The Real World — A short, short story
I’ve tried to post this story on Storypraxis twice now with two different prompts and for some reason it won’t go through. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is too long. Maybe the editors don’t like it. But, I like it a lot and I want to share it with you. I used two prompts: real world and palisade. See what you think:
The Real World
By Bruce Hennigan
Something had just jerked my cork under the water and the fishing line had gone taut when the bushes rustled behind me. I glanced over my shoulder recalling that one time old Norman had claimed he had a black bear in one of his pine trees. The pole jerked in my grip and I stood up, torn between finally catching Old Jackson, as they called him and being wary of whatever was creeping up on me from the bushes. I knew the fence of wooden slats would protect me from the dangers of the world. But, a bear would be so much larger than my palisade.
The rustling sound stopped and I decided to tempt fate and try and land Old Jackson. They say he was the largest catfish in Twelve Mile Bayou. My uncle said he almost landed him once about fifteen years ago and when he rolled out of the water for a second, Uncle Foots said he must have weighed fifty pounds! My pole bowed under the tension of the struggling fish and I smiled. It had to be Old Jackson! Be careful, now, I told myself. Give him some slack and let the line out and . . .
“You catching Old Jackson?”
I flinched and the pole jerked out of my hand and sailed across the water and disappeared from sight. I cursed and whirled, fists raised to face the person who had interrupted my perfect day of fishing. It wasn’t a black bear that had come out of the blueberry bushes. It was a tall, young man with a shock of blonde hair and striking green eyes who had stepped nimbly over the fence and invaded my solitude. He was wearing a faded pair of jeans and a pale, blue tee shirt. He smiled at me as my mouth fell open.
“Hey, Dad. Sorry about the fishing pole. Didn’t mean to scare you.” His eyes flashed in the sunlight off of the bayou.
I dropped my fists and just looked at him. It had been so long. In fact, I could hardly remember what he looked like the last time I had seen him. Seemed there had been a cut on his head? I blinked and reached over and pulled him to me.
“Justin! What are you doing here?” I held him close and inhaled the fragrance of his mom’s fabric softener on his shirt. He still wore that cheap after shave. I pushed him away and frowned. “How did you find me?”
Justin laughed and rubbed his chin. “You brought me here when I was six. Remember. We put the boat in right over there.” He pointed to a boat launch cut into the red clay of the bank of the bayou. “You took me out fishing and I found a plug in the bottom of the back of the boat. Remember?”
I swallowed and looked away from the boat launch. “Yeah, how could I forget. You pulled the plug and the boat started sinking.”
He slapped my shoulder. He was strong. “Yeah, Dad. I kept telling you, ‘The boat is sinking!’ and you couldn’t hear me over the boat motor. And, I kept screaming and screaming until you cut the motor and then you could hear me from here to Blanchard!”
I smiled at the memory. It was a warm, comfortable sensation in the back of my head. I nodded. “I remember. It took us forever to get the plug back in and then I had to bail out the water. . .”
“And, we never caught any fish.” He chuckled and I saw something red and moist drip from his lip. I blinked and it disappeared. My heart was racing. I didn’t know why.
“Son, why are you here?”
His clear, green eyes flashed in the sunlight and he frowned. “I came to get you, Dad. You need to come back.”
I glanced over his shoulder at the wooden fence and shook my head. “I’m not coming back! No, sir! Not coming!” I backed away from him and felt nauseous. I turned my gaze out over the bayou. Old Jackson rolled out of the water near the far shore. He must have weighed one hundred pounds. My fishing line was wrapped all around his body. I shivered. “Go away.”
“Dad, I just got here.” I felt his hand on my shoulder.
“You can’t be real. The dead don’t rise.” I muttered.
“I’m not dead, Dad. I’m alive.” He said so close to my ear. I closed my eyes. This couldn’t be real.
“Go back on the other side of the fence. Go away.”
“What is there to come back for? You’re gone. Mom just cries and sulks. The house is a tomb. Your ashes are right at home on the mantle.” I watched Old Jackson roll one last time and sink into the bayou. The waters grew red with his blood.
“Dad, I’m here because the Lord let me come. You can’t stay here. It’s not what I fought for and not what I died for.” Justin was so close to my ear. I closed my eyes and shook my head.
“No! You’re not real. This is real. This bayou. This place. That fence.” I felt the tears fill my closed eyes. Justin put his hands on my arms. His grip was strong. Powerful. Like the last time I had taken his hand in mine. Like the last time I had . . .
“You were angry with me when I left. You called me a coward.” He whispered.
“I know.” I sobbed. “I was wrong. You are brave. You are not a coward.”
“I died for what I believed in, Dad. I chose to go. You have to accept that. I was a man. Now, I’m far more than that. You still have a lot of living to do. You still have Ceilly and Robert. They need their mom and dad. You need to come back. Please, Dad. Come back!” His grip loosened and I fell backward in the sudden release expecting to feel the hard earth and I felt, instead, the loops of fishing line all around me, closing down my arms and my legs and I couldn’t breath and I saw Old Jackson’s eyes flash in the sunlight white and dead as he rolled and rolled and I fought the pain and the grief and the loss and the fishing line until it broke in shuddering relief and I was free.
I sat up and opened my eyes. My wife looked up from her book, her figure slumped in the chair and she gasped. She hurried over to my hospital bed and touched my face.
“Welcome back, honey.”