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Society Wedding

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Society Wedding ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

On Saturday evening the sixth of August, marriage vows were solemnized between Ponselle de Fortenay von Hoople and Roger Melville Arcotte-Devaney III. The bride is the youngest daughter of Sebastian Fortescue de Fortenay von Hoople and Mitzi Upjohn de Fortenay von Hoople, both of whom are leading lights of café society and the yacht club set. The groom is a well-known champion polo player and scion of the Arcotte-Devaney manufacturing fortune.

The flower-laden ceremony was held in the lovely gardens of the palatial country estate of the bride’s parents, Forty Winks. The Right Reverend Everett Yawberry Lovell officiated, with a thousand invited guests in attendance, including the governor, Luther Addison Biggs, who is pleased to call himself friend of the family and business associate of the bride’s father. Also in attendance were the renowned novelist Miss Millicent Farquhar Meriwether (whose latest novel, Just Hurry Up and Die, is a huge success), and Broadway hoofer Miss Beulah Doakes.

The bride wore a lovely seventeenth century-inspired gown made entirely of Neapolitan lace that just about swallowed her up and made her look like the dress was walking down the aisle on its own. She chose as her maid of honor her lifelong friend and confidante, Miss Penelope “Pinky” Peebles, who, since she is a midget, was given a stool to stand on to make her as tall as everybody else. Those honored to be bridesmaids were Miss Vesta Cundiff (daughter of the well-known film actress Lola Lola), Miss Marguerite “Tiny” Cadwallader, Miss Fricka Wagstaff, Miss Beryl Belladonna-Stammers, Miss Veronica “Hambone” Turlock, and Miss Hildegard “Puffy” Mannering. In a unique twist for any wedding this season, and, in keeping with the outdoor setting, all the bridesmaids were dressed in costumes representing different birds, from the familiar robin to the sweet mourning dove.

The groom chose as his best man his brother, Mr. Bryce Errol Fennimore Arcotte-Devaney. Groomsmen were Mr. Antonio “Little Tony” Delessio, Mr. Justin Marburg Phipps IV, Mr. Franklin Lester Shumway, Mr. Percy Sherwood-Upjohn, Mr. Troy Biggerstaff, and Mr. Gideon Elijah Gottlieb. The men of the wedding party wore matching linen suits inspired by the planter of the pre-Civil War South, with broad-brimmed Panama hats and black patent-leather knee boots.

The bride’s mother, Mrs. Mitzi Upjohn de Fortenay von Hoople, was a standout among the ladies in her dress and hat made entirely of chicken feathers. She wasn’t able to speak with the beak she wore, but those who know her considered this a great advantage. The father of the bride, Mr. Sebastian Fortescue de Fortenay von Hoople, was the life of the party in his tuxedoed gorilla costume, complete with porkpie hat and cigar.

The mother of the groom, Mrs. Clara Tubbins Arcotte-Devaney, was dressed entirely in black in honor of her late husband, Mr. Roger Melville Arcotte-Devaney II, who died last fall when he fell into the ocean on his return trip to the United States from his travels abroad and was eaten by sharks.

The newly married couple departed on a honeymoon trip around the world on the luxury liner The Virgin Queen. When they return from their travels in about six months, they will reside in their renovated Fifth Avenue townhouse that reportedly cost twelve million dollars, a gift from the bride’s father. Part of the year they will reside in Palm Springs or in the chalet in Switzerland the groom inherited from his father.

This reporter had a chance to chat with the excited bride and groom before they ventured into the world on their own. The bride kissed this reporter on the cheek, leaving the imprint of her lips, and whispered in his ear, “I want a good write-up; no funny business, or my father will have you killed.” The groom gripped this reporter’s hand and, in his booming baritone voice, announced that he wanted him to come back in about ten years and see how many “little bluebloods” they have been able to “pop out” in that length of time. The bride squealed in mock outrage and punched her newly minted husband on the arm.

As the couple made their way to their waiting limousine, the assembled crowd shouted out their good wishes and threw handfuls of rice. The bride’s mother held a handkerchief to her beak and sniffled as the car drove down the winding drive and through the immense gates. She retired to her room in exhaustion as the guests began a drunken bacchanalia that would last until long after daybreak.

Copyright @2017 by Allen Kopp

He Fell Over Dead

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He Fell Over Dead ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

They lived on a small farm. They grew corn and wheat, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, melons and cucumbers, among other things. Their chickens yielded four or five dozen eggs a week. They sold most of their eggs and whatever happened to be in season to two different stores in the town of Marburg twelve miles away. In the lush season, they set up a stand out in front of their property on the highway and sold whatever surplus they had to passing cars.

Lathrop was fifteen. He had gone to school through the eighth grade, and then he wasn’t obliged to go any farther. He wanted to go on to high school in Marburg but father said he was needed on the farm. Lathrop did the work of a hired hand without any pay. When he was younger, they had a hired hand, but his father fired him when he found he was stealing vegetables and selling them on his own in town. 

Lathrop liked working at the vegetable stand. It was easy work in the shade of an enormous oak tree, and it gave him a chance to see and talk to other people, who were mostly friendly and cheerful. Sometimes somebody he knew from his school days would stop by and he would talk to them, but most of the people he had never seen before. They were just passing by on the highway on their way home from wherever they had been. They would see the stand, and the idea of fresh tomatoes, corn or cucumbers for supper would make them stop.

On a warm Tuesday afternoon in the middle of June, Mr. Wessel, the nearest neighbor, came by. He was happy to see that Lathrop still had a dozen eggs left and some tomatoes.

“How are you doing today, Lathrop?” Mr. Wessel asked as he counted out his money.

Lathrop felt flattered, somehow, that Mr. Wessel would speak to him in this way. Nobody else ever did. “I’m just dandy,” he said jauntily, with a smile. He put Mr. Wessel’s purchases in a wrinkled paper sack and handed the sack over the makeshift counter. 

“Do you ever read books, Lathrop?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I did when I was in school,” Lathrop said. He was reluctant to say that he lived in a house without books or that he had only gone through the eighth grade and would probably never go any farther.

“You seem like a smart boy. I have many, many books in my house. If you ever want to borrow, drop by and I’ll see if I have anything that might interest you.”

“Yes, sir! I’d like that!”

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’. My first name is Eldridge, so you can see why people call me Wessel. It’s my handle.”

Lathrop smiled, even though he didn’t know what it meant. “I might just do that, sir,” he said. “Stop by and borrow a book, I mean.”

Late in the afternoon Lathrop was happy. He sold all the vegetables and eggs and had a cigar box full of change and one-dollar bills. He handed the money box over to mother.

“Mr. Wessel came by the stand today,” Lathrop said at the supper table. “He told me I could come over to his house and borrow some books to read.”

“You stay away from him!” father said.

“Why?”

“I don’t like him, that’s why!”

“If you don’t like him, does that mean I’m not supposed to like him, too?”

“If I find out you’ve been over there, I’ll knock your head off your shoulders and feed it to the hogs.”

After supper, when mother was clearing the table and father had gone outside, Lathrop asked her, “Why doesn’t he like Mr. Wessel?”

“He’s heard something about him, I guess,” mother said. “You know how he is.”

“What did he hear?”

“God only knows.”

“Well, I like Mr. Wessel. He’s nice to me. Most people don’t even look at me. I’m only Hodge’s kid and I don’t mean a damn thing.”

“I don’t like you to use that kind of language in the house.”

“Mother, when I was in school, I heard ten times worse than that every day.”

“I don’t want you to be like him.”

“Why did you ever marry him?”

“You never met my mother.”

She laughed then, something she hardly ever did, and Lathrop wiped the crumbs off the table onto the floor.

“I want to go back to school,” he said. “Eighth grade isn’t enough.”

“I know,” she said. “We’ll manage it somehow. And if you want to borrow books from Mr. Wessel, go ahead and do it. Just don’t let your paw find out. Keep the books hidden in your room.”

The next time father went to visit his ailing mother, a trip that always took all day, Lathrop, with his dog Ruff, walked the mile to Mr. Wessel’s house. His heart hammered in his chest as he knocked timidly at the door. He half-hoped that Mr. Wessel wouldn’t be at home. 

Mr. Wessel came to the door and when he saw Lathrop he smiled and motioned him inside. Ruff settled himself on the porch for a nap.

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” Lathrop said.

“Not at all,” Mr. Wessel said. “I’m always glad of visitors.”

The house was cool and dark. Lathrop sat in a large padded chair across from the couch. Mr. Wessel sat on the couch and crossed his legs. He wasn’t wearing any shoes.

After some polite talk in which Mr. Wessel asked Lathrop about his family, his dog Ruff, where he went to school and other mundane things, he took Lathrop into the next room, his “study,” where he wrote and had his books.

Lathrop never saw so many books in one place before. There were shelves and shelves of books, so many books that the ones that wouldn’t fit on the shelves were stacked neatly in rows on the floor.

“Where did you get so many books?” Lathrop asked.

“Some are mine and some belonged to my family. When you’re the last one left alive, you get, by default, everything that belonged to everybody who came before.”

Lathrop wasn’t sure what Mr. Wessel was talking about, but he smiled and nodded his head.

Lathrop looked over the books. There were novels, volumes of poetry, short stories, books on history and books that people had written about their own lives.  

“Do you have anything in mind that you’d like to read?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I don’t know much about books,” Lathrop said. “In school, I only read what I had to to get by.”

“Have you ever read anything by Charles Dickens?”

“No. I’ve heard of him, though.”

“How about David Copperfield? Do you think you’d like to read that?”

“Sure, I guess so.”

“I read it when I was about you age. I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with it.”

“Sure, I’d like to give it a try.”

With David Copperfield clutched tightly in his hands, he followed Mr. Wessel back into the front room. They sat again and after they had talked for a while Mr. Wessel got up and went into the kitchen and came back with two glasses of sweet cider and a little plate of walnut cookies.  

After an hour or so, Lathrop realized he had been in Mr. Wessel’s house for over an hour. He would like to have stayed much longer, but he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He thanked Mr. Wessel for David Copperfield and walked back home with Ruff trailing along behind.

He showed mother the book when he got home and inside the front cover where Mr. Wessel had written his name.

“That’s so you’ll remember who the book belongs to,” mother said.

He hid the book in the bottom of his dresser drawer. He couldn’t let father see it. He would be mad at him for disobeying orders to stay away from Mr. Wessel’s house and would make fun of him for reading such a story book.

That might after mother and father had gone to bed, he began reading David Copperfield in his bed. If father came and unexpectedly opened the door, which he never did, Lathrop could easily thrust it under the covers and pretend it wasn’t there.

He considered himself mostly ignorant and uneducated, but he didn’t have any trouble reading David Copperfield or knowing what was going on. There were some words he didn’t know and the characters talked in a funny way, but Lathrop knew it was just because they were in a different country and the book was written a long time ago. 

The next time he worked the vegetable stand, he overhead two ladies from town talking as they picked out their vegetables. Lathrop didn’t care what they were saying, but when he realized they were talking about father he paid closer attention.

Lathrop gleaned from the ladies’ talk that father had a “girlfriend” in town and she had a small child by him. He paid the rent on the house she lived in and visited her regularly. The ladies had seen father, the woman and their child together at a fireworks display in the park on the Fourth of July. 

“That old coot,” one of the ladies said. “He ought to be ashamed of himself. And she’s half his age, too.”

She’s the one that ought to be ashamed,” the other lady said. “Damned old home wrecker!”

“Well, you never know about people.”

In a little over a week, Lathrop finished David Copperfield and was glad for a reason to make another trip to Mr. Wessel’s house.

Mr. Wessel asked Lathrop how he liked the book and Lathrop said he was surprised he was able to get through such a big book so fast and with seemingly so little effort. He forgot about the time when he was reading it.

Next Mr. Wessel gave him A Tale of Two Cities, which, he said, was a little more challenging than David Copperfield but of moderate length. Lathrop agreed to give it a try.

When the conversation switched from books to other matters, Lathrop told Mr. Wessel how he hated his father and was sure his father hated him. His father was gruff with him and impatient and turned his head away whenever Lathrop walked into a room. The two of them had very little to say to each other and never talked about anything that mattered.

He told Mr. Wessel his father didn’t want him to come there and borrow books but that he was doing it anyway when his father was away. His mother knew about it and thought it was all right. To Lathrop’s surprise, Mr. Wessel smiled and nodded his head.

“I never got along well with my father, either,” he said.

“What did you do about it?” Lathrop asked.

“Left home and didn’t come back until after he was dead.”

“What did you do away from home?”

“Went to college. Taught high school. Worked in a lumber mill and as a copy boy at a newspaper. I was clerk in a book store. I was even a waiter for about ten months.”

“Did you like that?”

“It made my legs tired.”

“Then what did you do?”

“When my mother died, I got a little money. Not enough to make me rich but enough to keep me from having to work, at least for a while.”

Then, even though he was embarrassed to say it, Lathrop told Mr. Wessel what he had heard the town ladies say at the vegetable stand.

“Do you think it’s true or just gossip?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I think it could be true. He’s away from home a lot.”

“Does your mother know?”

“I don’t think so.”

Then there were other books: The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Sea Wolf, The Red Badge of Courage, Life on the Mississippi. There was a whole world in them that Lathrop didn’t know existed.

On a stifling afternoon in August, Lathrop was sitting in the wagon in the barn looking at an old newspaper he had found when his father came in. Ruff went to meet him, tail wagging, and Lathrop’s father kicked him. Ruff yelped and leaped out of the way.

“What did you do that for?” Lathrop said. “He only wants you to notice him.”

“I’m going to take him out and shoot him!” his father said.

What?

“I can’t stand that dog and I never could.”

“The only reason you can’t stand him is because he’s mine and you know I like him!”

His father wiped the sweat from his mouth with the back of his hand and grabbed Lathrop by the arm and pulled him off the wagon onto the floor.  

“What’s the matter with you?” Lathrop said, trying to stand up.

“Yeah, what’s the matter with me? You’d like to know what’s the matter with me, wouldn’t you? The question is, what’s the matter with you?”

“I haven’t done anything!”

“You’ve been going over to that Wessel’s house. Don’t bother to lie about it because I know you have. What filthy things have you been up to with that man?”

“What?”

“What have you been up to with that Wessel?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! He lends me books. I read them and then I take them back.”

“Yeah, and what do you do for him in return?”

“I don’t do anything!”

He grabbed Lathrop by the arms and turned him around and struck him on the side of the head with the flat of his hand.

“Let go of me, you bastard!”

“What did you just call me, you little chicken shit?”

Lathrop started to run and his father grabbed him from behind and slammed him to the floor. He was straddling him, undoing his belt to thrash him with it when Lathrop pulled himself up and started running again. He nearly ran into the wall of the barn and when he did he saw the big knife in the leather case his father used when he butchered hogs. He pulled the knife out of its case and when his father charged him he stabbed him in the throat. He then stabbed him two more times, once in the side of the neck and then just above the heart until he went down.

Right away Lathrop knew his father was dead. When he caught his breath, he took an old canvas tarpaulin and threw it over him so he wouldn’t have to look at him. Then he thought about all the blood that was leaking all over the floor of the barn that would be very difficult to clean up, so he wrapped his father in the canvas the best he could and pushed the body against the wall. Ruff jumped up and wagged his tail and seemed to think he was helping.  

After he got himself a long drink of water, he went into the house and told mother what had happened. She dried her hands and sat down at the kitchen table and looked at him and didn’t say a word.

He thought about what he could do with his father’s body so that nobody would ever find it. Just burying it didn’t seem the right thing.

Two miles away was an old homestead that had been abandoned for seventy-five years or more, people said. There was an old well that went down two hundred feet, maybe three hundred. Lathrop remembered seeing it when he was seven years old. It had given him bad dreams for a long time.

After midnight, while mother was sleeping the sleep of the innocent, Lathrop went out to the barn and, without too much effort, pulled his father’s body, using ropes, into the back of the wagon. He then hitched the sleepy mule, the one they called Timmy, to the old wagon and set off into the woods along a road that could hardly be called that.

There was no moon. Lathrop could barely see past Timmy’s ears, but he found the old homestead from memory. He pulled the wagon around to the back of where the house once stood and jumped down. The well was right where he remembered it.

A metal plate covered the well. He was able to lift it by one corner and, with a huge amount of effort, slide it to the side far enough to drop a body in.   

He pulled the wagon as close to the well as the remaining foundation of the old house would allow and, pulling on the ropes, maneuvered his father’s body to the opening and dropped it down, canvas and all. He listened for the body to hit bottom, but he heard nothing so he believed that meant the well was hopelessly deep.

He pushed the metal plate back into place and kicked the leaves and sticks that he had disturbed back so that the well would look undisturbed.

When he got back home, it was after three o’clock in the morning. He washed his hands and face and fell into bed, exhausted. He slept until nine o’clock and when he woke up breakfast was waiting for him in the kitchen.

For supper that day mother cooked fried chicken and mashed potatoes, Lathrop’s favorite. She baked a chocolate cake as a sort of celebration and put little red candy stars on top. It tasted so good that Lathrop ate almost half of it at one time.

In the evening it was rainy and cool and the dark came early, as if announcing the arrival of fall. Lathrop laid a fire in the front room, the first since April.

“You killed your father,” mother said, and it was the first words she had spoken about it.

“He was going to kill me.”

“Yes, but you killed him.”

“I couldn’t let him hurt Ruff.”  

“You killed him.”

“We don’t need him. We can get along with him.”

“You killed your own father.”

“He got tired of farming and ran off to California or someplace even farther. He hated me and I’m pretty sure he hated you. He doesn’t want us to find him. Anybody who ever knew him could easily believe it of him.”

“I don’t know what to think of a boy who kills his father.”

“You’re as glad as I am that he’s gone.”  

She looked at him in her quiet way and picked up her knitting and sat in her rocker near the fire. Lathrop lay on his back in front of the fire, a pillow from the couch underneath his head, and read a book. Ruff lay beside him. Now he could read all the books he wanted without having to hide. He was going to start to high school in September. It was a fine life.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Glass Eye

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Glass Eye ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Baird never planned on being a father. It was something that just happened. First comes (something resembling) love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage. When he looked at Imzie, his small daughter, he wondered how and if she would ever survive childhood and become an adult. He was a terrible father, he knew. He cared for her, of course, and wished all the best for her, but he couldn’t help wishing that she belonged to somebody else.

When Verlie came home, he was happy—not happy to see Verlie but happy she was there to relieve him of the terrible burden of looking after Imzie. After ten hours, he felt as wrung out as if he had just come off a hard day’s work at the shoe factory where he once worked.

Verlie was wrung out, too. She was pale and her hands shook as she looked through the pile of mail.

“Where’s Imzie?” she asked.

“Asleep,” he said. “Where else would she be?”

She went into the bedroom and when she came out she had taken off her uniform and put on her bathrobe. She went into the kitchen to get started on supper.

He sat down at the table, his back against the wall and watched Verlie peel potatoes.

“Did something happen at work today?” he asked.

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to stand it,” Verlie said. “I got in trouble today and I think I’m going to be fired.”

“What happened?”

“One of the patients, an old woman, filed a complaint against me.”

“What kind of complaint?”

“She said I deliberately threw her glass eye in the trash.”

“Did you?”

 “She threw it in the trash. By mistake. All I did was empty the trash.”

“You knew it was in the trash?”

“Well, truthfully, I did know, but I pretended I didn’t. I was trying to teach the silly old cow a lesson to try to get her to be more careful. Honestly, I never heard such a fuss over a stupid old glass eye. It’s just an old marble. She can easily get another one.”

“So they’re going to fire you over a glass eye?”

“Well, there have been a few other complaints, too.”

“Like what?”

“All those old people do is complain. They don’t have anything else to do.”

“Maybe if you apologize, they won’t fire you.”

“I’m not apologizing. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

While they were eating, Baird said, “If you get fired, we’ll probably end up in the poor farm.”

“There isn’t any poor farm anymore.”

“Maybe there should be.”

You get a job,” Verlie said. “I’ll stay home and take care of Imzie.”

“You know I’m doing the best I can.”

“I hear they’re hiring men at the bottling plant.”

“I’m not working at the bottling plant.”

“Why not?”

“I hold degrees in English and history. Nothing else need be said.”

“You’re always talking about not wanting to be like other people. If you worked at the bottling plant, you’d be the only one there with so much education.”

“And what would we talk about at lunchtime?”

“Why did I ever marry you?” she asked.

“You tell me.”

“I think there was something there that attracted me once, but I can’t remember now what it was.”

“Divorce me and go live with your mother. She has lots of money and she’d be glad for the company.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To be absolved of all responsibility?”

“I’m no good for you or for Imzie. I’m not even any good for myself.”

“My mother told me not to marry you.”

“I know. She doesn’t like me.”

“Can you blame her? Have you ever been nice to her? Do you like her?”

“No, I don’t like her. She gives me bad dreams. I’m sure she flies around at night on a broomstick.”

“There, you see what I mean! You have a terrible attitude toward people. That’s why you never get along in the world.”

“I get along in the world as well as anybody else.”

“Other people have jobs and nice homes and attractive children. I want what others have.”

“I’ve been thinking how some people just aren’t cut out to be parents,” he said. “My own father was a terrible father. He never said it, but I knew when he looked at me he wished I had never been born.”

“Your father was a confused and sad person,” Verlie said.

Baird pushed his plate back and lit a cigarette.

“You’re smoking too much,” Verlie said.

“We just had a dinner of fried potatoes and lima beans,” he said. “You’re not as hungry when you smoke.”

“You can have as many lima beans as you want.”

“I never want lima beans.”

