Monthly Archives: June 2015


Round 3 submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, 2015.

Challenge:  1,500 words in 24 hours
Genre:  Open
Subject:  A dying wish
Character:  Janitor


The basement was dark and damp. Winter’s chill had settled in and it crept through the walls and into the floor and up into the bones of the house. Silence hung overwhelmingly – the silence that immediately follows chaos. Two figures stood in the vacuum of sound.

“This never gets easier.” The figure in the North corner spoke first. He was tall and angular, yet graceful. He resembled a marble statue, but his features were unidentifiable. His skin tone shifted with the light. His eyes appeared to have embers burning behind them that glowed like a fireplace being bellowed softly. He was Azrael, the Angel of Death.

“I know, but it is not ours to understand.” The figure in the South corner rasped. He attempted to expel centuries of smoke out of his lungs with one sharp cough, but his demeanor did not waiver. He seemed neither more comfortable nor displeased. He was covered in soot and one shoulder slumped lower than the other. He tucked the thumb of each large, calloused hand in his pockets while he waited. He was Charon, the Ferryman of Souls.

“Shall we, then?” Azrael asked.

Charon nodded solemnly. “What happened here?” he croaked.

The pool of blood soaking into the floor of the basement was still warm. Steam rose from it and evaporated into the prickling cold air. Azrael and Charon met eyes across the room. The embers behind the Angel’s eyes began to glow brighter until the white hot light engulfed Charon’s vision.

“Why are you doing this?!”

The voice of a young girl rang into Charon’s ears. He could hear her whimpering, struggling. Her tension became his own. He felt choked by anxiety. His arms felt bound.

“I told you, beautiful. I love you! I did this so we could be together!”

A man’s voice echoed over her sobs. He sounded unfittingly calm and happy. The girl’s fear was still gripping Charon’s spine. Somehow the light-hearted tone of the man’s voice only made the Ferryman more agitated. Charon snapped his eyes shut. Behind his eyelids, the image of the basement played out.

A man stood towering over a girl who was tied to a chair in the middle of the room. Her arms were behind her back. She tried to hold back her tears, but her face was streaked with dirt and blood. She had been in this prison for at least a week.

“I have a present for you!” The man turned. He was wearing faded, filthy, dark blue coveralls. The embroidered name tag on his chest said “Wayne.”

“I was gonna leave this on your car at the college Monday morning, but when I ran into you at the coffee shop that day, I knew I could save it for now.”

He opened an envelope and produced a store-bought greeting card. The glitter that had rubbed off inside the paper case floated down and dusted Wayne’s old work boots.

“My most beloved Sarah, From the moment I saw you, I knew you were the one. I know you feel it, too. I see the way you smile at me when you pass me in the hallway. I knew you really loved me, too, when you kept the roses I left under your windshield wipers. You told your friends you thought they were from Brad, but I know you were just pretending. I’ve understood that our love had to be kept a secret, because I could lose my job, but I don’t want to hide anymore. I’m a good Janitor, and I will find a job at another school. You are worth it. You are worth everything. I want you and only you, forever and ever. You are my dream come true, and nothing will keep us apart anymore. Nothing will ever come between us. Nothing. All my love, Wayne.”

Sarah sobbed uncontrollably as he slipped the card back into the envelope. Wayne’s face shifted from that of a love sick puppy to ice cold rage in less than a second. He was on her in a blink.

“STOP CRYING. WHY ARE YOU SAD? DON’T YOU GET IT?” His hands were closing around her throat, and her hair fell over his wrists. She began to cough violently, and she struggled to free her arms and legs from their restraints. When her eyes started to roll back into her head, Wayne released her.

“No, no, no. Nononono. Shhhh. Sh! Hey! Sarah? Sarah. Shhhh. Hey. It’s ok. I’m here.”

She slumped against him, her breaths labored and wheezing. He lifted her chin with his forefinger and began to pepper her face with gentle kisses. She shook her head back and forth to get her face away from him, but he reached up, and gripped her jaw in his hand. Sarah opened her eyes and focused intently on Wayne’s face. His hand softened slightly, and he leaned in to kiss her chapped and cracking lips.

Before he could, Sarah rammed her forehead directly into Wayne’s nose. There was one loud POP! sound. Wayne cupped his bleeding, broken face. His eyes were already swelling.

Sarah struggled with all her might to free her hands. She had been tied in one position for so long, that her arms and legs felt numb, but the ropes around her wrists had stretched out. She pulled one hand free and that loosened the knot enough for her to slip her other hand out.

Wayne’s blood trickled down her face, where it had splattered on impact. Her head throbbed. She worked at the ropes that tied her ankles to the legs of the chair. When the knots fell loose, she stood to run, but her legs were weak and she stumbled.

She heard him moving toward her, an angry growl surging from his chest. Wayne heaved his body forward at her as she tried to climb the concrete basement stairs. He caught her around the knees and they both fell to the ground.

Sarah’s head came down hard on the corner of the last step and her body went limp. Through his own pain and blood, Wayne panicked and began to move up her body to check her pulse. Her face was covered by her hair.

Wayne didn’t even see the camping shovel in her hand until the blade was buried where his neck meets the shoulder. Sarah’s grip held firm until well after Wayne had bled out. Under the weight of his lifeless body, Sarah succumbed to her aching temple, and slipped into unconsciousness.

Charon’s eyes fluttered back open. Azrael’s embers were dimmer, now. Charon put his fist to his chin, and pushed his face to either side until his tired bones had cracked audibly.

“Let us begin.” Azrael’s voice was gentle but firm.

They moved to the stairs where Sarah and Wayne still laid. Charon chanted his ancient incantations and Wayne’s soul lifted from his body. Charon dragged the soul by the back of the neck like a scolded animal to a wooden crate that looked as if it had been passed through fire a thousand times. He pulled rusty nails from his pocket and a hammer from a loop in his belt. With arching, heavy swings, Charon hammered the lid shut. He nodded when he was done.

Azrael turned his face to Sarah. He knelt by her side and waved a hand over her face to begin his own incantation. Charon and Azrael jumped when Sarah’s hand flew up and gripped Azrael’s wrist with the strength of a dozen men.


“Tell me, child. You are safe. He cannot hurt you anymore.”

Sarah wheezed. Her left eye was bloody and blinded. Wayne had cracked her ribs when he landed on her.


Azrael did not interrupt.

“Tell… my… mom…”

They waited.

And waited.

“What is your wish, child?”

Sarah’s right eye tried to find Azrael’s face in the darkness that was consuming her.

“Tell my mom… that… I fought him…”

Azrael placed his left hand over her heart and his right hand over her forehead.

“I fought him.”

Her voice trailed off. Her eyelids sank and closed. The air in her lungs rattled out of her broken body. Azrael and Charon both bent their heads. Whispered incantations in the dark could barely be heard over winter’s low moan.

Azrael lifted his head and stood. Sarah’s soul rose with him. She stood, glowing and peaceful.

Charon strapped the crate to his enormous back. Azrael offered an arm to Sarah’s soul.

The Angel and the Ferryman gripped forearms.

“Until next time, old friend.” Azrael said.

“Don’t forget her request.” Charon reminded.


As the two carriers transcended, one above, one below, the faint sound of police sirens pierced the night air.

Perfect Strangers

Round 2 submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, 2015.

Challenge:  2,000 words in 3 days
Genre:  Romantic Comedy
Subject:  Quitting a job
Character:  Recently divorced woman


I don’t even need to look where I’m goin’ anymore. I’ve walked this path so many times. No matter where my feet start walkin’ when I lock my front door, I always end up standin’ here, under the gas lamps. I’ve been drinkin’ at this bar for twenty years, at least. It scares me that a kid who was born the year I found this place might be sittin’ next to me, ordering rounds, shot-for-shot.

Bob the Bouncer hardly looks up when I walk by. He nods me in without takin’ his eyes off the bubbly blonde who’s tryin’ to talk her way in. There’s always a line, but I get in anyway. I got seniority.


As soon as I walk in, Nan, the bartender calls to me. I wave at her slightly. I’m an old man now. I’ve drowned my fair share of sorrows on these stools. They know me here. They know my face. They know my story. They know what I drink. They don’t even have to ask.

I slide onto my favorite bar stool and Nan slides a pint of stout my direction. She leans over the bar and kisses my cheek. She’s young enough to be my granddaughter, but my belly still warms when her pretty pout pecks my scruffy, old dog face.

“She was asking about you last night.”

I lifted my eyes away from the velvety waves of dark foam that are settling in my pint glass and let them fall on Nan’s olive face. The only makeup she ever wears is thick black eyeliner. She doesn’t cake on all that face paint like the other girls her age do. Nan dresses like a boy, too. White t-shirt, cut-off denim shorts, and low-top Chuck Taylors. No muss, no fuss – and she’s got the best pour in town.

“She was here?” I croaked out. I’ve been a smoker since I was twelve years old. I’m over sixty now. I’ve got more tar in my lungs than an oil rig.

“Yessirree. She was all dolled up, too. Had a rose in her hair and everything.” Nan winked at me. I’ve always liked how she talks to me. She doesn’t patronize me like most young bartenders do. I’ll punch anyone who calls me “grandpa.”

“Yeah, well…” I started. I picked up my heavy glass and took a long sip. Perfect pint with just the right amount of creamy foam to top it. I let the dark chocolate malt settle my stomach and nerves.

Another patron shouted, drunkenly, at Nan. She glanced up at me to make sure I was alright before I waved her away. I don’t brag about myself often, but I know I have always been Nan’s favorite, since she first got hired.

The night wore on. I didn’t have any plans. Life had been takin’ a lot of unexpected turns lately. I was glad to sit on my favorite stool, in my favorite bar, listenin’ to my favorite bartender chatter away at her customers. She reminded me that there were still good young people out in the world.

I started thinkin’ about headin’ back home when the door swung open around midnight. The Lady with the Rose in Her Hair stepped inside and scanned the room with long-lashed blue eyes that I could see from my place across the bar. I saw her see me, then I saw her pretend she didn’t see me. She took a place on the opposite end of the bar, where the register and shelf blocked her from my view.

Nan saw her, too. Her black eyes sparkled behind her eyeliner and she smiled real big at me. She nodded toward the Lady with the Rose in Her Hair, and I shook my head ‘no.’ I’m an old man. I didn’t come here lookin’ for love. Nan seemed to read my mind and she made a funny face that I think she meant to be stern and serious. She tossed her head more firmly to say “GO OVER THERE.”

I sighed, but slid myself off my barstool anyway. Nan grinned.

I moved around the bar, and saw the Lady with the Rose in Her Hair perched gracefully on her barstool. Her dress draped around her pretty legs and her toes peeked out of a pair of strappy heels. I became very aware of how casually I showed up tonight. Old slacks that were in a bad need of a good steam and press, dingy v-neck that used to be white, and my felt hat that my old man gave me when I graduated high school.

I swallowed hard and stepped up behind the Lady with the Rose in Her Hair just in time to hear her tell Nan “a Manhattan, please.” Nan smiled at her, then at me, then fluttered away to mix the drink. I cleared my throat.

“Uhh, ma’am? Is this seat taken?”

The Lady with the Rose in Her Hair smiled coyly and said “It’s a free country.”

My old heart was racin’ faster than it had in what felt like years. I opened my mouth to say somethin’ but my crusty old brain would go blank as soon as I took a breath. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted to be outside. I was never good at talkin’ to ladies.

“You look familiar. Have I seen you here before?” It was the only thing I could think of. I started kickin’ myself as soon as it hit the air. Damn, Thomas. No wonder your wife left.

She laughed in a voice that was as silvery as her hair.

“Well hot damn. Is the lighting that good in here?” I hadn’t really noticed the lights. “I’m sorry, you seem to have mistaken me for a woman young enough to fall for that old line.”

“Pretty ladies make me stammer.” I confessed.

Her cheeks flushed a little. “Let me guess. I remind you of someone?”

“Maybe someone from a long time ago. I just feel like I’ve seen you. You been here before?”

“Yeah. Once or twice. I used to come here before with… well… nevermind.”

“‘Nevermind’ sounds like a damn fool.”

“He was.”

Nan brought a glass over for both of us. I hadn’t even realized I’d finished my stout. My hands felt warm.

“You know, I don’t usually talk to strangers,” the Lady with the Rose in Her Hair said.

“Oh, I ain’t so bad. Maybe a little gruff, is all. A little rough around the edges.”

“That’s what all the guys in trashy romance novels say. I’ll bet you’ve run on hard times recently, too.”

“You bet.”

She sipped her drink and left a lipstick mark on the glass.

“Honey, I ain’t got time for a stranger with a sad story.”

“Tell me your name, then. We won’t be strangers anymore.”

“Did the lighting dim again? I’m not falling for it.”

“You don’t look the type to fall for anything.” I said as I checked her hand for a wedding ring. It was bare. There was a tan line on her left finger, though.

“Recently single?” I asked, probably being too bold.

“Maybe. What’s it to you?” Her words were meaner than her face. She turned her whole body to face me when she asked me, too.

“Last thing I wanna do is disrespect anybody.”

“You can’t disrespect ol’ Nevermind. What kind of hard times have you fallen on?”

“Well. I made some bad choices along the way and my lady walked out. I quit my old job, though. Did the math and had enough for retirement. Might pick up another job to keep me busy, but I might just buy an Airstream and drive across country.”

“You quit your job?” Everything about her seemed more alert.

“Yeah. Yeah, it took up too much of my attention. Made me cranky and mean.”

“Oh, you weren’t always a curmudgeon?” She winked.

“Nah. Nah, I used to be dapper and charmin’. Swept my lady right off her feet.”

“And you think you can come up here and do the same thing to me?”

“You got me all wrong. I ain’t here to trick you. You seem too bitter to be tricked, anyway. “

“Who says I’m bitter?”

“Why else would you be here? Alone. Drinking.”

She looked down into her drink, like a witty answer might be floating at the bottom of her empty glass.

Nan appeared in front of us again. “How we doin’? Can I getcha anything?”

“Whatever the lady wants. You can put it in my tab.”

“Oh, no, that’s ok. I don’t take drinks from strangers.”

Nan looked at me with her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. I nodded at her, hopin’ she would understand that I appreciated her help, but needed to do this alone. Nan took the hint.

“I’m not far if you need anything.” She said gently.

We sat staring into our half-finished glasses. She looked so beautiful and the rose in her hair was freshly cut. It reminded me of an old garden from ages ago.

“I’m real glad I ran into you tonight.” I couldn’t help it.

She didn’t look up at me. She finished her drink in one draw.

“If you think you’re being charming, you just sound lonely. You trying to find a replacement for that lady you lost?”

“No, ma’am. There’s no replacin’ her.”

Maybe the lights really were playing tricks. Her eyes looked like they might have welled up a little bit.

“What about ol’ Nevermind? Any room in your heart left for him?” I slid my stool closer to hers. Our shoulders, square to the bar, pressed against each other. I could feel her warmth through her sleeve. It might have been too bold, but she didn’t move away.

“Nope. If I put any more time into a man, it’ll be a gentleman who appreciates how good he’s got it while he has it.” She sat up taller in her seat.

“Any chance you’ll give this old Stranger a shot?”

“Why should I?”

I stepped off my stool and stood next to her. I pulled my hat off my head, and ran my hand through my hair. I covered my heart and bowed slightly at the waist.

“Madam, my name is Thomas. I’m an old fool with worlds of mistakes behind me. I lost the best thing that ever happened to me, but I’m older and I’m wiser. I may be a stranger to you, but I feel like I might be someone you could fall in love with.”

“Only suckers fall in love with perfect strangers.”

“I guess I’m just a sucker, then.”

She looked me square in the eye and lifted a perfectly penciled eyebrow at me.

“I just finished the hassle of divorce. What if I’m not ready to fall in love again?”

“Then I’ll wait. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Her eyes definitely welled up that time. It wasn’t a trick of the light. She shrugged a little and smiled.

“Aww. I guess you don’t look like such a chump.”

She slid off her barstool and wrapped her arms around my neck. Her lips felt just how I remembered but better. Holding her against me felt like home. The whole bar seemed to fall away around us, but I was pretty sure I heard cheering.

When we pulled away from our kiss, the Lady with the Rose in Her Hair had tears streaking her pretty face.

“Hey, baby.” I said.


“Please come home? I’m just a useless old dog without you.”

She nodded and kissed me again. I definitely heard cheering. Somewhere behind us, Nan shouted something about a Stranger buying a round of drinks.

Black Jack

Round 1 submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, 2015.

Challenge:  2,500 words in 7 days
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Subject:  Hiking through a forest
Character:  Army General


I entered the dimly lit booth with the shiny new telephone mounted on the wall. The contraption was new to me but I had heard a rumor that I was too curious to leave alone. I stepped inside and slid the bi-folding door shut behind me. The shadows of the patrons toward the front of the restaurant danced on the back wall and spied on me through the glass panes.

The ear piece hung heavily in its hook. I lifted it to my ear, waiting for an operator’s metallic voice to chime over the line. All I heard was silence and the echoes of restaurant noise. I tapped the metal hanger on the ringer box – still nothing. Just as I decided to hang up the receiver and be done with this idea, I noticed a small red button behind the hanger.

My curiosity was peaked again, and I felt a small rush of electricity shoot from my stomach to the base of my neck. I hadn’t felt this excited about anything since before the war. My mind had been too focused on fighting and winning and coming home that I had not allowed myself the freedom to wonder, dream, or give over to fanciful ideas. This felt like something out of moving picture. I imagined myself as the lead character, even though I knew better. Black men aren’t allowed on the silver screen. We can fight for the country, but we can only be painted circus monkeys for entertainment.

I pushed the idea out of my head. Political injustices could wait. I wanted to enjoy this.

The little button was seductive, just in its existence. It was a dream come true, in its own right – a rumor that was real. I debated not pressing the button; leaving the restaurant as if I had made my telephone call and completed my business; letting the dream live on in my head.

But I had to know.

I switched the ear piece from my left ear to my right. I reached up with my left hand as if I was going to tap the hanger again, but instead I let my finger slide passed and press the red button.

Still silence. My hope started to fade. I let out of a breath of defeat and started to curse myself when I heard it.


It was so faint that I thought I may have imagined it. Did I really hear it, or did the clatter of plates and silverware sing together for one brief moment to mimic the tinny, distant voice?

“Black Jack.”

I said the password I had learned along with the rumor. Only quiet rang out from the ear piece and I wondered nervously if I had missed my chance. Passwords change frequently, no matter what they are protecting. In France, we changed codes and passwords and directions to avoid the enemy knowing our location and movements. It would make sense that a password to find out what was behind the fancy new phone booth at the back of the restaurant would change frequently, also.

“Hang up.”

I sighed in defeat. The password had changed, or the information I’d received had never been correct in the first place. I placed the ear piece back in its golden hanger on the side of the ringer box, and straightened my tie. I was about to open the door to the booth, when I heard something unlatch behind me. I turned and saw the back corner of the phone booth open up at the corner. The slat of wood slid quietly and opened a couple inches. I turned and checked to see if a queue had formed for the phone booth, to make sure nobody else could see this happening. I turned back and saw the dim outline of a profile.

“Be quiet about it.”

I stepped forward and pressed my shoulder through the small space first. I was worried my broad chest and shoulders would not be able to squeeze through. The slats pulled at my suit and I had to take my hat off, as to not damage the brim. When I was all the way to the other side, the faceless password guard moved the slat back and we were doused in darkness. A hand closed around my wrist and I was pulled what felt like North.

“This way.”

The invisible hand led me through the darkness. It felt like we walked blocks, but I’m sure it was only a few feet. Darkness disoriented me. We stopped and I heard the rustle of fabric. The echoes from the restaurant had changed tones. The voices had grown from a mellow drone to a higher timbre. Instead of flatware being clapped together in sinks, I heard glasses being struck together.

A curtain was drawn aside and warm, electric light filled my vision. Chandeliers hung low and the room was paneled in rich, dark wood. Patrons packed the entire space, almost shoulder-to-shoulder. Ladies wore beaded, drop-waist gowns. Most of their coiffures were clipped short and combed slick. Feathers and pearls adorned their headbands, and draped around their exposed necks. They all had their eyes lined with smoky kohl and their lips painted the color of berries.

The gentlemen were all in suits. Some were better quality than others. Every class of men packed into this room, from the poor to the wealthy. During times like this, when enjoying a drink at the end of a long day – or for me, a long war – had been made illegal, you couldn’t be too picky about the company with whom you commiserated.

I drank it all in, letting it intoxicate my senses before touching a drop of alcohol. This is why I fought. I fought with my brothers by my side to come home to see Americans of every class mingling, dancing, and drinking together. I was in heaven.

I began shouldering my way to the bar. The perfumed ladies smiled at me and the men moved aside without hesitation or judging eyes. The lacquered wood of the bar top was cool and slick to the touch. I stood sideways to fit between two couples who stopped kissing only to sip on sparkling drinks out of crystal glasses.

“What can I get you, Sheik?” a silvery voice asked me.

I turned and felt myself falling into a pair of green eyes from the other side of the counter. She had smooth, pale skin, and like the rest of the dames in the room, her green eyes were lined in kohl. Her hair was naturally curly, and longer than the style. She had it pinned back and out of her face, but a few curls fell in her eyes.

I was staring, and I knew it. I was jostled back to earth when the couple behind me got too rambunctious with their relations.

“Hey, hey. You’ve got enough cash, the bank’s closed.” The lady behind the bar told them.

They giggled and stumbled away together. I laughed and looked for a menu.

“Not much of a choice tonight. My supplier’s under the gun and I only got half my shipment of whiskey. I got white lightning – that’s moonshine – some gin, and champagne. Or I can mix you one of my favorites. I call it a General Pershing – my small toast to Patriotism. What’ll it be?”

“Let’s toast Black Jack, then.” The password made more sense, now. It was November eleventh, after all – the anniversary of the end of the World War.

She smiled and electricity shot through me again. I watched her turn and fetch a tumbler glass from a shelf. Then she bent and found a various glass bottles. Clear liquids sparkled and swirled together in the tumbler, against the alternating electric lights and candles in the room. Everything felt warm, and I hadn’t even had any juice.

“ANNABELLE!” A loud, grimy voice that sounded like it was coated in tar shouted over the cacophony of party goers.

“What do you want, Jim?” My bartender – Annabelle, apparently – turned with a roll of her eyes. She set my glass down and winked at me, before facing the drunken man who climbed onto the barstool where the lovers had been sitting. I wished they would come back. At least they smelled like licorice and pipe smoke. This gentleman smelled like old sick and older alcohol.

“Gimme a glass o’ hooch.” He slapped his hand loudly on the bar top.

“Not happening, Jim. I cut you off three days ago and you’re staying cut off until you can walk in here without seeing double.”

He wailed like a child and rested his forehead on his arm. I was worried he would start a scene, but he started snoring almost immediately. Annabelle smiled and shook her head.

“Want me to move him?” She asked.

“No, he’s fine. Who is he?”

“He’s one of my regulars. He drinks more than most of my customers combined, but that’s been great for business. Last week he had a fit and broke half my glasses and at least three noses of the guys who tried to calm him down. He was shouting about ‘the General’ over and over. I think the war really got in his head.”

“He was in the war?”

She nodded. “In Belgium, I think.”

I was in the 369th Infantry. We never lost a man to capture, and we never lost a foot of ground to our enemy. Not every soldier was lucky enough to be in a Regiment as successful as mine, though. We won, but we still had some guys come back not quite right in the head. I didn’t see Flanders Field, but it seemed Jim had.

“Can I buy him a drink?”

“I’d say yes, but he’s already had a case of the Jake Leg. Not from my hooch, of course.”

“Of course.”

Jims face was hidden in the crook of his arm. His jacket was dirty and it looked like he’d spent more than a couple nights sleeping in gutters.

Without warning, Jim shot bolt upright.


He dove under the bar, and startled the boozers. On his dive for cover, he grabbed my jacket sleeve and took me down with him. He covered my head and shoulders with his body.

“Keep low, soldier. The Germans are closing in.” His voice was a hoarse whisper. I wondered how many times he’d said that and meant it.

“Jim. Jim, look at me.” I pulled myself to face him. His eyes were wild. Jim was not in a speakeasy behind a phone booth in New York. Jim was back on the front line, though I couldn’t tell where. The Germans and their allies covered a lot of ground in four years.

“Where are you, soldier?”

“Flanders Field, of course!”

“Soldier, we’re safe. The enemy has been neutralized. We’ve won. You’re home. WE’RE home. We’re safe. Wake up soldier.”


Jim bolted. He snatched me up again and began weaving through the drunken crowd. People were beginning to notice. The piano player in the corner faltered as Jim crashed into the piano with his hip. He ducked under a table and pulled me with him.

“We’re in a good thicket now. The field doesn’t give us much cover, but we’ve got these trees. We can lose them in the forest.”

He was completely immersed in his hallucination. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about what alcohol can do to a man. There were more women protesting the terrors of alcohol than protesting anything else. Prohibition started inching its way across the United States a couple years after I got home. We were in full swing, now.

I once heard a woman screaming about the effects alcohol had taken on her husband. He had been a heavy alcoholic and by, what she claimed, was the grace of God, had decided to quit, cold turkey. Not three days later, he fell into screaming hallucinations, his brain seized up on him, and he dropped dead. I worried for Jim.

“Where do you see trees, Jim?”

“All around us, look! We found a nice forest. We need to get to a radio, so we can get word to the General!”


“Of course Pershing! The Black Jack himself!”

The password.

The anniversary of the war ending.

The drink to honor Pershing.

It was all too much for Jim’s mind. Between whatever rot his brain had from his years of drowning himself in bathtub juice and all these reminders floating around him, he went right back to hell.

“Where’s Pershing now, Jim? Where are we going?”

“Follow me! Stay low!”

He wound his way through the crowd. Upending tables and knocking ladies to the floor. The music had stopped and the patrons were growing more aware and angrier by the moment. Jim pointed.

“There he is.”

I followed Jim’s gaze. There was a sophisticated-looking gentleman alone in the corner. He had an impressive mustache and was cloaked in cigar smoke. It wasn’t Pershing, but to the confused mind of a drunken soldier, he looked close enough.

We made our way through Jim’s forest of people. When he ducked, I ducked. When he paused, I paused. I had never been in this situation before, but I didn’t have the heart to leave him alone on whatever battlefield he was imagining.

The mustached man arched an equally well manicured eyebrow at us as we approached. Jim stood erect and saluted.

“It is an honor, General.”

I pleaded silently with the gentleman. He had a worldly air about him. I prayed that he understood what was happening. To my relief, he nodded and stood at attention for Jim.

“State your business, soldier.”

“The Germans have us surrounded, General. We must move our unit.”

“You are an honor to your unit and your country. At ease, soldier.”

And with that, Jim fell to the floor. His body convulsed, his mouth frothed, and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Annabelle was next to me suddenly, and had four of the largest men I’d ever seen pick Jim up and take him out of the room.

“They’ll get him to a hospital.” She said. “What the hell was that about?”

“The war and bad hooch don’t mix. His brain doesn’t hit on all sixes anymore. I’ll tell you, though, this man was a big hel-..”

I was going to say “help,” but the man was gone.

“What man?” Annabelle asked.

I didn’t know what to say. I had heard the man’s voice. I saw him stand from his booth. But now, all I saw was a portrait of General John Joseph Pershing, our dear old Black Jack, staring back at me from a frame on the wall.