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THE LEONIDS

A Short Story

by George Wier

 

    We met at the City Lake around 1:30 a.m.  As promised by the

weatherman the sky was clear and shone with a million stars.  The

moon would not be putting in her appearance until sometime around

five a.m., so there would be no obscurity.  We’d be getting the full

effect.

    I pulled my old Ford off the gravel roadway, expecting to have to

wait, but a set of headlights pulled off the highway and turned down

the narrow road a quarter of a mile back.  Twin spears of light

penetrated the settling cloud of dust I’d left behind scant moments

before.  I wouldn’t even have time for a cigarette.

    After a minute of watching the headlights bounce and dodge all

over creation Matt and Mandy and the kids pulled up beside me,

their windows rolled down.
    “Probably won’t see anything,” Matt said from the driver’s seat.
    “Hey Bill,” Mandy said to me.  We couldn’t see each other worth a damn.  We were two ghostly faces in the night, mere feet away from one another.  She had her arm hanging outside the minivan.
    “Hey, Amanda,” I said.  “Are you bored yet?”
    She laughed.  I’d always loved her laugh.  Matt was a damned lucky man and I’d often wondered to what depths he knew that singular fact.
    “I am,” a voice intoned from the back seat.  That would be Stuart, the eldest.  Stu was a lot like his father--he saw the rust-lining in everything.
    “Did you bring the booze?” Matt asked me as he got out and slammed the door behind him.
    “Hush, Matt,” Mandy said.  “Get the chairs.”
    I waited while the Prescott family disembarked.  An onlooker might have thought we were all up to no good--a single man meeting a husband, wife and kids in the dead of night in a closed lake park miles from town.  We’d had it figured that there would eventually be cops coming by on patrol.  They’d see the vehicles, run an obligatory check or two of the plates, then start to nose around and see if they could find us and run us off.  Maybe even give us a ticket.  Or two.  But the plan was that if that happened I was supposed to flash my badge and magically make everything alright.
    I fished the beer out of my trunk and Matt and Mandy and the kids each had their hands full as we trudged across the mown grass, up a hill and around the stand of trees down to the lakes edge.  We’d be out of sight from the road, so truthfully, anyone wanted to find us could, but it might take them awhile.  I estimated we were a couple football field lengths from the cars.
    Mandy and the kids opened up the lawn chairs.  Matt clicked on a flashlight and inspected my cooler.
    “Coors Light,” I told him.  “And a little something-something for us hard-core drinkers.”  I pulled out a flask and handed it to him.  Matt unscrewed the lid and sniffed.
    “Scotch,” he said.  “How old?”
    “Older than you,” I said.
    “Bill,” Mandy said, “you’re contributing to the delinquency of a major.”
    “I know,” I said.  “With malice aforethought.”
    “Just so’s you know.”
    I took the flask back, screwed the cap on.
    “It’ll keep till later,” I told Matt and then tossed him a cold beer.  “In the meantime, shut off that damned light so we can see.”

 

*****


    You can see the stars on the water on a clear night with no wind, no tide and no moon.  And the silence is its own presence.
    “There’s one!” Suzie, the youngest Prescott exclaimed and pointed.  Our eyes had adjusted, so we could see her arm.
    A line of light lasting about half a second traced itself across the sky just west of Leo.
    “Oooo. . .  Ahh. . .” Stu said, clearly unimpressed.  What more can you expect from a fourteen year-old?
    “Shut up, Stu,” Matt said.
    “Good one, Suze,” Mandy encouraged.  “You be nice, Stuart.”
    “Hey, Bill.  You heard about that water truck we crashed out at the Extension Service?”
    “Nope,” I said, and sipped my beer. “But I’ve got the feeling I’m about to.”
    “You sure are,” Matt said, and went on for five minutes about how he orchestrated a fully loaded truck crash into a concrete barrier at sixty miles per hour and managed to catch video from ten different angles for study purposes.  The whole time he talked I nodded, watched the sky, and kept Mandy’s perfume in my nose.
    Three more lines came into the sky in rapid succession.  This time the ooo’s and ahhh’s were real.
    Then, for five minutes, nothing.
    Matt was my best friend.  I’d known him all our lives.  But I wondered what Mandy saw in him that I didn’t.  What stars in their courses had brought them together?  And why were they still together?
    Mandy had always kept me at arms length, but at the same time she had always treated me with a deference I could not fathom.  A certain softness found its way into her voice whenever Matt wasn’t around and we had a moment to talk, which happened at least once every few weeks.  She would never know that I lived for those brief encounters.  And not for the first time, as I watched the night sky and breathed in her perfume and her presence not three feet away, I wondered if something was there.
    “Say, Bill,” Matt said.  “I brought something I meant to show you, but I left it in the van.”
    “What is it?” I asked.
    “It’s a surprise.  I’ll go get it.”
    “Matt, can’t it wait?” Mandy asked.
    “I’ll only be a minute,” he said and got up.  “Stu, walk with your dad.”
    “Oh hell!” Stuart said.
    “Stu!” Mandy admonished him.  “Do what your father says.”
    “Alright,” Stuart said, the way only a fourteen year-old who knew everything there was to know on God’s green Earth could say it.
    “Be right back,” Matt said, and the darkness swallowed them.
    The silence came again.
    I breathed in Mandy.
    “Mom,” Suzie said.  “I’ma gonna wade in the water.  Is that alright?”
    “What do you think, Bill?  Can anything get her?”
    “Anything that could get her will run from her,” I offered.  “Suzie, make sure you don’t go deeper than your knees.  This lake drops off pretty quick out there.”
    “Cool!” Suzie said and darted toward the shore, ten yards or more away.
    Silence again, but for little feet making gingerly, quiet splashes.
    “Mandy,” I said.  “How are you doing?”
    “I’m okay.  You?”
    “You know me.  I’m fine.”
    “Yeah,” she said.  “I know.”
    Silence once more.
    There came a thudding.  A fatalistic thumping as of some oil well a mile away broaching the earth.  After a moment of careful listening I decided it was my chest.
    “Are you happy?” I asked her.
    A moment appeared, stretched itself out, and flitted away.
    “I’m not unhappy,” she said.
    “That’s not an answer.”
    Another moment.
    “I know,” she said.
    A spray of meteors thirty degrees up visited us and our breaths caught as one.
    “Did you see that?” I asked.
    “Yeah,” she said.  “He found me first, Bill.  It should have been you.”
    “I know,” I said.  “There’s nothing we can do about that.  Ever.”
    “Ever.”
    I stood up, turned away.
    “Thank you, Bill,” she said.
    “For what?”
    “For not saying it.  Those words.”
    “Oh,” I said.  “Those words.  Any time, Mandy.  But if Matt ever hurts you, I’ll hurt him pretty bad.  And then I’m coming for you.”
    “I know, Bill,” she said.  “I know.”

 

*****


    The Leonids quit the sky around four, or so the newspapers say.  But these Leonids--Bill and Matt and Mandy and Stu and Suzie--we quit long before then.
    I moved to Grapevine, Texas and took a job with the Sheriff’s Office ten years later.  Matt had a heart attack and died after coming home from work one cold January night.  I remember that my new wife comforted me while I cried, offering solace for one who rarely showed emotion.
    I walk out in the back yard some nights and study the night sky.  Sometimes I feel like I can distinguish the relative distances between the stars, and can even tell which ones are closer and which are farther, and let me tell you, it has nothing to do with brightness.
    And once or twice in a blue moon I’ll catch a shooting star.  So brief they are.  So very damned brief.


finis

 

TWICE TOLD TALES:

The Leonids - A Short Story

The Grid - An Urban Legend​

THE GRID

An Urban Legend

by George Wier

 

   


    Todd and Janine Weathersby were a couple of kooks who lived over the hill and down the dirt lane from me and the Missus, and when I say kooks I really mean it.  You might know the kinda folks I’m talking about.  There used to be this guy who picked up cans on the side of the road all the time going into town, day-in, day-out.  Had him a little four-wheeler with a big basket on back for the thirty gallon sacks he’d fill up in half a day's time and a little pole sticking out the side for those spools of plastic trash bags they sell for a buck-fifty at the Value-Mart.  A real goony-bird, that one.  Never waved, never did nothin' excepting pick up those cans with a long stick with a bent nail on the end of it.  The Weathersbys were like that can-fellah, by which I mean they was single-minded as all hell.  Only the Weathersbys were mad about the grid.  Getting off of it, that is.
    Point of fact, I stopped by the Weathersby’s place once to see how they were getting along after the tornado came through and tore the hell out of half the county, and there they were, not a shingle out of place, Todd filling up a five gallon jerry-can from this spigot on the side of this grain silo-looking contraption, and I asked him first had the tornado come through his property, to which he nodded “no”, and second asked him what the hell he was doing, to which he replied:  “Filling my gas tank.What’s it look like?”  A real smart-aleck, that one.  Mad about the grid, though, I’m telling you.
    See what I mean, though, about the grain silo home-gas station?  Now at that time gas was less than three bucks a gallon.  Maybe it was about two-fifty.  And the Weathersby’s weren’t the kind of folks to give their hard-earned money over to the oil companies.  Hell, if it was up to me, all those oil executives would be strung from the power lines along the highway, which in itself brings up another topic completely:  the Weathersbys didn’t take any electricity from the Cooperative.  None!  I don’t mean they didn’t burn their lights at night or something.  What I mean is there wasn’t even a wire running from some pole somewhere over to their property and into their danged walls!  How’s that for kooky?  As Todd explained it was, it was ‘radiant’ energy.  Now I’ve heard of all kinds of energy, but radiantenergy?  Must come from Japan or something.
    I once ran into Janine in the supermarket line buying battery rechargers (see?) and I asks her “what's the deal with you folks havin' your own petrol?” on account of that one had been botherin' me for some time and I never rightly understood it.  “Self-sufficiency,” she says.  “you probably never heard of it.” Rude, that one, but mad as a hatter to boot.
    The Weathersbys didn’t buy nothing from town in the way of food but raised their own produce on their little postage stamp south forty out back which wasn’t really south but north and not really forty, but more like six.  Acres, that is.
    So when my Missus took them over a cherry pie for Thanksgiving, on account of we’re such Christian folks and Thanksgiving is an official Christian Holiday, why those Weathersbys just opened the front door and looked at my Missus queer-like, as if maybe she had horse ka-ka all over her shoes or something, which she didn’t.  Anyway, they wouldn’t take the pie.  They just smiled these cheesy, fake smiles and told my Missus how they don’t eat refined white sugar.  Let me tell you it was like a slap to the Missus.  She got redder than a beet and high-tailed it home with that pie and wouldn’t say anything about it until well after midnight.  Nuts, I tell you.
    Anyway, the grid.  Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for being sufficient by one’s own self.  I’m very strongly for it.  But I’m not a bit strongly in favor of being a kook.
Which brings me to what I’m telling you about exactly.
    Todd Weathersby, you see, wasn’t justa kook.  Nossir.  He was what you might call a geniuskook.  Had himself all these contraptions you can’t find at the Farm-All place or the John Deere place.  Likely half of those things come from kit plans ordered through mail order catalogs for people like Todd.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  Where they’ll have pages and pages of weird things such as radio-controlled miniature helicopters next to ads for how to blow up the government by ordering a book and such things as “Build your very own Air Car!”  Shinola like that.  Only I expect, as does the Missus, that the other half of the stuff you can see out on his property (and let me tell you, that ain’t likely half of what’s hidden!) was funny stuff the old beanpole invented on his lonesome.  A bona fide Frankenstein’s nut-case, that one.  But slick in the brains department, if you discount the social graces, of which bothTodd and Janine had about the cube root of zero to work with.
    Now the Weathersbys not only took themselves not only right off the grid awhile back, they took themselves right off the map!
    Here’s what happened.
    One morning Leroy Samuels comes by and takes coffee with me and the Missus and says something strange.  Samuels is our postman and he’s a stout fellow, so he’s all the time drinking our coffee before it gets too green and eating up all the spare pies before they go bad, so he’s alright.  Safe to have around, I mean.  Anyway, Samuels says to me and the Missus: “what are they gonna do, I wonder, about that hole?”
    “What hole?” I asks him.
    “The Weathersby’s hole,” he says.  I swear the Missus very nearly spilled her coffee on herself.  A nervous girl, that one.
    “Samuels,” I says, “just what in the Sam Hill are you referring to?”
    “You ain’t been down the lane lately?” he asks me.
    “Nope,” I says.  “No call to.”
    Then Samuels tells me about the hole.  So, being of an inquisitive nature, and having Christian concern for my neighbors, I took myself and the dog and a shotgun with extra shells and went to find out.
The Weathersbys.  Real goony-birds, I tell you.
    There wasn’t no place left to speak of.  There was this six acre hole, only it wasn’t six but more like ten because parts of the Weathersby’s neighbors’ cow pastures was missing on three sides, and a good piece of the dirt lane as well.  It was a good thing that lane ended at their property, let me tell you, and wasn't a through-street.  If it weren't, no telling how many folks could have driven right off into that hole.
The hole was a deep one, too.  It was perfectly round and it must have been a few hundred yards down to the bottom, and there it was nothing but smooth bedrock.
    Now, a real ‘vestigator is what I am.  Maybe I should hang out a shingle and charge folks for finding their lost pets or something useful like that.  By way of saying that I went to the source and got the straight dope on what the Weathersbys gone and done.
    I knew that old Neil Bear, the County Agent, hung around the auction barn on a Saturday, so that Saturday I took myself and old Blue over to the barn and jawed with Neil a bit.
Neil told me the whole story.
    It was the night of thundering lightning awhile back when the Missus and me was certain another twister was coming through.  The rain was coming down horizontal-like and there was these great flashes of lightning that made you want to unplug everything in the house and break out the candles just in case.  Weathersby had these funny-looking poles in the center of his compound--that’s what you properly call a place like that, a compound--and both them poles was wrapped around with about a thousand turns of unshielded spool copper wire, twelve gauge, I’d say.  On top of the poles he had these two shiny steel balls about six feet across.  The Missus told me it was “modern art”, but I remembered something from grade school, and old Neil Bear confirmed it.  He called it a Tesla coil.  And them pylons with their orbs was thirty feet tall if they were two.  Must’ve been the biggest dang Tesla coil in the entire Country of Texas.
    “They gone and done it,” Neil says.
    “Done what?” I asks him, real private ‘vestigator-like.
    “They took themselves off the grid.  Only they took part of the Earth with ‘em when they did.”
    “What in the Sam Hill?” I asks him.
    “You see,” Neil says, “I went inside their place some time back when they was in town closing up their post office box.”
    “You trespassed?” I asks him.
    “I was ‘vestigatin’,” Neil says.  “I’m responsible for the folks in this County, you know.”
    “Gotcha,” I says, and drops Neil a wink.
    “Anyways,” Neil says, “there was this strange book open on the coffee table.  Talking about other dimensions and ‘stantaneous travel--faster than the speed of blink.” Neil snaps his fingers at me.
    “Ya don’t say,” I says.
    “Real kooks,” Neil says, and I couldn’t have agreed with anybody more strongly when he says that.
So me bein’ a semi-professional ‘vestigator, I puts two and two together, and guess what I got?  It’s like this, see.  What I figured happened was this:  since at the height of that last thunderstorm there was this clap of thunder what shook the whole house--and me and the Missus was certain it was one of our fruit trees done been hit by a big bolt of lightning, but the next morning I couldn’t find anything like that, but, I promise you, it sounded like it was ten feet from the house, only it wasn’t though--it wasn't just a simple lightning bolt, it was them    Weathersbys.  The weatherman on TV says that thunder is just a bunch of air.  It’s air rushing back in to fill the place where the lightning bolt has turned the air to wispy nothing.  And that’s what we heard, only it was the air rushing back in to fill up the whole dad-blamed Weathersby Place, a mile down the dirt lane.
    So that’s what they gone and done.  They took themselves right off the grid, by which I mean the whole gol-durned map!
    Just this morning the Missus was fussing at me, wanting to know what I was reading.  I showed it to her and she fair took herself into her room and slammed the door and commenced praying.  A powerful pray-er is my Missus.  I can’t recollect what set her off so, I’m here to tell you.  It was just an innocent little thing.  A circular I got in the mail--Samuels delivered it himself--titled something like: “How To Save A Little Extra In Gas Mileage.”  Something like that.
    Sometimes I wonder what sets a woman off so.

 

Finis

 

 

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© 2017, 2018, 2019 by GEORGE WIER