Pressing assignments have forced me to neglect my blog, so please allow me to continue to entertain you with some old writing.
Most of my early writing was comic in nature. I have been finding bits and pieces of skits and plays and even comics (with my own illustrations) as I search through an old chest of papers. Most of my writing was fragmentary. I have very few completed pieces prior to college.
The following story was my first serious attempt to write a short story. It was written during as an assignment at in Dr. Carl Behm's creative writing class at Towson State in the Fall of 1982. As my memoir relates, my estranged girlfriend Kathy found the tone of the story dark and suicidal. She called to express her concern about my mental health. I don’t think I was suicidal at the time, but, in retrospect, this story might have been a harbinger of things to come. (I originally planned to include this story in my memoir as an appendix, along with other writings contemporaneous to the events I described, but, fortunately for the sake of my readers, I didn't do so!)
I have made no effort to improve or correct the piece. This is, more or less, the assignment I turned in for class. Sadly, I forgot the grade.
TO DIE A HERO
It was rush hour. The right side of the street was filled with cars leaving the city. The left side was practically empty. Melvin Calcunn, bookkeeper, stood quietly on the bus stop observing the world around him.
Melvin noticed a mother and daughter across the street from him. The mother looked a little frazzled. From the expression on her face and the packages in her arms, he could tell that she had spent the entire day shopping with an active child in tow. The little girl was cute and appeared to be five-or-six-years old. She had long blond hair and was wearing a yellow jumpsuit and jacket. She was happily bouncing a little red ball on the sidewalk as she stood near her mother.
Melvin watched the child bounce the ball up and down. He watched the ball bounce into the street. He saw the girl walk, unnoticed by her mother, into the street to get the ball. More importantly, he saw something neither the mother nor the little girl saw. He saw a speeding car appear over a rise in the street.
The car was moving fast, at least fifteen miles over the speed limit. The little girl, walking towards the ball with her back to the car, was going to die. Melvin sensed this all and made his move.
It was a strange sensation. It was as if everything in the world slowed down except for his mind.
His black vinyl briefcase seemed to hang in the air for a moment after he released the handle before it began to slowly drift to the ground. Melvin knew he was running as fast as he could but it seemed an eternity between each echoing thud of his feet hitting the ground.
His eyes inspected everything.
The little girl, who was just beginning to pick up her ball, still had her back to the oncoming traffic. Her mother’s eyes were on a store window across the street. She didn’t know her daughter was about to die.
Melvin looked to his left. Two cars, almost side-by-side, approached him in the northbound lanes. The two cars didn’t concern him. He knew he would be out of their way long before they reached him. Looking into the faces of the drivers, he knew he had frightened them more than they frightened him. He only hoped neither of them over-reacted and endangered them all.
Melvin looked to his right. He began to study his adversary. The car was a beat-up, multi-color Ford Pinto. It was an early model which was showing its age. It was moving fact, around forty-five-mile-an-hour in a thirty-miles-an-hour zone. The long-haired teenager who was driving the car had just caught sight of the child. He didn’t start applying the brakes yet, and the girl was only about sixty-five feet in front of him. No, Melvin thought, he couldn’t stop in time.
Melvin’s eyes once again returned to the little girl as he continued to move slowly towards her. Her back was still to the car, but she was beginning to turn as a loud screeching noise filled the air. Melvin turned his head to the right and could see that the driver of the Pinto was beginning to apply his brakes. It’s about time, Melvin though as he realized that the car had advanced much closer to the girl while his head was turned. He could see the sheer horror in the drivers’ face. He was just probably realizing that he would not be able to stop the car in time.
Suddenly, Melvin’s ears were filled with various echoing sounds. His ears shuddered under the blaring noise of the horns of the cars approaching from the south. Melvin knew that they were over-reacting. He had already passed over the double yellow line. In front of him, the air was filled the sound of screams. The little girl had completed her turn and began a loud, shrill scream as she froze rigid with fear. There was another scream too. Melvin glanced to the mother to see her packages drifting slowly to the ground as she screamed. She was beginning to move too, but Melvin knew she was too far away to do any good.
The car, skidding and sliding as the tires tried to grip the street, was now about fifteen feet away from the child. Melvin knew that there was only one thing that he could do to save the child. He felt his weight being thrown forward and his feet lifting off the ground as he stretched his arms. He felt himself flying, actually flying.
He felt a tremendous surge of emotions as he flew with his arms outstretched to toward the helpless child. However, the emotions did not stop his mind from realizing what was bound to happen. He realized that he was quickly losing altitude and would land directly in the path of the skidding car. He only hoped he hit the girl with enough force to knock her out of the way. He prayed he would die a hero.
As he drifted through the air, he tried not to worry about the outcome. There was nothing that he could now one way or another. Everything depended upon the laws of physics and gravity. The car, which was sliding gently to the right, was locked into place by force and momentum. The child was locked into place by face. Melvin knew he was locked into his course by gravity and momentum. His destiny could not be changed.
The world returned to normal speed.
Melvin’s left hand crashed into the girl’s shoulder and he violently pushed her out of the way of the oncoming automobile. She would live, he though as he felt the impact of his body against the surface of the street. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the right tire of the approaching Pinto.
There was a smile on his face as he died.
Melvin rolled over on his side as a loud buzzing noise rang in his ears. He opened his eyes to see a sliver of the early morning sunlight entering his bedroom between a gap in his drawn curtains. With a yawn, he reached out and turned off the alarm clock. He felt good, really good.
Melvin got and sat lazily on the side of the bed and tried to recapture the dream. He wanted to relive it again before it melted and dissolved into his unconsciousness. It was drifting away. He could see the details blurring but he knew the sensations he felt at the heroic moment would never leave him. He had died a hero.
Melvin glanced down at the clock again. He was shocked to see that thirty-five minutes had passed since he woke up. Leaping from his bed, Melvin began to hastily remove his blue, cotton pajamas. He had to hurry, he was more than a half-an-hour behind schedule.
He was in a hurry, but he felt uneasy rushing his daily personal hygiene. Personal hygiene was a matter that he had learned to take very seriously. He knew that one personal hygiene error in the morning could be responsible for an entire day of embarrassment. More than once Melvin found himself sitting next to a person on a bus who was breathing noisily or sitting less than placidly, which made him wonder if he had used the proper quantity of deodorant. In a case like that, he would rush to the men’s room at the office as soon as he arrived to check himself.
After a few hurried, but carefully orchestrated, minutes in the bathroom, Melvin rushed to the closet to choose the day’s apparel. He did not worry about his style of dress. He was a good dresser, almost too good.
He had seven dress shirts, all of them white. It wasn’t like he had a shirt for each different day of the week. He didn’t have a Monday shirt, a Tuesday shirt or a Wednesday shirt. However, he made sure he didn’t wear a shirt twice until he wore all of them once. He washed all of the shirts on Friday. Friday was his washing night.
Melvin knew he was a good, proper dresser. He read a book which told him what colors, fashions, and styles a person should wear for business and acted accordingly. He had three suits and six ties. His suits were the recommended gray, blue and black. All of the suits had stylish thin lapels, of course. He stopped wearing bowties because the book said the wimpish Wally Cox look was definitely out. He had six narrow ties, all of which had at least a touch of red.
Melvin knew he didn’t have to be embarrassed by what he saw when he looked into the mirror. He didn’t always have that confidence, especially not before his boss, Mr. Dedzen, complimented his appearance in front of the entire Records Department. Mr. Dedzen said he wished everyone presented as favorable impression as Melvin did. Melvin was happy to receive the compliment. However, the next day began a gradual process of toning down his appearance. He did not want his fellow workers to think that he was trying to out dress them.
Melvin glanced down at his watch and realized he would not have time for his usual sparse, but wholesome, breakfast. However, he did have enough time to look through the morning paper. He quickly went out of the door of apartment and got his newspaper. After pouring himself a small glass of milk, he searched to see if anything interesting had happened in the world.
He skipped the first and second pages of the newspaper which tended to be devoted to international and national affairs, as well as politics and the economy. Those subjects did not interest him. He went to page three where the human interest stories could be found. This was his favorite section. He scanned the headlines but he didn’t find any stories worth reading.
Next he flipped to the local section of the newspaper. For the most part, Melvin was less interested in the local news than he was about national news, but he sometimes found worthwhile stories in the local section. On the fourth page, he found a story that did interest him. It was about a local house fire.
It was pretty much a typical fire story. A tenement apartment house in the worst part of the city caught on fire, trapping two children on the third floor. Before the fire engines arrived, a man rushed into the smoke-filled building to save the children. The man, an unemployed janitor, was rushed to the hospital as a result of smoke inhalation and released later that day. Both of the children were unharmed.
Hero stories interested Melvin. In fact, he kept a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings of various heroes. However, this story did not fulfill the prime requisite of all the stories in the scrapbook. All of the heroes in his scrapbook died saving the life of another person.
Glancing at his watch again, he knew he would have to leave immediately to catch the seven-ten bus. Grabbing his overcoat and briefcase, he left his apartment and walked briskly to the bus stop. The bus stop was only a half a block away and he got there a full minute before the bus arrived.
Usually Melvin caught the six-forty-nine bus. The seven-ten was usually so crowded that he couldn’t even sit down. When the bus did arrive, Melvin suspected he would have to stand until he got off to transfer to his second bus. Days like this made him wish he still drove his car to work.
He owned a spotless ‘seventy-nine Nova. He kept it in a garage about a half a mile away from his apartment. Once and a while he would drive out to one of the large shopping malls in the suburbs, but for all intents and purposes, he hadn’t used the car for years.
Driving was easier and safer, he wouldn’t deny that. However, that was also the problem. When he drove, he had total control over his environment, and regardless of how hard he tried, he found it almost impossible to resist the temptation to remain in his comfort zone. He had to leave his comfort zone if ever intended to be more than what he was now. Taking the bus forced him out of his safe world.
The trip was uneventful. As he had feared, he had to stand. Actually, he didn’t mind standing too much. Standing gave him a better view of what was going on in the bus. Melvin scanned his fellow passengers. They were male and female, black and white, well-dressed and not so well-dressed. A variety of people filled the bus, but none of them looked like a homicidal maniac about to strike. When he finally reached the skyscraper where he worked, he left the bus the same who had stepped on it. Maybe tonight, he thought as he stepped down onto the sidewalk.
Another day, another dollar, Melvin thought as he entered the building. The same thought entered his head every time he entered the building. There was a time when he would consciously try not to think that, but he always did. After a while he stopped trying.
Melvin was at work minutes after the elevator door opened to reveal the large room filled with desks. He didn’t spend the first half-an-hour of the day talking and gossiping like the vast majority of the people in his department. In fact, he rarely conversed with his co-workers, except within the line of duty. They were just a bunch of middle class idiots who would never do anything with their lives. They would never be anything more than what they were now. They would live until the age of 67.5 years then just die. The only who would go to their funerals were the people who had to. Looking around the office, he could see a vast number of people who have two car funeral processions. He used to hate them, but now he only felt pity.
He was called a book keeper, but, in reality, he was little more than a book comparer. All of the accounting and book keeping chores of the huge bank he worked for were done by computers. However, for legal reasons, the bank kept physical records. Melvin worked eight hours a day, five days a week, comparing the computer printouts and the accounting journals to make sure their were no discrepancies. He hadn’t found an error in five years. Over the course of his thirteen year career, he had found only two mistakes.
Lunch time. The office was deserted. Most of the people were eating at the cafeteria or at nearby eateries. Melvin ate lunch at his desk, as he always did. He was eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he had prepared the night before and packed neatly into his briefcase.
Melvin was munching on his sandwich when a door to the office opened. Raising his eyes, he saw Bea Allenson enter the office. When she saw him, she smiled and waved. Melvin choked on his sandwich. She continued to walk toward another exit. Before she left, she turned and said, “See you on the bus stop tonight, Mr. Calcunn.”
“Okay,” Melvin answered feebly as he watched her smile and walk out of the office. Melvin cringed. If he had known he was going to see her, he would have prepared something better to say.
Bea Allenson, a secretary from the Investments Department, was the closet thing to a girlfriend that Melvin had. She was pretty and always nice to him. He knew that she was single but also knew that a woman as charming as her had to have a steady boyfriend. He was tempted to ask someone in Investments about her, but he was afraid it would get out that he was interested in her. If she found out, she would probably get mad and stop talking to him on the bus stop after work. He couldn’t jeopardize that.
After work they would take the same bus. She did not take the bus all the way to her home, where she lived with her mother. She had a car but she parked it on an inexpensive lot about a mile and a half from the building. The moments he spent with her on the bus were priceless. Too bad that she had to have a boyfriend somewhere.
The afternoon passed more quickly than usual. As page after page of ledgers and computer printouts passed in front of him, Melvin was ashamed to realize that he had spent most of the time thinking about Bea. He tried to stop thinking about her, after all, there was no reason on earth to believe she was thinking about him. Why should she? On the outside, he realized that he was little more than just another bland book keeper. How could she possibly know that he was going to be a hero one day?
After work, Melvin waited for Bea between the entrances of their bank’s main branch and the corporate offices. He tried to act calm and nonchalant. When she came out, he did not want her to think he was waiting especially for her. He wanted it to look like a coincidence. Finally, he decided that it would be less obvious if he waited in front of the building closer to the bus stop.
It was two minutes before Bea stepped out on the street. She was almost at the entrance of the bank branch when the first shot rang out.
The sound stunned everyone on the street. It was not until the second shot that Melvin realized that the sound was coming from inside of the bank. Shaking off his shock, Melvin moved away from the building where he stood. He was in the center of the sidewalk when the first gunman ran out of the bank.
He was a big dude dressed in an Army jacket and wearing a stocking over his head. He had a pistol in one hand and a brown shopping bag in the other. He was heading directly for Bea, who was frozen in terror.
Melvin stopped for a second to determine his strategy as the second gunman burst out of the bank doors. He was smaller than the first man, but dressed in a similar manner. As he was leaving the bank, the third and fourth shots rang out.
Melvin saw the smaller man knocked forward as if he were hit by an invisible sledgehammer. As he fell forward, it was as if he had been hit in the center of his back with the same sledgehammer. The man hit the sidewalk with tremendous force. He didn’t move. He was dead. Melvin had never seen a real dead man before. His eyes were glued to the corpse until he heard a strangely familiar scream.
Melvin’s eyes moved upward and he saw a sight that shocked him to his core. The big gunman had grabbed Bea and was using her as a shield. With his back to the street, the gunman told everyone not to move or he would shoot her. Everyone on the street froze, afraid to breathe.
Melvin saw what he had to do. He decided to do it.
Screaming louder than he thought he could, Melvin began to run toward the gunman. Hearing the scream, the big man turned sideways and pointed his gun at Melvin. He shouted a warning, but Melvin did not stop.
Melvin saw a burst of light erupt from the front of the pistol. The light was immediately followed by a hard, burning sensation in his shoulder. He had never before experienced anything like the searing pain, but he did not stop.
Again, the gunman squeezed the trigger. Melvin felt a tremendous jolt to his ribs, practically doubling him over. He went blank for a second but he did not lose his balance and continued toward the gunman. Opening his blurring eyes, he saw that he was only a few feet away from his opponent. Screaming again, he forced himself onward.
He felt himself colliding with the gunman. He did not know whether or not Bea had broken free, but he knew what he had to do. At once, both of Melvin’s hands groped blindly for the pistol. When he thought he found it, he struggled to point it toward the gunman while he squeezed down on the hand. The pistol fired again. Both of the men fell to the ground afterwards.
Melvin was barely conscious of the activity around him. He could hear people hovering around. He could feel hands touching him. Most importantly, he could hear Bea’s sobs and feel her arms around him. As he felt the life drain out of him, Melvin smiled.
Suddenly he heard a clear but confused voice. “Melvin, Mr. Calcunn, are you all right?” he heard Bea ask.
Melvin opened his eyes and discovered that he was still standing next to the building. He was confused for a moment before he realized that it had all been a dream.
Damn it, why?
“I’m okay,” Melvin said, regaining his composure. “I was just thinking.”
Bea smiled. She looked so good. “Okay, but we’ve got to hurry or we’ll miss the bus.”
They got to the bus stop right before the bus arrived. The bus was crowded so they stood together and talked. Bea did most of the talking, as usual. Melvin was content to listen. He liked the sound of her voice. She gave him a big smile before rang the bell and got off the bus.
Melvin watched her from the window. The bus began moving slowly again in the heavy traffic, staying slightly behind her. Melvin noticed that a man seemed to following her. A tall, lean man. A dangerous man.
Bea turned into the alley between two buildings and walked toward the lot where she kept her car parked. Melvin watched the lean man reach into his pocket as he turned to follow her. As the bus passed the alley, Melvin thought he saw a glimpse of metal in the man’s hand.
Melvin dropped his briefcase and rang the bell.
The bus driver stopped the vehicle and glanced into his mirror. No one moved. No one even bothered to meet his eyes. After a moment, the driver muttered a curse and pressed the gas pedal.
To find out if I was indeed trapped in a suicidal spiral at the time I wrote that story, check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God. It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.