Short Story

The Human Oddity image 1
The Human Oddity
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

The farmer and the carnival man met by chance in the one tavern in town and began drinking together and talking. The carnival man bought a round and then the farmer bought the next one, until they lost count. Soon they were both quite drunk but they didn’t care.

The farmer had plenty of troubles and he liked to talk about them to anybody who would listen. He had experienced financial reverses on the farm and was going to have to sell out and take his wife and five children out West someplace where he could make a decent wage. I’m not gonna be no slave, though, he said.

“An honest working man don’t have much of a chance these days,” the carnival man said.

“Maybe I’ll do what you do,” the farmer said.

“What’s that?”

“Chuck everything and join a traveling show and travel around and see the world.”

“I wouldn’t advise it,” the carnival man said.

“Why not?”

“Times is hard everywhere. Why, man, it’s 1934! Carny folk can just barely eke out a livin’, traveling around from one hick town to another, takin’ the nickels and dimes of country folk like you.”

“I ain’t proud,” the farmer said. “I don’t mind bein’ called a hick.”

“You’d do better to take the wife and kiddies someplace far off and try your hand at something other than farmin’. Maybe you could open a store or somethin’ or sell you some life insurance. Your old woman might could get a job curlin’ hair in a beauty parlor.”

“I don’t know,” the farmer said. “Farmin’ is all I know. Farmin’ was all my daddy knew and all his daddy knew.”

“Well, the Lord will provide,” the carnival man said.

“Tell me about the carnival,” the farmer said.

“There ain’t much to tell. We travel around all the time. It’s plenty of hard work. It ain’t comfortable livin’. My job is managin’ the freak pavilion.”

“What’s that?”

“Ain’t you ever heard of a freak show?”

“Sure I’ve heard of it but haven’t ever seen one.”

“Well, we have these human oddities that people pay good money to take a gander at.”

“They’re alive? The freaks are alive?”

“Certainly they’re alive! All except for the Siamese twin babies in a big jar of formaldehyde. They’re dead. Been dead a long time.”

“I sure would like to see that!”

“It’s real interestin’, if you’re a connoisseur of the freak.”

“Well, who isn’t?”

“Among the more interestin’ attractions we have are Octopus Girl, Alligator Boy, Midget Acrobats, Thousand-Pound Woman…”

“Does she really weigh a thousand pounds?”

“Every bit of it. We have a pair of live Siamese twin girls in addition to the dead boys in the bottle…

“Do they speak our language?”

“Certainly they do. They’re as American as you or I. We got an eight-foot-tall man with legs so skinny you don’t know how they hold him upright. We got Reptile Woman, Flipper Baby, Tattooed Woman, Bearded Lady, and we’re always lookin’ for new freaks to liven up the show.”

“You pay money to them freaks? A regular wage?”

“Course we do! You don’t expect them to work for nothin’, do you?”

“How does a person go about gettin’ a job in the freak show?”

“Well, first of all, you gotta be a freak. You know, like part alligator or with a monkey face or cloven hooves. That sort of thing. Do you know of anybody you could rightly call a freak?”

“No. I was just thinkin’.”

“You do know a freak, I can see it in your eyes.”

“No, I was thinkin’ of my little girl, Weeda. She ain’t exactly a freak but she’s got more than her share of oddness.”

“Oddness how?”

“Well, for one thing, she ain’t right in the head. My other children all learned to read and write but Weeda never even went to school.”

“That don’t make a person a freak.”

“I know, but that’s not all. She’s got an enormous head and won’t no hair grow on it at all. The sisters of the church makes her cloth caps to wear on her head so people won’t know she ain’t got any hair.”

“Why can’t she grow no hair?”

“I don’t know. It’s just one more sign of whatever it is that’s wrong with her.”

“How old is she?”


“Can she talk?”

“She knows a few words, but she don’t talk none to speak of.”

“Have you took her to a doctor?”

“Certainly we’ve took her to a doctor. Don’t you think we would’ve tried to cure her if she could be cured?”

“Can she feed herself?” the carnival man asked. “Can she tend to her personal needs?”

“Sure, she can do them things.”

“If she’s thirsty, does she have sense enough to go to the well and get a drink of water without fallin’ in and drownin’ herself?”

“She’s not completely senseless, no. Just peculiar, as I said.”

“Sounds like a sad case,” the carnival man said. “She’ll be a burden to you and your old woman unto your dyin’ day.”

“I swear, she’s more like a bird than anything else,” the farmer said. “She’s got a sharp little nose exactly like the beak on a bird, little bird arms like the beginnin’ of wings, and when you look into those eyes of hers you’d swear you was seeing a bird’s eyes.”

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Ain’t that a shame.”

“Could you take a look at her?” the farmer asked. “If you could take her into the freak show and pay her a decent wage, it sure would help us out.”

“Well, I don’t know how we might fit a little girl like that into the show, with times bein’ what they are.”

“If you could just see her, you might change your mind. It wouldn’t hurt to see her, now, would it?”

“No, I suppose not. Where is she?”

“She’s at home. Where do you think she is? You can follow me out and I’ll take you there. It’s ain’t but about eight miles.”

“Well, all right, then. I don’t have no place to be ‘til tomorrow. I guess it won’t hurt to take a look at the little girly-girl and see if she’s got freak potential.”

