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Blessed Forgiveness - A Flash Fiction Challenge Response

Updated on August 12, 2016

(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.

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 21 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.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 21 months ago

      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

      Audrey Howitt 21 months ago from California

      Oh you make me cry! Gorgeous write!

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 21 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 21 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

      Colin Garrow 21 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 21 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 21 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 21 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

      Patricia Scott 21 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+

    • profile image

      G-Ma Johnson 21 months ago

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

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 21 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

      Ann Carr 21 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 21 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 21 months ago from Pinellas Park, Florida

      A good story Will. I enjoyed the read.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 21 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 21 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 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hiya Mike!

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Audrey, and I recommend your latest:

      https://hubpages.com/literature/Gratitude-a-Line-o...

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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 21 months ago from southern USA

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Elsie for your kind words!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you dear Nell from across the pond!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Patricia!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Merle Ann!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Becky and thank you! See any mistakes?

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Ann.

      I look forward to your astute comments!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you as always Suzie...for everything!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Randall!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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

      John Hansen 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, John!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 21 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

      Don A. Hoglund 21 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

      Susan Zutautas 21 months ago from Ontario, Canada

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

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 21 months ago from Northern Ireland

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Phyllis for the kind words!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you to our Canadian neighbor, Susan!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Meg!

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • FitnezzJim profile image

      FitnezzJim 21 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

      Audrey Selig 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Audrey!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 21 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

      Chris Mills 21 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      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

      Martie Coetser 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Chris!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 21 months ago from Wasilla, Alaska

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

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Lily!

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

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 21 months ago

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Patti!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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

      stella vadakin 21 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

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

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Stella.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 21 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
      Author

      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Well thank you, Genna!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 21 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

      Chibuzo Melvin Mobis 21 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 21 months ago from Oklahoma

      Just terrific! Great story

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Linda and thank you!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Chibuzo, and thank you my friend!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Larry!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Eric.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 21 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
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      WillStarr 21 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 20 months ago from Tennesee

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

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 20 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Beth!

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 17 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
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      WillStarr 17 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

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

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 15 months ago from Texas

      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
      Author

      WillStarr 15 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Shyron!

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