No central theme; none of the stories are related.
These stories are not directed toward any certain group of people; young, older, students, some even benign enough for a child. Others, of course, are not.
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Table of Contents (13 short stories)
"Thirty Seconds to the Ground" (4000 words) (A skydive gone really bad
"My Husband, my Hero" (1400 words) (A nursing home love affair)
"Geek of the Road" (3000 words) (Believe it or not, the geek sometimes gets the girl.)
"For a Cup of Coffee" (3400 words) (Really, how much is a cup of coffee worth? For your sanity, sometimes quite a bit.)
"The Real Meaning of a Quarter" (1700 words) (One shiny little quarter can mean the difference between a good day, and a really bad one.)
"Don’t get too Close" (1700 words) (A nursing home resident goes from down, to way up, to really down, in the space of a couple hours.)
"The One Who Loves Me" (4200 words) (A little girl is the only one who knows who she should go live with.)
"Girlfriend for Mother" (2300 words) (Sometimes a friend asked to help can become much more than a friend.)
"Waiting to Die" (3300 words) (Since the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak, mankind has feared return of the pandemic, an extraordinarily-mutated virus, that vicious creature that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Young people are dying, so many that hospitals can no longer provide for them. Staunch Derek Whitfield, 25-year Army veteran, has volunteered for end-of-life hospice care. He sees nothing but darkness waiting on The Other Side, until he meets Susannah Brite, his forty-second client.)
"Voice from the Congregation" (2400 words) (A crippled girl’s voice creates new life in a young couple’s marriage.)
"One Morning at Boxelder Cove" (2400 words) (A young red squirrel learns a whole lot about life and survival.)
"He had it Coming" (5900 words) (A boss gets murdered, and nobody, not his family, and not even one employee, is sorry.)
"Into Tilovia" (12,500 words) (novella) (Nobody was helping the Tilovians; seven friends decide it’s time somebody did.
Geek of the Road
(Entire short story; 12 more in b ook)
Engine exhaust hung in smoky plumes in the frigid twenty-five-below-zero air over the parking lot. The sun hovered barely above the western horizon. In January northland night came early.
Twenty-six-year-old Hillman closed the driver-side door for the eighteenth time, then stepped into the Honda Accord driver seat and began opening and closing from inside. All the way open. All the way closed. Then he had the passenger door to open and close, then the trunk and hood, power windows and side mirrors, cubby hole, everything the consumer would ever use Hillman had to test.
One of the other drivers walked past, "Hey, Hillman. Open that door. Close that door," then walked on, laughing.
Hillman didn't answer, just continued doing his job. But from the corner of his eye he saw that the other driver did only about half his checks and tests. He didn't care. Hillman would do the job as he had been told to do it.
Eighteen. Hillman left the door closed, started the engine, and began running tests of the radio, heater and other electrical checks.
A Dodge Neon was parked directly ahead of him. Most of the drivers didn't like the Neon. Too small. No leg room. Rides like a lumber wagon. Hillman didn't agree. He liked the Neon. His legs were a little too long for it too, and he would never buy it for his personal vehicle, but he liked its styling, especially its back end, the way it...angled up.
It reminded him of a woman's back end. And when he drove behind the Neon, which was the order they drove in, that's what would go through his mind. That he was looking at a woman's back end. He could look at a woman's back end and not get in trouble for it, because the woman would never know he was looking. But sometimes he got caught anyway. But it was safe looking at a Neon's back end because nobody would know what was going through his mind.
He stopped his checks and looked directly at the Neon's back end. A bright red one. A woman should own that car, he thought, a real cute one.
A few seconds passed, then he went on with his job, and on and on, until every last test and check had been completed. He finished before anyone else, even though, he felt sure, that most of the other drivers didn't do all their checks. But he didn't care. He would do the job right.
Hillman was considered, by some, to be a geek. And slow, too. Not slow in intelligence, but very slow in getting it. Continually the brunt of jokes, he rarely understood what everyone was laughing at, and almost never, if ever, knew when people were laughing directly at him.
