The Supplicant's Tale (A Short Story)

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The Supplicant's Tale (A Short Story)

Postby Brian » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:47 pm

I wrote most of this when I was 18, with some work on it when I was 19, and some editing recently. Parts of it are probably good. Parts of it...welll...aren't. :)

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THE SUPPLICANT'S TALE
(or, A Pilgrimage to Hackettstown)
By: Brian Hartman


I've gone for a roll. I'll be back tomorrow.


- Love,
Dave





I place the note on my bed. After checking my backpack, I take one last look around the room, trying to remember the thing I know I must've forgotten. I have the necessities (money, medication, toiletries, my Walkman), so I head for the back door.

I head down the ramp. Part of me can't believe I'm doing this. A trip to Hackettstown? I must really be losing it! A week ago, I would've laughed at the idea. That was before the letter. The letter changes everything.

At first, I thought the letter was written by someone else. But there it was. Blue ink on white paper. Death. (Death stated kindly, but death just the same.) Lisa's new boyfriend was a jealous moron, and he hated me. She decided that rather thanoyfriend was a jealous moron, and he hated me. She decided that rather than risk losing him, she would end our friendship, and cut me loose.

I have the letter in my jacket pocket. I figure it's my one piece of evidence that I have justification for this. Beyond anything else, it is the letter which spurs me on.
My purpose is to go down fighting. I know full well that my friendship with Lisa is reaching an endpoint, (despite Lisa's conjecture that "Maybe sometime, somewhere, we will cross paths again."), but I can't let it die without doing something.

It's five a.m. I roll out of camp as noiselessly as I can. My wheels inevitably rattle as I roll along, but since everyone's asleep in the cabins, it doesn't really matter. My silence is mostly to wrap the moment in reverence, rather than to protect myself from whoever might take objection to me leaving camp before the end of the session.

In a moment, I'm out. I'm heading down the road with my Walkman on, enjoying the liberation. The mountain air is cool, which helps to wake me up. About ten minutes down the road, a car passes by, keeping time to my music, and bringing my reflexes to attention.

God! I can't believe it's been five years since I've seen Lisa face to face. I wonder how I'll take the shock. I have visions of myself being dumbfounded, totally incapable of speech. Even if I see her, which is not a total given, will I recognize her? Tot a total given, will I recognize her? True, I remember how she looked from every angle, but the last time I saw her she was eleven, and doubtless most of her angles have changed. Still, I have a vague feeling that, even without recent pictures to guide me, I'd still know. The incandescent eyes. The amber hair. The way her cheeks frame her smile. Somehow, I'm sure I'll know.
The long honk of a horn. The sound paralyzes me for a heartbeat. Then I yank the right wheel, skidding to the side of the road. I realize that the car wasn't even about to hit me, and I curse, shit, not entirely under my breath. I consider a gesture, discard the idea. I put on my headphones again.

My watch says 5:27. I have no idea where I am, besides on the road to Hackettstown. Fields stretch out before me, and my wheels rattle with activity. As my tape comes to an end, I press "stop" and pull the headphones down onto my shoulders.

I'll be in Hackettstown by the time anyone at camp realizes I'm gone. Thinking about that makes me smile, almost laugh out loud, because I'm in control. I'm actually doing something this time. But what? In essence, I'm pressing a situation good sense might tell me to leave alone. Fortunately, I've never been one for having good sense. Bad judgement might just save my ass this time.
The terrain around me has slipped into monotony. I take the chance to contemplate what I hope to save. Lisa's friendship has always meant a lot to me. In a way, even more so than Ann's has. Every letter I got from Lisa was like a personal reprieve, a sign that no matter how bad my life got, no matter how shitty I might feel about myself at any particular moment, there was always someone out there to stand beside me. Someone who would never leave. I worshipped at the girl's feet, because she was the one friend I thought I could count on. She wasn't just a friend to me. She was a. . . There's no word. Now, it's as if I've totally lost my direction. I'm in the middle of a vast ocean without a compass, and the North Star just fell from the sky. Not even that. It just went out.

Forty-five minutes into my trip, I realize that thing I knew I forgot. Water. As my throat grows tight and dry with thirst, I rub my tongue on the roof of my mouth. I put my headphones back on, consciously immersing myself in the music. Another ten minutes should bring me to town. Maybe there's a store. Maybe some soda.

Before me looms the Big Hill. From this angle, it doesn't look that impressive. Not steep, just long. I grip the steel rings of my wheels with fresh resolve. Fuck it, I mutter, as I push my wheels in a frenzy of effort. My neck and shoulders strain with the sudden onslaught of resistance, and my head burns with mindlessness as I try to distance myself from my effort. In a minute or so, the ordeal is over, and I sit at the top of the hill. I look behind me, glad the task is done. Then I look in front of me, down the hill, and smile. I push myself once, raise my arms, and freefall down the hill.

I glory in the experience. No matter how many times I go down a hill, I always thrill to the feeling of the acceleration as it pulls the chair along. Towards the bottom of the hill, the chair begins to shake, so I gently squeeze the wheels, burning my fingers, and slowing the chair until it rides smoothly again.

I can hear traffic in the distance. I'm very close. Soon, the main road is in view. I remove my headphones and prepare to do battle with the cars.

I like rolling in the street. It's easier than the sidewalk, because sidewalks tend to be irregular. There are always pieces of sidewalk tilted at awkward angles. At high speed, down a hill, if you hit a bad piece of sidewalk, it's all over. The chances of hitting such a piece of sidewalk are always higher than getting nailed by a car. Getting hit by a car would be far worse than flying out of the chair, I guess, but, looking at the odds, I'll always pick the street. Except maybe on really busy streets. I'm not suicidal, or stupid.

As I roll into traffic, I try to decide which way I'm trying to go. For the first time, I realize I'm totally lost, and at the mercy of my own sense of direction. Very scary.
I think back to different letters Lisa had written, trying to pull out some useful information. Allamuchy Elementary School comes to mind. I set out to find it.

Roads are convex, in general. It helps keep them from flooding when it rains. So I have to find the right spot to roll on in the road. If I'm too close to the curb, I'll be fighting inertia, trying to keep the chair from turning to one side. Too far in the middle, and I could end up on someone's hood. Rolling against traffic, I try to keep the proper balance.

I see an old man walking on the sidewalk. He's just walking along, not looking very purposeful, and probably not going anywhere in particular. I decide to stop him.

"Excuse me. Sir? Can you tell me where Allamuchy Elementary School is?"

"Hmm. Oh, yeah. Go down about, uh, three blocks. . . past the traffic light. On the right. Can't miss it."

"Thanks."

I roll down the street, in the direction the guy told me. My watch beeps six. Right now, the roads are virtually empty, so I decide to save myself some trouble and get a little closer to the middle of the road.

Big mistake.

As I come to a corner, I see a blue Thunderbird stopped there at a stop sign. I look insiThunderbird stopped there at a stop sign. I look inside at the driver. She looks my way, so I figure she must see me. She accelerates right into me.

My chair flips back. My Walkman goes flying into the middle of the street. As all this unfolds, the woman jumps out of her car.

"Oh my God! Are you alright? I'm so sorry! I didn't see you!"

I can see the alarm on her face, borne mostly out of a sense of responsibility, mingled with fear, no doubt. I swing my legs out of the overturned chair, then put it back on all fours. I get back in.

"Don't worry about it. I'm fine."

A balding man with glasses comes running up.

"Hey! Stay here. Try not to move. I called it in, and they said they'd send someone here to check you out."

By this point, I am thoroughly embarrassed, and slightly amused.

"Really. I'm fine. Look." I do windmills with both my arms, and roll my head on my shoulders, demonstrating. Of course, neither of them’ll hear it, so I wait for the ambulance, and the one cop car that I figure must be on the way.

"I'm really sorry. Are you alright? Anything hurt?"

"I'm okay. Really. To be honest, I think you're in much worse shape than I am."

The bald man says, "Well, we'll just have them check you out."

"Okay." Turning to the driver, I say "My name's Dave Riggler."

"Erin Lubczek."

"Ron Nelson."

The woman hands me my Walkman, and I plug in the headphones, which I still have around my neck. She hands me the tape and I put it in.

"S'it alright?"

I press play and breathe a sigh of relief. It's amazing how something that costs thirty-five dollars can be so indestructible. The thing plays just as well as it did before I dropped it for the thirtieth-or-so time. I smile discretely.

"It's fine. Thanks."

Distantly, sirens whine. Three blue and white patrol cars pull up. Three policemen come towards me.

One policeman seems to hold authority in the group. The one with the clipboard. He comes up to our group, while surveying the car and my chair. One of the other policemen reaches into his car and talks into a CB. The other just stands there, looking attentively absent.

"What happened here?"

"I was turning the corner", she gestures towards it, "and I ran into him.", gestures towards me.

The policeman writes on his clipboard.

"How're you feeling? You hurt?"

"I feel fine, sir." More windmills.

An ambulance pulls up.

"Really," I say, "Sorry to cause such a panic. I'm fine. No problem."

The ambulance workers look on dutifully, anxious and eager to get to their task.

The bald man chips in, "You should let 'em take a look at you anyway, just to be sure."

"I'm fine, really."

"What's your name?", the policeman asks.

"Riggler, David Riggler."

"Address?"

"45 Lynch Ave, Kearny."

"Age?"

"19."

"Do you want to go in the ambulance, have them check you at Hackettstown General?"

"No. Don't worry about it. I got it."

The woman insists on giving me an insurance business card. Allstate. I put it in my front pouch. Memento.

The policeman gives me a paper to sign. I sign it, and he gets into his car. The other policemen do the same.

The group disbands, and I'm on my way.


Thirst tears at my throat unmercifully. Every time I swallow, it feels like I'm swallowing parchment. Very dry parchment. Looking down at my hands, I notice they're collecting dirt in the usual places. Dirt is encrusted in my thumb knuckles, and at the joints of my fingers. Add hunger to this, and it's just not a good situation. Maybe I can find a twenty-four hour place to eat later.

6:34. I've got to find the school. That little escapade cost me a half hour! All friendly strangers should be killed!! I roll along in the direction the old guy told me.

After about five minutes, I get there. Allamuchy Elementary School. The Promised Land! I'm here! (Much to the dismay of the locals, I'm sure.) I look at the building, somewhat marveling at it. This is where Lisa went to school! After five years of not seeing her, it's quite a shock. I feel like a little kid looking through a hole in the girls' showers. There's a certain amount of guilt for invading Lisa's private world, but there's also some exhilaration at the thought of all these things being revealed to me. I feel closer to her, somehow.

Reality intrudes. Now that I'm here, I have no idea where to go. Left? Right? Shit! I'm lost! Screwed! Well, I guess left is as good as any other direction.

I start looking for Kushall Ave. This is hopeless. Some of the streets aren't even marked, and since it's not even seven yet, there's no one on the street to ask. I start to contemplate why the hell I'm here. I curse myself and my stupidity. Why am I putting myself through this? For her. For someone who probably regards me with nostalgic indifference, at best. And for myself, so that I don't lose her, if that even matters. No. Wait. That's wrong. Not for her, but for the person she used to be. To see if I could find her again, somehow exorcise, get through to her. That's why I'm here - for the person she used to be. To find the friend I stand to lose. I feel better. I continue.


I'm getting hungry now, and my thirst is getting out of hand. I decide to look for the house later. I roll on to the main road. In a couple of minutes I find an all-night diner. The Lion's Den. I roll in.
A middle-aged red-haired waitress comes over. I can tell it's been a long night, because she has a face of death on. Her eyes have bags under them, which I assume are not under them most of the time. I could be wrong, though. Adding to the effect is the look on her mouth, the corners turned down and in, like she's thinking about something disgusting.

"Wuddl'ya have?"

"Uh, eggs, sausage and coffee, please?"

"Sure thing, hon. Be about ten minutes."

"Thanks."

I rub my chin. I forgot to shave. Damn. Today of all days. I'm going to Lisa's house looking like some kind of dirtbag scrub. I check my backpack. Luckily, my electric razor is in there. I turn on the razor and give myself a quick, barely adequate shave.

Soon, the waitress is back with my order.

"Here you go.", she says, looking up. "Oh, glad to see you decided to shave that mess on your face."

"Uh. Yeah.", I reply, not looking up, covering myself by pretending to be checking my watch.

She puts the plate in front of me.

The sausage looks like long pieces of charcoal. The eggs look slightly like yellow vomit. Only the coffee is good, and as long as it wakes me up, how bad could it be?
There's ketchup on the table, so I drown the eggs, hoping to kill the taste I suspect them of having. I cut the sausage with my knife, with some effort, and begin to eat.
Even though the stuff looks bad, it tastes okay. It's food, at least, and better than we get at camp. I eat slowly, giving the coffee time to pulse through me, feeling the pit in my stomach filled.

I finish. Almost as though through telepathy, the waitress comes with the bill. Seven sixty-six. I fish through the pouch on the front of my chair and pull out my wallet. I hand her nine dollars and tell her to keep the change.

As I roll out the door, I look over my shoulder. I take a last look at this place, the stereotypical greasy spoon. Right down to the pink uniforms and semi-frilly aprons the waitresses wear. I never really thought I'd see a place like this. Something right out of "Alice". I chuckle to myself as I leave, glad to have such a memorable place, in what I hope will be a memorable journey.

I find my way back to the school. I start my search for Kushall Ave. As I go, I get increasingly frustrated. Everywhere I turn, it seems as if there isn't a street of that name anywhere. As I start to get bored, I look at the houses. Pretty nice. Upwardly mobile, I guess you'd call them. Not really impressive, but alright.

I check the time. Seven thirty. Even if I got to Lisa's house soon, I'm sure she wouldn't appreciate it right now, and I'm even more sure it's a bad idea to talk to her first thing in the morning.

I roll a little bit longer, and I realize how tired I've become. The trip must've been about five miles so far, and I can feel every mile in my arms. I pass a sheltered bus stop bench, so I pull up my chair to it. I hop onto the bench, and take off my Walkman. Keeping one hand on the wheel of my chair, I lay down, napping.

Soon, dreams come to me. Horrific visions of Lisa, her normally pleasant face twisted in rage, screaming.

"Get out of here! Leave me alone!"

Knives, guns, and other assorted weapons fill these dreams. Lisa commits terrible, impossible feats of violence, and I writhe fitfully in the painless agony of dreams. Through all of this, her boyfriend, some eight feet tall, laughs fiendishly in victorious delight. Lisa pushes me off of a cliff, and it feels like a nudge.

I wake up.

Over me stands a blonde girl with an attractive face, no more than sixteen. For an instant, in drowsiness and wishful thinking, I think it's in drowsiness and wishful thinking, I think it's Lisa. Luckily, I do a double-take. The eyes are wrong. Wrong cheeks. And she's got something on her eye. A tiny brow ring. My pulse rate goes down a beat.

"Are you okay?"

"Uh, fine. Thanks. Guess I just dozed off."

She gives me a strange look.

"Well, better get up. It's five to eight, and the bus'll be here."

I look at Brow Ring Girl for a moment. Bus? Oh. Summer school!

Now, I realize that summer school isn't something most people aspire to, and I really wasn't looking to narrow my horizons by going. But there's at least one time in everyone's life when the boundaries of normal behavior have been so stretched that they break, and reckless abandon is attained. This is my time. I decide that I want to see where Lisa goes to school, from the inside. I want as close a look at Lisa as possible. After all, this look will probably be my last.

Brow Ring Girl starts talking to her friends, some of whom have hair in colors I'm pretty sure hair doesn't grow. I can't hear what they're saying, but I assume, from the smiles on their faces and the way one girl is surrounded by the others, that they're talking about a boyfriend, or at least a gratifying date. The guys talk of girls, of course, and a few of them look at the group of girls. In general, these groups don't mix much, and the segregation continues until the bus comes.

The bus poses a small problem for me. It's not equipped with a lift, and the driver is clearly stunned at the idea of having me as a passenger. He gets out of the driver's seat and comes over to me.

"Hi.", I say.

"Hi. Listen. I'm not sure how to do this. How're we going to get you in there?"

I think a moment, seeing if there's any possible way for me to avoid doing the inevitable.

"Well, I could get out of my chair, crawl to a seat, and you could fold up my chair and put it in the bus."

He looks at me.

"I'll pick y’up and carry y’in."

"Are you okay about doing that?"

"Yeah. No problem."

"Okay."

I endure the indignity of being carried in. To make matters worse, he carries me under my shoulders, so I'm dead weight. I hate that. Seeing an empty space near the front of the bus, the driver drops me next to a kid with moderately spiked hair and a gold stud earring. Hell, at least it's in his ear and not his nose're something.

"So. What're you in for?", he says.

I always hated Biology.

"Bio."

"Who'd'ya have?"

"Uhh. . ." I was at a loss.

"I had Essler last year.", the kid says, apparently thinking I forgot the teacher's name.

"Yeah," I say, "that's his name. I was absent so much last marking period, I always forget it."

Not a graceful lie, but this kid doesn't look that bright.

"Oh," he says.

The entire conversation makes me wonder. How'm I supposed to fool all these people, and make it through a day of summer school, if I don't even know teachers' names, and no one’s ever seen me in school before? This is starting to suck. Still, it's only a day, and heavy absenteeism is a good alibi. I might just make it through.

The bus ride is only a couple of minutes. Conversations come in pieces, broken mosaics, unintelligible and irrelevant. For the first time in the trip, I feel completely alone. Not even my thoughts can reach me here, as they're drowned out by the babbling collage of activity around me. I look behind me at my backpack, where my Walkman is. Getting out of my seat to get it would probably be a bad idea, so I wait.
The outside of the school is typical. Very square. Lots of bricks. Flagpole, etc. Very non-threatening, with one hitch. Steps. About five of them at every entrance I could find.

I roll over to three guys walking together into school. They look like football types, so I decide to flag them down.

"Scuse me. Could you give me a hand here?"

They look at me, then at the chair, with a confused look. Then they look up the steps. Then at the chair. Then at me.

"Sure.", they reply in hesitant unison.

"What d'we do?", one asks.

"One could take the back. The other two hold the sides."

They hoist the chair up and carry me up the steps.

"Thanks. Thanks a lot."

"No problem.", they say, again in unison.

Summer invades through the large, shadeless windows, and I squint to protect myself from the encroaching morning sun. Where to go now? I wander the gray-floored halls aimlessly. On a bulletin board, I see a computer sheet posted, with the room numbers on it. Bio, Rm. 212. Up the stairs. Shit!!

I roll to the foot of the stairs. Eight steps loom like Mount Everest. I swing myself out of the chair, onto the floor. Pulling the chair behind me with one hand, I use the other arm to climb the steps. About halfway up, a student offers me help, but I decline.

At the top of the stairs, I take a moment's rest. Down the hall, students wander around in confusion. I should fit in well here.

I find 212, roll in, and pull up a desk. In the front of the class, a teacher walks briskly in, carrying a briefcase. He places the briefcase on his desk and addresses the class.

"I am Mr. Felnick, your teacher for this course. You are here, ladies and gentlemen, because you failed Biology for the school year, and it is a required course. In order for you to pass on to your junior year, you have to pass this course. Which means. . .", he smiles sadistically, "you have to get through me. Now, I'm not interested in failing anyone. I don't fail anyone. You pass or fail on your own merits. I get paid either way. So let me clarify one point: To pass this course, you must work, and work hard. Because you must know the material. If you show insufficient knowledge of the material, you will not pass. Period."

A bubble snaps somewhere to my left.

"Gum? In my class? Who has it?"

Felnick looks across the classroom. A girl with red-on-black hair sits with her chin on her hand, chewing on her gum like so much cud.

"Young lady, please get rid of the gum."

"No."

"I'm afraid I must insist."

"Go to Hell."

"Go to the principal's office."

"G-"

"Go!!"

With a bored but compliant look on her face, Redhead gets up and leaves the room.

"Does anyone else here want to test me?", Felnick asks.

Not surprisingly, no one speaks.

I look at my watch. It's slightly past 8:30. The class has just barely begun, and already the tone is set for the rest of the day.

Felnick starts to write on the board. Names of famous people. He goes from Aristotle to Mendel in barely the space of a half hour. Soon, he is drawing all sorts of gamete crossing diagrams on the board, explaining Mendelian genetics. At nine-thirty, he pauses.

"Are there any questions on any of this?"

A guy raises his hand, as most of the others look on slack-mouthed.

"See me after class.", Felnick says to the guy. "I don't want to slow the others down because of you."

Several sets of eyes widen slightly.

"Now then. . ."

Felnick continues with his discourse. I look around the classroom. Almost at once, I can group students into several categories:

Some of them couldn't care less. They just sit, doing nothing, thinking of whatever else occupies their lives, that something else being pivotal, of course. Other students obviously care, but aren't doing any good anyway, because they feel they can't, and what they do to help themselves is often misguided. You can tell who these people are, because they write furiously, taking lectures down word for word, hoping somehow that some pearl of wisdom will come to them. They deify authority, because they think they can't do anything for themselves. Finally, there are those in the class who sit back, listen, and take down what they think they'll need. I admire these people most, because they aren't afraid to question, even in the face of the Felnicks of the world. People might not understand their questions, or even why they ask them, but these people will succeed. They'll succeed because they're not afraid of coming back, even after class is over, if it will help them pass the class.

I'm intensely bored. The talk of genes, chromosomes, etc., is grating on me. I raise my hand.

"May I go to the bathroom?"

"Is it an emergency?"

Just like fifth grade. I feel like telling Felnick off, or pissing on the floor, just to make a point, but I don't.

"Yes."

"Go ahead. Five minutes."

Yeah. Sure.

I roll out and find the boys' room. I pull the door open and go inside.

Other students are also seeking refuge. They wash their hands, or comb their hair, or smoke, or, if they're honest, they just stand around and talk to their friends. I feel largely out of place here, as I'm an outsider, and this is apparently a social activity. I take care of my biological business, and begin to wash my hands, slowly, so as to avoid going back to class right away.
From behind me, I hear the door swing open.

Two kids come in. One is dressed in a guido mode, complete with a large gold chain ne is dressed in a guido mode, complete with a large gold chain and slicked, spiked hair. The other is directly behind me, out of my field of vision. They're arguing about some girl:

Guido: "Why did you ask her out? You knew I still Liked her."

#2: "I Liked her, too. You said you didn't care. Besides - you broke up."

Guido: "Fuck you! You knew I Liked her! What else was I s'posed to say? I didn't think you'd ask her out, if you knew I still Liked her."

#2: "There was no reason not to. You're not going with her anymore. She doesn't want to go out with you. She wants to go out with me."

Guidoman throws a punch. This girl must be Helen of Hackettstown! Wonderful! I shut off the water and spin for the door.

Too late. Guido throws another punch, sending #2, a guy with longish blonde hair, wearing a football jersey, into me. My chair and I bounce against the wall.

Since I can't quite get out of the bathroom with #2 against the door, since #2 seems to be in need of serious assistance, and since I feel Guidoman's attack to be unjustified, I decide to join the fray. With most of my might, I fly at the shins of Guido. As my footrests make contact, he lets out an, "Ow, fuck!". He turns towards me just enough for #2 to get a clear shot at his jaw. I catch Guidoman as he falls on me, and let him roll off of me, onto the floor.

A face pops in, stares - and runs.

I turn to #2.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah. I think we're in deep shit, though."

"Let's get the hell out of here."

We're just about to leave, when in comes a distinguished looking man in a business suit. Mr. Principal. Why is it they all look the same? Even their gender doesn't seem to make a difference.

"Come with me, gentlemen."

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Death. . .

I consider my options. If I just went along with whatever the principal said, it would probably mean he would call my parents. Not a pretty sight. Besides, if I said my parents weren't in Hackettstown, I could very well be accused of trespassing. If I said that I was in college, and therefore not any of his goddamn business, assault could be added to trespassing. Child abuse could even come into play. Not a pleasant thought.
While I contemplate my future in the legal system, I look at #2. He has the look of a caged animal. Terrified and alert.

#2 and I are led into the principal's office by his secretary. She gives us not even a glance as she closes the door noiselessly.

On the principal's desk is a nameplate. DAVID C. GRESTOCK. I wonder what the C stands for. Several obscenities pass through my mind. Most likely, it's something like Charles or Carmine.

Grestock comes in. With him is Guidoman, looking worn-out and vengeful. He gives #2 a single, cold stare.

"Kevin tells me", Grestock begins, "that you had a bit of a problem today in the bathroom."

"Yes, sir.", says #2. I nod.

"Care to talk about it?", Grestock asks.

"We just had a misunderstanding.", #2 replies.

"And?"

"And we had a fight.", #2 says.

"He attacked me!", Guido shouts.

"You hit me first!", #2 counters.

"What have you got to say?", Grestock asks me.

"He didn't have anything to do with it.", Guido says. "I fell on him. That's all. He was caught in the middle."

"Then you can leave.", Grestock says to me.

Whether I'm saved by Guido's character or by his faulty perception, I have no idea. And I don't care. I'm just glad to get out of there. My legal problems have been averted.

I look back once at the trio. #2 looks resigned to his fate by now.

"So, Alan," Grestock is saying, "why don't you tell me what you think happened?"

I close the door behind me.


Back in Biology, time is passing as slowly as possible, although the teacher is reciting at a furious pace. There is absolute attentiveness suchthe teacher is reciting at a furious pace. There is absolute attentiveness such as I have never seen before. As I close the door, all eyes turn to me.

"Young man, I can hardly see why a simple biological process would take you so long to complete. Perhaps you'd like to explain it to me after class."

I grip my wheels tightly, trying to contain myself.

"Mr. Felnick, with all due respect, I think you had to be there to understand."

Some students snicker at this.

"Well, perhaps you could explain it to me, in detail, after class. I'll be here until two. That should give you plenty of time to compose an acceptable essay."

I decide to put this situation to rest.

"I don't think so." I turn and exit the classroom.

I hear behind me, "Don't bother coming back, sir. You fail. And I'm contacting your parents to tell them why. There's no room in my classroom for discipline problems like you. Get your things and leave."

Felnick apparently thinks that some kid's parents are going to be angry with their children for refusing to write an essay about what they do in the bathroom. I don't comment, because it would be too easy.
I never imagined getting out of class would be so painless. It makes a real difference when you don't really need to be there. Still, I feel unsatisfied. So I was in Lisa's school? What real difference did that make? None. It isn't the What real difference did that make? None. It isn't the same. I still don't have a sense of her presence. I just have a sense of what she comes in contact with during the school year. I don't have any idea of her place in it. In that sense, my tour of Hackettstown High is incomplete. Maybe finding her locker could bring me closer to her actual place in this world.

The lockers are an industrial gray. Numbers flash by hollowly as I try to devise a strategy. Of course, all strategies are worthless - inane. Then, I notice something. Graffiti. On virtually every locker, it stands out blatantly. Written in black marker, scrawled in pencil, or chiseled eternally by a car key, graffiti marks every locker.

I think of what I know. Okay: Lisa Oble. Her boyfriend's name would be Jim. The date of the letter was June 11. Perfect. Using that, I could probably get a good idea where the locker is. Onward.
The search takes a long time. More Helpful Strangers pass by.

"What locker're you looking for?"

"Uh, 236."

"That'd be down that way.", and they point.

So I travel in that general direction, looking at lockers as I go.

The search turns out to be a lot harder than I expected. Within a half hour, I've eliminated every locker on the second floor. I hope.

I decide to go downstairs to find the locker. I've got no reason to think the locker isn't upstairs, but downstairs is easier, and I'm tired from the day I've had.

I go to the stairs and peer down. The stairway is clear of people, luckily. I get out of my chair. Grabbing the back of the chair, I point it down the stairs. "Heads up!!", I yell, as I send the chair bouncing and sliding downward. It hits the floor with a resounding metallic crash, landing on its side.

Some kids show up at the bottom of the stairs. They look up at me with confusion. I avoid eye contact as I scoot down, pick up the chair, get in, and continue. They stare at me in amazement. I smile as I roll away.
By now, it's almost ten-thirty. In minutes, those students who only failed one class will come bounding out of the doors, and I'll get bumped, jostled, and otherwise abused. I search frantically for the locker.

E.S.
+
J.J.

S.D.
+
A.R.


Almost every romantic equation is there. Every one except the one I need. I begin to curse pluses and hearts, raging at the ambiguity of it ne I need. I begin to curse pluses and hearts, raging at the ambiguity of it all. Why can't these people use their goddamn names!!! Are they that afraid to show themselves, or are they just trying to make unofficial the commitment they have supposedly made so solemnly?
Fuck it!, I mutter, and I head out the door.

Steps.

I fall headfirst down five steps. When I sit up, I check my chair. No visible damage. Thing held up pretty well. I upright it and get in.
There is a cool warmth which flows in a line down my cheek. I put my hand to my face and see blood on my fingertips, feel a stinging in my face. This is not, as I previously believed, my day!
Drops of blood drip off my chin onto my lap. The blood sits there a second, then spreads out as it’s absorbed into my jeans. I start again to look for Lisa's house. By the time I've gone a block, a red blot has formed on my lap.

I missed Lisa's locker. I'll never get to see it. That thought, more than how I fell or the blood on my chin and lap, hurts for some reason.

I head back to the diner. I go in and roll for the bathroom. Once in, I pull down a length of paper towel. Wetting the paper towel, I look in the mirror.

My hair is flying off in several different directions. The blood on my face has dried, leaving a purplish-black trail of blood frozen on my face. Dirt is celish-black trail of blood frozen on my face. Dirt is centered around my eyes, on my cheeks, and on the tip of my nose.

I wash my face, so I'm reasonably presentable, except for the blood. I don't have my brush with me, so I wet my hands, run them through my hair, and pull my hair back along my head. I'm not very successful, but it vaguely looks like I tried to fix my hair, and that's all that counts to me. Besides, by the time I get to Lisa's my hair is just going to look like dead grass, anyway.

Heading out of the bathroom, I look around the diner. The red-haired waitress has left, and in her place is an attractive young blonde waitress. She looks tired, but in a less disgusted way than the previous waitress. She seems absorbed in her work, carrying trays, setting down plates, and greeting patrons. When she is done waiting on one of her tables, I approach her.

"Excuse me. Miss? Could you tell me where Kushall Avenue is?"

"Um, yes. It's about three blocks down, make a left, and go until you can't go anymore. You'll get to a street with an old weeping willow on the corner. Make a right there. Go down another block, make a left. Another block down and you should hit Kushall Ave."

Somewhere between "three blocks down" and "another block down", my attention has drifted to this girl's stunning eyes. Topaz blue, with small pupils like laser beams. After my head comes out of the microwave, I say, "Thanks. Thanks a lot. Uh, have a nice day. Bye."

I feel like an idiot. There's no way I'm going to remember those directions, with those damn eyes looking at me like that. I rub my hand across my forehead, then look at my hand. It's covered with dirt, and so, I must suppose, is my face. And I haven't even been out of the bathroom five minutes!

EVEN ATTRACTIVE FRIENDLY STRANGERS SHOULD BE KILLED!!!

I then realize that it's my fault, for getting my hormones up so early in the morning, and I shake my head in disbelief. I smile. At least this keeps the adventure in the trip. It was almost going to get too easy.
I wander several more blocks down. There's a liquor store, a barber shop, and a pharmacy, in that order. The pharmacy reminds me of my pills. I reach in my pouch and take out two blue pills and a white-and-yellow capsule. I open my mouth, throw them to the back of my throat, and swallow. They don't go down right away, and a brief bitterness rises in my throat. I swallow on the bitter feeling, grit my teeth, and wait for it to subside. Then I continue.

I pass near a pay phone. I fish in my front pouch and pull out some money.

582-9864

"Hello, Camp Sunshower, Cindy speaking, can I help you?"

"Hi, hon."

"Where the hell’re you?!"

"Is anyone in there with you?"

"No. What's. . ."

"Listen, remember I told you about Lisa and the letter I got?"

"Yeah. . ."

"Well, I'm doing something about it."

"What?"

"I'm going to pay Miss Oble a little visit."

"I don't think I like this. You're going through all this trouble just for some other girl. . ."

"We're just friends, . . ." (God, I hate saying it that way!)". . . you know that."

"Yeah, but it still doesn't make me feel that good. Besides, everyone keeps asking me where you are, like I'm supposed to know your every move. Peopl're getting pissed, ‘cause I work here, and I'm s’posed to be helping them keep order. They think I'm trying to protect you or something. Why're you doing this to me?"

"I live about fifty miles from Hackettstown. If I'd've tried to make the trip from there it'd have been one hell of a trip! This is the only chance I had."

"You really are incredible."

"What?"

"You go through all this trouble, and what's probably gonna happen is she slams the door in your face. Can't you see what a waste of time it is?"

"My time."

"Okay, then! You're wasting your time!"

"You're right. I don't know why I called."

A brief moment of silence is shared between us. Hollowness emerges. Lack of eye contact makes the moment unbearable. The operator, a school-teacher-sounding recording, smashes it to pieces.

"Your time has ended. Please signal when through."

I push in a quarter, hear it click in the receiver.

"They called the police, y'know."

"What time?"

"Guess they called ‘round nine."

"Well, that doesn't matter. I haven't been missing for a full day yet, so the police won't do anything. And I'll be back within a day. So I'm safe."

"You still shouldn't go. Can't you just let go? For my sake?"

"Look, please understand, I need to do this."

"Why?"

"Because it's necessary. If I just roll away, I'll feel like shit for a long time, because I just gave up. At least this way, I tried."

"What kind of hold does she have on you?"

"She's helped me through a lot. Some things she doesn't even know about. I owe a lot to her, because she never betrayed me, and I could always trust her, even when it looked like I shouldn't."

"Do you still think you can trust her?"

"I don't know. I guess that's what I have to find out."

"And what if you go all that way, show up at her doorstep, and she slams the door in your face? What'll you do then?"

"I don't know. I'll be upset. But at least I'll know. I'll know how to feel. I guess I'll just turn around and go back. And I'll come to you and ask you to hold me."

"You're such an asshole."

"What?"

"You're so self-centered! You don't care about how what you do affects everyone else. You can't even see all the trouble you're causing, and how everyone here's mad as hell at you."

"Including you?"

"Including me." A car rushes by, loud enough that I can hear the receiver sizzle with static. "But I'll get over it, I guess." She pauses. "If you ever do this again, I'll beat your head in."

"Cin?"

"Yeah?"

"Love you."

"Yeah, I love you, too."

"I gotta go."

"Okay. Be careful."

"I will. Bye."

"Bye."

Click.

Sleep is chasing me now. The little bit of sleep I got on the bench wasn't enough. I search for a place to sleep. Somewhere indoors, where I won't be bothered by people or by the heat, which is becoming oppressive by now. I roll along for several blocks in a sleepy stupor, when I reach a church.


OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL AUSTERITY

I open the door to the church and go in.

I check my watch. 12:13. Along the right side of the church, I see people lined up in the pews, occasionally looking at a door to the back of the church. My curiosity is aroused, so I pull up next to a pew and ask the person next to me, an elderly woman with bifocals and bad posture, what is going on.

"Confession.", she says, and shoots me a stern look. It's my guess that an old, crotchety lady like that must have quite a bit to confess. What an attitude! I look at the floor, pretending reverence, and fold my hands.
It would make no sense to leave. This might be the only chance I get to sleep. I'd also feel really awkward rolling out of confession. Something about it just sounds socially horrendous. I decide to stay, just to see what it's like.

I pick out a pamphlet laying on a pew. It's just got songs in it. I put it away. One by one, people march off to confession. Watching it is really odd, because it's almost like a dentist's office. People are nervous, even fidgety. One guy in the front row even rubs the back of his neck. When they emerge from the small, non-descript doors, they return to normal, and some even look relieved. These people are definitely not Christmas Catholics. Watching the procession is almost Catholics. Watching the procession is almost enough to make me want to leave, but I persevere.
Old Crotchety comes out of small door, and then it is my turn. I roll to the back of the church, open the door slowly, and roll in.
"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I've never been to confession."

I'm very uncomfortable now, because the priest is hidden behind some kind of plastic grating, and I can't look at him while I talk to him.

"That's okay, son. God forgives all, if we only believe in Him."

"Father, could you come out from behind there?"

"What?"

"I really don't feel comfortable with you behind that thing, if we're going to talk about my personal life."

A pause, then, "Certainly."

The priest comes out from behind the plastic grating. He's in his mid-thirties, wears prescription glasses, and has a pleasant look about him. In a strange sort of way, he's nerd-like.

"Well, Father? What should I be telling you?"

"Whatever you feel guilty about. Whatever you want God's forgiveness for."

I never really thought about getting God's forgiveness for anything, and nothing comes immediately to mind. I bluff.

"Well, how much time do you have?", I ask.

"Perhaps you could start with just today."

If I'd've known there'd be a quiz, I would've studied. Made a sin list or'd've known there'd be a quiz, I would've studied. Made a sin list or something. "I think I'll come back tomorrow, when I've had more time to think about it."

I leave the room, leaving the priest dazed and confused.

I am the last would-be confessor. The church is empty, and Father Poindexter walks out.

"Still here, son? 'Thought you were going home to contemplate your sins."

"Well, Father, that's the thing. I'm doing a bit of travelling, and I ran out of money for a place to stay. Tomorrow, I can get money out of the bank, but my last paycheck didn't clear yet. I was wondering, could I possibly stay here for now, until I'm back on firm footing again?"

Technically, I am telling the truth, except the part about the paycheck.

"Son, you can stay here as long as you like. Just be careful. Some pretty strange characters show up here at night. Just last month we had a guy here who swore he heard Jesus Christ Himself. Had to have the guy taken away. He was making people nervous."

"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

"Okay, then. I'll see you at five-thirty. I have to get back to the brothers' house."

Father Poindexter leaves.

I settle down on a pew and sleep.

I'm in a dark room. I hear laughter all around me. The laughter is Lisa's. I hear Jim (somehow I know his voice) telling Lisa he loves her, as a barrel is cocked. The gold Cross pen I carry suddenly becomes a sword. I feel its weight, and begin to buckle under it. I gain control of it just in time, and start to wield it in front of me, slowly. Suddenly, lights come on. Blinding lights are everywhere. I squint enough to see Lisa in Jim's arms. Jim holds a large pistol, aimed right at me.
"You're not going to hurt me with that ridiculous thing!", he shouts. "Give it up!"

"That's what you'd like me to do, isn't it?", I counter.

"Me and everyone else!", he says.

Lisa stares on with concern. "I told you not to fight me on this!", she says, sadness in her voice. "Now look what's going to happen!"

I begin to lose heart. Lisa's not helping. I'm alone against Jim, armed only with an obsolete weapon. No match for him.

Jim turns to Lisa, saying, "I thought I told you to get rid of him! Why can't you ever listen to me? Why. . ."

I take this opportunity to charge him.

In slow-motion, I am millimeters from Jim. My arms feel constricted. Agonizingly slow. The sword is about to make contact, as Jim sees me and is in the process of squeezing the trigger.


I wake up. I've fallen off the pew, onto my left shoulder, and it hurts. I get in my chair and head out the door.

Outside the church, I check my watch. Four forty-six. Fourteen minutes until the earliest time Lisa can get home. I have to find that street, and soon.

One block to my left, I see a group of kids, in their early teens, playing stickball. I watch them for a minute, then approach them.

"Can you tell me where Kushall Avenue is?"

One kid responds.

"Sure. See that traffic light? About five blocks past that, make a left. Keep going 'til you can't go anymore, make a right. Go down three blocks. You should run right into it."

Without the distractions, I retain the directions much better. I start on my way.

Ten minutes. I can feel the heat pulse through my face, feel my hands start to get colder. As I come to a corner, I begin to feel a wave of nausea pass over me. As it takes hold, I stop at a corner with an old willow tree and take a moment to compose myself.

I remember something about a willow tree. What was it she said? Make a left? I follow the directions. The next part I remember clearly, so I make a left.
I'm just as lost as before. It looks like I did something wrong, somewhere.

I go back to the willow tree, this time making a right, going a block down. Then I make a left. After another block, I sk down. Then I make a left. After another block, I see a street sign for Kushall Avenue.
Okay. 23. The numbers are odd on the right side of the street. I follow them down. In minutes, I have it. I'm sitting in front of Lisa's house! The wave of nausea I felt previously now assumes tidal proportions. I vomit heartily. The acid taste burns at my mouth and throat as I lean over the side of my chair, letting loose on the sidewalk. I sit back up, wipe my mouth, and look at Lisa's house.

Nothing special. Just a painted white house, with black numbering running diagonally down the door. I roll up the walkway, get on to the steps, and check my watch.

5:10.

I probably cut it a little too close with the time, but I decide to proceed anyway, because I want to get this over and done with. I climb up the steps and knock on the screen door.

A girl stands over me, looking out. The eyes. The hair. The cheeks. Lisa.

For a moment, I don't speak. I just look.

Lisa has matured into quite a young woman (at least, from this perspective). As expected, her angles have changed, but they have changed for the better, and cause me no difficulty in identification.
The moment is strangely silent. I'm half-expecting to hear trumpets blasting or rockets going off, but no such fanfare comes. She's about to close the door, so I speak fast.

"Lisa! Down here!"

She sees me and her eyes widen. There is a moment when we just look at each other. Her eyes relax. Her mouth hangs slightly open, and I can see her tongue, struggling to make the rest of her mouth speak. Her lips take up the effort, still in silence. The half-second passes, and her throat kicks in.

"Hi. What're you doing here?"

"Well, uh, I was just in the neighborhood, and. . ."

Her expression loses its initial friendliness, and a seriousness possesses her.

"Dave, I told you we can't talk to each other anymore. I thought I made it clear. I'm sorry."

She closes the door.

I lose my temper.

Banging on the door, I begin to shout, "I rolled five fucking miles, got hit by a car, and fell down a flight of steps, just to talk to you! The least you could do is talk to me!"

Lisa opens the door, steps out briskly.

"Haven’t you ever heard of a phone? What do you want from me?"

"I want to know what the hell's going on."

"I told you. I love Jim. You're a great friend, but Jim's just too important for me to lose. He means everything to me."

"You've been going with the kid for all of eight goddamn months! We've known each other for over two years! More than that, if you count when you were a day camper! Am I that worthless that you can throw me away like this?"

"Jim feels threatened by you. I can't let you come between us."

"Why the hell should I come between you? We're just friends! What's the harm in that?"

"Jim sees harm in it, and I see his point. If Jim was writing to some girl I didn't know, and had been doing so for over two years, I'd probably feel the same way."

"Show him my fucking picture for Chrissake! How could he be jealous of me?"

"He is."

"Okay, okay. Even so, why does he have to know we write to each other? The boy lives an hour and a half away from here. In Long Island!"

"You saying I should lie to him?"

"Just don't tell him. What difference would that make?"

"That would be deceiving him. I won't do that."

"Deceiving him? That? Get real! It's not like I'm hopping you behind his back! I haven't even talked to you in five years! We just write to each other!"

"I'm sorry, Dave, but I can't do it. This relationship is too important for me to take chances with."

"So let me get this straight: You're ending our friendship so you can go out with some jealous asshole who's going to be watching your every step, waiting to kill any guy you come into contact with. Does that about cover it?"

"You're not making this easy."

"Oh, I'm sorry! Is that my job? To make this easy?"

"I will always value our friendship. . ."

"Then value it now!"

". . .but I can't let our friendship destroy what I have with Jim. Maybe someday, sometime, things'll change. If they do, I hope we can be friends. Until then, I think we need to be apart."

"Lisa, I don't know why you're doing this, and maybe I never will, but I can't go down without a fight. You mean too much to me."

"Please, Dave, try to understand. . ."

"I can't! I don't want to!"

"Why? Why can't you understand? It's. . ."

"Because I care about you goddammit, that's why! Because I see you throwing our friendship in the toilet and I don't want to let it happen. I remember back five years ago, when I made you cry with my adolescent bullshit. When you wrote me that letter two years ago, I felt like all was forgiven. I could stop hating myself for what I put you through. Now, it's like all that's being taken away. The friendship and forgiveness is gone, and in its place I have more hate. Hate that somewhere I missed something. That if I was a better friend, this wouldn't be happening. That I fucked up again, and this time it's permanent!"

By this time, a single tear has started its descent down my cheek, disturbing the car has started its descent down my cheek, disturbing the coagulated blood as it goes. Lisa looks at me with a sadness, a pity, that
almost kills me.

"I'm sorry, Dave. I wish it could be different. I really do. But it can't. The things you're talking about, my crying and 'what you put me through', are things I'd forgotten years ago. I don't consider them your fault, either. They're nobody's. I just couldn't handle all that stuff back then. I wrote to you not out of forgiveness, but out of fondness. I read that poem. I thought back and remembered you. I had your address. Given the chance, I wanted to be friends. That's why I wrote. Not out of forgiveness. If you've been carrying around hate or guilt or something, I'm really sorry. I do consider us friends, but we just can't be together right now. Your friendship has been very good to me. You helped me through a lot of hard times, with school, with guys, with me. I'm really sorry this has to happen, but it does. Someday, I hope you understand. I have to go now, Dave. Goodbye. Always remember me, and try not to hate me."

She closes the door as I'm saying, "Goodbye, Lisa. I-" I can't complete that sentence. Don't know how.

5:40, back at the diner. I roll in, get settled, and order a hamburger. A new waitress is there, but I ignore her. The place smells of raw fish, burnt toast, and too-strong coffee. I remark to the waitress.

"Something die in here?"

"Not that I know of, ‘less one of the customers just kicked it.", she replies.

Maybe they did. Who knows?

My burger comes. Burnt. Black. Tough as a stone. My heart sinks heavily in my chest as I eat. I down a glass of soda and leave the diner.

I'm travelling down the main street, towards the Big Hill. My mind is awash with the memories of Lisa, of the diner, and of my failure. Everyone else was right. The Scumbags do inherit the Earth. Why is it women like guys who treat them like shit? I'll never understand it.

I feel a strong urge to go back. To try to impale soul on Lisa in such a way so that she can't possibly reject me. It's all worthless. Insane. I grit my teeth and start pushing hard uphill, breathing harder, light-headed. I can almost feel myself dying a little as I reach the top.

Closing my eyes, I freefall down the Big Hill.

THE END.
"I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower
About the things you could not show her."

-- Counting Crows, "A Long December"
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Brian
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Re: The Supplicant's Tale (A Short Story)

Postby Librtyhead » Thu Jul 08, 2010 6:27 pm

I'm in a dark room. I hear laughter all around me. The laughter is Lisa's. I hear Jim (somehow I know his voice) telling Lisa he loves her, a (somehow I know his voice) telling Lisa he loves her <-------(example)


With some editing you could send this out to a few magazines like readers digest and get published. The trick is doing stories on current events or using current events to create stories. That is my humble opinion. :toast:
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Re: The Supplicant's Tale (A Short Story)

Postby Brian » Thu Jul 08, 2010 6:51 pm

Librtyhead wrote:I'm in a dark room. I hear laughter all around me. The laughter is Lisa's. I hear Jim (somehow I know his voice) telling Lisa he loves her, a (somehow I know his voice) telling Lisa he loves her <-------(example)


With some editing you could send this out to a few magazines like readers digest and get published. The trick is doing stories on current events or using current events to create stories. That is my humble opinion. :toast:


Thanks for pointing that out, LH. I really don't know what happened there. I've put this back and forth between my computer and Google Docs, and I think it mangled it along the way. I didn't reread it, because I just expected it to be the same as the one I posted, y'know? I saw another passage like that earlier. I fixed that part now. :goodpost:
"I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower
About the things you could not show her."

-- Counting Crows, "A Long December"
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Brian
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Posts: 1913
Joined: Sat Feb 13, 2010 10:02 pm


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