Short Story Excerpts
From The Players:
And so Ericssen became hopelessly lost in the forest. It was stupid, and he knew it, and he spent the latter part of the dying day cursing himself and wandering among the deep leaves beneath the trees. The sky faded from bright blue to orange and purple and then to impenetrable black. Ericssen admitted defeat, threw himself down with his back against a fallen tree, and drew his jacket tight.
He jerked awake, up from where he had slumped, groggy and panicked all at once. Then he remembered. Stupid, he’d been stupid to get lost . . . but, but what was that noise?
Ericssen shifted among the noisy complaints of the dead leaves. A voice? Yes, a voice out here in the sightless night in the forest. Two voices, many voices. A scrape, bang rattle. Noises in the dark never seem to be what they really are. Trolls coming to take him away, he thought, faeries seeking his soul, terrible things that see him through the dark.
But these voices, they were of men, and there was wood smoke on the air and a smell of dinner cooking. He peered over the log at a distant, orangish-red firelight, a campfire light, a camp of men. His stomach turned, twisting and insistently complaining, but Ericssen hung back hidden behind the fallen tree. He truly believed in trolls and faeries, witches and other terrible things that waylaid youths lost in the deep woods.
Still, his stomach roared at the mere thought of food, and he crept closer toward the fire until he had to wriggle on his elbows through the undergrowth. He peeped at a camp of wagons pulled into a rough circle about a large fire of logs. Shadows and silhouettes of men moved inside the ring of wagons. Ericssen felt invisible.
“What’s this then?”
He started and scrabbled backwards, away from a looming shadow, until he got himself tangled tight in the branches of the bush.
The great, black shadow laughed at him. “Come look, friends, come see here we have a skulk lurking in the dark, a sneak, a spy, a voyeur!”
Others ran up then, shadows all of them, quavering with the bright, reddish-orange light behind them.
“Huh-ha!” one laughed.
“Bah, just a boy,” another snorted and turned away.
“Come, come,” and the first shadow held out a hand into the bush; in a moment Ericssen knew that he spoke to him. “Well, come on boy, take the hand,” he said with a booming laugh, “you’re welcome at our fire.” The shadow swept off a huge hat, all brim and plumes, with his other hand, and the way he turned the glow from the camp fell across half of the face of a man. Likely not a troll, Ericssen decided.
Ericssen took the hand and was pulled into the air onto his feet. Soon he was seated on a log ring before the fire looking around in astonishment at the half dozen other faces in the light. To his left the shadow sat and became a great man, a little portly, a little elderly, with an energetic smile and appraising eyes.
From Do You Believe In Heaven:
The crazy man accosted me outside the Save-More Supermarket, a paper bag of groceries precarious on two more bags cradled in my arms. He asked one of those simple, profound questions.
“Do you believe in heaven?”
He stank. Spoiled beer, urine, and rank sweat. The man wore grey jogging pants, filthier than I could ever have imagined, and an old army field jacket. The patch over his heart said ‘Adams’. The United States flag clung onto the sleeve by only a few threads. He stared at me.
I skirted him, and his question, as well as I could. Step sideways, smile stupidly, mumble something like “I really wouldn’t know.” But his attention had already shifted to a woman and her daughter walking down the street.
“Do you believe in heaven?”
The heels of Junior League sensible pumps chattered as the woman and girl hurried along, eyes averted. They didn’t answer. The crazy man was busy scanning for the next passer-by.
I turned the opposite way, toward my apartment, and walked away. Just as I reached the corner I heard the man pose his question again, and I looked around, curious. At this distance I could barely hear him. He didn’t rant or shout, or mumble obscenities. He just asked, simply, politely pleading. The person he’d asked pushed past him into the store. The man checked up and down the sidewalk for anyone else nearby, and when he saw no one else nearby he shuffled over to a rusted bicycle with flat tires leaning against the brick wall. The bike had a bunch of plastic grocery bags in the basket, tied to the seat, looped over the handlebars and the frame. The bags were stuffed, I thought, with this guys life. How sad. He took the handlebars and walked the bike slowly away in the opposite direction. I headed for home.
That night the man came back to me, repeatedly. Something about him stood out. Not just his question, that was not so unusual seeming to me. I had the idea that lots of the homeless were disturbingly religious. It was how he asked, how his eyes focused for a moment on the face of whoever he’d asked, his attention concentrated on that instant. He needed to know. He needed the answer.