Short Stories

Saint Buddy (1107-1114) In 1114, the Earl of Gadwater, after losing a game of cards to Lord Cadbury, was converted to Catholicism as part of their wager. Upon his baptism, it is said that a bright light entered the room, temporarily blinding all inside, except for the Earl of Gadwater, who swore he saw the Archangel Gideon. It was Gideon, himself, who instructed Gadwater to travel to the Holy Land and rescue the Holy Grail itself, which was said to be in the possession of Suleiman Ach-nam alla Hom. Within a month The Earl and a rag tag collection of knights and mercenaries were on their way to Jerusalem. Poorly outfitted and undermanned, the Crusade was a shambles from the start. Choosing to go overland, they became lost in Northern England. Unfortunately, they had decided to start in the winter. Half frozen and out of supplies, they certainly would have all perished had it not been for what Gadwater attested was yet another miracle. In the middle of a blizzard, a dog appeared in their camp. Gadwater stated that “the sight of the dog alone filled his men with an unearthly will to go on....” Over the next several days, they followed the dog as it led them to the safety of a cabin. Unfortunately, there were no supplies in the cabin, so to keep from starving they ate the dog, which gave them the nourishment they needed to make it to a nearby town when the storm finally abated. Indeed, only Gadwater was injured, losing a toe to frostbite, which he said was God’s reminder of humility. Shortly thereafter, the wound became infected, and Gadwater did not live to see his beloved Southern England ever again. The Church, upon hearing the tale of Gadwater, was convinced it was nothing less than a miracle. Therefore, a petition to canonize Gadwater was begun: St. Gadwater, the Patron Saint of Wool Stockings. That is when Church politics took over. A faction in the Church opposed Gadwater’s canonization on two major grounds. First of all, not only did his Crusade never make it to the Holy Land, they never got out of England. And most importantly, Lord Cadbury, who Gadwater had been playing cards with, admitted that he had cheated. Therefore, Gadwater was converted under false grounds, thereby nullifying the conversion. Whereas the first condition has always been one of church debate in which intention is deemed to be as important, if not more important, than the actual outcome, the second condition was a deal breaker. However, by this time the canonizing process had already become public knowledge. Gadwater’s supporters, though small, represented a considerable amount of political strength, especially among sheppards. In reality, they didn’t care who was canonized, just as long as their town could lay claim to a local saint. They further argued that regardless of who was responsible for the miracle, there had still been a miracle. So it was decided to canonize the dog. The dog, after all, was the only other member of the Crusade who had died, and he had truly saved the Crusaders. He even sacrificed his life for theirs. So became Saint Buddy, Patron Saint of Travelers Lost in the Snow. Saint Buddy probably had the most popularity from the late 15th to the early 17th centuries. His greatest popularity was in Southern Spain, where he become know as Señor Perro, or simply, El Perro. Buddy’s popularity waned with the coming of modernization, and he was all but forgotten until the middle of the 20th century, when an American dog food company adopted Saint Buddy as their mascot. Outraged, the Church tried to get a court injunction, but failed. It was shortly thereafter that the Church re-evaluated Buddy’s sainthood. In a controversial decision, the Church overruled Buddy’s sainthood altogether and reinstated Lord Gadwater. Regardless, there are still those who consider Buddy to be a genuine saint. Currently the church does not recognize any Patron Saint of Travelers Lost in the Snow. Unfortunately, there is no current Patron Saint of Travelers, either, Saint Christopher having been refuted as well.

Kenny and Bruce Kenny and Bruce were these two friends who were always trying to figure out different ways to get money. You know, just trying to survive. So Kenny comes up with this idea that they go downtown and take their shirts off and see if anybody were willing to pay them to hit each other. And people were. Sometimes they wanted Kenny to hit Bruce, and sometimes they wanted Bruce to hit Kenny. And sometimes they just paid them to beat the living hell out of each other, often offering whoever won something extra. And at the end of the night, Kenny and Bruce always made some pretty serious money, more than they ever made with a guitar. So one day this guy says he’ll pay Kenny if he hits Bruce with a board. They’d never used weapons before, and it was easy to see where it could be going, but the guy offered twice as much as they ever made before, so Kenny hit Bruce with the board. And then one night some guy brought some brass knuckles, and another night this guy had a pair of nun chucks. And finally, one night this guy pulls out a piece. And he’s willing to pay Kenny if he’ll shoot Bruce. And Kenny did. No hesitation. Shot him right in the chest. Because he knew that if it had been the other way around, if the guy had chosen Bruce to shoot Kenny, Bruce would’ve done it. After all, they had a deal. And nothing’s worse than somebody who breaks a deal.