But, geek or not, Hillman was about to meet an angel. A real live, flesh-and-blood, girl, angel.
About five minutes remained before they would take the cars out for road-testing. Hillman's vehicle was running and he was enjoying seventies classic rock music by the group Journey. He loved almost all types of music.
A rap came on the window. Hillman turned and saw the lead driver, the only one in Hillman's group who never teased him. But who also rarely talked to him. Hillman opened the window. The lead driver looked at him with an expression of, well, if Hillman had been less of a geek, or been one of the other guys watching from the side, the expression maybe could have been read as restrained amusement, because of what was coming.
"You've never been trainer, have you, Hillman?" Lead driver asked.
"Well, it's your turn."
From lead driver's left side stepped, well, what Hillman saw first were the gentlest blue eyes he had ever seen. The impression was made but Hillman didn't really think about it right then. Instead he opened the door and stepped out.
"Trudy," lead driver said, "This is Hillman. You'll ride with him tonight and then...," he pointed, "you'll drive that red Neon tomorrow night, because tonight is that driver’s last night."
Trudy stepped forward and held her hand out, "Hi, Hillman."
Hillman jerked his glove off and took the hand, and experienced softness like he never knew existed. But again he didn't think too much about it. He was a geek, remember? Yet the impressions were made on him. Gentle blue eyes. A soft hand. "...Hi...." He didn't know what else to say so he just started telling her about the job. Words tumbled out nonstop. In the next two minutes he told her everything she needed to know…up to that point, and a lot of things she would never need to know.
But, that's how geeks operated.
Engines were revving.
"Let's go, Hillman!" came the voice of one of the other driver's.
"Lay'er on your own time, Hillman!" came another.
Hillman heard the comment but did not grasp the hidden meaning. That's how geeky he was.
"Radio check, Hillman," came lead driver's voice.
Hillman climbed into his Accord, grabbed the CB microphone, "Loud and clear."
Trudy stepped into the passenger side and would have, likely, in another second or two, done what Hillman told her, "Put your seat belt on, please."
She did it, then smiled.
The smile made its impression, but for the moment was mostly lost on geek Hillman, "So, have you driven before?"
She smiled again, "Yes, a few times."
Even Hillman realized how that had sounded, "I meant..."
She touched his right forearm, "I know what you meant, Hillman. And, no, I've never done anything like this before."
The autos started moving. Fourth in line, the middle car of seven, Hillman shifted into gear and they moved onto English Avenue. He glanced in the mirror. "Looks like everybody made it," he said, "That's important, for everybody to stay together."
"I'm sure," Trudy answered.
"We'll go thirteen blocks north," lead driver said over the CB, "Then a block west on Meridian Street, then six blocks east on Almanac Boulevard, then the interstate."
Hillman chuckled, "Ol' Number One Driver, he always tells us where we're going, as if we might get lost or something."
"You mean he tells you stuff you already know, or even stuff you don't even need to know?"
"Yeah, right, ol' Number One acts kind'a geeky sometimes."
Trudy laughed, then threw her hand to her mouth and feigned a cough.
"He's all right, though, and knows what he's doing. Hey, you OK?"
"Yes, I'm fine." She smiled again. The smile again made its impression. Trudy was making a real impression on Hillman somewhere deep, very, deep, in his subconscious. On the surface, though, everything was going right over his head.
They came to a red light. Hillman stopped just short of the bumper of the car ahead of him, the red Neon. He knew Trudy glanced at him but she said nothing. He stared at the red Neon’s back end, and had his usual thoughts about it, but, that time, wished he hadn’t had those thoughts. Green light. Hillman let the red Neon barely get moving before he moved too. He thought, again, that the Neon's back end reminded him of a woman's back end, but just for a second. He also remembered that Trudy would be driving it the next night, and, he wasn’t quite sure how he should think about that, or even if he should think about that, and felt his head and chest getting a bit extra warm. He wasn’t totally sure what that was about, either.
The fourth red light went to green. They moved ahead.
"Aren't you following kind of close?" Trudy finally asked.
"I know it looks that way but we have to follow close. That way it gives the last guy behind us a chance to make the green light too."
"But what if the guy ahead of you...stops...?"
"Because he's a good driver, just like me."
"Oh, so you're all just a bunch of good drivers, huh?"
Hillman didn't know how to answer. He knew what he was doing, and why, but he had never had to explain before. A minute went by, then, "The guy ahead of me knows I'm following this close away from a red light, and the guy behind is following just as close, but as soon as we're away from the red light we all space out again."
"I'm sure you will."
What Trudy said, and the way she said it, with that hint of irony, was lost on Hillman.
"So, you guys all got together and discussed it?"
"How to get through red lights."
"Yet you think everybody is just doing it right, the way you think is right."
They reached the interstate before Hillman thought of how to answer.
Lead driver broke into his thoughts, "We'll go north for seventeen miles, then west on county road 76."
"There's ol' Number One actin' like a geek again."
Again Trudy had to stifle a laugh.
"I guess it's a matter of trust," Hillman began, "We never got together and talked about anything, but, well, we've all been driving together for a while now, and, well, we've just come to expect what the other guy's going to do. I know the guy in front of me isn't going to stop unnecessarily and the guy behind me knows I'm not going to either."
They began pulling onto the interstate and accelerating, "Watch." Hillman pointed ahead, "We'll be going into a curve." He kept pointing as the three lead cars entered the curve, "You see how they're all accelerating, and spacing out?"
"Yes, I would say that they are all ‘spacing’ out."
Again Trudy's words were lost on Hillman.
"Now look back." He gestured with thumb, "The cars behind are doing it too. We're all in formation, just like jet planes." He grabbed the CB mike, "Lookin' good, guys. We're driving in formation."
"Fuck you, Hillman," came one voice in answer.
"Yeah, Hillman, you ain't in a goddamn airplane."
A silent moment went by.
Finally Trudy spoke, gently, "They don't sound, too...trusting...Hillman."
"Aw, they always talk that way. They don't mean anything by it."
Hillman was staring straight ahead, and missed completely the very soft expression on Trudy's face. They went into another curve. The moon was already up, and beginning to brighten in the twilight. "Look." Hillman pointed.
Trudy looked. A few seconds went by, "OK, I'm looking…what, am I looking at?"
"The moon. By the next time we go in this direction, in about two hours, there'll be three planets with it...course, they're already there. It's just that we can't see'em yet."
"Yeah, it's an astronomical phenomenon. We'll see'em in harmony like that for about a week and then, well, not again for about a hundred years."
Another very silent moment went by.
"So keep telling me what we're doing, Hillman. I want to know all about this job."
He glanced at her. She was smiling, and all the smiles she had yet given him seemed, to Hillman, to be projecting from her right then. He thought she was the most beautiful female creature he had ever seen.
"OK." He smiled back, "Coming up is the antilock brakes test. We'll be leaving the interstate soon and going onto gravel."
For the next two hours Hillman kept up a nearly continuous monologue about cold weather automotive road testing. He told Trudy everything she needed to know and everything she would ever need to know about everything he could think of.
When they came around again to where the moon filled their windshield, this time it was Trudy who pointed, "Look, they're all there now."
"Yep, that's Saturn on the top of the triangle, Jupiter on the bottom right, and Mars a little to the left."
"It's beautiful, Hillman. Thanks for showing me."
The end of the shift came. Geek that he was, even Hillman knew enough to leave what he was going to say until the end of the shift, so that if she said 'No,' well, then he wouldn't have to face her again, not up close anyway, "Trudy...?"
She looked his way and smiled, "Yes, Hillman?"
He hunched his shoulders, "You want to go for a Dairy Queen...sometime...?"
"A...Dairy Queen?" A different smile came to her face. She looked away. Her hand came up to her face for just a second, "I...let me think about that, Hillman." She reached and, quickly, patted his right forearm, "But don't ask me again, OK? I'll think about it, and, if I decide I want to, then I'll tell you. OK...?"
He glanced at her. For the first time that night there was no sign of a smile on her face. "OK."
Again she patted his forearm, and squeezed very lightly, then withdrew.
They reached the parking lot. He had already shown her every test and check she would have to do the next night when she had her own car, the red Neon. They stopped. Trudy stepped out immediately, then looked back in, "Thanks for all your help tonight, Hillman. I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome. I'm sure you won't have any trouble."
"Bye." Then she closed the door and was gone.
The next night came. And Hillman was correct. Trudy had no trouble, for all five of the other men on the crew, including lead driver, helped her perform—in fact did for her—most of her checks and tests.
Finally Trudy stood alone by the passenger side of her car, appearing to make a last-minute visual inspection. Then she walked to the back end of the Neon, ran her hand over the trunk, then walked toward the driver side door, giving Hillman his first glimpse of her back end.
And he looked, for just one second, then tried to put his eyes anywhere else, but knew where he had been looking, and knew he liked looking there, and suspected Trudy would know where he had been looking, and, and...
Trudy grasped the door handle, pulled the door open, then glanced back to Hillman, and sent a small smile, then a wave, then climbed into her Neon.
After she could no longer see him Hillman realized she had waved, so he returned the wave.
After the radio checks no further chatter came over the CB system during the first two hours on the road, and Trudy drove her first time in formation like a pro.
Hillman was proud of her.
For their first break lead driver lead them into a 7-eleven store parking lot. They parked in a row, as usual, and in the same order as on the road. Hillman pulled in behind Trudy. Everybody got out and headed for the store and their cigarette and coffee break, except Hillman, who began writing a comment on his checklist sheet about how the transmission was acting.
He had made the comment before, so he wasn't real sure why he was wasting time writing it again, but he did know he didn't really want to be the first or even the second or third person into the store. He wasn't sure, exactly, why he felt that way either. Through side vision he saw Trudy hesitate and look back, toward him, but then five more bodies swept her along into the store.
He finished his comment. Now if he could just slip into the store and get his coffee, and then, well, maybe just slip out again. Hillman wasn't sure, exactly, why he was having these unusual thoughts. But he knew it had something to do with Trudy. He knew she would never 'get back' to him about the Dairy Queen date. He had been stupid to ask her in the first place. Girls probably didn't want to go on dates to the Dairy Queen.
Geeky as he was, Hillman was pretty sure he had been rejected.
But he finally went in for his coffee.
For that break and the half-time break Hillman avoided the crowd, and the laughing and joking and foul language, and he avoided Trudy, although he occasionally felt her eyes on him. But he didn't know why she would look at him at all. He also didn't know why she would want to be with the others either, especially the way some of them were talking. But she didn't appear to be minding. Hillman didn't like how things were going, but he also didn't know what to do about it.
Things came to a head at the beginning of the last break when one of the other drivers approached Hillman, "Hey, Hillman, why're you hanging out by yourself?" Then he grasped Hillman's arm, "C'mon over'n' join the rest of us."
So Hillman went.
"You must'of trained Trudy pretty good last night, Hillman," lead driver said, "She's driving just like a professional."
"That's Hillman all right," one of the other drivers said, "Master trainer."
"Ha!" another added, "Master trainer and driver."
"Hillman, king of the road."
"Ha! Geek of the road!"
Laughter roared from everyone present, except Trudy, "Hillman," Trudy said, quieting the laughter, "Is the invitation for a Dairy Queen still open?"
The silence that followed almost hurt Hillman's ears. He also couldn't believe what his ears had just heard.
"Dairy Queen?" someone smirked quietly. More smirks and chuckles followed, and would have erupted again into raucous laughter, had Trudy not walked to Hillman's side, took his arm, and smiled, "Are we still on, Hillman?"
Some of Hillman's geekiness disappeared right then, forever, "Yes," he said.
Then Trudy squeezed his arm and guided them to a corner, and a measure of privacy, followed by five sets of disbelieving eyes.
Yes, Hillman was a geek. And he would always be a geek, to a point. But, geek or not, he walked away with the girl.