Currently viewing the tag: "serial fiction"

written by James Rada, Jr.

A serial fiction story for your enjoyment

1: Arrival

Timothy Ross stepped off the passenger car at the train depot near the Maryland Tuberculosis Hospital. He was used to the large platforms in cities like Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. This was a small 15×30-foot wooden building surrounded on all sides by a wide porch. It could fit inside of the washroom of Penn Station, where he had boarded the train.

He noticed he was the only person on the platform. He expected more activity here, but it was still a bit early in the season for vacationers to be heading to Pen Mar, the nearby resort area. Green was starting to appear on the trees, and the sky was a bright blue. He felt just a hint of chill in the air. It wouldn’t be long before vacationers sought to escape the heat and humidity in the cities and headed for higher ground.

“So this is where I’ll die,” he whispered to himself.

He wondered if he had made the right choice coming here. He was a city boy, born and raised. He had never been able to escape the city, even in the heat of the summer, to come to a place like this. Tim lived in the night, in the gyms and arenas where he made his living in the ring…or at least he had.

His chest heaved, and he started coughing. He grabbed for his handkerchief and covered his mouth. When the hacking stopped, he pulled the handkerchief away and saw phlegm and spots of blood. So much for the clean, fresh mountain air helping him.

Tim walked into the station. He saw no people, just empty benches. There wasn’t even a stationmaster. It was as if people were only dropped off here, and no one ever left on the train, so no one needed to buy a ticket. That thought sent a chill down his back.

A door opened, and a man walked out of the washroom, drying his hands. He was a large man, almost as large as Tim had been before he had gotten sick. He was dressed in white, so Tim guessed this was the man he was supposed to meet.

“Are you from the sanatorium?” Tim asked.

The man nodded. “I’m Frank Larkins, one of the orderlies there and a driver when they need one.”

“I’m Tim Ross.”

Frank smiled and clapped his hands together. “Great! Let’s load your bags in the car and get you to the administration building.”

“Is it far away?”

“Not at all. You’re actually on the sanatorium property now. This is our station.”

“I thought this was the station for the resort.”

Frank shook his head. “That’s Blue Ridge Summit. It’s a little further up the line, just across the Mason-Dixon in Pennsylvania.”

Frank grabbed the two suitcases Tim had brought with him and headed out the front door. He walked down the steps from the front porch to the waiting car. It was a gray four-door Ajax sedan. Tim had seen plenty of them in Baltimore, but this was a newer model that had come out in 1926. Frank went around to the far side and put the suitcases in the back while Tim climbed into the car.

Then, Frank climbed into the driver’s seat. He started the engine and drove along a dirt road that led uphill.

“I used to live in Baltimore until I got this job,” Frank said. “I saw you fight Rusty Barrett last year. I won five dollars when you knocked him out.”

Tim grinned. “Seems like a lifetime ago.”

He hadn’t fought in three months. His stamina and speed were gone. He was withering away. Even if he got rid of the tuberculosis, he wondered if there would be enough of him left to recover.

Frank seemed to read his mind. “Don’t you worry, Mr. Ross. You got diagnosed early enough that this place can help you. You aren’t even in the main hospital. You’re in a cottage. That’s where they put the people who are in good shape.”

Tim shook his head. “No, they put them on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. There’s as many trees here as there are people in Baltimore.”

“And that’s why you’ll get better. You aren’t in Baltimore. That’s what made you sick. They did a study last year that said there’s an area of the city that has the highest death rate in the country from TB. The best thing you could do was get out of that cesspool.”

He turned onto a drive that swung around in front of a three-story stone building that could have passed for one of the rich people’s homes in Mount Washington. Frank turned off the engine, and they walked onto the porch and through the front doors. They were in a hallway that led to a staircase to the second floor or the rear of the building. The rooms off the hallway all had closed doors. At a desk near the door, an attractive young nurse sat smiling up at them.

She looked at Tim and smiled, showing bright white teeth.

“Emily, this is Tim Ross, a new patient,” Frank said. He glanced at Tim. “Emily is one of the student nurses at the training school here, and if she wasn’t behind that desk, you’d see she has great gams.” Emily blushed and giggled. “I need to know what shack he’s in.”

Emily nodded and looked at her notes. “He’s in pavilion five. Also, I’ll need you to come back here after you finish putting your things away. I’ll have the paperwork you need to sign, your schedule, a map of the grounds, and a few other things.”

Frank and Tim walked back outside. Frank drove the car around the side of the administration building. Tim saw two rows of long, wooden buildings leading away from the back of the administration building. Frank stopped in front of one, and they walked to the entrance. Tim saw four people sitting on chairs on the porch that ran the length of the front of the building. The building was wood frame, but it sat on brick piers.

Inside, there were two wards, one off to either side of the entryway, which was a large sitting room. Frank looked at a chart on the wall, turned left, and walked to an empty bed near the end of the ward. Tim saw that all the windows on the ward were open, as well as doors that led onto the porch. More fresh air.

“So, this is your bed, but you’ll keep your things in the back,” Frank said.

He walked through a doorway behind the bed that led into a long rear room that nearly ran the length of the building.

“These compartments are where you can change and store your stuff. You have compartment three, which is also your bed number. The toilet room is in the middle.”

Tim nodded numbly.

Frank laid a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Mr. Ross. It’s confusing now, but everything will be all right.” Then, he looked around, leaned closer, and whispered, “Be careful. Don’t wander off alone and don’t trust anyone. No one is safe. Don’t say anything about this.”

Frank then straightened up and smiled, but Tim could tell it was a fake smile.

“I’m going to leave you to unpack, because I have some other things to do. Once you’re finished, head back and talk to Emily.”

Tim nodded. “Thank you.”

Frank left and Tim walked out onto the porch, although with the large sliding windows between the wall columns, it was almost as if the ward was part of the porch.

He had to admit, the view was nice if you liked to look at trees and lawn. He started coughing so hard, he nearly dropped to his knees. Instead, he leaned on the rail and watched Frank drive off.

What had the man been talking about? More importantly, what had Tim gotten himself into?

written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction romance story for your enjoyment

2: Anticipation

Margaret Rosensteel washed the dishes from her family’s dinner while she stared out the kitchen window at nothing. The next farm was over half a mile away to the west, and Emmitsburg was a mile or so to the southeast. She couldn’t see lights from either.

She scrubbed the remains of chicken and gravy from the plates and set them aside.

She remembered the young man she had watched drive past St. Joseph’s Church in town. He was her age, but she had never seen him before. Nothing surprising about that. Margaret doubted she knew everyone in town, but it probably meant the teenage boy wasn’t a Catholic. Between Mass and church socials, Margaret did know all the Catholic boys by sight. She even knew a lot of the other boys in town from her school classes. So, why hadn’t she ever noticed that boy before?

What did it matter? