Frozen Fingers

My story, Frozen Fingers, was published by Simon Webster on his site, the Cabinet of Heed. It’s a nice posting and you can check it out by clicking on this link at this link. If you have the time, check out some of the other stories too!

Frozen Fingers – Jim Bates

Frozen Fingers

“Jerry, how are those matches holding up?” Steve asked, blowing on his frozen hands. “Can you get that kindling lit?”

“Shit, no,” Jerry swore. “I’ve got three left and I can’t feel my fingers. Can’t feel a damn thing.”

Those were not the words Steve wanted to hear. It was twenty degrees below zero. If they didn’t get a fire going soon, they were going to freeze to death.

Jerry fumbled lighting the match he was attempting to hold. It flared for a moment and then fell from his numb fingers into the snow, sizzled and went out. Two matches to go.

Next to them the rushing water of the Yellow Knife River cascaded over ice covered boulders on its way to Lake Superior ten miles to the east. Steve and Jerry had been on a winter hiking trip along the trail that ran high above the river when the ledge of snow they were on collapsed and they tumbled thirty feet down the steep slope into the frigid water below. In just seconds they were both not only soaked but numbingly cold. They scrambled out and found a level spot in the snow. Steve had sprained his wrist. It was up to Jerry to build the fire.

That had been fifteen minutes ago. A combination of wet stick matches and a wind swirling down the canyon walls made lighting a fire difficult. They’d built a small teepee of twigs and pine needles but getting it to light was proving next to impossible. With two matches to go, their prospects were grim.

Steve moved closer to Jerry. In a gesture of profound intimacy, he motioned to his friend, “Give me your hands.”

When Jerry balked, Steve said, “Don’t give me that macho BS.” He motioned again and said, softly, “Here, let me help.” Steve took his friend’s bare hands in his and, ignoring the pain in his wrist, drew them to his lips and blew on them, warming them with his breath.

After a minute, Jerry said, “That good. Thanks, man. They’re better. I can feel my fingers, now.”

He took the second match and struck it against the side of the match box. Nothing. It was too wet. On the second try it broke apart and fell to the snow.

The two men looked at each other. They were in their mid-thirties and had been best friend since grade school. Now it all came down to this. The sun was setting behind the pine trees lining the rim of the canyon. With the lack of sunlight the cold was settling in deep and hard.

Jerry took the last match, resolve set in his eyes. He looked at Steve. “Let’s do this.”

“Go for it, man,” Steve said.

Jerry struck the match. Both men watched, their lives hanging in the balance, as it flamed…flickered…then caught.

They quickly built a roaring fire. There was hope for them yet.

 

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The Stink Of The Diesel

This 75 word story was posted 7-31-19 by Richard on Paragraph Planet

The stink of the diesel idling outside their apartment agitated the old man. His caregiver opened a vial of patchouli oil and wafted it under his nose. Instantly he calmed. A smile formed as he remembered the sixties, a tie-dyed hippie in love with life and a flower child named Sunshine. Who became his wife. And caregiver. She joined him on his lap and took a whiff, hugging him and mellowing out, grooving once again.

Too Many Masks

Bam! Bam!! Bam!!! “Open up, it’s the police.”

Oh, shit, thought, Bryan, what have I done now? He got out of bed, stumbled over a shoe and fell to the floor. Shit. He got up cursing his fall and, while he was at it, his hangover. “I’m on my way. Hold on.”

“Hurry¬† up,” came the voice outside his apartment. Impatient was putting it mildly. The guy sounded mad and pissed off. “We need to talk. Now.”

As Bryan crossed the living room he tried to piece together last night. It only was coming back in fragments. Oh, yeah, the Halloween party. The last party in a long line of parties he’d attended wearing a mask.

Wearing masks. Once he’d gotten in the habit of doing it, it really wasn’t really all that weird, wearing, say, a Tricky Dick Nixon mask to a party. His friends even thought it was pretty cool, saying, “Man, you are some strange dude, you and your masks. The next party is in two weeks. Will you be there?”

The crowd he hung out with liked weirdness so he was happy to oblige. “Absolutely,” he told them. “No problem.” It was nice to be well thought of. Besides, it was a perfect opportunity to hide. Put on a mask and be someone different. What was not to like?

For one whole year he’d done that, worn masks to parties, and by now had accumulated quite a drawer full of them: a ghoul, Yoda, Frankenstein, Elvis, a unicorn, Tricky Dick Nixon, even a parrot. It had been fun hiding behind whatever mask he’d chosen to wear, acting out and being crazy. But it all had came to a head last night.

He’d gone to a friend’s Halloween party wearing a mummy mask he’d bought a local novelty store and wrapped in strips of a sheet, which he thought had added a nice touch. Once at the party everyone thought he looked great. Even that lady he’d met, Batgirl. Then they’d started drinking, the two of them, and partying hard. Then this, the aftermath. He couldn’t even remember how he’d gotten home, or, for that matter, where his strips of sheet had ended up.

If it had been a nightmare or even a bad dream, that would have been one thing, but it wasn’t, it was real, and that made it even worse. He’d awoken in the early dawn, dragged himself from bed and made his way shaking to the bathroom where he’d fallen to his knees and thrown up into the toilet, flushed it and threw up again. Nice way to start the day, he’d thought grimly. What a credit to the human race you are.

Then he’d made his way to the sink where he splashed water on his face. His mouth felt drier than the desert, his swollen tongue stuck to its roof. He took a gulp of water, swirling it around but it barely helped. He swallowed and fought back a dry heave. Then he dared himself to look at the mirror, horrified at what he saw – puffed up face, dark bags under bloodshot eyes, hair a mess. Himself a mess. One more night of drinking. One more day looming ahead hung-over and wasted. He couldn’t go on like this. He had to clean up his act. He had to quit pretending and hiding behind a mask and face himself for what he really was – a poor excuse for a human being.

More pounding brought him back to reality. Bam! Bam!! Bam!! What was this all about?

He finally got to the door and opened it, hanging on the frame for balance. “What’s up?”

A large policeman with a handlebar moustache stood in the door way, frowning, “We understand you were with a girl last night. We need to talk. She’s missing.”

Holy shit. He stepped back. “Sure,” he said, voice shaking. “Come on in.”

The cop was just stepping inside when he received a phone call. He listened for a moment, then said, “Okay. I’m on my way.” He turned to Bryan and said, “We don’t need you. She’s been found. She was at a girlfriend’s.”

He looked hard at Bryan, then took a quick look at his apartment: dirty clothes on the floor, crusted dishes scattered everywhere, a faint aroma of vomit in the air. He shook his head sadly and said, “A word of advice? You better clean up your act, buddy.”

Bryan closed the door and looked back into his disaster of an apartment. The one bright spot was the framed picture of his parents he kept on his desk. It had been taken at his twenty first birthday almost two years ago, just before they’d been killed by a drunk driver on a busy stretch of highway on a local interstate. He owed them better than this.

He noticed his mummy mask on the floor and picked it up. Then he went to his desk¬† took a pair of scissors from the drawer and methodically cut the mask to shreds. It felt good to destroy it. He had to get his act together and this was the only way he could think of to begin. A plan developed. He reached in the drawer for another mask and started cutting. He’d destroy them all. Then he’d figure out a way to live without them. Hopefully his friends would understand, but if they didn’t, too bad. This was something he had to do. It wasn’t much but it was a beginning. He felt better already.

Perfectly Harmless

This story was posted on CafeLit on July 23.

Harmless. That’s what the punk kid thought the old man was, sitting at a table by himself in the strip mall coffee shop. Perfectly harmless. He quickly slipped behind the counter and slid the edge of the razor sharp stiletto against the young clerk’s neck, whispering, “Keep calm, honey, and I won’t cut you.” He smiled as he watched a tear form in the young girl’s eye. This robbery will be a piece of cake, he was thinking. No problem at all.

Just then, all hell broke loose.

The old man noticed what was going on and it made him mad. He angrily got to his feet and started yelling and waving his arms, causing such a distracting scene that the cashier was able to press a button under the counter which notified security. In the few moments it took for them to arrive, she stomped down heavily on the punk’s toe with the heavy heal of her boot and he screamed in pain. While all that was happening, the old man slowly but steadily made his way to the counter and began smacking the punk across the top of the head with his cane. It might have been comical if the young clerk hadn’t inadvertently been cut by the robber’s knife and was bleeding.

Two beefy guys from security showed up, quickly subdued the punk and held him until the police arrived. A nurse browsing in the nearby bookstore administered to the young clerk pronouncing that she’d be just fine, it was just a slight nick.

That left the old man, an octogenarian named Jack, who received a hearty thank you from the building manager, offering, “We could get you on the evening news if you’d like, Jack. Your fifteen minutes of fame? I could fix it up with the local station.” He put his arm around the old man’s skinny shoulder and sat him down.”What do you think? You want to be famous?”

Jack didn’t have to think. He shook his head to the negative, and said, “Why make a big deal out of it, young man? Most of the people I know would have done the same thing.”

The manager laughed to himself. Yeah, right. A bunch of old people? I sincerely doubt it. But to Jack he said, “Suit yourself. How about a free cup of coffee?”

“You’re on for the coffee,” Jack said rising to his feet, looking at his wrist watch. “But I’ll have to take it to go if you don’t mind. I have a bus to catch.

After he got his coffee Jack picked up his cane and made his way to the door, waving good bye to the building manager, the clerk, the nurse and the two security guards. He was feeling good, better than he had in a long time. He couldn’t wait to get back to the Long Lake Retirement Home where he lived. Tonight was their self-defense class and he didn’t want to be late. Boy did he have a story for them.

Big Air

My nephew and I had always been close, but when he called instead of texting and asked me to meet him at his home, I knew something was up.

I drove to where Josh and his partner lived, high in the foothills, a few miles from me. He answered the door with a smile and a “How you doing, Kenny?”

I told him I was fine, but quickly cut to the chase, “What’s going on? You doing okay?”

For the last six months he’d been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. It was in remission, but still, you never knew.

“I’m good, I just want to talk to you about something.” He motioned me inside. “And no,” he added with a grin, “it’s not cancer related. The treatments are working just fine.” We walked through the welcome coolness of his stucco home to his shaded back patio. “Have a seat.”

I was getting antsy, but did as I was told.

He looked past me down the long sloping hill toward Lake Havasu, five miles away. The fresh, clean desert air seemed to invigorate him. “I’ve got a big favor.”

“What’s up?”

“Funny you should put it that way,” he laughed. “I want to go on a hot air balloon ride for my fortieth birthday. I want you to come with me.”

I gulped. Jesus, that wasn’t fair. I loved Josh with all my heart, but I have to be clear: I was deathly afraid of heights. I paid a guy to climb a ladder to clean debris off my one-story roof, for Pete’s sake. Elevators at the mall made me queasy. Ride in a car in the mountains? No way. But this was my nephew asking, a man I’d helped my sister raise ever since his father died when Josh was five. My wife and I never had any kids, and I looked at him as my own son. Fear of heights or not, it didn’t take but a blink of an eye to decide to go. Besides, it’s not every day you get to face your biggest fear, especially, with someone who’s dying. The way I looked at it, it’d be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Turns out I was almost right.

“I’d love to go,” I told him. “I only have one question.”

“What’s that?”

“Do they provide air sickness bags.”

“Funny.”

It was good to hear my nephew laugh. Six months ago the doctors had told him he had between six months and six years to live. Josh was a fighter and definitely had his sights set on the six year option, if not longer.

Three weeks later, at dawn on Josh’s fortieth birthday, I pulled my jeep into the tiny parking lot for Big Air Balloon Rides, located at an abandoned air field on a spit of land that jutted out into Lake Havasu, a half mile wide stretch of the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and California.

We got out and headed for the rainbow colored balloon tethered a hundred feet away near a dented Winnebago that I assumed was the office, if not also the home, of Galen Pickle, the owner of the company.

Galen was checking out the basket but stopped and walked over extending a callused hand. “Hi Josh. This must be Kenny. Welcome,” he said, shaking our hands. Then he spent more than a few moments looking me over. Josh was tall and lean and, in spite of his cancer, still remarkably fit. He worked for Desert Adventures, a company that led outdoor excursions around the Lake Havasu area, primarily hiking, camping and kayaking. Me? Well, think the opposite of my nephew and you’d get a pretty good picture. I was short and stocky, a little doughy to be honest, and retired after teaching geography at Lake Havasu High School. I though Galen was being kind when he said to me, “You look like you’ll be able to handle this just fine.”

Josh grinned and gave me a high five, “See, Uncle. This’ll be great.”

Thirty minutes later we lifted off and were soon soaring high above the southwest desert. Did I mention I was afraid of heights? Well, for some reason that morning the fear disappeared. I was having the time of my life watching the desert landscape unfold beneath me with ragged hills stretching to the horizon set against a fiery orange sunrise. It was a thrill I’d never anticipated. I’m sure having Josh with me helped. But then…

Then Josh said, “Here, Kenny, help me put this on.” I looked. He was holding a parachute and a harness. He grinned, “We’re jumping together.”

That’s right, jumping . Together. Seems Josh had a little joke up his sleeve to play on his old uncle. He’d been taking skydiving lessons for a year. Who knew? One minute I was enjoying a mellow morning sunrise, silently congratulating myself on conquering my fear of heights, the next minute I was air born, strapped to my nephew’s chest, silently screaming.

Just kidding. Once I got past the fear of losing my stomach, I have to say, jumping out of that hot air balloon was the most exhilarating adventure of my life. We went out at six thousand feet and opened at four thousand. It was a five second drop of unrelenting terror followed by twenty minutes of magical floating that I never wanted to end. The whole experience was fantastic beyond words.

We landed a mile from where we’d lifted off.

“What do you think?” Josh grinned at me after he’d wrapped the chute up.

It took a minute to get my thoughts in order, not to mention my equilibrium. Finally, I grabbed him in a tight bear hug. “I loved it.”

“Want to go again?”

“Anytime.”

That was ten years ago. Since then, we’ve jumped every year on Josh’s birthday. A once in a lifetime experience every year for the last ten years. In spite of his cancer.

Texas Fried Blues

This is one of two micro fiction stories of mine published in issue #3 of A Million Ways in June, 2019.

It was Rick at the door. Two am. “Hi Jessie. I made this for you.”

Texas Fried Blues the label read. “Hey, man, I appreciate it. Thanks.”

“It’s got some kick-ass stuff. I think you’ll like it.”

Rick was a war vet. He couldn’t sleep most nights so he made mixed tapes and gave them to his friends.

“I’ll play it this weekend.”

He grimaced. “Really? How about now?”

I looked at him, tall and thin and burned out. Haunted eyes sunk deep in their sockets. Stale sweat emanating.

“Good idea.” I led him to the couch.”Let’s have a listen.”

Note: If you like this story, check out A Million Ways at: http://www.amwmagazine.com. All three of their beautiful magazines are for sale. Buy one! Or all three!! You won’t be disappointed.