Short Stories by Lisa (TJ) Hapney

Hi. This is just a sampling of some of my writing. I indie published my first book, A Lack of Civility. It was originally written almost 20 years ago. So now I’m a little older and I’m writing more and about some different things. I am currently working on a science fiction book as my real life permits, which is just another way of saying I am slow.–Thanks, Lisa (TJ)

The Ferry

by Lisa (TJ) Hapney

Kara turned onto Route 16, leaving Terswood. The old place had changed over the years, losing its small town flavor. She looked over at the vacant General Store, its paint peeling and awning askew. It had been there her whole life, up until two years ago. The store had been replaced by the new mini mall at the heart of town. Kara slowed for a familiar dip in the road, and then gunned the engine, dropping into fourth gear.
Bad Company came on the oldies station and she began tapping her fingers on the seat. Headlights shone out of the fog ahead, momentarily disorienting. She squinted to focus on the lines and pressed the gas pedal toward the floor again. A couple more miles up the road, Kara pulled into Charlie’s gas station, one of the last vestiges of small town life. There were no self-service pumps; just Charlie in his greasy blue coveralls.
“Where you off to, Kara?” he asked as he cleaned her windshield.
“I got a new job up in Walker. I was thinking about looking for a place there. It’s an awful long drive from Terswood every day.”
“Yep,” he said, wiping off his squeegee. “You might as well get out of town before the whole place goes to pot. Ever since the Aluminum Factory got taken over, there’s hardly been enough money around to keep any of us working.”
“Charlie, don’t talk like that. You’ve got the only gas station in town. I know you’re making a profit.”
“I won’t be for much longer. They’re putting one of those new fangled convenience stores in, with the gas pumps, down by the new shopping plaza. I figure I’ll just close up and move to Florida when it’s done. I’m sure old enough to retire.” He walked around to Kara’s window. “That’ll be twelve dollars.”
Kara fished in the ashtray for the last dollar and smiled. “It’s getting close to the end of the month.”
“Now, Kara, you keep that money and pay me later if you need to. You’re good for it.”
“Thanks, Charlie,” she said. “I sure appreciate it.”
“No problem, now get out of here,” he replied.
Kara turned back onto the road. How she would miss this place. All the people that she had known all her life were here. It hadn’t been the same since Chet died, but it would always be home. Up ahead, she spotted the time weathered sign for the ferry and flipped on her turn signal.
The ferryman guided her in behind a beat up Chevy pickup with primer on the side for decoration. Rick glanced in the rearview mirror and then leaned out the window. “Wonder of wonders, I didn’t think I’d ever see you on this old tub,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said.
“Hey, that’s not nice. What’s going on?”
“Not much, just out looking for a place,” Kara said, grinning.
“So you got the job in Walker, eh? Maybe I’ll follow you up there and try to find me something,” he said, winking.
“You are such a silly man. I don’t know why I ever fell in love with you,” Kara said, mischief filling her eyes.
He laughed and said, “Must be my devastating good looks and charm.”
“You have something,” she shot back. “I’m still not sure it’s charm, though.”
“I know you hate this thing,” Rick said, more seriously. “You want me to come back and keep you company?”
“You sit right there. I can’t go meet the apartment manager all askew, because of your manhandling. I’ll be perfectly fine. Besides, it saves me an hour of driving time.”
Rick turned around in his truck, back rigid and a wide grin on his face. The ferry moved away from the dock, the ferryman throwing the moorings back to dry land, lumbering out into the river. Kara laid her head back on the seat, eyes closed, sprinkling rain blowing across her face. She hit the window switch, feeling the whine of the small motor as it strained to push through the broken weather stripping inside the door. She pulled the keys from the ignition and looked at the picture she carried of her and Rick. He was such a trip, but really a good guy.
Kara woke seconds before her head struck the steering wheel. The world lurched and she slid across the seat as her car tilted and slid toward Rick’s Chevy. “Oh God,” she said, frantically searching for the door switch, wiping blood from her eyes. She pounded on the steering wheel. “Where is it?” At last her fingers located the switch. Nothing. The keys. That’s what she got for letting them rig her door locks, she thought, reaching across the seat for the keys.
The ferry lurched again as Kara’s fingers slid across her keys. She fumbled with them, feeling for the ignition, blood and matted hair blinding her. Rick’s truck slammed against the front of her car, ramming her back against the seat. Through a crimson haze, she watched Rick climb out the window of his truck.
Kara felt her car sliding, as it took on the full weight of Rick’s unrestrained truck. Rusty water splashed over the rear window. Kara jammed the keys into the ignition. “Come on, baby, just a little juice. Do it for me,” she pleaded. The car slid the rest of the way into the water, bobbing as the current began dragging her down river. She hit the window control. “Damn!”
Up river, Rick was swimming toward her, his clothing dragging through the water, slowing him down. Murky water rose over the windows. Kara took a deep breath. “Stay calm.” She climbed over the back seat, searching for her boots. Her fingers brushed the soft leather and she sighed, as she kicked off her pumps and pulled them on, before scrambling back into the front seat. Bracing herself against the seat, she kicked the windshield, crying out at the pain in her knee as the kick was brought to a jarring stop.
Tears streamed down her face. She turned, holding onto the steering wheel for support, kicking with all her strength against the driver’s side window. The glass broke free of the torn weather stripping. Muddy water spewed through the crack. Kara kicked again, losing her grip on the wet steering wheel. “Please, God. Not this way.”
Kara dug her fingers into the leather interior, ripping the nails from her fingers. Blood pounded in her ears, pain numbing her arm. She lay down on the seat, kicking with both feet. “Come on!” Cracks appeared in the glass, moving toward the edges. Again, harder, she kicked out, adrenalin pumping through her. The glass shattered, spraying her face and arms. A piece caught her in the throat. She pulled herself through the window, shredding her hands.
Above, she could see light. Straining, she pumped her legs, thrusting herself toward the surface. Her lungs burned fiercely. Kara fought back the urge to inhale, kicking harder. Blackness embraced her as she gasped, tasting the dirt in the water, as it flowed across her tongue.
Water filled her mouth and nose. She gasped again, unable to fight the urge any longer. The cool water filled her body, dragging her back to the bottom. Her chest heaved, one last time, before she relaxed into the cool, dark water.
“Kara. Kara,” she heard Rick calling from somewhere above on the river. It was too late. Too late. If only she could tell him.
Rick burst through the bathroom door, flipping on the light. Broken glass cut into his knees as he knelt next to the tub, shoving what was left of the shower doors out of his way, pulling Kara from the bloody water. “Oh, baby,” he said, tears streaming down his face. He hugged her to him, his muscular frame shaking uncontrollably.
The ambulance drove without lights across the county line into Walker. There was no reason to hurry. They pulled up to the Medical Center, taking the time to ensure that the back was lined up with the emergency room doors. Jim put on the brake, hopped out and lit a cigarette. A light came on as he walked to the rear of the ambulance.
The emergency room doors burst open behind him, the medical team rushing to relieve him of his burden. “There’s no reason to hurry, folks,” he called out. “This one is a D.O.A.”
“What happened?” one of the nurses said?
“Not really sure. Her boyfriend said he found her when he got home. Get this, he said she had drowned in the bathtub and that she probably had a nightmare.”
“That must have been some nightmare,” the doctor said, his eyes traveling over the blood soaked sheets.
by Lisa (TJ) Hapney

Here I sit, holding her hand and knowing that very soon I will lose my oldest and dearest friend. She sleeps and has during the day for weeks now. Later, the dark coolness of twilight will wake her. So soon will she die that she shuns the light of day, preferring to live out her short past, once more, during the darkest hours.

Last night she woke just as dusk began fading into blackness and starlight. “Ah, Emily, you are still here. How good you have been to stay with me.”

“It’s no problem,” I responded, my throat choking off and tears glistening like stars at the edge of my eyes.

“You’re not a very good liar, Em. You never have been,” she said patting the hand that clasped hers. “You should sleep during the day as I do. Oh, what a beautiful sunset.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it,” I said, embarrassed, as I sniffled like a child.

“It reminds me of my grandparents,” she said, a slow smile spreading across her lips, her eyes losing focus as she slipped into the past. “There was no better place in the world.”

For some time, she lay there, staring into nothingness. Recently she has begun drifting off more and more, so it came as no surprise that she seemed to have forgotten me and our conversation. Delicately, I slid my fingers from her grasp, reaching for my book to fill the interval of her side trip.

“Years ago,” she began, her voice startling me out of my reverie, despite its soft velvety tone, “I used to go to my grandparents. It seems likes several lifetimes have passed since my father ruffled my hair to wake me.”

“Get up Snicklefritz,” my father said, “we’re going to see Grandma and Grandpa.”

A smile sprung to my face as I pushed past my father to get out of bed, bouncing all the way to the dresser and scrambling into my clothes. Days at the farm were always the very best and I could not wait to get ready and on our way.

Spring was in the air at the farm. More so, it seemed, than anywhere else in the world. Dew still stood on the grass, wetting the toes of my canvas shoes as the morning sun crept up, waking the morning glory’s full to bloom after their long sleep. Wonderful aromas filled the air at the farm. Fresh, sweet smelling hay in the stalls, wildflowers along the bank, newly tilled earth in the garden and the musky scent of horses combined in a way that made your heart and soul sigh. It was Heaven on Earth.

It was the most beautiful and special place in the world. Whether others would ever agree, or not, I did not care. Their house was not extravagant, or costly, yet it was perfect, nestled in that wonderful valley full of color and fresh air. It was just a little white farm house with paint peeling here and there, a rusted red tin roof and black shutters. There was no better place in the world and I could not understand the people who lived in skyscrapers in jungles of concrete and crime. Why anyone one would want to live in a city, with places like the farm around, I never did come to understand. They could not even get free to walk safely around their homes.

I ran toward the creek, my father quickly warning me to be careful as I happily bounded across the old wooden bridge and up the front steps to the house. Grandma Legg was waiting, holding the screen door for me, a smile lighting her ever serene face. Just as hard as I could, I hugged her around the waist, inhaling the fresh scent of her perfume, until she laughed and told me to take it easy. She hugged me back then taking my hand, led me into the living room where Grandpa sat watching television.

As always, he said, “There’s my girl. Come give me a big kiss.” More than willing, I hopped up on the arm of his chair and wrapped my arms around his neck, giggling as he tickled me. He pulled me down on his lap and clasped my hand, palming a dollar bill to me, as he reminded me to stick that in my pocket for a rainy day. “Never know when a little girl might need some money of her own.”

Mom and Dad finally caught up to say their good-mornings and let Grandma know when they would be back from shopping, as I went to get Grandpa’s shoes. As far as I was concerned, they could not leave fast enough. I did not want to share one moment of my time with anyone, except Grandma and Grandpa. Never was there enough time in the world to spend on the farm.

It seemed like forever before we finally headed to the field to feed the horses. Grandpa and I measured grain and corn into their feeding buckets, and then toted buckets of water to the trough as they ate. Patiently I waited for Rigger to finish his meal.

When, at last, he had finished, I patted and made over him, before I started brushing him. Grandpa didn’t ride anymore, but as always, he said, “The farm just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have horses. Besides,” he reminded me as he saddled Rigger, “I have plenty of healthy grandchildren to exercise ’em for me.”

For hours, I rode around the field, sometimes getting off to pick a flower or just for Rigger to take a rest. The sun rose higher in the sky, approaching noon. Though I could have ridden forever, I turned back toward the house. Grandma would worry if I were gone too long and Grandpa would be waiting to unsaddle and rub Rigger down, so we could eat.

Slowly, we made our way back to the barn, as much to give Rigger a rest, as to delay the inevitable. If I could have, I would have lived on the farm and ridden every day. That was not an option, though, so we took the most round-a-bout way possible back to the barn. When we got there, Grandpa was already waiting. He relieved Rigger of his saddle and gave me the lead rope to walk him around for a few minutes.

After we had brushed Rigger down, Grandma joined me and Grandpa in the yard under the apple tree. The cool shade felt wonderful after riding in the hot sun. I sat on the swing, drinking lemonade, the tart sweetness caressing my throat, as Grandma broke out her watercolors and set two pieces of heavy paper on the picnic table so we could work in the shade. Grandma’s paintings were always way better than mine, but as usual she didn’t fail to make a fuss over my pitiful attempt. At that point in time, I thought that maybe someday I, too, could be an artist, just like her. Minutes flew by as we worked our dreams out on the page. The shade of the apple tree cooled us, leaving the patterns of the tree’s leaves on my paper as the sun snuck through its full limbs. Grandma touched my shoulder gently, her fingertips barely grazing my shirt. “That’s beautiful,” she said, her voice flowing over me like the soft current of the stream. “Let’s eat, I’m starving. How about you?”

“I could eat a horse,” I told her, my childish voice squeaking with my enthusiasm.

Remembering all my favorites, as usual, Grandma served lunch on the picnic table, saying, “We could all use a little fresh air.” When we were done with our sandwiches and cucumbers, Grandma ducked into the house, returning with three heaping plates of strawberry shortcake. Life could not have been better. It was such a simple time.

At last, when we were full and everything was cleared away, Grandpa took me back inside and broke out his doll that danced on a board. I squealed in delight, clapping my hands, as he took his harmonica out of his pocket and arranged the contraption that held it around his neck. Dancing Joe was my favorite. Grandpa played and made Joe dance, jiggling him this way and that, until he swore he was out of breath and could not play another toot.

As Grandpa settled in for his after lunch nap, Grandma and I did the dishes and cleaned up our lunch mess. Why that chore was such a delight in her company, I will never know, but it was. When, at last, we were finished, Grandma woke Grandpa up, “Ulysses didn’t you and Amy need to go out and work on the well?”

“I believe we do, Sylvia. Do you still need to put a brick on my well, little girl,” he said, winking at me? I bounced all around the room. Every brick on Grandpa’s well had a name carved on it. The names of children, grandchildren and loved ones long since past were set in stone in Grandpa’s front yard. Grandpa said it was how he kept his memories fresh. He once told me that he went out to the well every morning and chose a different person to reminisce about.

It took us all afternoon, but we managed to carve my name and birth date into the stone with a small chisel. At last, Grandpa let me spread the mortar and set my stone against the rest. I just knew Grandpa would never forget me since I was finally on the well.

Not much later, Mom and Dad made their way back to the farm. Grandma stopped them at the well and showed them my handiwork, making sure that they were properly impressed. Dinner was a quieter affair than lunch had been, but the food was every bit as good. Dusk started to fall and then everyone got hugs and kisses. Grandma made me promise to come back soon, so I crossed my heart and hoped to die, if I didn’t.

That was the last time I got to see Grandma and Grandpa. The next day Grandma had a massive heart attack and died. Grandpa followed her three weeks later. To this day, my dad and I agree that Grandpa died of a broken heart, from losing Grandma. When they first told me that Grandma had died, I did not believe them. Later, when they told me Grandpa had died in the hospital, I was sure they did not know what they were talking about. Even when I went to Grandma’s grave, I did not consider that proof that she was gone.

Mom and Dad would not let me go to either of their funerals, but after Grandpa’s they took me out to the farm with the rest of the family. I ran out to the barn, but the horses were missing. I remember thinking that maybe Grandpa had decided to go for a ride, but even to me that did not sound right.

As fast as I could, I ran to every room in the house. I just could not believe that I would never see Grandpa again. It had all just been a terrible mistake, I assured myself. Surely, I could find him and he would be all right. The last room I went to was Grandpa’s. My throat tightened up and my heart broke, tears welling up in my eyes as I looked across the room. Dancing Joe and Grandpa’s harmonica were lying on the dresser, covered in a thick layer of dust. Grandpa would never have let that happen.

Once again, she drifted off, her eyes staring unfocused out the window at the sunset. “That’s a beautiful story, Amy,” I offered, squeezing her hand gently. “It sounds like it was truly a wonderful time.”

“Oh look, Em,” Amy whispered, “There are Grandma and Grandpa now.”

I looked out the window, shielding my eyes from the sunset, but there was no one on the street in either direction. Convinced that we weren’t about to have company, I turned back to face Amy. Her gaze looked blankly into the room. “Amy,” I said, rushing to her side, cupping her hand in mine. Time stood still, for just a moment, as the sky’s last rays stole her from me.


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