The carnival man followed along in his town car behind the farmer in his sputtering pickup truck over the miles of dusty country roads to the farmer’s homestead. The ride out sobered up the carnival man after his drinking, but it also made him vomit.

When the farmer pulled into his dooryard, with the carnival man right behind him in a cloud of dust, four children came running out of the house, one girl in her teens and three younger boys. They crowded around the farmer, plucking at his sleeves

“Who’s that man?” one of them asked.

“None of your business,” the farmer said.

The farmer took the carnival man into the house and introduced him to his porridge-faced wife, whose name was Hazel. She shook the carnival man’s hand and managed a tight smile but it was clear she didn’t like strangers in her house.

“Is that the girl you was talking about?” the carnival man asked the farmer.

“Oh, no!” the farmer said. “That’s Mary Beth. There ain’t nothing wrong with her. She’s my oldest. She’s been all the way through school and she’s engaged to marry a government agent in the spring.

“Where’s the girl in question?” the carnival man began.

“She’s probably out back with the chickens,” the farmer said. “Hazel! Go and get Weeda!”

The farmer took the carnival man into the parlor and seated him on the couch.

“I’d offer you something to drink, but we ain’t got anything except water,” the farmer said.

“It’s all right,” the carnival man said. “I’ve had enough to drink for one day, anyhow.”

After a while, Hazel brought Weeda into the parlor and stood her in the middle of the room like a display dummy.

“Well, what do you think?” the farmer asked the carnival man.

“She is very like a bird,” the carnival man said.

“Was I lyin’?”

“I’d like to see her walk a few steps and turn around and reach up as if she was pickin’ a apple off a tree.”

“Weeda!” the farmer said. “Did you hear the man?”

Hazel touched Weeda on the arm. She walked toward the front door until she came to the wall and then she turned around and walked back the other way.

“What did I tell you?” the farmer asked.

“Reach high above your head, honey, and pretend to pick a apple off a tree,” the carnival man said.

Weeda did as she was told and then looked at the carnival man with a little smile to see what he would tell her to do next.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with her hearin’,” the carnival man said.

Hazel turned on the radio and, after a few seconds of popping and crackling, a lively dance number came on, a piece called “Boot It”, played by Benny Moten and his Kansas City Orchestra.

When Weeda heard the music, her face lit up in a happy smile. She began moving her arms in time to the music and then her legs. Soon she was dancing all over the room in perfect time to the music, with everybody looking on. She turned one way and then the other, sashaying in and out,  raising her arms, putting her hands on her hips and turning all the way around, jiggling her enormous head. The carnival man watched with fascination.

“See how she loves music?” Hazel said.

The song ended and Weeda stopped dancing and her smile faded. The carnival man clapped his hands.

“She certainly can dance,” he said. “Audiences will love her.”

“Think you can use her?” the farmer asked, delighted.

“I think she definitely has freak potential. I see all kinds of potential there. I think she’ll be a popular attraction in the show.”

“Did you hear that, Weeda?” Hazel said, clapping her hands.

“I’m thinkin’ something along the lines of a dancing chicken girl,” the carnival man said. “She won’t have to talk much if she don’t want to, but people in the audience will be tryin’ to get her to talk to them. No sir, she won’t have to talk, but she can squawk and peep just like a chicken, when called on to do so. And we’ll fix her up with her very own outfit, maybe covered all over with yellow feathers. How does that sound?”

“Oh, it sounds wonderful!” Hazel said.

“How much?” the farmer asked.

“How much what?”

“How much will you pay me for her?”

“Not so fast!” the carnival man said. “We’ve got some details to iron out. We’ll have to have a contract, givin’ us exclusive rights to her talents, and you and your wife will have to sign it.”

“We’ll sign it,” the farmer said. “Just say where.”

“And you have to understand it’s only a tryout at first. If she don’t work out, we’ll bring her back home, safe and sound.”

“Did you hear that?” Hazel asked, crying tears of joy. “Our little girl in show business!”

Hazel and the farmer’s children went out of the parlor, leaving the farmer and the carnival man alone.

“I want one thing understood,” the farmer said.

“What’s that?”

“Weeda’s a good girl from a good family. I won’t have her took advantage of.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” the carnival man said. “I’ll be like a father to her, and there’s at least half-a-dozen women in the show to mother her. We’re like a big family.”

“She’s an innocent baby. Keep that in mind. She ain’t never even heard any swear words.”

“I understand that,” the carnival man said.

The mood between the farmer and the carnival man turned festive. The carnival man went out to his car to fetch a copy of the standard freak show contract and while he was at it he brought back into the house a large bottle of Virginia sour mash that he had been carrying in his back seat.

They drank heartily and swapped stories until late into the night. When the bottle of Virginia sour mash was finally empty, they went to sleep, side by side, on the floor of the parlor. They awoke to cockcrow and to the smell of cooking breakfast.

Hazel had been up before daylight. She packed Weeda’s suitcase and prepared her for the trip, dressing her in a sack-like dress that went almost to the floor and giving her a wide-brimmed, black straw hat with an eye-catching cluster of cherries. It was a happy day for all, though a little bit sad.

When the carnival man was ready to climb into his town car and begin his journey homeward, he shook hands with the farmer and the farmer’s old woman and thanked them for their hospitality. Weeda stood by the open door of the car and suffered hugs and slobbering kisses from her brothers and her sister.

“Have yourself a safe trip,” the farmer said. He was a little sad-eyed, saying goodbye not only to a daughter but also to a new-found friend.

