Worlds Apart, by W. Alexander

W. Alexander

I wrote this story in February, 2021. I consider it one of my best pieces, artistically. I talk a lot about writing, and I want to share my own short story. Here, is an example of my passion for fiction. Share with me what you think.

This story is my intellectual property, and I provide no provisions for anyone to copy or download my data.

Worlds Apart

By W. Alexander Dunford

The long, thin esplanade snakes between the brackish waters of the Charles and the city—Boston. Here, under a dogwood tree, Chris wrestled back and forth with his future. The late morning sun transformed these muddy waters into polished glass.

            The parkgoers beetled away, jogging and walking, stretching and splashing with the occasional laugh. Next to Chris, two dozen college students executed in solidarity a yoga class as couples passed with hands held, and others went about engaged in lively conversation.

            Chris noted an exception to all the commotion: an elderly man feeding a flock of geese. The old man laughed as he spread breadcrumbs in all directions over their honks, delighting in their greedy squabbles over his generosity. One bird chased a crumb to where a girl was posed upside-down, and inches from her mat, it hissed. The old man chortled when the girl screamed and chased away the goose by hitting it with her blue tin water bottle.

            It seemed months since Chris, too, laughed so hard. Today was a sunny Sunday morning and two white clouds snailed high above the skyline where a plane towed a banner advertising tickets for the Federal Theatre. Chris, for once, had nowhere to go and nothing he had to do this morning. Tomorrow, everything would change, and he may never see these waters again, or hear the city buzz behind him; he would begin his new life in Wyoming. It was God’s Will; the church declared this, but he doubted it. Watching the old man incite the geese, for a moment, gave him respite from the pain of losing his city, his identity, his normal. He closed his eyes, sat up straight, and let the sun touch his face. He began to pray. If only I could hear your thoughts, Lord.

            Chris remained unmoved until something nipped his heel; he was alarmed to find several geese had, in fact, swarmed him—honking and hissing, prodding and squabbling, while he heard the old man laugh.

            “All right, all right, leave the man alone,” the old man said and waved off the geese. He placed his bag of breadcrumbs in his coat pocket and joined Chris on the bench.

            Chris shrugged his shoulders and willed his gaze on the river. His jaw was tight, his face flushed. He wanted to think; he needed to relay over and over how he got to this place. But no matter how hard he traced, he could not figure out why he felt punished. He wanted to be left alone.

            “Sorry about your coffee, young man.”

            Chris looked down and discovered his latte spattered over his shoes. He sighed and glanced between the old man and the geese that watched them both from a close distance. The old man offered him a napkin. Chris flung the napkin over his shoulder, stood up, looked around, and focused on each breath. He was in no mood to be grateful, so he started to walk off. When he stepped onto the esplanade’s path, a squadron of agitated geese confronted him. His face turned pale, and he slowly stepped backward before he bumped against the bench.

            “You’ll want to sit awhile longer,” the old man said. “Those birds won’t bother me, but they will make a sport out of you.”

            “Make them move.”

            The old man shook his head, “I’m not going to do that.”

            Chris turned to the old man; his mouth opened. He squeezed his fists and inhaled a deep breath. Lord, please don’t let me hurt this old man.

            “Now, that’s no way to pray.”

            “Do I know you?” Chris asked scratching his head.

            “You do most days, but I’m here all the same.”

            Chris would have walked away that instant if it were not for the, now, encirclement of waterfowl that restrained him. He glanced back-and-forth between the geese and the old man. He marveled how this man marshaled these birds; how they halted their honking and hissing and remained standing and guarding like sentries.

            “Sit,” the old man said.

            He wanted to go as far as his legs could carry him. The old man made a clicking sound, and the circle tightened. Chris obeyed. The old man smiled, pulled a pipe out of his jacket, and sparked a match; the smoke smelled citrusy and sweet. Chris’s body relaxed as the smoke filled his lungs: his stress, his fear, his anger all vanished. The troop of geese fluttered in formation and disappeared behind the trees.

            “It’s frankincense,” the old man said.

            “Who are you?”

            The old man dragged on his pipe, producing a glowing ember, and inhaled more smoke; he smacked his lips, smiled, and still holding the pipe between his teeth, he wiped the ash from his fingertips. The smell reminded Chris of Mass, and his delight when this scent filled the parish: children’s noses crinkled, eyes watered, and all the faithful kneeled. Then he remembered that this morning’s 7am Mass was his last. He had announced his reassignment as tears cascaded down his and the congregation’s cheeks. He had spent ten years serving and leading, teaching and learning, and he winced at the thought of restarting.

            “I am here to help.”

            “I don’t need any help.”

            “You did wish to hear my thoughts about Wyoming, did you not?”

            Chris felt like a statue; he found it impossible to speak. He ran his hands through his hair. I’m crazy, he thought. Wake up, wake up, wake up. But every time he opened his eyes, he found the old man smoking and smiling, as if reading and listening to his thoughts.

            “This is no dream.”

            “But that would make you God,” Chris said.

            “Nothing gets past you,” replied the old man.

            He noted to himself to later look into medication. The God of Abraham doesn’t just show up in Boston. The old man laughed again, delighted with himself. This is some kind of joke, Lord. Help.

            “What do you want?”

            “I already told you. To help you.”

            Chris resigned himself to playing this through and composed himself. He peeled his gaze from the old man’s face—blotted by blemishes, moles, and yellow teeth—and turned toward the river. Chris spotted a fleet of sailboats pilot the current, racing toward the ocean. Laughter and joyful shouts carried over the water. Scents of gasoline, saltwater and frankincense hung in the air.

            “Okay, why do I have to leave?” Chris asked. “If you’re God, help me understand why I have to leave a life that makes me happy.”

            “I am! And I don’t consider your happiness when I call. You are needed, and you are able, therefore you must go.”

            Chris let these words sink to the dark depths of his heart. He knew them to be true, but as he closed his eyes images of his friends, his congregation, and his accomplishments permeated his thoughts. How was he any better than the martyrs of yesteryear? They gave up everything. I’m afraid I will fail there, and I will hate it, he thought.

            “Worrying over the future costs real people the help they need today. My plan is mine alone, and Wyoming is where I want you,” the old man said, and inhaled another drag of his pipe.

            “Why?”

            “Because when you trust me to send you there, others will trust me to invite them to paradise. And besides,” he chuckled. “I said so.”

            The sun beat down on Chris as he mulled over the old man’s words. When he opened his eyes, he saw the old man had vanished; and above the trees, he watched the troop of geese fly east toward the risen sun. He exhaled. Amen.

This story is my intellectual property, and I provide no provisions for anyone to copy or download my data.

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