“Go hungry, then!” she said. “Smoke yourself to death! I don’t care!”

“Why, what’s the matter, darling?” he said mockingly.

“Imzie is a wonderful child,” Verlie said.

“I know.”

“She deserves better parents than us.”

“Agreed.”

“She’s not like either one of us. Where did she really come from?”

“She’s God’s little gift straight from heaven,” he said.

“In a little while we’re going to get another little gift,” she said.

What?

“Just when you think your life can’t get any worse, it does.”

He spoke then to try to comfort her, saying they would get along and that everything would work out fine, but he didn’t believe a word of it. He was terrified at the thought of bringing more innocent life into the world. He couldn’t breathe. He felt as if his heart and internal organs were being compressed.

After supper, Verlie left the dirty dishes in the sink and called her mother. The conversation lasted an hour and a half. Baird went outside so as not to hear Verlie’s aggrieved voice.

When Verlie’s phone conversation ended, she tended to Imzie and then went to bed without a word. A few minutes later, Baird heard her snoring.

He turned on the TV with no volume and sat in front of it, not caring what was on or what was being said. They could have been talking about the world ending tomorrow and he wouldn’t have cared, except for Imzie.

About eleven o’clock he got up and went to bed, in a different room from the one where Verlie and Imzie were sleeping. He slept for a couple of hours and when he woke up he knew there would be no more sleep for him.

The house was so familiar to him he didn’t need to turn on a light. He put a few things into a small canvas bag: toothbrush, change of clothes, flashlight, three books, including the Bible. Then he silently dressed and placed his bag, along with his coat and hat, by the door.

He took one last look at the place, going from room to room. It had been his home for five years, ever since he and Verlie married, and it sobered him to think that he was very likely seeing it for the last time.

The last thing was to look into the darkened bedroom where Verlie and Imzie were sleeping. He didn’t want to take the chance of waking Verlie by going all the way into the room, so he only stood in the doorway. He said his silent goodbyes and then left.

He walked two miles to the edge of town and began walking along the highway. The farther he got from town, the more traffic picked up. Big trucks on overnight runs. He stuck out his thumb and in just a few minutes a driver stopped for him. He climbed up into the cab of the truck, looked into the driver’s face, and smiled.

After the initial greetings and the inevitable where-you-headed questions, the driver didn’t seem to care about talking. That was fine with Baird; he didn’t care about talking either.

He was so tired now and believed he could sleep. He put his head back and closed his eyes.

The plan was to lose himself in sleep, maybe to sleep forever, or until something outside of himself woke him up. And if he did wake, he would be in a new land—a different world—and he would be the kind of man he knew he was always meant to be. It was out there somewhere. All he had to do was wait for it to find him.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Party in Four-Fourteen

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Party in Four-Fourteen ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Hulga Farrington had made many conquests. Men fell all over themselves to be near her to or spend time alone with her. She had been invited by married men she hardly knew to spend the weekend away with them. She had had so many proposals of marriage that she had lost count. When she pulled out a cigarette at a cocktail party, as many as three or four men were at the ready with their lighters.

Whenever she met a worthy man—that is, one to whom she was attracted—she expected him, at the very least, to show some interest in her. When he didn’t, she knew something was wrong—not with her, but with him.

One such man was one Gerald Dinwiddie. He lived in the same building as Hulga, in the apartment right above hers. Whenever she saw him on the elevator or in the lobby, he didn’t even bother to notice her or to look her way. She couldn’t understand him. He was good-looking, fairly young—or at least not old—and, by all accounts, lived alone and didn’t have a wife. He was the appealing fly and she the seductive spider but for some reason the way of the spider wasn’t working.

One day when she met him near the entrance to the building, she stood in his way, effectively stopping him in his tracks, and smiled winningly into his face. He looked at her without expression.

“I believe we’re neighbors,” she said.

“Yes?” he said.

“I thought it was time I introduced myself.”

“You live here?” he asked.

“Why, yes!”

Still he didn’t smile or attempt to ingratiate himself as he said, “I don’t know many people.”

“I’m having a small party, just a few of my most intimate friends, and I was wondering…”

“I never socialize,” he said and with those words he stepped around her and was gone.

When she got up to her apartment, she was glad to have her plain-as-a-stick friend, Mildred Ishmael, to talk to.

“I’ve never been rebuffed quite in that way before,” she said.

“Just forget him,” Mildred said. “He isn’t interested in you. I know that’s difficult for you to accept, but you must try.”

“I wanted to ask him to the party Saturday night.”

“Some people don’t like parties.”

“What kind of a person doesn’t like parties?”

“I think you’ve met your match,” Mildred said, pulling the head off a chicken.

The party on Saturday night was a raucous affair. About forty of Hulga’s most intimate friends showed up, some of whom she had never met before. At midnight the music was as loud as it had been at seven; the party was showing no signs of breaking up.

A little after midnight two police officers arrived at the door.

“Is something wrong, officers?” Hulga asked, looking innocently from one to the other. She was barely able to stand, her lipstick was smeared down to her chin, and she was halfway out of her cocktail dress.

“You need to turn the music down, ma’am. The neighbors are complaining.”

Right away Hulga was defensive. “Who was it? Who complained?”

“It doesn’t make any difference. You need to quiet down now and call it a night.”

“I’ll bet it was that son of a bitch Gerald Dinwiddie, wasn’t it?”

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you turn the music down and send your guests home.”

“Just who do you think you are, telling me what to do?”

“The next time we’re called, we won’t be so nice about it,” he said. “Do you want to spend the night in jail?”

“No, I don’t think I’d like that,” Hulga said.

“Well, then, the party’s over.”

Yes, sir!” she said, saluting like a drunken sailor.

She turned down the music and told everybody they had to go home. In five minutes she was alone. She made her way to the bed and passed out.

When she awoke at eight-thirty Sunday morning, she was sick and had a terrible headache. Her first thought, besides how awful she felt, was to confront that son of a bitch Gerald Dinwiddie and tell him what she thought of him. How dare he complain!

She was going to call him on the phone, but she knew that what she had to say was better said in person. Wearing her silk Japanese kimono with the red dragons, she took the elevator up one floor and knocked decisively at the door of his apartment.

When he opened the door, he was wearing a bathrobe. He looked at her without expression.

“You called the police on me last night, didn’t you?” she said.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I live in the apartment right underneath yours. We were having a party last night.”

“If you bother to read your lease,” he said, “it plainly tells you that music is not to be played loud enough to be heard outside your apartment.”

“You didn’t need to call the police.”

“I thought I did.”

“Why didn’t you come down and knock on my door and ask me to politely turn the music down?”

“It isn’t my place to tell you and your friends to stop behaving like adolescents.”

“Well, I’m so sorry if you were inconvenienced.”

“Just have a little consideration for other people,” he said, after which he slammed the door.

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!” she said to the closed door.

In the days to come, she listened for the slightest noise coming from his apartment so that she might complain, but she heard nothing.

When she saw Gerald Dinwiddie in the lobby or met him on the elevator, he didn’t look at her. When she placed herself in front of him so that he might collide with her if he didn’t watch himself, he deftly stepped around her and went on his way. She began to question not only his eyesight but also his sanity.

“Admit it,” Mildred said. “It wounds your vanity to have a good-looking man ignore you.”

“Who says he’s good-looking?”

“You did. Several times.”

“Well, I suppose he is good-looking in a peculiar sort of way.”

“Peculiar is your favorite flavor, isn’t it?”

She considered inviting him to another party but she was sure he wouldn’t come and she would end up feeling more of a fool than ever.

One evening when she was returning from a night of bar-hopping, she saw him going up in the elevator with a young woman.

“She’s too young for him,” she said to her boyfriend of the moment, a man who said his name was Raphael. “He ought to be ashamed of himself.”

“Is he your ex-husband?” Raphael asked.

“Of course not! I don’t even know him!”

“Then why do you care?”

Hulga began discreetly asking other tenants in the building about Gerald Dinwiddie. She wanted to know where he came from, what he did for a living, whether he had ever been married, who his friends were, what kind of liquor he drank, what books he read, what shows he liked to see. If she knew these particulars, she reasoned, she would begin to be able to understand him.

Not surprisingly, nobody knew anything about him. Most had never heard the name.

When she returned at night from wherever she had been, she fell into the habit of looking up to the fifth floor to see if lights were burning in Gerald Dinwiddie’s apartment. If the windows were dark, she figured he was gone or asleep. If lights were on, though, she wondered what he could possibly be doing at two in the morning.

On Sundays when most people were at home, she took to riding up and down in the elevator, hoping for a chance meeting with Gerald Dinwiddie. On one rainy afternoon when she rode all the way to the top floor and then back down again, the elevator stopped at the fifth floor and, the door opening, Gerald Dinwiddie got on wearing a rain coat and hat. He didn’t look at Hulga, only turned his back to her and faced the door. When the elevator reached the lobby, he was out the door and gone.

“He is the most insufferable man I’ve ever met,” Hulga said to Mildred.

“Admit it,” Mildred said. “You want what you can’t have. I’ve heard of people like you.”

“You’re crazy! I don’t want him!”

“Then why are you trailing him like a mad-struck teenager?”

“Is that what I’m doing?”

“You’re a very sick person. You need professional help.”

On a Friday afternoon in June when Hulga was returning home from an extended luncheon engagement, she saw Gerald Dinwiddie and another, younger, man getting into a cab in front of the building. They had large suitcases and were apparently going away on a trip. As she watched the cab drive away, she hoped that Gerald Dinwiddie wouldn’t be away too long.

Being convinced that Gerald Dinwiddie had gone on a trip, she called his number several times, over three or four days. She was prepared to hang up, of course, if anybody answered, but nobody ever did. Letting the phone ring twenty or thirty times, she pictured the inside of his apartment: the tasteful furniture, the bookshelves, the pictures on the walls, the objet d’art, the large bed where he slept.

She knew Eddie Hopgood, the manager of the building. She had, in fact, had a brief affair with him a couple of years earlier when his wife was having a baby. She went to him and asked for any information he might have about Gerald Dinwiddie.

“I’m not supposed to divulge information about any of the tenants,” he said. “I could lose my job.”

“I won’t tell anybody,” she said.

“No, it’s against the rules.”

“How’s that wife of yours, Eddie?”

“She’s fine.”

“And the baby?”

“He’s fine, too.”

“I’ll bet your wife would certainly be disappointed to hear that you were unfaithful to her while she was in the hospital having a baby, wouldn’t she?”

Eddie sighed. “If you tell anybody I told you anything about Mr. Dinwiddie, you know I’ll have to kill you, don’t you?”

“I swear I won’t tell a soul.”

“He’s an unmarried gentleman. Lives alone. Pays his rent on time. Never any complaints.”

“Is that all you can tell me?”

“I can make something up if you want.”

“I think he’s away on a trip now, isn’t he?”

“He didn’t say anything to me about a trip.”

“How about giving me the key to his apartment?”

“That I absolutely will not do! What kind of a fool do you take me for?”

“I think I’ll call Ethel and invite her to lunch one day.”

“Her name is Eleanor. And just what do you want with Mr. Dinwiddie’s key?”

“I just want to go in and have a look around before he comes back. I promise I won’t take anything. I won’t even touch anything. Nobody will ever know I was there.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I could take the key when you’re not looking and you’d never know it.”

“You mean steal the key?”

“Something like that.”

“And if you got caught, you’d leave me out of it?”

“Sure. I promise.”

“Well, I don’t think so. And I hope you never ask me to violate the rules in this way again.”

“Just tell me where the key is and while you’re away I’ll sneak in and take it.”

“I don’t know anything about any key,” he said. “The key that maintenance uses is on a hook on the back wall in the office to the left of the clock, along with some other keys. The key is marked maintenance but I don’t know anything about it.”

“Of course you don’t,” she said.

“It’s time now for my break,” Eddie said. “I’m the only one here. I’m going to walk down to the corner and buy myself a candy bar. I don’t know anything about any key.”

She took the key easily enough and, grasping it in her hand, went up to her apartment.

At a little after one o’clock in the morning, dressed all in black, she took the stairs rather than the elevator up to the fifth floor. Moving along the hallway to apartment five-fourteen, she heard not a sound.

The door to Gerald Dinwiddie’s apartment opened silently. She entered and closed it behind her, standing for a moment just inside the door, shining her small flashlight around the room.

About what she expected. An expensive-looking couch and chairs. Persian rug. Bookcases. An upright piano. Art prints on the walls. A couple of large potted plants. Everything in perfect order.

She moved into the next room, the dining room. A beautiful table and six chairs. A sideboard with doors and drawers and a silver tea service. Some liquor bottles. On the other side of the large table a display case full of little figurines and glass pieces.

Across the hall from the dining room was the kitchen. She stepped into it and shone the light along the cabinets, sink, stove, refrigerator. All spotlessly clean and orderly.

Then back into the hallway and the bedrooms. A small bedroom on the left and another on the right. Straight ahead was the master bedroom, where Gerald Dinwiddie would sleep.

The door to the master bedroom was open about two inches. She approached it without making a sound and pushed the door back and entered. Just as she was about to use her light to see all there was to see in the room, there was a rustling sound, followed by a flash and a loud pop. For a fraction of a second, she didn’t know what she had just seen and heard, but then she knew she had been shot in the chest. Gerald Dinwiddie jumped out of bed and turned on the light, gun in hand.

She fell to the floor, bleeding profusely from the chest. Gerald Dinwiddie stood over her in his pajamas. She looked up at him and attempted to smile but then she closed her eyes and it was over for her. Café society lost one of its leading lights.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Picture Window

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Picture Window ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was just a small wash-off tattoo of a skull and crossbones. Carson put it on Mickey’s upper arm. Mickey looked down at it and laughed. He looked like a baby pirate in diapers. Carson was going to put a shooting star on Mickey’s forehead, but he thought that might be going a little too far.

When Eadie came home and saw the skull and crossbones, she jerked Mickey up and carried him into the bathroom and started scrubbing at the tattoo with a washcloth and soap. She rubbed so hard Mickey started crying, not only because the rubbing hurt but because her anger scared and upset him.

“How dare you do such a thing!” Eadie ranted at Carson. “He’s just a tiny baby!”

“He’s fifteen months,” Carson said.

“How could you mark up the body of a baby like that?”

“It wears off in a few days,” Carson said. “It didn’t hurt him. I showed it to him in the mirror and he liked it.”

