Christian Short Stories
Puff of Smoke
By David William Donner
David writes: "I am a premed student at Westmont College. I grew up on the mission field and I hope to become a missionary doctor."
It was the fourth of July, and I had snagged a sweet job selling fireworks at Uncle Darren's firework booth to help raise funds for the Walnut High School Baseball program. This job came with two helpings of awesomeness: first, I finally got to stand on the other side of the wire mesh grate and admire all of the explosive joy, and second I got paid bank. The only down side was that I had to spend most of my holiday in that little booth. Thankfully, Uncle Darren released me to our family's pool party midday so I could enjoy a couple hours with the family before returning to work for the remainder of the night.
My cousin Riley splashed and laughed in the glimmering pool, Great Aunt Cathy hounded my brother over the weight of our dog, and my sister and parents took refuge beneath the shade of an enormous umbrella at the pool's edge. I say sister, but she makes it clear that she is my "half" sister. We are about 13 years apart, and on that particular day, I felt every one of those years. We love each other deeply, but Carissa believes that Mom had treated my brother and me differently than her. Her childhood memories had become warped as she allowed bitterness to take hold in her heart, and over the last few years, that bitterness had grown to the point that I dreaded seeing her. Every time we met, she critiqued, insulted, and badgered me. Today was no exception.
"Hey Carissa!" I said trying to be jovial.
"Hey," she retorted.
"Carissa, I have a question about my knee; as the family resident physical therapist you must be able to help."
Instantly she came back with, "David, you're a runner! What do you expect when you run 60 miles a week?"
"Well you see, the pain is a bit diff."
"Do you ice?" she exclaimed wide-eyed.
"Well, no, see Carissa," but it was too late. She turned and walked away. I was filled with rage. With a motion, I silenced my phone's alarm. Time to go.
I bumped into Dad on the way out, a tinge of guacamole still in his beard, a hot dog in one hand and a coke in the other. "How'd your talk with Carissa go? Did she give you any advice about the knee?"
Unsuccessfully trying to control my anger, "Why don't you tell my sister that I hope to at least talk with her!" I took a deep breath trying to quiet the emotions. "I'll see you tonight. Love, bye," and I was off to the firework stand.
The Walnut High School firework stand stood just outside the city limits in the City of Industry because it was illegal to sell fireworks in Walnut. The stand was a claustrophobic shack filled with ridiculous multicolored packages with even more ridiculous names. Children as young as 7 and as old as 60 stood rubbing their chins and examining our merchandise like Arab traders with only a wire mesh standing between them and their desire-that's where I came in. From my wealth of experience, I helped them design the fireworks display of their dreams. I found that the only difference between the kid and the adult was the number of crisp dollars clutched in their palms.
Next to our stand was the remains of Del Taco restaurant that had burned down twice and had long since been abandoned. Apparently cars had whizzed by way too fast, failed to turn with the banking road, hopped the curb, and crashed into the Del Taco. I didn't think much of it as I organized, sold, and restocked our merchandise so well that I was put in charge of all the volunteers. I relished selling to the growing crowd which mingled on the small patch of grass between our booth and the street. A lone tree offered shade in the heat of the day. My mind whirred as I worked, pondering many things. A man stepped up to the booth. "Good afternoon, Sir! May I help you?" And following that greeting came the best sales pitch of firework history. I had memorized names, deals, stats, facts - heck, I could sell just about anything in that booth. But as I worked, I thought of Carissa; why didn't she seem to love me? Then school, and what I was to do next semester. Then friends. Then tuition and how I had to make $4,000 and I was only at $200 and -
The man standing behind my customer went down, and everyone started screaming. A drive by shooting! I had heard of them before, but I never thought that I would be in one. But then again, we were on in a pretty rough neighborhood. I leaned forward and saw the man writhing on the ground. I looked to my left, then to my right, and there it was: a car had slammed up against the fence surrounding the burned-down Dell Taco. What an idiot, he shot someone and then barreled through the bank in the road, I thought. I felt a sudden fear as I realized that a dangerous armed man was stranded among us. But then I looked again, this wasn't a drive by shooting, this was a car accident. The vehicle was going way too fast, hopped the curb, took out a bystander, and landed in the Dell Taco drive through. I looked to the man on the ground, he's dead, I thought. Where is his arm?! He's gonna bleed out. He's dead.
To my shame I didn't run out to save him. I didn't want to see it: the gore, his other arm, to see him die. Already the volunteers and the customers were running about confused and screaming. His family was screaming. Tears ran down his son's face as he ran to assault the driver that stumbled from his car in a daze. A few men had to pull the son off of the man. I emerged from the booth and walked over to the victim. What could I say? What could I do? As I approached, I realized that he had both arms attached, that he was a little banged up, but was largely untouched. A small trickle of blood ran down his foot. He lay there conscious, his eyes all that were moving now, and they locked on mine. I knelt beside him, "Sir, can you wiggle your toes?" He looked down and produced a wiggle.
"I don't wanna move," he grumbled, "don't wanna make it any worse." Miracle number one.
That car came so fast that I never saw it, and it took that man down like a weed whacker. He should have been dead, but here he was before me with mere scratches. That man should have been missing a head, an arm, and certainly his life, but he was fine. The car should have taken out the 30 customers in front of the booth, but it only hit one.
I found his family, the son's tight curls contrasting with his father's loose curls. The mother was still crying out and the son's cheeks were stained with tears. "I will be praying for him," I told him; he nodded. As they loaded the man into the ambulance, I told the mother, "We will be praying for him."
"Thank you," she said.
I made my way back to the booth and stood where I had been when it all happened; ignoring the parents arguing with my uncle, the police questioning the driver clearly under the influence of something. I saw the car, the place where the man had been lying, the street. Something didn't make sense. I checked for traffic, then stepped into the street observing where the car hopped the curb. I put out a hand before me to guide my eyes. Miracle number two. The car had hopped the curb, gone air born, and was headed directly for my exact position in the booth, but in the way stood a tree with a menacing fresh gash upon its trunk. The car had hit the tree, ricocheted at an angle, hit only one of the people in the large crowd, tore through part of the lawn, and landed in the Dell Taco drive through. Had that tree not been there, I would have had "FORD" permanently emblazoned on my forehead. The car would have killed me and everyone else in its way, crashed into our booth, exploded all of the fireworks, and killed every volunteer inside. I guess it wasn't the first time God put a tree between us and death.
Uncle Darren continued arguing with the booster parents. They believed that this was a one-time thing and that we should keep selling fireworks for the good of the Walnut High School baseball team. He countered that this was the third time a car had come careening this way, that two Dell Tacos had burned down, a man had almost lost his life, and we should shut down the whole operation. As I approached, he turned to me and pointed with authority, "Go home." I left immediately and was handed my $200 pay as I left. I opened the door of Mom's old Volvo and sat down. I closed the door and just sat there. I should have died but was spared by the grace of God. All of my cares, worries, dreams, all of them melted away. None of my grades mattered, none of my times in track mattered, even those I love didn't really matter, for I could take none of them with me before the God of the universe, the Lord of Lords. Nothing I had ever done mattered or even came to mind except what I had done for Him. I sat there shaken for a while. I was spared an end. I was saved. I prayed to God, giving Him everything and dedicating my life to Him.
When I got home, I explained to my parents the whole ordeal. I was shaken; not afraid, not sad, just shaken. I sat on my bed for a while thinking. Then my phone rang. Woken from my trance, I answered. Miracle number three. It was Carissa.
(© 2012 David William Donner – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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