Published by Daniel Henderson at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Daniel Henderson
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Table of Contents
The old and worn red van drove quietly through the busy parking lot. The plaza was packed with cars of all shapes and sizes, which jockeyed for a space to park so they could commence their shopping. The van sluggishly played along and finally claimed it’s own spot right near the entrance to the furniture store at the end of the plaza.
Jim, a man in his late thirties eagerly hopped from the driver’s seat of the van and rushed to hold open the heavy glass doors to the furniture store for his wife.
“For you, madam.”
“Oh, you shouldn’t have…”
Jim scanned the showroom floor. A young man, barely out of high school, approached him.
“Hello there, how can I help you?”
“We’re looking for a new mattress. We wore out the old one.”
The young man shook his head, as if not hearing correctly. Then smiled.
“Of course, right this way.”
The young man led the way to the mattress area. He rattled off a few of the best brands. Jim interrupted him.
“Thank you, but we’re just going to browse for now. If we need anything, we’ll holler.”
Again the young man looked confused, but nodded and walked off.
“Oh, Jim, look.”
“Mary, that’s a bunk bed. I think we’re a bit old for that.” He laughed.
“No, dear! I mean…we had one just like it. Same old wood finish, same little ladder on the side.”
“Yeah, seems almost identical. Thankfully without the perpetually stained Spider-man sheets…”
“Oh, Jim, if William heard you bring that up!”
“It was a few years longer than the usual phase…”
“Oh quiet, let me enjoy myself.”
Silence overtook the bunk bed for a moment.
“Do you remember the scrunch those plastic mattresses made? How we always could hear them get up in the morning?”
“Or sneak out of bed at night?” He laughed.
“Or the crumbs we had to dig out of the cracks?”
“Oh and God help the future buyer if this thing isn’t already assembled! I think I hit my thumb more than any nail in the damn thing!”
“It took you 2 whole days to finish that thing…”
“Well, I never said I inherited my father’s handiness!”
“But you sure got his vocabulary!”
The man chuckled and then silence.
“Let’s move on, dear.”
Rows and rows of white mattresses lined the walls. Some soft and fluffy, some barebones and hard, all with wince worthy price tags. Down the line Jim stood next to a mattress and leaned forward to test the mattress with his hands.
“Soft, yielding, but not an overpriced marshmallow.”
“I rather like marshmallows,” said Mary. Jim watched as she sat on the other side.
“Well there is a dollar store just down the road…”
“Oh you know what I meant.”
“Oh, I know. Soft and sweet just like…”
“Oh Jim! Stop it, that’s just corny.”
“But true.” Jim grinned and flopped onto the mattress. He sighed softly and closed his eyes as silence crept over his current choice mattress.
“Reminds me of Tahiti.”
“Oh? Is that so? I remember a few more mixed drinks and the crash of the ocean. And less factory smell.”
“All I remember was a soft, white mattress and the most handsome man I’d ever met.”
“Oh? I’d loved to meet this man!” Jim chuckled.
“Oh Jim! Stop!”
“No, no, I mean it’s fine, there was this beautiful woman there. No, she must have been a goddess, born straight from the waves. She came straight into my room. Must have mistaken me for the most handsome man she ever saw…”
Laughter erupted from the mattress section.
“Do you suppose we need a new end table, while we’re at it?”
“Why? The old one still works.”
“But it’s so worn, so weighed down.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“All those papers. Must have been a trees worth of paper work on that poor thing.”
Silence rest heavily again.
“Do you remember the thunderstorms?”
“How little William would crawl up to us from the bottom to hide from the lightning.”
“And when he finally got too old to be afraid, his little brother started the same thing, like they were handing off a legacy?”
“Yes.” Jim smiled.
“Quite a legacy you have.”
“Do you remember the last thunderstorm?”
“You almost broke the end table scrambling for the phone.”
“All the neighborhood seemed to come out to see the ambulance, in spite of the weather.”
“You don’t have to get such a soft bed. I know you don’t like them.”
“But I know you do. I love what you love. You deserve the softest bed in the world!”
“Oh, Jim, don’t be so silly. You deserve to treat yourself, too.”
“This isn’t a treat, this is for us. We just need a nice place to sleep in peace.”
“Yes, yes we do.”
“I double checked, we can afford this.”
“I know we can.”
“It’ll help us move forward.”
“It will help.”
“Is this what you want?”
“Of course. You’ll sleep so much better.”
Jim bolts upright as he hears the young man from earlier asking a question. The young man repeats.
“Is there anything I can help you with, sir?”
“Yes. I think we’ve made a decision. Right, Mary?”
Jim looked to the other side of the bed. It was empty, untouched and pristine on the showroom floor. Silence crept in around the mattress and stayed.
The stone walls of the church hallways loomed high over Alesha’s head. She raced around the bends and turns of the labyrinth corridors. She took quick glances behind her to check to see if her pursuers had caught up to her. Every glance showed that she was alone, but she kept running. She tucked the small bundle she held close to her chest. Alesha rushed to the large, wooden doors of the main hall of worship and slammed them open with her shoulder.
Alesha barely noticed the small old priest who casually lit the thousand candles that lined the room. The large wooden doors slid shut again as she leaned on them. Alesha let out a heavy sigh and slumped to the ground. The priest seemed unconcerned with the sudden intrusion by this stranger and continued to light candles.
“You seem in quite a hurry, little one. I am afraid you are several hours late for service. Or perhaps early, depending on how you look at it,” the priest said. He did not so much as glance at Alesha.
Alesha laid the small bundle she brought with her gently onto a nearby pew, and then busied herself with a barricade against the large wooden door and only entrance.
“Perhaps then, it is not the company of the flock you seek, but instead the solace of the Lord’s presence, hm?” the priest continued. “If you wish to be alone, do not worry, I am almost done.”
Alesha finished with her defense and turned to the priest. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She stood in silence and watched the priest with an tense uncertainty, before she returned to the bundle she put down. She clutched it close to her body.
“You seem to be rather unbothered by my presence and…use of your furniture,” Alesha said, her eyes motioned to the pews pushed against the door.
“It seems you are chased, little one. Though in your haste to defend against pursuers, perhaps you forgot about who you are truly running from, yes?” The priest turned towards Alesha, his withered face holding a wide small and twinkling eye.
Alesha scowled at the priest. “Do not assume to know what I face, old man. If this stupid church of yours wasn’t like a damned maze, I’d be far out of here!”
“Of course, forgive me, little one. You are obviously not one of my flock,” the priest said, his smile never faded nor did his eyes ever leave Alesha’s. “Your handiwork seems well enough, so why don’t you sit down?”
Alesha stood her ground for a moment. She looked down at the bundle she held tightly to her chest then back to the priest. Slowly she approached him and sat in the front row pew. She faced the ornate altar, its surface made of polished marble and a large, gold cross stood upon it. The priest strolled casually to where the woman sat and took his place next to her, gazing fondly at the altar.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Alesha shakes her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Our Lord, of course,” the priest said. “See how the moonlight plays off the windows, how this beautiful cross glimmers and gleams. Truly a marvel.”
Alesha’s foot taps impatiently as her eyes dart to the barricaded door. She clutches her bundle closer to her as she mutters to herself.
The priest frowns. “Tell me, little one, what evil pursues you that you fear so much for your life? Who seeks harm upon you? What drives you to seek sanctuary?”
Alesha’s eyes snap to the priest. She stood up quickly and stepped cautiously away from the old man. She clutched her bundle with a fierce defensiveness. “I am not safe here…”
The priests raised his hands to calm the woman. “You mistake me, my child, I seek not to harm you. Please, you look weary. Rest for a while.”
A loud bang of metal on wood sounded from the large doors. Repeatedly the banging sounded followed by a gruff voice. “Father Montgomery, open the doors. One of the women have escaped, we must find her at once.”
Alesha backed up. Her retreat was stopped as she bumped into the altar. The cross perched on top of the altar shook. She clutched the bundle tightly to her neck and buried her face into the soft cloth. “No. No! You will not take my child! You cannot have him! You cannot hurt us!”
The priest stood, his hands outstretched. “We only seek to help, my child. Our Lord brought us to you in great need. We have helped you when you were a stranger. You are weary and not thinking straight. Why do you run?”
Alesha stammered. She evaded past the altar and to the large stain glass windows behind her. She shook her whole body in protest and gripped the bundle like the last life preserver was being ripped from her hands. “Not him, not him, you will not take him!”
Worried knocks resumed again in earnest, the man on the other side of the door called for the Father again. The priest stepped slowly towards the woman, who began to sob and plead. He stopped at the altar. “My child,” the priest said, “we are not your enemy. A delusion has taken your mind, convinced you that we are your enemy. Your child…” The priest stopped, a look of sorrow and concern on his face.
Her bundle felt heavy, like an actual weight traveled from her shoulders down her arms. Alesha’s cheeks were strewn with tears, her head shook desperately, as if its movement could stop the words she heard.
The priest said something Alesha could not hear. The banging had stopped. The room was still short of her choked sobbing. She slumped against the glass and slid along it to the floor. “Please don’t take my child, please don’t take my child, please don’t.” She muttered over and over. The priest moved to respond but saw she did not look at him, but instead in her reflection in the large, golden cross. Her face shimmered in the metal idol and she pleaded over and over to it to spare the child.
The priest moved towards Alesha, who was lost in her pleading trance. He placed one hand on her shoulder and the other on the woman’s cheek. He turned her face towards his. “My child,” the priest said, but he could not finish his words. The woman continued to mouth her plea. The bundle was rocked gently to and fro in Alesha’s arms, but was still and unmoving. The two sat in silence. The moonlight bathed them in the light of God.
It was a gloomy day, even as the sun pried through the soft white curtains. It wasn’t the clouds fault, though they didn’t help. The whole air was stiff with the smell of expensive liquor and Cuban cigars. The posh bedroom swirled with the grunts of an elderly man who had relished such expensive smells, only now they drove him to coughing fits in his current state. A dim lamplight filled up the chamber, lit by the nurse who administered another dose of painkillers to the man laid up in bed. The nurse was a blonde woman fresh out of med school, hired mostly for her ability to wear low cut uniforms and never complain. The man wheezed out a complaint regarding the waste of good painkillers on a dying old man such as him, but the nurse gave her signature forced smile and left.
As she closed the door to the bedroom behind her, the nurse raised her head to a peculiar sound not heard in the dusty old mansion for quite a long while: the doorbell. Her footsteps echoed in the empty halls of the expansive estate as she made her way to greet the unexpected visitor. She opened the large oaken doors of the mansions’ entrance and there stood a tall, thin man in a elegant black suit and hat. His pale face was sunken but carried a broad smile as he nodded to the poor nurse, who could barely get a word out before he let himself in.
“Forgive me, my dear. I am an old friend of Mr. Moratti and have come to…pay a visit.” The pale man gave a smile seen most often in flirtatious suitors courting the heiress to a vast fortune. The nurse simply nodded and pointed to the stairs leading up to Mr. Moratti’s room. The pale visitor simply tipped his hat and bid the nurse a good day.
Mr. Moratti coughed another lung retching note as the pale, black suited visitor strolled into the room. The visitor hung his hat and coat on a pair of hooks to the right of the door. He bowed graciously, to which the old man replies with a grunt and a dismissive hand wave.
“Enough with the gracious crap. You’re late.” The old man glared towards his visitor.
“Cancer isn’t the quickest way to go. Add in your stubbornness and I’m surprised I’m here at all.” The pale man grinned a sympathetic smile. He loosened his tie as he strolled towards Mr. Moratti. He took a seat on the side of the bed. “I see your taste in women never changed. Are you married to this one or just paying her?”
“What’s the difference?” The old man choked out a laugh, a grin came to his face for the first time in ages.
The pale-faced stranger simply smiled and reached for the bottle of Cognac on the nightstand. He studied the bottle carefully, smirked, and shook his head. “A bottle of Cognac from the year your mother died. Same sense of women and humor.”
“My father never did open it. Figured the irony would be a good note to go out on. Though I can’t drink it without choking to death with coughs. Figuratively speaking, of course.” Mr. Moratti gave a sigh and watched the pale stranger pour a glass, his thin, bony hands bringing the crystal glass to his lips.
“So, my friend,” the pale man said with a nod of approval at the drink, “you seem troubled. You, of all people, can’t be having regrets on their deathbed.”
Mr. Moratti chuckled. “Nothing you haven’t heard from a million others. Seven wives and not a single one would have stayed without my bank account.” The old man’s smile turned to the window, his eyes tried to project a memory long past onto the white, satin curtains. “Except for Rosalyn,” whispered Mr. Moratti.
“She passed away a year ago, my friend. If it makes you feel any better, she went peacefully. She lived a happy life and you did well to let her go.”
Mr. Moratti did something in that moment he had never done in his whole life: he cried. He cried for every innocent kiss on the cheek. He cried for the hand, which took his without even a flash of currency. He cried for the reasons that all lonely men cry, for the one that should have never gotten away.
The pale man set his glass back down on the nightstand. Mr. Moratti’s heart stopped a few moments prior. His eyes stared off through the closed window. A pair of slender digits closed the weeping eyes of Mr. Moratti. The pale man stood and sighed. He hated regrets, they always amounted to the same thing: a pitiful end staring off into the past.
Our last moments always say so much about us, mostly in how we chose to live. Andrew Moratti died with but one regret. He regretted not being able to find the only one thing he couldn’t buy: love. But unlike death, love is optional and often forgotten.
The pale man turned off the lamp and corked the cognac. He gathered his coat and his hat and turned one last time to Mr. Moratti. The old man, face stained with tears, still had the smile left from Rosalyn’s memory. The pale man thought on whether Rosalyn’s last smile had been about Mr. Moratti. But the thoughts of those long past were not why he was here. He simply saw them off. He nodded one last time to the old man.
“Goodnight, Mr. Moratti.” Closing the door behind him, the room was quiet again.
Words from the Author
I want to thank you with absolute sincerity for reading through this short collection of stories I had done. These stories were just some examples of my work done during my tenure at Full Sail University. As I continue my career as a writer, I hope I can count you among my fans and I hope that I may entertain you in the years to come.
Daniel Henderson attended Full Sail University from 2014 to 2016. His true passion lies in World Building and enjoys large, dynamic settings layered with characters you can love and hate. He has a tendency for the dark and twisted, but prefers to use such things to make the happiness brighter instead of wallowing in despair.
"And In Enters the Pale Man" is a collection of three Flash Fiction stories collected from my time attending Full Sail University. The three stories are titled The Last Thunderstorm, Bundle and Goodnight, and features a couple shopping for mattresses, a woman seeking sanctuary in a church and an old man on his deathbed being visited by a friend, respectively. And while none of these descriptions are true, they do hide a good deal of truth. The vagueness to each story allows many interpretations, but a strong theme of loss stands throughout.