“You are just an ignorant little son of a bitch! I should have known better than to put you in charge of my baby. When you get your own baby—which I doubt will ever happen because no girl in her right mind will never have anything to do with you—you can mark him up with cheap tattoos all you want, but in the meantime you keep your filthy paws off my child!”

“You don’t have to get so hateful about it,” Carson said. “I didn’t hurt him and it’s easy to wash off if you know how. Why don’t you let me do it? I can do it without hurting him.”

“Do you think I’d let you touch my baby now?”

“You mean I’m not ever supposed to touch him again?”

“You stay away from him! Do you understand me?”

Mickey was crying. To get him to shut up, Eadie put him to bed, much earlier than he was used to.

“Aren’t you supposed to feed him before you put him to bed?” Carson asked, standing in the doorway to the bedroom.

“I don’t remember asking for your advice,” she said.

“When did you become such a bitch?” he said.

She lost control and slapped him hard in the face. It was so sudden he didn’t have time to put his hands up.

He touched his stinging cheek and said, “All right, but don’t ever ask me for anything else ever again.”

“You have nothing I want,” she said.

Carson didn’t tell anybody what Eadie said to him or that she slapped him. Instead he avoided her, going out of the room whenever she entered. He didn’t look directly at her and wouldn’t tell her when somebody wanted to speak to her on the phone or when the mailman knocked on the door to give her a package. When she baked a cherry pie, he refused to eat any of it.

Three days later Carson was in his room studying for a test when Leslie, Eadie’s husband, knocked on the door and came in.

“Are you busy?” Leslie asked.

“What does it look like?” Carson asked.

Leslie laughed and sat on the bed. “I wanted to have a word with you.”

“What about?”

Leslie took a bill out of his pocket and put it on Carson’s desk. Carson looked at it and saw it was a two-dollar bill.

“What’s that for?” Carson asked.

“My brother and I used to collect them when we were in school. I thought you might like to have it.”

“Okay,” Carson said. “What’s the gag?”

Leslie interlocked his fingers and began studying his thumb nails. “I want to ask a favor.”

“What kind of a favor?”

“I wanted to ask you if you’ve seen anything suspicious around the house lately. Involving Eadie.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Anything out of the ordinary. Phone calls or people dropping by.”

“I don’t care what Eadie does.”

“I’m sure you don’t, but I’m asking you to keep your eyes open.”

“You want me to spy on my sister?”

“If you want to call it that.”

“The other day she got a call that she took in the kitchen,” Carson said. “As soon as she hung up, she said she had to leave. Nobody else was here, so she asked me to watch Mickey for a while.”

“Did she say where she was going?”

“No, but she changed her clothes posthaste and then she left.”

“How long was she gone?”

“I don’t know. About an hour.”

“Did she drive her car?”

“No, somebody picked her up in a red car.”

“One of her girlfriends?”

“I don’t think so. It was a man driving.”

Leslie nodded his head and stood up from the bed. “You have a camera, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Take a picture of the red car and of the man driving it. Don’t let him see you. Try to get the license plate number if you can.”

“That means I’d have to take the picture out the window.”

Leslie went over to the window and looked out. “You have a clear view of the street from here and, best of all, nobody will see you.”

“I don’t know if I want to get involved in a domestic dispute,” Carson said.

“There’s plenty more where that came from,” Leslie said, tapping the two-dollar bill on his way out of the room.

Carson didn’t have to wait long to get some pictures. On Friday afternoon, as soon as he got home from school, Eadie left in a hurry. Mickey was taking his nap. Carson was the only one at home.

He ran up to his room and aimed his camera out the window. Eadie got into the red car. Picture number one. The red car pulled into the driveway across the street to turn around, affording a clear view of the license plate. Picture number two. As the car backed out onto the street to turn around, Carson got a perfect view of the man driving. Shiny black hair and dark glasses. Picture number three.

He went downstairs to make sure Mickey was still sleeping and then he went into the kitchen and had a peanut butter sandwich and a root beer. After that he went back up to his room and read from his history book for an hour or so until he heard a car stop out front. He went to the window and aimed the camera.

Eadie got out of the car. As she started to walk away, the man got out, too, and, meeting Eadie halfway around the car, took her by the arm. They kissed the way people kiss in movies. Carson got it all on film.

When presented with proof of Eadie’s infidelity, Leslie was shocked but not terribly surprised. He packed his suitcases and left the house. His only message to Eadie was that she would hear from his lawyer and that he, Leslie, would seek custody of Mickey.

Leslie was going to give Carson fifty dollars for the pictures that ended his marriage to Eadie. Carson wouldn’t take it. He didn’t want money. He had something far better.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Funeral Home

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Funeral Home ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Trilby showed them the embalming room and they were duly impressed by the stainless steel table and cabinets full of bottles.

“Don’t touch anything,” Trilby said, “or I’m going to have to kill you.”

“It must be so interesting to live in a funeral home,” Pinky said.

“Yeah, it’s a million laughs.”

“I want to see the caskets,” Jo said. “I’ll pick out the one I want to be buried in.”

“Are you planning on dying soon?” Pinky asked.

“Well, you never know.”

Trilby was hosting a Saturday night sleepover for her two best pals, Jo and Pinky. Her parents were away for the weekend and they had the whole place to themselves. As usual, she had to include her eleven-year-old brother Warren in the tour, in supper, and in everything else they did. Otherwise, he’d give a full report to mother and daddy and he would make it all sound so much worse than it had been.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight after seeing the embalming room,” Jo said.

“Don’t be silly,” Trilby said. “It’s not scary unless they have a body on the table.”

“Why don’t they have one now?”

“Gee, I wasn’t able to arrange it. Maybe next time.”

“Would they let us watch them embalm a body if they had one?” Pinky asked.

“Of course not,” Trilby said. “What do you think this is? A fun house?”

“I watched once,” Warren said. “There was blood everywhere!”

“You did not, you big fat liar!” Trilby said. “Daddy would never allow you near a body.”

“He didn’t know I was watching. I was watching through a peephole.”

“What peephole? There isn’t any peephole.”

“I was dreaming that I was watching him embalm a body through a peephole.”

“That’s not quite the same thing, is it?”

“I’m going to be an embalmer when I grow up, just like daddy,” Warren said. “Then I can see as many dead bodies as I want.”

“You won’t want to see them, then,” Trilby said.

Warren ran on ahead and hid in the dark showroom where the caskets were kept. When Trilby, Jo and Pinky came into the room, he hid behind a casket and jumped out at them before the lights were on.

Jo and Pinky screamed and Pinky wet her pants. Warren laughed and Trilby made him apologize and promise to stop bothering them.

“Why don’t you go on to bed, Warren? We don’t need you here. You’re spoiling the party.”

“I thought we were going to watch a movie.”

“Jo, Pinky, and I are going to watch a movie. You’re going to bed.”

“I’m going to tell mother. She told you to include me in the pajama party.”

“Why do you want to hang with girls?” Jo asked. “Most boys don’t like to do that.”

“He’s really a girl himself,” Trilby said, “only he doesn’t know it yet.

“Shut up!” Warren said. “I am not a girl!”

“All right, you’re not a girl. How about you go on upstairs and be quiet for the rest of the evening?”

“Shut up! I can be here if I want!”

Pinky came back from changing her underpants and they began touring the casket showroom.

“Oh, there are so many of them,” Jo said, “and they’re all so pretty!”

She found a copper-colored one with salmon lining that she especially liked. She started to get in and lie down.

“Take off your shoes first!” Trilby said. “If you get any dirt in there, daddy will be sure to notice it and I’ll get the blame.”

Jo lay back in the casket and giggled. “Close the lid,” she said. “I want to see what it feels like to be dead.”

Pinky closed the lid and Jo squealed. “It’s so cozy and snug in here,” Jo said. “Quite comfortable.”

“I want to try it,” Pinky said.

She found a silvery, steel casket that she liked, kicked off her shoes and got in. “Close the lid!” she said. “This is really nice.”

“I want to do it, too!” Warren said.

“No!” Trilby said. “You haven’t had a bath in a while.”

“I’ll tell mother that you let the others do it and you wouldn’t let me,” he said.

He found a white casket with rose trim a couple of rows over and got in and lay down. He reached up and pulled the lid closed himself.

“You’d feel funny if the lid got stuck,” Trilby said.

After they had all three felt what it was like to be dead and Trilby was trying to corral them back upstairs before something bad happened, Jo noticed the museum piece made of metal against the wall.

“It’s not like the others,” she said.

“It’s over a hundred years old,” Trilby said. “It’s been used before. My dad shows it to all his friends.”

“Do you mean there was somebody once buried in it?” Jo asked, obviously fascinated.

“I guess that’s what they mean when they say it was used before,” Trilby said.

Jo approached the box and pushed up the partly closed lid. “Oh, look!” she said. “Red velvet lining! Did you ever see anything so elegant in all your life?”

She got in and lay down and Pinky closed the lid.

“I don’t think I’d do that if I were you,” Trilby said. “There’s something funny about that box.”

“What’s funny about it?” Pinky asked.

“It has a trick lock or something.”

After a minute, Jo said from inside the box, “All right, you can open the lid now.”

Pinky went to raise the lid but it wouldn’t budge. “It’s stuck,” she said.

Trilby helped her and then Warren helped too. The three of them were pushing up on the lid with all their might, but it wouldn’t move.

“That’s what happens when you do shit you’re not supposed to do,” Trilby said.

“Let me out!” Jo called. “I can’t breathe!”

“She’s panicking!” Pinky said.

“Hold on!” Trilby said in a loud voice. “We’ll have you out in a minute!”

“What are we going to do?” Pinky said. “It won’t open.”

“She’ll die in there,” Warren said.

“Oh, thank you for that!” Trilby said. “You’re such a big help!”

Trilby sent Warren to the garage for the crowbar and while he was gone she and Pinky kept pushing up on the lid.

“Get me out!” Jo said.

They heard her kicking and banging with her fists on the underside of the lid and after a while they heard her crying.

“Just lie still and try to remain calm,” Trilby said. “You’ll use up what little oxygen is in there.”

Warren returned with the crowbar and Trilby looked for a seam where she might insert the edge of it to pry the lid open, but there were no seams.

“Oh, my!” Pinky said. “I think we’d better call the police.”

“No!” Trilby said. “If we do that, my parents will have to know!”

They kept trying to think of a way to get the box open and, after a half hour or so, they no longer heard Jo moving around and whimpering.

“I think she’s dead,” Warren said.

“She is not dead!” Trilby said. “We’ll get her out. We just need to figure out how this thing opens!”

“What is your mother going to say?” Pinky asked.

“She is going to have an absolute fit,” Trilby said. “I’m afraid there won’t be any more sleepovers.”

Not knowing what else to do, Trilby began looking on the sides of the box for a release or a button to push or anything that might open the lid. She covered every inch with her hands and found nothing.

Unnoticed by Trilby and Pinky, Warren got down on the floor underneath the box and there he found a latch which, when released, cause the lid to spring open.

Jo wasn’t dead. Jo was not in the box.

“She’s gone!” Pinky said, not believing her eyes.

“Just stay calm,” Trilby said. “She can’t be gone.”

“She’s hiding,” Pinky said. “She’s playing a trick on us.”

“What did you do?” Trilby demanded of Warren. “Is this one of your tricks?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Warren said. “I got the lid to open, didn’t I?”

After looking all over the room for Jo and not finding her, Trilby and Pinky went back upstairs with Warren trailing.

“She’ll come out whenever she feels like it,” Trilby said, “and have a good laugh on us for being such dopes.”

They watched a movie and had popcorn and hot chocolate. They expected Jo to come out at any moment with a big grin on her face, but she didn’t appear.

Before going to bed, they went back down to the showroom and searched again. The old metal box was just as they had left it. No sign of Jo.

“Do you think she went home?” Pinky asked.

“I’m sure that’s where she is,” Trilby said. “I’m never going to speak to her again for scaring us like this.”

Sunday morning they awoke at eight-thirty. After a breakfast of donuts and scrambled eggs, Trilby forced Warren against his will to call Jo at home. Jo wasn’t there, her mother said. She spent the night at a friend’s house and was expected home any minute.

“She didn’t go home,” Pinky said. “What can it mean?”

“It means I’m going to kill her the next time I see her,” Trilby said.

Again they went back down to the showroom. They walked up and down the rows of caskets, looking for anything amiss. Everything, including the metal casket where they had last seen Jo, was just as they had left it the night before.

They stood looking down into the old casket, as if there they might find some clue. Trilby tried to lift up the velvet lining, but it was sown fast.

Outside they heard the faint sounds of a dog barking and a truck going by out front. When those sounds ceased, they heard something else.

“Did you hear that?” Pinky asked.

“I heard something,” Trilby said, “but I don’t know what it was.”

It was like sobbing coming from far away and then they heard the words: Get me out of here!

“It’s her!” Pinky said.

“It couldn’t be!” Trilby said.

“I know her. I know her voice.”

“It’s probably Warren playing one of his tricks.”

She called Warren down to the showroom and, when he was standing there beside them, they heard it again: Please help me! Get me out of here!

The words were faint but unmistakable.

“We have to try to help her!” Pinky said.

“You get in,” Trilby said, “and I’ll close the lid.”

“What kind of fool do you take me for?”

“My parents will be back this afternoon,” Trilby said. “If we don’t find Jo by then, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Without further discussion, Pinky got into the old box and Trilby closed the lid but, with her fingers, kept it from going down all the way. After five minutes inside the box, Pinky got out, having discovered nothing inside except an old musty smell.

“You won’t find her that way,” Warren said.

“How do you know?” Trilby asked.

“I saw it happen in a dream.”

“Saw what happen?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“How did the dream turn out?”

“You don’t think I’m going to tell you, do you?”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Human Blood

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Human Blood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

School was out. Arlene Buck walked home by herself through the quiet streets of the town. It was a cloudy, warm day in late October. Leaves and debris swirled along the sidewalk in the wind. Arlene turned her head to the side to keep the wind from whipping her in the face.

When she got home, her mother and sister weren’t there. She didn’t like being the first one home with nobody there. She went into the kitchen and had a chocolate chip cookie and a drink of cold water and then left again. She would walk down to Jesus Saves and when she came back her mother and sister would be there.

Jesus Saves was at the bottom of a hill, where the street dead-ended. It was an easy walk down and a harder walk back up. Anybody in the neighborhood who went out for a walk went down to Jesus Saves and back. There weren’t many other places to walk, unless you wanted to go a lot farther.

Since Jesus Saves was where the street ended, people were always using the parking lot there for turning around because they didn’t know until they got to the bottom of the hill that the street ended there and they couldn’t go any farther. Today it was deserted, though. Nobody turning around and no cars parked on the lot. There would be no service tonight. Nobody getting saved from their sins.

Arlene was superstitious and she believed that when she walked down to Jesus Saves, Jesus wouldn’t save her until she touched the low wall on the far side of the parking lot with her foot. She did this and whirled around to walk back the way she had come, when a dark spot on the asphalt caught her eye, glistening and wet as if somebody had spilled a bucket of paint and gone off and left it. She approached the spot to see what it was. She was studying it when the door of Jesus Saves opened and a man came running out. He approached her and for an instant she thought he was going to grab her.

“Hey, you, there! What do you think you’re doing? Get away from there!” the man said.

She looked from the spot on the asphalt to the man and back at the spot. “What is this?” she asked, realizing at that moment that it was blood. “Did a dog get run over by a car?”

“No, no, no!” he said. “It’s nothing you need worry about!”

It was Reverend Pearl, a fussy little man in black who preached at funerals and saved stray souls from going to hell. He wore glasses on a string around his neck. He had broad hips and was no more than five feet, two inches tall. His mannerisms were more those of a woman than a man.

“I want to know what this is,” she said. “It looks like blood.”

“It’s no concern of yours!” Reverend Pearl said. “You go on home now! You have no business here!”

“I can be wherever I want to be,” she said.

The door of Jesus Saves opened again and two Sisters of the Church came out, lugging buckets of water and mops. They were large, homely women. They both wore loose, sack-like dresses and diapers on their heads.

“Over here!” Reverend Pearl called to the women. “Here’s where the mess is!”

The Sisters of the Church went to work, dipping their mops in the water and then swabbing at the spot. They moved the blood around until they had a sloppy pink mess. The water in the buckets, after they had dipped the mops a couple of times, looked like blood.

“We need something to soak it up,” Reverend Pearl said. “All you’re doing is making it worse. Dump this water out and go inside and get some fresh. Jesus! I never saw so much blood in my life! The police left the mess for us to clean up! How do you like that?”

Arlene stood back a few feet and watched as the Sisters of the Church moved the blood around.  Reverend Pearl forgot about her for the time, but when he saw she was still there he lost his temper.

“Didn’t I tell you to go on home just now?” he said. “There’s nothing here for you to see! Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”

One of the Sisters of the Church stopped mopping and leaned over and whispered into Reverend Pearl’s ear, holding her hand over her mouth.

“Oh!” Reverend Pearl said. “Oh, my! Oh, my! Oh, my!”

“What did that woman say about me?” Arlene asked. “She whispered something in your ear about me, didn’t she?”

Reverend Pearl paid closer attention now to Arlene; he even attempted a smile. “I’m sorry if I snapped at you, little girl,” he said. “It’s just that a very bad thing happened here last night and it’s got my nerves on edge.”

What happened?” asked Arlene.

“Well, it isn’t my place to tell you,” he said. “You run on home now and I’m sure you’ll hear about it soon enough.”

As she began walking up the hill toward home, her heart beat in a funny way and she felt sick like when she had to go to the doctor. She knew something was wrong. Momma didn’t come home last night. Could the blood on the Jesus Saves parking lot having anything to do with that? What had the Sister of the Church whispered in Reverend Pearl’s ear?

She ran most of the way home and when she got there, out of breath, her sister Camille was waiting for her.

“Where have you been?” Camille asked.

“I’m afraid something terrible has happened,” Arlene said.

They waited all evening for momma to come home or at least to call them on the phone. Camille fixed dinner and while they were eating Arlene told her about the blood on the parking lot at Jesus Saves and what Reverend Pearl said and how he acted mad at first and then sympathetic.

“The blood of Jesus cleanses us of our sins,” Camille said.

“It wasn’t that kind of blood,” Arlene said. “Something bad has happened. I just know it.”

“You worry too much,” Camille said. “Everything will be fine.”

“I think we should call the police and tell them momma never came home last night.”

“She’s stayed out all night before. She likes to have a good time.”

“But she always came home the next morning,” Arlene said. “Here it is night again and we haven’t heard a word from her.”

“We’ll wait until nine o’clock,” Camille said, “and if she hasn’t come home by then, we’ll call the police.”

They washed the supper dishes and were watching TV when there was a loud knock on the door. Arlene got up off the couch and went to the front door and, opening it, was not very surprised to see her grandma on her daddy’s side standing there.

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Arlene said, standing aside to let grandma come through the door.

“I got some bad news for you,” grandma said, crying and wringing a handkerchief.

Momma had been murdered and her body dumped on the Jesus Saves parking lot. Police believed the murderer was somebody momma knew. Nobody saw or heard anything.

It was worse even than Arlene imagined it. And she had been the one to see all the blood.

Grandma made Arlene and Camille pack bags and go home with her. When they left the house, strangers were outside gawking at the house.

“What do they want?” Arlene asked.

“You all get away from here, now!” grandma said. “There’s nothin’ here for you to see.”

The police came and talked to all of them. All Arlene and Camille would tell them was that momma had had a lot of different boyfriends, had stayed out all night before on dates, and had always come home in the morning.

After the police were finished examining momma’s body, they released it to the Sutcliff Brothers’ Mortuary. Momma was laid out in her best navy blue dress that she always saved for weddings and funerals. Now she was wearing it to her own funeral. She looked fine, as if nothing bad had happened to her. That would erase the terrible image, grandma said, of her being butchered by a savage killer.

Just about everybody momma ever knew came to the funeral home to see her off. Distant relations from other states. People she had grown up with that she hadn’t seen for twenty or thirty years. There were lots of strangers there, too. People who had read about the murder in the newspaper or seen it on TV and wanted to witness a little part of it themselves to be able to say they had been there and seen the grieving next of kin. And now it had the added attraction of being a murder mystery because police still didn’t know who did it or why.

At the funeral home a strange man in a dark suit introduced himself to Arlene and Camille. They were sure they had never seen him before but it so happened that he was there father. He had left when Arlene was three and Camille six and neither of them remembered anything of him. All momma had ever said of him was that he was in prison and to be forgotten.

Now that momma was dead, he wanted Camille and Arlene to come and live with him. He had a new wife and he was ready to be a real father to them, finally. He lived in a small town in a distant state and they would need to leave their school and all their friends and start over in a new place. They believed they had a choice in the matter. They believed they might say no to anything that didn’t suit them.

On the day of the funeral it rained. Momma’s casket was removed not to Jesus Saves but to the Methodist church for the service. The church was full one hour before the service began. People had to be turned away or made to stand out in front of the church in the rain. The front row was reserved for Arlene and Camille, grandma, and the man who said he was their father. To Arlene none of it seemed real.

After the service was over, everybody got into cars and made a slow procession in the rain to the cemetery, where momma was laid to rest alongside her own baby brother who died when he was four years old.

During the graveside service, with all the people standing around momma’s grave, Arlene saw a man standing behind everybody else, looking on. Something about the man caught Arlene’s attention. Instead of looking down at the ground the way everybody else did, he was looking directly at Arlene. She was trying to figure out what was odd about him when he smiled and winked at her. She looked away, but she knew then that he was the man who had killed momma, the same way she knew about the blood on the parking lot at Jesus Saves.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp