Christian Short Stories





Web writes: "I'm a retired newspaper reporter who often tells stories pf his past to liven new Christians."


A Dismal End
By Web Ruble

Sobbing, crying,  shaking, snorting, eyes full of tears, nose running, and staggering,  Jeffrey Arcadia was erratically stumbling down Fremont Street.  He had a football helmet and blue football practice jersey under his arm.

This was the worst, he thought. Unbelievably cruel.

How could this happen?  How could all of these terrible elements converge on him at once? But it really didn't matter.  Josh  – whom he loved beyond all measure –  was dead.  And nobody seemed to care.  After all, Josh at 13 hadn't been important in the eyes of his junior high school friends and coaches.  Not even his mother.

Huh? What the…?

Although Jeff realized he wasn't thinking clearly, suicide appeared the only option.

Fremont Street cut through the upper middle class neighborhood that he had worked so hard to land in. He had worked extra-long, hard hours, mainly for his family. He had firmly believed that a sleazy neighborhood would do nothing to advance the family. And a sleazy neighborhood is where he and Josh and Caroline had been, up until several months ago.
    
On the spur of the moment, he had agreed to let Caroline have the $320,000, three-bathroom, three bedroom house. But at this juncture that didn't matter either.  Josh was dead.  Josh's father, Jeffrey Arcadia, believed he had nothing more to live for.

In a rare moment of clarity, he tried to figure how he got himself in this disastrous situation.

It wasn't the army, or his years overseas, although that time wasn't the best either.  It wasn't his foreign wife, Caroline.  Or at least he didn't think so, even though she left a lot to be desired.  It wasn't his two years at the university.  It was just his #$%^&* fate. He no longer had his lucrative job selling electrical components, as a marketing specialist for Kruegeritz Corp. 

Jeff had to think back at least three years.  He had had problems getting along with his boss, Alfred Tondo, and the company owner Telly Kruegeritz. They had seemed to be in a conspiracy to get rid of Jeff.  After several showdown teta-a-teta conferences with Tondo and then Kruegeritz, he saw them huddle with grins and conspiratorial chit chat – no doubt about him. The main complaint, Jeff had been able to divine later, had been Jeff's honesty and openness.  Moreover, he thought he had overheard them say something negative about his personality.

They simply didn't like him. That much was clear.

They seemed more interested in power than in selling electrical motors, generators and other components,

That's maybe all well and good, he thought.  But this...  this was cruel and unusual beyond all measure.
    
He remembered putting in the extra hours – to Caroline's halfhearted dismay –  to try to get a leg up on the situation at work. He had almost ignored her and Josh for several months by spending little time at home. He thought it more important to spend the time, trying to solve the situation at work.  What he hadn't understood, however, was the latter had been a losing proposition. It wasn't going to work out.  A fatal enterprise.

That is, he lost his job anyway, and without much justification. At least that's the way he looked at the recent past. They accused him of mistakes, which resulted, of course, in what would be considered as more mistakes.

What a deal!
  
The reason he had worked so hard at maintaining his job was that the good life had always eluded him. (In high school he had lived in a macho neighborhood, and life was miserable.)  In college Jeff Arcadia had played football (barely making the squad), and basketball (he was but 5-foot, 8-inches tall and even though he was diligent and a hustler, the coaches had let him go because he wasn't really tall enough).  Moreover, he had been slow maturing. Though, Jeff had been upbeat and a hard worker, he nevertheless also had a hard time getting employed.

  Money had come by him hard.  But he had always been hopeful.  And Jeff DID have a job in a furniture factory for a while where he did earn a slightly more than a minimum wage.
What had galled him a little bit, however, was that people who were born of gilded opportunity or of impressive size, and who hadn't bothered to hone their skills, always seemed to be in line ahead of him when it came to pay raises.  Bull crap!  In other words Jeff's hustle, hard-work ethic, and attitude didn't seem to make any difference.  What oh what was wrong?

He didn't have a clue until one day a few months ago when he had coffee with a friend.  Jimmy Corbin told Jeff he was trying too hard, and that it led others to abuse him or take him for granted. 

Huh?

Jeff actually had thought it was some shortcoming he had at work, or maybe a personality defect.  It might have been, but not the kind of defect Jeff expected to hear about.

Then a few months ago, he was fired. One day – he thinks it was a Tuesday – Kruegeritz  just waltzed into his office, and told him he was through. Jeff was in second place on the 5-person sales staff, in terms of sales. Not only that, but Kruegeritz told Jeff that he didn't fit the corporate image and wanted Jeff out of there by noon.

Outrageous!

Jeff sat down a few minutes, and then got up and started to load his belongings.  He went home and got some cardboard cartons; returned, and began putting more of his stuff in them. Noon came before he was finished, and Alfred Tondo came by.

“You were supposed to be out of here by now,”  Alfred said.  

“Get screwed,” Jeff said. “I'll be out of here soon enough, and if you insist upon trying to be tough guy about it, forget it. I'll throw YOU out.  I'll be done when I be done.  Now buzz off, before I clean your clock.”

Alfred just stood there, staring at him. Finally he said, “Just be sure you're out of here by 2 o'clock,” as he turned on his heel, starting to leave.  Before he got more than 2-3 steps, Jeff said, “And if I'm not, what are you going to do about it?”

Tondo said something about Bruno, the security guard on the loading dock.

“Yeah, he's a real tiger. Go ahead, and ask him if he wants to live… jerk.”

"Don't let the door hit you in the posterior on the way out,” Alfred said.

“Yeah, well… I've got a cushy tush.”
  
Within about 10 minutes of that, Jeff departed.  He didn't drop in to say goodbye to Kruegeritz or anything else; he went straight out the main door, and never returned.

He was furious. When he got home, which was a few blocks away, he went into the side parlor, told his wife Caroline about it.  Not seeming particularly disturbed, she did, however, try to ask a couple of questions, but Jeff just left the room growling and said nothing. He went to the refrigerator in the  kitchen, cracked open a beer and sat down to ponder his predicament.

There was no question about it. 'Twas a pure travesty. What would he do now?  Look for another job, of course. But where, how, and how soon?

Sitting there for a while, an airy feeling came over him.  It was a calm feeling of relief, sort of: There is no way he could have saved that job and made progress up the corporate escalator.  In a way, he was sort of glad it was over.

Moreover, this would give him the opportunity to spend some time with Josh… take an interest in his classwork, his home projects, his class play, and his football, and maybe even his social life.

After all, the last few months probably had not been very pleasant for Josh, either.

Josh came home from Clearwater School, and had a hanged-dog look on his face.  Jeff asked him what the trouble was.  Josh wouldn't even talk to him.  And Jeff never got the chance to tell him what had happened to him. 

Still that was acceptable.  After all, he hadn't talked to Josh much lately. It did kind of bother him, though. Something was very wrong in Josh's life, and he needed to help.

About this time, Ralph the plumber came into the kitchen.  Jeff said, “what the &^** do you want?”

Ralph looked a little surprised, and stammered, “Oh, uh…  sorry.”

The next day, Jeff decided to get to the football athletic field at 3:30 p.m. when 
football practice got under way.  The two weeks of daily doubles for Josh and his junior high school teammates had been over this week and now the team was preparing for its season opener against neighboring Chelatchie, the red-and-black demons of the upper valley.

Jeff showed at the field.  Josh at first didn't notice him. Then he ignored him. Jeff spotted Coach Charlie Dunlap; and went over to him.  The two shook hands and began talking.

Jeff offered to help at practice, saying that he had had a modicum of football experience on defense. Dunlap suggested that Jeff might be of some assistance while prowling the sidelines, but told him he would not be allowed at chalk talk sessions, nor in the dressing room, and he said that no way was Jeff to talk to referees.  Other than that, Dunlap said the door of opportunity was wide open and that he could use some help.

Jeff took it well.  Then the conversation drifted to Josh and his prospects.  Dunlap said he didn't hold out much hope for Josh.

Dunlap said that he and his assistants had no firm plans for Josh, and that he certainly wasn't a star.  Dunlap said he didn't plan on playing Josh much.  Josh simply was too small, ran like grandma grunt, and couldn't catch a thrown ball worth a tinker's toot.  Kicking?  Forget it. 

The coach, however, did say that Josh was a sort of morale factor, and had wondered what made him so upbeat and diligent. Dunlap thought him (Josh) a better candidate to be captain of the school chemistry team, or the leader in some science project.  Or maybe in the school library.  Certainly not on the football field.

Jeff didn't like what he heard, but vowed he would help, if he could,.  He noticed that Josh would sit on the bench, staring at the ground like a condemned guerrilla at grave's mouth. For routine practices, Josh would be the first one on the field, and the last one or one of the last to leave.  And when the boys lined up to choose sides for game-like scrimmage, Josh was always the last, or one of the last, chosen.

Several practices came and went.  Chelatchie, a smaller school, had waxed them 45-6.  Nevertheless, the coaches did not feel it would be helpful to change the lineup. 

In practice Josh sat glued to the bench most of the time.  He wouldn't even look at or talk to his dad. Once in a while Dunlap or one of his assistants or teammates would call him.  Josh's eyes would light up.  He would break into a grin and trot out onto the field with apparent eagerness.

This bothered Jeff a little.  But he could not fault the eagerness.

Several weeks later, Josh and fellow Panthers were preparing to meet the Great Hills 
Giants, the league's usual powerhouse.

Practices were not going well.  Dunlap and assistants decided the fulcrum of the team's woes was lack of defense. Dunlap's players simply were not tackling well.  They'd grab a runner, but not wrap him up. The runner – often a second unit back – would then advance another 5-6 yards before tumbling to the turf.  In most games this would mean a first down.

In games, the other team would scramble a few more first downs, and end up in the Panthers' end zone. The tallies mounted up.  They meant another loss.  Dismay.  Agony for the coaches.

One of 'em with self-effacing, sardonic humor quipped, “Hey! We're still undefeated… We haven't defeated anybody.”

Dunlap, feeling a little more than chagrined, decided to come up with a shift to turn things around. One of his determinations was to hold long practices, each more brutalizing than the one before. He'd write on the game blackboard, “Ice Cream Tonight.”  In other words, an afternoon/night of long, hard, probably bruising scrimmages. “We're gonna stay here all night until we get it right,” Dunlap would say.

Once in a while, one of the assistants would say, “Naw…  let' em give it up for tonight... nothing good is  coming of this.  They need a rest… a chance to heal.”  

One day in late October, Dunlap was completely exasperated with his team's defense. He went to the bench and said, “Is there anyone here who can tackle?  See that guy, Louie, he's second unit, and he's running through our first side almost unmolested most of the time. Is there anyone here who can stop him?”

At first everyone was quiet.  Then a high-pitched voice came from the bench end, “I can… let me at 'em.”  It was Josh, 5-foot-4 and 135 pounds of aggressive, hopeful gridder.  The coach lit up.  He turned to his assistants.  And someone  –  perhaps it was Harry Stenkamp – said, “What the heck… give 'im a chance.  Let's see what he can do.”

Jeff, who was at sideline as usual, grinned, but didn't know quite what to think.

Josh eagerly jumped up smiling, and ran onto the field to replace Larry Jones, who admittedly was hurting a little from a few previous hits.
  
Two plays later Dunlap called an off-tackle plunge. Josh, acting a little crazy, shed his blocker and went in and flattened Denny Dunthorpe for a one-yard loss.
  
Dunlap was pleasantly surprised. Several plays were run and two or three times the same thing happened
  
“Well, I'll be… “, said Dunlap.  “Someone who can tackle.  Come Friday night, we certainly can use him.  He'll see some action!” 

The week progressed without much more happening. Normally, junior highs played on Saturdays, but this game apparently was important enough to move to Friday night. The pre-game fever was building.  Slogans began appearing… “Bulldoze Great Hills or Suffer in the Valley,”  “Meet 'em and beat 'em,”  “Injure 'em,” and “Paint the Town Red in Great Hills' Gore.”

Fans apparently saw the chance of an upset.  Josh foresaw himself seeing some action.

And so it went until game night.

Game night.  It was at Great Hills. However, there were almost as many Panther fans, including high school players, as Giant fans.  The stands were nearly full.  Neither coach could quite figure out why.  The Panthers had won but one game, and that was a squeaker against much smaller Providence.  Great Hills, however, the league's usual powerhouse, had not been doing so well, either. As a matter of fact  –  suffering a series of disastrous injuries  – it had won but two.

Nevertheless,  both saw that night's tussle as a chance to turn things around.  Fans, family and friends sensed it.  So did the coaches and players. 

'Twas a little cool. The warm afternoon Texas sun had dwindled.  A fair wind was blowing.  But otherwise 'twas a good night for football.
  
Jeff was uneasy.  Josh was not in the starting lineup.

The ball was affixed the kicking tee and the Giants' all-timey kicker Jason Melville kicked the ball in the air  –  deep.  The Panthers took it on the 10, but were immediately swamped under. Three plays later the Panthers were out.  Facing a fourth and nine, the Panthers had to punt.

Then something happened that nobody expected.  The Panthers'  inconsistent Tory Atkinson got off a towering kick. The ball sailed over the safety man's head, and going back to retrieve the ball, the young Giant pawed it around a bit, then dropped it, and picked it up, but by that time the eager Panthers buried him. 

Fans saw it and reacted.  It was going to be a struggle for both teams.

Great Hills ran a few running plays, however, and the usual happened.  Panther defenders would not hold onto ball carriers.  And the other team would post first downs.  Exasperated, Coach Dunlap was fuming. He whirled around and spotted Josh on the bench.

He motioned to the lad, who lit up like a searchlight, and came running, eager to play.  Dunlap had a
brief chat with him, and sent him in. He said, “Lord help us… go in and see what you can do.”

The Giants made note of Josh's size, and elected to run its fullback right at Josh.  The most unusual act happened… Josh, like a maniac, pushed off from his blocker, and blew into the Giants' fullback, knocking him for a two-yard loss.  Fans cheered.  Dunlap was beside himself with joy.  So was Jeff.

Billy Foxfender, the other team's coach, couldn't believe it.  Figuring Josh's stunt was a fluke, he ordered the same play again.  Same result. Josh appeared a madman, pole axing his blocker and much-larger fullback.  Huh?

Soon it was the quarter's end and time out.  The Giants regrouped; redoubled efforts, and early in the second quarter, began double-teaming Josh. It worked. On the second play, the double-teamers blew Josh out of his socks, and the ball carrier raced right over Josh, rambling another 30 yards for a touchdown. 

Utterly disgusted  –  and now behind 7-0  – Coach Dunlap jerked Josh from the game.  Josh had a hung dog look, and nearly sobbing, vowed to never let that happen again.  Other players didn't offer much encouragement.  They just stared at him.

Coach Dunlap, in subsequent plays saw his Panthers all but cave.  Now desperate and finding his Panthers behind 20-0 at halftime, reinserted Josh back into the game for the second half.

The Giants again elected to try a left end sweep. Josh ignored body pain, bloodied the nose of his blocker and crashed through to tackle the Giant carrier for another loss.  Again Dunlap was thrilled, and so was Josh's father.  Every Panther fan was whooping with joy, but wait a minute!

Josh wasn't getting up. He was still on the ground. Finally Dunlap noticed it, too, and he and a referee called time out. He sent in a substitute, and finally the team doctor.

After a few minutes, an ambulance arrived and Josh (still not moving), was rushed to the hospital.  Jeff tried to get into the ambulance, but rudely was told, “I don't care who you are… if you wanna see the boy,  go to St. Mary's.”  The game continued.  Few seemed to care.

Josh was dead-on-arrival at the hospital.  Jeff was beside himself with rage, and the hospital staff had to have him arrested.  Police didn't charge him and released him, but Jeff returned to the hospital, still outraged.

This was the final insult.  Earlier that afternoon, his wife told him she wanted a divorce and that she thought that she would be happier with Ralph the plumber.  This staggered Jeff, but he went to Josh's football game anyway. But now Josh was dead.

This was just too much.  He howled and sobbed.  Doctors tried to console him.  But Jeff was inconsolable. 

He finally staggered home.  His wife met him in the front hallway.  He told her of the tragedy that befell Josh. She cried softly, but she did not appear gut-churningly overwhelmed as Jeff did. He could see Ralph the plumber through the open door, no doubt out of earshot.  He was sitting in the other room, and half grinning.

However, under the tragic circumstances Jeff didn't much care.  His wife, Caroline, reached in the hall closet and extracted some clothing. She handed Jeff  Josh's football helmet that he had used in practice, and his practice jersey and then held the front door open for Jeff to leave.

Jeff hesitated, but eventually went out the door sobbing.

He staggered up the street –  flat out crying and shaking.  He turned right at the corner of Sycamore Street and headed east as if to Jordan… not knowing or caring where he was going or what he was doing, and still sobbing.

Fred Sorensen, one of several pastors at nearby St. Luke's, who somehow vaguely knew of Jeff's marital discord, was out watering his lawn, and watching.  He mumbled to his wife, Margaret, standing next to him, “There's no use trying to talk to him now.…maybe in a few days... I just hope… I just hope there's a balm in Gilead.”

(© 2015 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)






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