Number 48 “Do you like my new cat?” Andrea asked when Jamal walked in the door after a hard day’s work. “You got a new cat?” Jamal asked in disgust. “Yes,” said Andrea. “Isn’t he cute?” Jamal looked around and then asked, “Which one is he?” “He’s...” replied Andrea, and then after a pause, continued, “I’m really not sure. But you’ll just love his name.” Jamal moved over to the liquor cabinet and started rummaging through the empty bottles. “Oh, I’m sure I will,” he stated, with just a touch of sarcasm. It wasn’t clear if Andrea ignored Jamal’s sarcasm, or just wasn’t aware. Said Andrea, “I call him 48.” “Forty-eight?” Jamal wondered. “Well, silly,” quipped Andrea, “he is number 48, after all.” “Where’s all my liquor!” Jamal finally demanded, after making certain that the cabinet really was void of any spirits, except, perhaps, for the spirits of the empty bottles that had not yet followed the light into the next world, where many thirsty parishioners were eagerly awaiting their arrival. “Oh, your liquor,” said Andrea, “that would be Bobo and Leander. They do so dislike milk.” And then, she added, “Where are you going?” “Out!” snapped Jamal as he picked up his coat. “I’m going to the Cat and the Fiddle for a drink!” And with that, he grabbed his hat and headed for the door. “Wait for us,” said Andrea, “the cats do so love to get out. We can take the van.” But Jamal never heard Andrea, for he was already gone. She stood there sadly for a moment, and was only distracted when Bobo rubbed against her legs. He then looked up at her and inquired, “Well, are we going or not?”

The Christmas Parade The cold wind snapped across the littered parking lot, pushing sleet that lightly covered the windshield on the high school principal's truck. After a few moments the wipers slid across the glass and revealed three men walking slowly across the gravel toward the truck. One of the men was Santa Claus; he would've looked better with a beard. Within seconds the windshield was misted over again. When the wipers once more sequenced, the men were waiting at the truck for Mr. Anderson to remove the key and step out into the December morning. "When do you want to start?" Santa Claus asked. "I'm not in charge of the parade," Mr. Anderson answered. "We know," said one of the other men who had his ball cap firmly screwed on his head to keep it from blowing away, "but do you want the four-wheelers to go before or after the horses?" "All I'm here to do is to make sure the queen candidate is here," said Mr. Anderson. "You're going to announce her at the end of the parade, aren't you?" another man said from the comfort of his hooded hunting jacket. "Only if necessary," replied Mr. Anderson. "That's good," said the man in the ball cap. "But what about the four-wheelers?" Three four-wheelers were sitting in the near corner of the parking lot. Two of the riders were taking turns popping their clutches and spinning gravel on the third rider, who was trying to get hers started, between cursing at the other two. In deference to the occasion, they had wreaths attached with duct tape to their handlebars. "I think the four-wheelers ought to go behind the horses," Santa Clause volunteered. "Horse," the man in the hunting jacket corrected. "We only got one horse, unless Larry shows up." "Victor's got a horse," said the man in the hunting cap. "He gots to go up front," Santa Claus reminded him. "He's carrying the American flag. The American flag always goes up front." Out in the street near the intersection, Victor, who was dressed in his full VFW regalia, was trying to keep the American flag pointing upward with one had while hold the reigns to his jittery horse with the other. Every time he seemed to have the horse calmed down, whoever was sitting in the firetruck would rev the engine and send him prancing around in circles. "There's another horse," said the hunting cap. "We can't count that horse," said Santa. "It's pulling the Baptists." Coming up the street was one slowly plodding horse, laboriously pulling a flatbed wagon. Above the wagon a banner had been erected simply stating, "Jesus Saves." Whoever had planned the banner hadn't planned well enough, for the letters became increasingly smaller and scrunched up the closer they got to the right side. Several hay bales had been thrown on the wagon, upon which were seated members of the congregation. It was hard to tell just how many might be there since they were all huddled tightly under a collection of quilts. Muffled attempts at singing escaped from underneath the covers. "So no one is really in charge of this parade?" asked Mr. Anderson. Hunting Jacket replied, "Well, Larry usually runs these things, but I ain't seen him yet. I figure if he ain't here by now he probably ain't gonna come." "Larry's got the other horse," Ball Cap added. From the back of a pickup truck parked in the middle of the street, several students whose banner announced that they were Cub Scouts had started throwing their candy to the half-a-dozen students who had gathered to watch. Only they weren't gently throwing, and the students weren't collecting the candy to keep; they were throwing it back. "OK," said Mr. Anderson, "we'll put Chester out front..." "Who's Chester?" Santa wanted to know. "The guy with the flag." "No, that's Victor. Victor's got the flag," said Ball Cap. "Whoever. The guy with the flag leads. We'll put Santa in the rear, right behind the queen candidate, and everybody else can just fall in." "Sounds good," said Santa. "Then let's get going before we all freeze." "We cain't go yet," said Hunting Jacket. "The marching band ain't here yet." "What marching band?" Mr. Anderson wondered. "Why, the school marching band," said Ball Cap. "I didn't know we had a school marching band," Mr. Anderson said more to himself than anyone else. Santa replied just the same. "Oh, we do, and it's a dandy!" As if on cue, the marching band emerged from the walkway that ran between the high school and the New Gym. The music teacher was holding a banner that was really designed to be held by two people, which the wind kept trying to wrest from her hands. On the banner, amidst various cleft signs and musical notes, were the words "NHS Marching Band." It was actually a nice banner, or at least had been for the first thirty years of its life. With luck, duct tape would see it through another thirty years. The three members of the marching band followed behind. There was a drum, a clarinet, and cymbals. All the students had on the pants and jackets that made up the uniforms, complete with the fancy embroidery work that ran down the vest. One of them was even wearing a hat. "I'm sorry we were late," panted Mrs. Murgel, the music teacher. "We were waiting for Ricky, but he never showed up." "That's alright," Mr. Anderson replied. "Just as long as you're here we're OK. We'll put you behind Chester..." "Victor," corrected Santa. "Victor. We'll put you behind Victor." "You cain't put 'em behind Victor," said Hunting Jacket. "The cymbals'll spook his horse." "Hell, wind'd spook that old horse," Santa said to the appreciation of the other men. "Alright, then, the firetruck follows Victor..." Santa nodded his approval of Mr. Anderson finally getting the name right. "And we'll put the marching band behind the firetruck." "We can't march behind the firetruck," Mrs. Murgel protested. "No one would hear us over the noise from the diesel." Mr. Anderson was tempted to say that that was the general idea, but decided it wouldn't've been professional. "OK, then, we'll put you after the Baptists." "That's not a good idea," said Hunting Jacket. "Why not?" "Well, for one thing, they'll both be playing music, which is probably not a good idea." "I'd agree," Mr. Anderson quickly added, although he wasn't considering the possibility that their songs would clash. "And another thing," Ball Cap continued, "Les has been having trouble with his stomach lately. I don't think you'll want to walk behind him." "Who's Les?" Mr. Anderson wondered. "He's the Baptists' horse," Ball Cap explained. "Then we'll put the Baptists behind the flag, the firetruck will follow the Baptists, the four wheelers can follow the firetruck, and the Cub Scouts can follow them. We'll put the marching band behind the Cub Scouts, the queen can follow the marching band, and Santa Claus can bring up the rear." "What about the other horse?" asked Santa. "We can put him behind the Baptists." The three men thought about it for a few moments. "By golly, I think that'll work," Santa finally concluded. As the parade slowly started down Walnut, the townsfolk came out of the warmth of their homes to huddle near the street as it went by. The parade made it to the second house down from the school when the firetruck died. After a few attempts at turning it over, the fireman inside stuck his head out and announced, "It's froze up!" The excuse was readily accepted. Hunting Jacket walked up to Mr. Anderson, who was still standing in the parking lot. "I reckon we'll just call it quits here. The firetruck ain't goin' nowhere, and the band's already played all the songs it knows. We can use the Baptists' wagon to announce the Christmas queen on." The wagon was a good idea. Les, the horse, had laid down in the middle of the street, and since he was going nowhere, neither was the wagon. "Oh, I don't think we'll need the wagon," Mr. Anderson volunteered. "The girl who was elected queen didn't show up. We'll just give the tiara to her on Monday, if she shows up then." "I reckon that'll work," said Hunting Jacket. Down the street, the homeowners had already gone back inside. The Baptists had all abandoned their wagon, leaving Les on his own. Victor and his flag were no where in sight. Once the parade had begun, Victor had never looked back to see if the rest were following. The four-wheelers were all chasing each other around in the field that the students used for parking, and the Cub Scouts were now throwing gravel at each other, having run out of candy. The Marching Band had headed back to the building, only to be stopped by Ricky, who had finally shown up and now wanted to play his trumpet. Since Mr. Anderson could see no reason to hang around any longer on a Saturday morning, he headed to his truck, only to be stopped halfway there by the trio of Santa Claus, Hunting Jacket, and Ball Cap. "That was a right fine parade," Hunting Cap volunteered. "Yes, it was," Ball Cap agreed. "A dandy! Best one we ever had." "We sure appreciate all your effort," said Santa Claus, patting Mr. Anderson on the back. "We couldn't've done it without you."

The Undertaker It’s an odd story. A story my father used to tell. Said he first heard it from an old man who used to live in the bottoms. No telling where he heard it from. It’s about this guy that shows up in this little town. First person who can remember seeing him is the undertaker. Come to think about it, I suppose the undertaker was the only one who ever saw him. He was this odd fellow. Short. Didn’t really make eye contact. Not completely. It was as if he was always looking around for something else. Something that he might’ve lost a long time ago, and was always hoping it would show up. Maybe where he least expected it. Someplace where he had never been. He walks into the undertaker’s and says he wants to buy 532 caskets. 532. In all sizes. Says he’s willing to pay twice for what each one is worth. Now that was a lot of money. Cash in advance for the first one, and then cash in advance for each one after that. So the undertaker says he would. Because, like I said, it was a lot of money. 532. It’s such an odd amount. It was odd, but at the same time it was almost familiar. And then it occurs to the undertaker. It’s the town’s population. And so he checks it. But it wasn’t. Not exactly. But then the undertaker gets to thinking about it, and he starts thinking about everybody that’s moved in and moved away since they last counted. Everybody that had been born. Everybody who had died. Because it wasn’t a very big town, after all. And the amount he came up with was right at 532. Close enough that he just couldn’t be sure. After all, there was really no way to count some of the families out in the Wilderness. And the more he got to thinking about it, the more he was sure that it was the entire population of the town. Everybody. Every man, woman, and child. But he makes the first casket just the same. After all, it had been paid for. Took him about a day. It wasn’t fancy. Mostly just a box. Lined the inside with cloth, but nothing special. If the stranger would’ve wanted special, he probably would’ve gone somewhere else. But you see, here’s the thing. The minute he gets it done, someone dies. And when he gets the next one done, someone else dies. In fact, every time he gets one finished, someone else shoves off. Of course, the undertake didn’t put it together at first. I mean, people die. But after about the third one, he starts to figure it out. After all, not that many people die. Not every day. And every time he finishes a casket, the stranger shows up and pays for another. And another. And another. But the undertaker keeps making the caskets just the same. He does this for about a year and a half. Steady. Until the only casket left to make is his own. Like clockwork, the stranger shows up and pays him to make that one, too. And, of course, he makes it.