Before Weeda got into the car, Hazel brought forth a large red hen and placed it in her arms. When Weeda saw the hen, her face lit up in the same happy smile she had when she danced. She cradled the hen like a newborn babe and got into the carnival man’s car and closed the door.

“As long as she’s got a chicken in her arms, she’ll never be unhappy,” Hazel said.

The farmer and his remaining children watched as the carnival man’s car picked up speed in a cloud of dust and disappeared from view around the turning in the road.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

In the Shape of a Man ~ A Short Story

In the Shape of a Man image
In the Shape of a Man
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

Alexander comes to Marceline in the night, undresses in the dark, and gets into bed beside her. She smells his clean man smell and is aware of the mere animal presence of him: a torso, a head and shoulders, two arms and two legs. The mattress sags under his weight and she sinks closer to him, huddling beside him under the blankets. Timidly she runs her finger along his pectoral muscles and when he seems annoyed she stops.

She can’t, of course, do all the things she longs to do, but it is enough to just have him there in the bed beside her, to watch his handsome profile in the dark. She is reminded of the phrase from the Bible: My cup runneth over. She is too happy, too fulfilled, to sleep well, but it doesn’t matter. She can work on very little sleep or no sleep at all and nobody will notice her heavy eyelids or how sloppily she is dressed or the mistakes she will make in her typing.

When she wakes in the morning he is gone. She sees at once that she is going to be late, but she doesn’t care. She places her hand on the bed where his body has lain and she believes she can still feel his warmth. When she feels herself starting to drift off to sleep again, she throws back the cover and jumps up with alarm.

After performing the necessary ablutions in the bathroom, Marceline dresses hurriedly and goes into the kitchen. Mother is sitting at the table underneath the chicken clock with her back to the wall. She still holds her cards from the gin rummy game the night before. Her glasses glint and her fingernails glisten in the morning light coming from the window.

“Good morning, mother,” Marceline says as she sets about making her morning cup of tea. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. Alexander was with me last night. He’s very passionate, such a wonderful lover. I’m a lucky woman.”

A quick look at the chicken clock tells her she doesn’t have time for breakfast, only her scalding cup of tea. Oh, well, she isn’t hungry, anyway. She can get something out of the vending machine at work.

Before she goes out the door, she takes a quick look at her mother and blows her a kiss. “I’ll be home at the usual time!” she calls cheerily. “God willing, of course!”

She misses the early downtown bus and has to wait fifteen minutes for the second one and when she gets on the bus she doesn’t get a seat and has to stand the whole way. When she walks into the office, half-an-hour late, Mr. Frizzell frowns at her and points at his watch. She smiles and goes on to her desk, ignoring the inquisitive glances of her co-workers.

“Late night last night?” Miss Arlette asks archly.

Marceline ignores her, hangs up her coat and sits down at her desk and begins working.

She despises Ivan-Bello (she has worked there for twelve long years) and the people in it. Her days are routine and uneventful. Her real life seems at times like a prison sentence from which there is no reprieve. The building she works in is old, dreary and dilapidated. Rats run along pipes hanging from ceilings. Plaster and paint rain down on people’s heads. Elevators are permanently out of order. And the people in the company are well-suited to their environment; they are unimaginative, unoriginal, colorless and not worthy of interest. Marceline knows, however, that in describing them in this way, she is also describing herself.

Some of her co-workers, especially the younger women, look upon Marceline with suspicion because they know nothing about her and they think there is something fishy about somebody who isn’t friendly with them. They make jokes behind her back about her sack-like dresses, unflattering hairstyle, and lack of makeup. Knowing she isn’t married, they speculate about whether or not she is a virgin or even if she is a woman. They play little tricks on her, like breaking the lead points off all her pencils or putting a rubber spider on her shoulder while she’s sitting at her desk.

At lunch she buys a sandwich and a bottle of pop in the employees’ lunchroom and takes them to the mannequin storage room. It is cool and quiet in the mannequin room—only the mannequins—and she can have a little time to herself away from ringing phones, clacking typewriters and the self-important voices of those around her.

She goes to the back of the room where the mannequins are closest together, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. Some of them are clothed but most are unclothed. Even with no clothes, their painted-on faces are always the same. The men are handsome and the women are beautiful. Some of them have brilliant, life-like eyes and mouths showing pearl-like teeth. They’re lifelike (but not in the way of real people), agreeable and pleasant to be near. They make her feel happy in her life and less alone. Sometimes she kisses one of the more appealing male mannequins full on the lips; she enjoys the sensation and never thinks how peculiar such an action might appear to the casual observer.

She finds a place to sit on a display case where a mannequin has recently been removed and eats her sandwich slowly and when it is gone she finishes her bottle of pop. The empty bottle makes a convenient ash repository, so she lights up a cigarette and blows the smoke out luxuriously. People in the mannequin factory are desperately afraid of fire and she would probably be fired if management knew she was smoking in the highly combustible mannequin room, but that doesn’t keep her from smoking. She is not careless the way some people are; if there’s ever a fire it will be through no fault of her own.

As she leaves the mannequin room, she conceals the pop bottle with her ashes and cigarette butt in it in the folds of her dress. On the way back to her desk she throws the bottle away in one of the tall trash cans, hiding it underneath a mound of papers. Nobody can ever claim she isn’t careful.

In the half-hour or so that she has been away, Mr. Frizzell or somebody else has piled more work on her desk that has to be finished by the end of the day. She never hurries herself because she knows in the world of business everything is always urgent. They’ll have the completed work when they have it and if that doesn’t suit them, well, they’ll just have to go up to the roof and take a sixty-foot dive into the trash cans in the alley.

When the day is finally over and Marceline goes back home, mother is still sitting at the kitchen table holding her cards. She lifts mother up—so light!—and carries her into the living room and sets her on the couch and turns on the TV. Mother enjoys the chatter, the endless commercials, the applause and the mindlessness, of late-afternoon TV fare.

She cooks a modest dinner for herself and mother and when it’s ready she carries mother into the kitchen again and slides her up to the table in her customary chair. She has a full place setting for mother—knife, fork, spoon, folded napkin beside the plate—but the truth is mother doesn’t eat much because she isn’t real. She weighs fifteen pounds. She is a life-size doll; that is, she is one of the mannequins from Ivan-Bello, wearing her real mother’s clothes, wig and glasses. Marceline brought her home from work on the bus one day, paying the fare for her as if she were a real person. People on the bus looked at her if she was a crazy person, but nobody said anything and she just smiled to herself at her little joke.

Her real mother, not the mannequin, has been dead for a year and a half. All that remains of her on this earth is an urnful of ashes on the dresser in her bedroom. She died in her bed, in her sleep, not knowing anything, at age seventy-six. For the last twenty years of her life, she had been in what might modestly be described as “poor health.”

Mother was Marceline’s only friend and companion. They never fussed or quarreled in the way of other mothers and daughters. They were together always, each an extension of the other, and when mother died Marceline couldn’t bear coming home every day to an empty house.

Not long after mother’s death, when Marceline was eating lunch and smoking her Camel cigarette in the mannequin storage room, she noted the resemblance between mother and one of the  female mannequins. They each possessed the same small, pointed nose, the same high cheekbones and the tiny dimple in the chin. When she looked at the mannequin for long enough and squinted, she saw her mother and heard her voice. That’s when she decided to claim the mannequin for her own after office hours and take it (her) home with her on the bus.

When dinner is over, Marceline returns mother to her TV in the living room and washes the dishes. She lets mother watch her favorite programs throughout the evening. When it’s time to go to bed, she undresses her, puts her nighty on over her head and tucks her comfortably under the covers.

The man who comes to her that night is Tab. He isn’t beefy and muscular like Alexander but tall and thin, with blue eyes and flaxen blond hair. He whispers Marceline’s name when they are in the throes of passion and she is embarrassed to think that mother might hear them through the thin wall. When it is all over, Tab leaves and Marceline falls, with the help of a pill, into a blissful sleep that is broken only by the harsh buzz of the alarm clock at six-thirty in the morning. It is time to begin another day.

Another lunchtime in the mannequin storage room (nobody has  a clue where she is or what she is doing), she spots a male mannequin she has never seen before. He has dark-red hair and long-lashed, amber eyes. He has broad shoulders (but not too broad), a narrow waist, and stands about five feet, ten inches tall. He is in almost every way the perfect man, except, of course, that he isn’t a real man but a facsimile of a man. Marceline knows at the moment she sees him that she must—she simply must—have him. Sensibly or not, she names him Finch.

The next day she brings to work in a shopping bag an old tweed suit that belonged to her deceased father, as well as shirt, bow tie, belt, old-fashioned union suit, overcoat and hat. After five o’clock that day, when everybody else has gone home, she goes up to the mannequin storage room and dresses Finch up in the clothes she has brought, takes him down to street level by way of the fire stairs and home with her on the bus. People look at her and snigger but she doesn’t care.

At home once again, she puts Finch in her bedroom and closes the door. She isn’t ready just yet for mother to meet him. She expects a honeymoon period with him before he and mother become acquainted.

She enjoys undressing Finch at bedtime and putting him to bed and getting in beside him. All night long, she tricks her mind into believing she is not alone in the bed but with a man. And while he may not exactly be a real man, he has dimension. He possess the bodily proportions of a real man—meaning, of course, that he is made up of more than air. She finds that Finch is more satisfying than either Alexander or Tab.

In the middle of the morning Mr. Frizzell summons Marceline to his office and gestures for her to sit in the chair in front of her desk.

“I’m going to ask you a question,” Mr. Frizzell says, “and I want you to tell me the truth.”

She smiles, wishing she could stub out her cigarette on his veiny nose.

“Have you been stealing property belonging to Ivan-Bello?”

“Why would I do that?” she asks.

He sighs, folding his pudgy hands on the desk in front of him. “Somebody saw you leaving the building with one of our mannequins.”

Who was it?”

“It doesn’t matter who it was.”

“I’ll bet it was Miss Arlette, wasn’t it?”

“I doesn’t matter who. Did you steal one of our mannequins?”

“No, I didn’t steal it.”

“But you took it?”



“I wanted it.”

“To sell?”

“No, not to sell.”

“For what, then?”

“I wanted it.”

“It’s company property. We can’t have people stealing from the company. It’s grounds for immediate dismissal.”

“You’re firing me?”

“You have the rest of the day to say your goodbyes.”

It’s a little early for lunch, but she goes immediately to the employee lunchroom and buys a sandwich and a bottle of pop and takes them up to the mannequin storage room.

She knows she will not be seeing the mannequins again, so she says goodbye to as many of them as she can. She tenders an apology to the room in general and then smokes the last cigarette she will ever be smoking in the place.

All the way in back of the huge storage room are some old barrels containing papers, books, cloth samples and mannequin clothing. She picks up a little wedge of wood and lights the end of it with her cigarette lighter and throws it into one of the barrels. She isn’t sure if the fire will take hold or not, but after she leaves the building and goes home for the last time she doesn’t give it much thought.

The next morning she gets out of bed and dresses for work at the usual time, careful not to disturb Finch in the bed. She has her cup of scalding tea, gives mother a tiny goodbye peck on the cheek and walks the three short blocks to catch the downtown bus.

The bus can only go so far. It’s four blocks or so from her destination when it becomes snarled in traffic. Rather than waiting for the traffic problem to resolve it, she gets off the bus and walks the rest of the way.

Right away she notices the stench of burning.

Ivan-Bello has been burning all night long and has just about burned itself out. While the outside walls still mostly stand, all the floors, from six on down, appear to have collapsed in on each other. Police keep onlookers back at a safe distance.

As Marceline stands with dozens of other people and watches the fire, she is thankful for many things, not the least of which is that Ivan-Bello is a thing of the past. More importantly, however, mother and Finch are safe at home. She’ll see them again in just a little while and the three of them will be together forever.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Spiritus ~ A Short Story

~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story was published in The Literary Hatchet.)

My name is Igor Dillingham. In 1893 I was twenty-one years of age. I was twenty-one then and I’m twenty-one now. Twenty-one I shall always be. Every time I look at myself in a mirror, I see my twenty-one-year-old self looking back at me. I will never be forty or sixty or eighty, but always the same as I am now, for I am dead and I dwell in the spirit world.

A lot of years have gone by, I know, although time, the passage of years, means nothing to me. I still dwell in our old house. The house, old as it is, is also big. I forget exactly how many rooms there are in it but, since I am the only one left, all the rooms belong to me. The house, I was told, was built a long time ago by a rich man with many children. All of the original family are gone—I’ve never met any of them—and I have never encountered any of them in the spirit world. They have all moved on, as the saying goes.

Now the house is falling down in places. The paint is all gone, the wood is old, ugly and gray, the roof has holes in it; mice, bats and spiders are my eternal companions. I hear, always, the flutter of wings above my head as birds nest in the attic. Some of the windows are broken out, but it makes no difference to me because I am a spirit and spirits don’t mind the cold wind and rain.

Sometimes I go out of the house, but the truth is I have no place to go. On occasion, just to prove to myself that I still can, I go outside and travel a mile or two in any direction. In these little forays out into the world, I never see a living person but only wild animals and birds, which is altogether fine with me. Animals, even if they can’t see me, sense that I’m there and are not afraid.

The road that leads down to our house was washed out in a flood forty years ago. Nobody bothered to build the road back. Even if people could get down here, they have no reason to do so. It is a place completely shut off from the world and forgotten. I think isolated is the word. If I saw a living person who wasn’t a spirit, like me, I wouldn’t know what to do. I suppose I’d run and hide and make sure I gave him good enough reason to want to leave.

In my aloneness, I am sometimes reminded of the people I once knew when I was alive. I had a sister, Sobriety, and a brother, Claxon. Sobriety had an enormous head; she was what’s known as hydrocephalic. She stayed in a crib in an upstairs room most of the time, tended only by a mute servant that mother employed. I used to go into her room to visit her and try her to keep from feeling lonely, but I’m not sure if she ever knew I was even there. Mother sold her to a traveling freak show when she was about twelve years old for fifty dollars. After the freak show people took her away, I never saw her again. I don’t know what ever became of her but I hope one day I will meet her in the spirit world and rejoice to see that she is cured of her affliction.

My brother Claxon was covered with a scaly growth all over his body that made him look like a human frog. He never spoke in words but he made croaking sounds and he knew how to laugh. He was my closest friend; he and I communicated without words in the way of brothers. One day he made the mistake of defying mother in a very bad place—at the top of the stairs. She rushed him and pushed him. He fell all the way to the bottom of the stairs and broke his neck. He died later the same day. She didn’t want anybody to know what she had done, so she buried him in the hog yard out back before anybody had a chance to ask any questions. I nailed together a small cross and put it over the place where I thought he was buried, but the hogs trampled it into the mud.

Claxon wasn’t the first person mother killed, nor would he be the last. When I was six years old, she poisoned the man who was my father, or the man I believed was my father. She claimed he became sick in the night of unknown causes and was dead by the rising of the sun. She collected on his life insurance and become a modestly wealthy woman. That’s when she realized how profitable death could be for her.

She soon married another man with whom she had been communicating through a lonely hearts club. After six months of marriage, she murdered him by dropping a meat grinder on his head and claiming it was an accident. He didn’t have life insurance, but he had over a thousand dollars in a bank account and a small horde of silver coins, all of which became hers as his grieving widow.

About the time mother killed her second husband, she hired an itinerant worker to do small jobs for her. She had him tend the garden, paint the barn and mend the fence before she took him into her bed. He was her plaything for a few weeks, until he became tiresome to her and then she poisoned him—making certain first, however, that he had no relations who might come looking for him later.

There were others after that. She placed an ad in a newspaper in the city for single gentlemen who might be interested in the pastoral life on a lush farm away from the hustle-bustle of the city. With a small investment of a thousand dollars, they might “buy into” a growing enterprise that had unlimited potential for growth and profit.

I don’t know how many “gentlemen” mother lured away from the city and killed, but I do know our hog yard out behind the barn became quite crowded with rotting corpses, while the wad of cash she kept hidden underneath the floorboards in her bedroom grew ever larger.

I was the only living witness to mother’s depredations, but she thought I was too stupid to see anything, to know anything. From the time I was eight years old, I began writing everything down: names and ages of the people who ended up in the hog yard, where they came from, physical characteristics (bald, wears glasses, speaks with a stutter, speaks with an accent, missing fingers on right hand), how much money they brought to the “enterprise” and anything else I could see that set each one apart from the others. I also added to the record the details of how she sold Sobriety to a traveling freak show for fifty dollars and how she pushed Claxon down the stairs and broke his neck. I spared none of the distasteful details.

By the time I was a grown man, I had filled an entire notebook with these observations. If mother killed me, as I was certain she would one day, I hoped that my notebook would end up in the proper hands and justice would be served.

She was gone for three days and didn’t tell me where she was going. When she came back, she had a new husband, a man named Jules DuFray. He was slick, well-dressed, the opposite of a farming man; he wore suits instead of overalls, even all the way out here where nobody ever saw him. I don’t know whatever possessed him to want to marry a pizzle-faced old harridan like my mother, but there you have it. She had always had a way with men. There’s no accounting for tastes, I suppose.

For several days I stayed out of mother’s way, keeping to myself in my room or in the woods. She and her new husband spent most of their time in mother’s bedroom with the door closed. When I passed by in the hallway, I could hear them grunting, breathing,  groaning. When we all sat down to dinner (cooked by a moronic “serving girl” that mother hired with one of her newspaper ads), mother was polite and subdued, almost as if she had been drugged. I knew she was putting on an act for her new husband, while all the time hatching some scheme in her head that would bring her enough money to live like the queen she imagined herself to be.

When I saw the cans of kerosene she had stored under the stairs, I knew that her plans involved burning the house—with me in it, of course—and then collecting on the insurance. She would make it look so convincingly like an accident that she would fool anybody who needed fooling.

I was afraid to go to bed and go to sleep, afraid that I would wake up and the house would be burning and it would be too late for me to get out. I sat in a chair in my room, fully clothed, dozing lightly, clutching my notebook, ready to escape the house at the first sign of smoke or fire.

Finally I could stand it no longer, this waiting for mother to kill me, waiting for the house to go up in flames. One morning I set out on the road for the nearest town, over ten miles away, to deliver my notebook to a man of the law, a person of authority who could set about bringing mother’s killing to an end.

I hitched rides part of the way, so I came to the town of Wadsworth by noontime. I asked an old man sweeping the sidewalk in front of a store where I might find the sheriff. He told me what I needed to know and in a half-hour I was sitting across a desk from an old man wearing a badge. I gave him my notebook and told him my fantastic story, or as much of it as I could get out without crying. He listened to me with unremitting seriousness and told me he would read every word of what I had written and look into my allegations as soon as time permitted. He gave me some water and some jailhouse food and, after I had rested for a while, I began the long walk back home.

Mother was waiting for me. She somehow knew where I had been and who I had been talking to. Without a word, she split my head with an ax and then hit me with a cane until I was dead as I lay on the floor. I felt my spirit leave my body and go up through the ceilings and floors of the house to the attic. It is here I have been ever since.

Mother and her new husband Jules DuFray got away before the sheriff and his men arrived. I don’t know where they went, but my mother, true to her fashion, disappeared as completely as if she had never existed. I’d like to think that she somehow, somewhere, met justice, but I’m more inclined to believe she just transferred her activities to another location.

I stood at the attic window and watched the men exhume the thirty or so bodies from the hog yard. When they were all finished collecting bodies and collecting evidence from the house, they put a heavy padlock on the front door and left. They didn’t know I was still here, and if they had known they wouldn’t have cared. I was as nothing, a tiny puff of air that disappears as soon as you see it.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Ask Satan Anything ~ A Short Story

Ask Satan Anything image 2
Ask Satan Anything
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story was published in The Literary Hatchet.)

The year is 1933 and the time late summer. The sleepy town of Hartwell sits on the edge of the windblown prairie. For three nights out of the year, the town is touched by magic, excitement and mystery. The carnival is in town.

The beautiful lights of the Ferris wheel can be seen a mile away. The merry-go-round never stops—music, lights and dizzying motion, a magic all its own. A clown in pajamas of red polka dots, smile painted on, shoes a foot-and-a-half long, walks among the crowds selling balloons—only five cents apiece. In that tent over there you can have your fortune told by an old gypsy hag with missing teeth and a crystal ball. Feeling lucky tonight? Try your luck at one of the games of skill. After you’ve won all the prizes and amazed everybody with your dexterity and strength, step this way and have a delicious hot dog, a bag of peanuts, a Coca-Cola, or a cardboard wand covered with pink cotton candy. And the smells all mixed in together are wonderful. How can you be here and not feel happy to be alive?

The freak show is a popular attraction. People line up to buy tickets to see the thousand-pound woman, the eight-foot-tall man, the lobster girl, the octopus boy, the pin head, the Siamese twins, the human alligator, the walking skeleton, the cobra woman, the bird girl, the albino midgets, and the two-headed baby floating in a jar of formaldehyde.

This year a new attraction has been added to the freak show. Technically speaking, it isn’t a freak, but it is an oddity, something new and altogether different. For ten measly cents, you can meet Satan live and in person! And, not only that, you can ask him any question your heart desires. Haven’t you always wanted to talk to Satan, to ask him anything? Now’s your chance!

All the seats are taken. The show is about to begin. And let us say a word or two about the people in the audience. They are of all kinds: young and old, male and female, farmers in overalls and their wives in sack dresses, town ladies with painted faces and feathered hats, business men and their hatchet-faced wives, pimple-faced teenage boys ogling women as old as seventy, secretaries who work in stifling offices during the day and forfend the sexual advances of men old enough to be their grandfathers, mill workers who never learned to read but pretend otherwise, saints and sinners, whores and liars, extortionists and embezzlers, people who would sell their own grandmother to the highest bidder. They all have one thing in common: they all want to meet Satan.

Ellis Crumshaw sits on the aisle about halfway back. He has a child’s face in a man’s body. He is twenty but could pass for fifteen. He used to sleep nights and digest his food without any trouble, but now he is in a lot of trouble. He has asked God to help him but God seems not to be listening. He has nowhere left to turn. Satan might be the answer.

He has been seeing a country girl named Nonnie Lowbridge. She’s thirty if she’s a day and might be thirty-three. She says she’s going to have a baby and that Ellis Crumshaw is the father. He has been with her three times. It’s possible he’s the father but he doesn’t believe he is. He knows from hearing other people talk that she would invite any man into the barn and lift up her skirts for him, whether she knows the man or not.

Nonnie Lowbridge is insisting that Ellis Crumshaw marry her, and fast, before people can see the baby swelling in her stomach. If he doesn’t marry her, she says, she will not only get her brothers to beat the shit out of him, but she will go to the police and tell them he forced himself on her. For that, he will go to the penitentiary for the rest of his life for taking advantage of a poor country girl and leaving her with a bastard baby. The other prisoners will use him for a punching bag when they find out what he did and will probably kill him, not quick but slow.

Ellis doesn’t want to marry Nonnie Lowbridge, but he is certain he doesn’t want to go to prison, either. He has seen I Am a Prisoner from a Chain Gang and The Big House and he knows he’d probably last only a day or two behind bars. He has thought about pushing Nonnie Lowbridge off the bridge into the river, but he is certain somebody would see him and he would end up in prison for murder, which must be a lot worse than being in prison for forcing yourself on a girl and leaving her with a bastard baby. He has thought about killing himself but he doesn’t have the nerve. As the saying goes, he is between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The show, as we said, is about to begin. The people are quiet, waiting. If anybody speaks at all, it is in a low voice and only a word or two. The chairs face a little stage with a heavy curtain. A light at the bottom of the curtain shines upward and is the only illumination; all other lights have been dimmed. What is going on behind the curtain is anybody’s guess.

After a few bars of recorded violin music, the curtain opens. An old man sits on the stage in a rocking chair smoking a cigarette. His hair is sparse and white. He wears a black suit and an old-fashioned string tie. He regards the people in the audience with a smile and a slight nod, continuing to smoke the cigarette. There’s a snigger or two from the audience and somebody coughs. This is not what people have expected.

The old man continues to draw on his cigarette for a minute or two as if he has all night and then he addresses the audience.

“You are all familiar with me,” he says in a strong, clear voice. “I am Satan but through the ages I have been known as Beelzebub and by many other names. I am standing by your side when you tell a lie or when you call your neighbor a dirty swine or when you cheat on a test in school; when you’re fornicating with a person you’re not married to or when you steal your neighbor’s newspaper; when you see your wife’s fat ass and it makes you think of some other woman, maybe the preacher’s wife or your son’s second-grade teacher; when you wish your chattering mother-in-law would take the gas pipe; when you cause a deliberate dent in your brother’s Ford because you’re jealous that he has a new car and you don’t. I am everywhere. From the moment you open your eyes on this world, I am there to catch you when you fall.”

He pauses and draws the smoke from the cigarette down into his lungs.

“After those brief introductory remarks,” he says. “I will now take questions from the audience.”

His deep-set eyes scan from left to right and back again. He holds the cigarette up near his face and smiles. Anybody paying any attention sees that the cigarette doesn’t burn down the way a cigarette always does but stays the same as if it has just been freshly lighted.

“Any questions?” he asks again, to spur the audience along.

“Where’s your pitchfork?” someone asks.

“It’s in your eye or in your back or wherever I want it to be,” the old man says. “Always at the ready.”

“How old are you?” someone asks.

“I am older than the human race. I was the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to partake of the forbidden fruit. She fell readily and then she took Adam with her, thus resulting in the sorry state of the human race forever after. Be ever mindful of the role Eve plays in the Downfall of Man.

“I was Cain, who killed Able. I was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. I was the Emperor Nero who threw a party for friends by the light of burning Christians. I was Napoleon Bonaparte, who tore Europe asunder with his mad ambition and military adventuring. I was every despot since the beginning of man who trod on the backs of the masses. I am everywhere, in every age. If you have been told in your religious training that God is everywhere, you must know that I also am everywhere.”

“I don’t believe you’re really Satan,” someone says. “You just look like a tired old man to me.”

He stands up from the chair, takes two steps to the left, raises his arm and from the end of his finger discharges a red-and-yellow fireball into the air that flashes for an instant and then dissipates, leaving a sulfurous smell. Everybody in the audience jumps, screams, gasps, or does all three.

“Now that I have your attention,” the old man says as he reseats himself, “are there any other questions?”

“What does the future hold for us?” someone asks.

“The future for the human race will be a tableau of chaos and confusion, bloodshed and warfare, anarchy and wholesale death. Any other questions?”

“What did you say when God kicked you out of heaven?”

Goddamn it all to hell.”

“Why doesn’t God just kick the crap out of you once and for all and be done with it? After all, He’s God. He can do whatever he wants.”

The old man laughs. “He won’t do that. Then He wouldn’t have any more sport with me.”

“Could you ask Him to forgive you and take you back into heaven?”

“I am a reprobate. If you look that word up in your dictionary, you will see it means a person who is irredeemable and beyond God’s forgiveness.”

“What makes you so bad?”

“My badness feeds on itself. It grows and grows until one day it will consume the whole world.”

“What happens then?”

“The end. The Apocalypse. The earth will become a fiery hell, an everlasting burning hell.”

“And all the ‘saved’ go to heaven?”

“That’s not my department.”

Ellis Crumshaw can stand it no longer. Everything he has heard and seen convinces him beyond any doubt that this old man is Satan. He stands up and steps to the left out into the aisle and takes a few steps toward the stage.

The old man sees Ellis coming toward him hesitantly and frowns. He has been confronted before by hecklers or someone intent on doing him harm and must be wary.

“Yes, young man?” he says. “What’s the trouble?”

“Please, sir,” Ellis says. “I need your help.”

“Have you murdered somebody?”

“No. I want you to take me back to hell with you.”

Everybody turns in their seats to get a look at Ellis.

“You’re a strapping young fella,” the old man says with a smile. “You have many good days ahead of you. You don’t want to do a foolish thing you can’t undo.”

“No,” Ellis says. “You see, there’s a girl…”

“Ah! There’s always a girl, isn’t there?”

“No, there’s this girl. She’s older than me. Quite a bit older. She says she’s going to have a baby and that I’m the father. She says I have to marry her or she’s going to the police and tell them I raped her.”

“And did you rape her?”

“No, I didn’t. Her name is…”

“Don’t tell me her name. I don’t need to know her name. I see her plain as day when I look in your face. I know her. She’s one of ours. She’s going to have a baby all right, but the baby ain’t yours. She needs a husband, all right—and fast—before her maw and paw find out the father of her baby is her own brother. She wants desperately to marry somebody and she wants that somebody to be you because you’re young and good-looking and she wants to train you in her own ways.”

“What should I do?”

“You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to marry her. You don’t even have to see her again if you don’t want to. If she confronts you, tell her you know who the father of her baby is and it ain’t you. That should shut her up.”

“Thank you, sir!”

“And stay away from that sort of woman, you hear me? They’ll eat you alive.”

“Yes, sir!”

He sits backs down, embarrassed, wondering where he ever found the courage to approach Satan in front of all those people. He is sure his face is as red as it’s ever going to be.

When the show is over and Ellis is leaving the tent along with the others, someone takes hold of his arm.

“What is it?” he says with a start.

“He wants to see you,” the unknown someone says.

He doesn’t even need to ask who he is.

The old man has taken off his coat and tie. He has a towel around his neck as if he has just done battle with an opponent in the ring. He is sitting on an orange crate, drinking whiskey from a bottle. He smiles when he sees Ellis but doesn’t get up.

“Sit down, boy,” he says, pointing to another orange crate.

Ellis hikes his trousers and sits, feeling nervous to be this close to Satan.

“What’s your name?” the old man asks.

“Ellis Crumshaw.”

“Live around here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I thought it took a lot of nerve for you to do what you did tonight in front of all those people. How did you know I wouldn’t turn you into a pile of ash?”

“I didn’t even think about that.”

The old man laughs and takes a drink from the bottle. “How would you like a traveling job?” he asks.

“Doing what?”

“I need a bodyguard and a valet.”

“What’s a valet?”

“Somebody to brush the dust off my shoes, send my suit out for cleaning, bring me an egg sandwich whenever I want it, find the nearest liquor store.”

“I guess I could do those things,” Ellis says.

“Do you like traveling?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never traveled.”

“Never been anywhere, I’ll bet.”

“No, sir.”

“Wouldn’t you like to get out of this jerkwater town and see the world?”

“I guess so.”

“You’d get room and board and, while the job doesn’t pay much, you’d get a stipend.”

“What’s a stipend?”

“You’d always have a little money to call your own.”


“So, you want the job or not?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“We pull out early Thursday morning. If you want the job, be here at six-thirty sharp and I don’t mean quarter-to-seven, either.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Ellis gets home, his mother is already in bed. He is so excited about having a traveling job without even looking for one that he can’t sleep. He thinks about the exciting cities he’ll see and things he’ll do and people he’ll meet.

He has all the next day to pack a suitcase and prepare his mother for his departure. He doesn’t mention that he will be working for Satan because he is sure she will get the wrong idea and it will trouble her. He tells her he is going into the show business and will write her a letter whenever he can.

And, so, in this way Ellis Crumshaw becomes attached to a traveling show. He never gives Nonnie Lowbridge another thought but is mindful, always, of the part that Eve plays in the Downfall of Man.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp