Blessed Forgiveness - A Flash Fiction Challenge Response

(This is in response to Cam's challenge to write a flash fiction story involving a coffee shop and a cane. Since this is my first ever attempt at flash fiction, please be gentle!)



Blessed Forgiveness


As soon as I saw it, it all came back and I was awash in shame.

I grew up in small town Iowa, and Bob’s Coffee Shop was there when I left some thirty years ago, so it was a shock to discover that not only was it still there and in business, Bob was still behind the counter!

But it wasn’t Bob of course. He would have been well over a hundred, and the man behind the counter was younger than me. Then I remembered Bob’s son, old-what’s-his-name. By the look on his face, he remembered me too, so I sat at the counter.

“I think I may know you.”

I nodded. “You’re Bob’s son, right?”

He grinned and offered his hand. “Dave Candless.”

I took it. He had a firm grip. “Bill Grayson. I lived here years ago.”

I pointed at the old cane mounted on hooks over the door. “I recognize that. It belonged to old George Pranger, right?”

He nodded. “He passed on in 1988 from his wounds.”

His wounds? My god, what had I done?

As kids, we used to make fun of the shambling figure who once used the simple cane now hanging in a place of honor. His legs barely held him up, and his face had been ruined by some event we knew nothing about. But how he came to be that way didn’t matter to a pack of unmerciful boys, reveling in another human’s misfortune. We yelled insults, and then looked at each other for approval. In return, old man Pranger simply smiled and gave us a weak wave of his hand.

“His wounds? I guess I never knew about any wounds.”

Dave Candless regarded me silently, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable when he finally leaned over and put his forearms on the counter. He spoke quietly and confidentially to me.

“He fought in World War Two as a sergeant with the 101st Airborne. He was one of the guys who parachuted into France just hours before the D-Day invasion began. He sprained his ankle on landing, but he just wrapped it tightly and kept going. Later, he charged a machine gun because it was firing on his men, and wiped it out with grenades, but he himself was wounded by the shrapnel.”

He stopped and topped off my cup. The coffee was the same as I remembered, rich and strong. He watched as I added cream and sugar. Then he began again.

“He bandaged his own wounds and refused treatment from a medic. Then three days later, he stepped on a mine. It was one of those anti-personnel mines that GI’s called a ‘bouncing Betty’. When tripped, it came up a couple feet and went off. The purpose of that was to destroy a soldier’s manhood, and terrorize the enemy if you get my meaning.”

He looked at me and I nodded.

“George suffered that and severe wounds to his legs and arms. His face was heavily scarred by shrapnel and also badly burned. He came back home, and released his fiancé from her promise. He tried to find work, but no one would hire him, so he moved here and started writing for a living, mostly just pulp stuff, but enough to get by. More coffee?”

I shook my head, and started to say something, but the words wouldn’t come. I felt the hot tears forming in my eyes, and to my embarrassment, Dave slid a box of tissues across the counter. I wiped my eyes, and watched him open a drawer and take out an envelope. He placed it in front of me, and to my astonishment, it had my name on it in shaky printing.

“There are five other letters, but four are dead. Two of accidents, one suicide, and Jerry Brown was killed in Vietnam around 1970. That leaves just you and Frank Jackson, and Frank is doing life in prison.”

I opened it, and it was a short letter written in the same shaky script:

Hello Billy,

By the time you read this, I’ll probably be with God, and all healed up again. But I think it’s my duty to let you know that I never resented you boys, because you didn’t know any better. Hell, I might have done the same when I was a boy. Boys can be mean like that you know.

I don’t want you to feel bad about those days. You were just being boys, so I want you to forgive yourself because I forgave you instantly.

Oh, and if any of you want that old cane as a keepsake, just ask Bob or his son Dave.

George

For a long time, I could not speak for the lump in my throat, and Dave mercifully went about the business of running a café, occasionally glancing my way. At last, he walked back and placed his forearms on the counter in front of me again. I handed him the note and waved at him to read it. He did and then looked at me with a question in his eyes.

“I would like to have that cane, Dave, if it’s agreeable. I too am a writer, so I’d like to dig into the archives and give George Pranger the recognition he deserves.”

I placed the carefully wrapped cane in the trunk of my car and took a long last look at the run down main-street of the small town I once called home. I started to walk around the car when my bad knee gave out, and for a moment, I was unable to move for the pain. Then I hobbled around to the driver’s door and was easing myself in when I heard a boy’s voice and laughter.

“Hey guys! Look at that old cripple! Stand up and walk right old man!” There were six of them. They laughed again and slapped each other on the back.

I smiled and waved at them. Hell, they were just boys.

...

Dedicated to George Pranskunas, 1888 - 1974.

More by this Author


Comments 86 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

The master has written and I have learned.

This is the best flash fiction I've read in a long, long time. You've got the touch, my friend.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 15 months ago from Rural Arizona

Wow, all I can say is you need to write more flash fiction my friend. This was absolutely awesome reading. Just don't quit writing your Western Stories though. Like billybuc said, "You've got the touch my friend."


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 15 months ago from California

Oh you make me cry! Gorgeous write!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 15 months ago from Southern Georgia

Great response to the challenge, Will. Many of HP's best fiction writers accepted the challenge, and I suspect you're similar to me in that you cannot resist such. :) I didn't realize there were 'Bouncing Bettys' in WWII and always thought they had their beginnings in Nam. Enjoyed as usual!

Randy


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 15 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Will this is a fine piece of writing. It is filled with the right proportions of emotion and nostalgia.


FatBoyThin profile image

FatBoyThin 15 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

Oh, that's a good one - gave me a bit of a moment there with old George's letter. Nice. Very nice.


Elsie Hagley profile image

Elsie Hagley 15 months ago from New Zealand

Amazing story for flash fiction, so very true about young lads, it will never go away, that's life the next generation will be still doing it to the elderly.

Brought tears to my eyes held my attention to the end.

You are a good writer.

Thanks.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 15 months ago from UK and Mexico

Will: You make these tales seem so real. You really have a gift. This was a super short story and, I guess, met all the requirements of flash fiction.

Bob


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 15 months ago from England

That was amazing Will, you certainly know how to grab hold of the old attention and keep us there! what a great story, and yes I loved the ending, what goes round comes round!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 15 months ago from sunny Florida

The past can and often does come back and bite us on the behiney..../And forgiveness is a wonderful gift to ourselves and to others.

I felt as if I were right there with you as the story unfolded.

Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps shared g+


G-Ma Johnson 15 months ago

You are a Master, what can I say? Hugs G-Ma


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 15 months ago from Hereford, AZ

Wonderful story Will. You are a master at storytelling, and it shows. Touching our hearts is what you do best.


annart profile image

annart 15 months ago from SW England

You say this is your first attempt at flash fiction, Will, but we all know that you can write a story - this is just shorter than usual. You have written the best response yet to this challenge. It turns around at just the right moment and delivers the ending. It's also full of emotions. Brilliant!

Ann


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 15 months ago from Asheville, NC

I had to grab for the box of Kleenex myself. Wonderful piece of fiction as usual.


Randall Guinn profile image

Randall Guinn 15 months ago from Pinellas Park, Florida

A good story Will. I enjoyed the read.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 15 months ago from Southern Illinois

Who said you can't write flash fiction? Not me. I loved it, and you taught us a lesson for forgiveness. We all will become slower and maybe unsteady on our feet. If we're ever made fun of hopefully we'll remember your story?


Mandy Avery profile image

Mandy Avery 15 months ago

wow , amazing again... I never tire of reading your stories that are emotional and so well written I feel as if I am in the story.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 15 months ago from southern USA

"First ever attempt at flash fiction ..." What? Dear Bill, you are a writer period!

You have surpassed the challenge and then some with this heartrending flash fiction, and starting with the wonderful title, perfect choice of photo and then a most memorable write. Bravo all around.

One knows writing is great when you will not forget it.

Shared everywhere

Blessings


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Bill! That's high praise indeed coming from you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hiya Mike!

Never fear, a new western is cooking in this old man's mind!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Audrey, and I recommend your latest:

http://hubpages.com/literature/Gratitude-a-Line-of...


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Randy, and leave it to the Nazis to come up with such a weapon. But that's also why we had to fight fire with fire. In fact, we still do.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 15 months ago from southern USA

Sorry, I like to shorten William to Bill ...


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Mike and congratulations again on a well deserved award! It's all the sweeter when it's the choice of fellow writers. You really deserved this with your amazing Carriage Driver series, and I mean that sincerely. My work is cut out for me! ^-^


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Colin Garrow (from my native Scotland!)!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Elsie for your kind words!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

I always anxiously wait to see what you have to say, Bob Challen, because I know you're a pro. Your encouragement is much appreciated. My wife was born in Mexico, so what say we meet there sometime soon?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you dear Nell from across the pond!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Patricia!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Merle Ann!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Becky and thank you! See any mistakes?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Ann.

I look forward to your astute comments!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you as always Suzie...for everything!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Randall!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Ruby Jean! What a nice thing to say!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Mandy Avery! (My nieces are paid to say nice things!)


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Faith, for the superb comment, and I actually go by Bill! Will Starr was my wife's idea for a pen name, and I liked it...a lot!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 15 months ago from Queensland Australia

This is a perfect response to the challenge Will, great flash fiction with a very important message for all of us. Loved it.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, John!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 15 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

Always there with the best stories to tug at our hearts, Will. Nicely done and, as Jodah so thoughtfully says: "a very important message for all of us. " Kids and old men always seem to have a thing going. Wonderful story.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 15 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Nice story, Bill. It reminds me of a WWII vet I used to work with.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 15 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Very much enjoyed your flash fiction. I hope you'll write more of them!


DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 15 months ago from Northern Ireland

No need to be gentle! Great story, as always. Enjoyed that.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Phyllis for the kind words!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Don. It was loosely based on a real incident.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you to our Canadian neighbor, Susan!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Meg!


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 15 months ago from Los Angeles

I think you've just found another successful genre! Honestly, Will, your writing is so good that I can't read it without getting goose bumps, an ache in my chest, or tears. Wonderful story!

Cat:)


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Well thank you, Catherine! That was a very generous thing to say!


FitnezzJim profile image

FitnezzJim 15 months ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

Wow! What a gift. To be able to start with just two words, and make it into a story with lessons. Being young, growing old, the circle of life and how perspective changes, all from just being asked to write a coffee shop and a cane.

It is a gift.


brakel2 profile image

brakel2 15 months ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Hi Will - You chose a story that calls attention to the wounded and disabled. What a story you developed. Every story about the cane and coffee shop has yielded different and clever stories with surprise endings. I love stories that make us touch on the folks who need to have applause and not ridiculed but who take it in stride. Sharing, Blessings, Audrey


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Jim for the very kind words, and I do agree that if we have some talent, it is indeed a gift.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Audrey!


drbj profile image

drbj 15 months ago from south Florida

With this one, as with every other story of yours that I have read, Will, you have proved once again that you are not only the revered master of the written word, but the sentient teacher, and the memorable mentor. Seriously! I do enjoy reading your work.


cam8510 profile image

cam8510 15 months ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

Will, the first and last lines of your story have a special connection. The first is his view of himself before the blessed forgiveness, and the last is his view of the boys after he had begun to deal with the demon that had been tormenting him. The rest was an extremely well crafted mix of past and present. This is just plain good story telling, Will. Congratulations on a masterful first flash fiction. Thank you for taking part in the challenge.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 15 months ago from South Africa

Touching, profound and well-written story! You also reminded me how nasty and merciless girls can be, just to regret their behavior when they're older and wiser.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Chris!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

I can only speak for boys, Martie, but I'm sure you're correct. Thanks for the comment!


lilyfly profile image

lilyfly 15 months ago from Wasilla, Alaska

Who said old dogs learn no new tricks, eh? I bow before the master... lily


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Lily!

However, I'm no master and you need bow to no one!


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 15 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Wow you are terrific! What a moving and well written story. And the message on forgiveness! Powerful. I will share it on my writers group on Facebook!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Nadine, for both the kind words and the share!


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 15 months ago

This story was fantastic. I love the idea of flash fiction and you rose to the occasion, as always.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Patti!


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 15 months ago from Central Florida

Will, I agree with Bill. This is the best flash fiction I've read in a long time. You are a master of storytelling. No matter what you write, I'm riveted to my seat and moved by the emotions in your stories.

You deserve an award for this.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Shauna!

The unique draw of HubPages is that we are writing for other writers, so it is high praise indeed when we can win their approval. That's an award in itself.


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 15 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Will, this is a great story. You can sure tell a interesting story.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Stella.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 15 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

Oh, Will...this is terrific story; in so many ways, I can't begin to put into one comment. Thank you for being here, and for sharing your gift with us.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Well thank you, Genna!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 15 months ago from Orlando, FL

It's true, kids could be mean, not just boys, but girls also...sadly, they just don't know any better. Brilliant story! :)


Rossimobis profile image

Rossimobis 15 months ago from Biafra

I had to come over and although i read three, this one is simply amazing.


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

Just terrific! Great story


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Linda and thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Chibuzo, and thank you my friend!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Larry!


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 15 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Well of course the writing is excellent - by a master. I gotta go now over to the store. I suppose I will look at the guy there with wounds I cannot see with a little more respect. Thanks


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Eric.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 15 months ago from Stillwater, OK

This is superb. zit was well written and the final words are by far the best. What goes around, comes around, eh?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Deb, and yes, what we sow, so often do we also reap.


bethperry profile image

bethperry 13 months ago from Tennesee

Will, you certainly didn't disappoint! I enjoyed this one very much.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 13 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Beth!


resspenser profile image

resspenser 11 months ago from South Carolina

Bill, I have no idea how I missed this one, but it pleases me greatly to find it! Wonderful job. Excellent! Apparently, you can write anything you set your mind to, which is no surprise to those of us who follow you.

Tonight, I'm going through all your hubs to see if there are any more nuggets I've missed! Oh, and sharing it too.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 11 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Ronnie. As you might have guessed, there's some guilty history to this one.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 8 months ago

Blessings and forgiveness all around

Taking names writing them down

Will they learn what goes around?

Before their compassion can be found

*

*

Blessings


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 8 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Shyron!

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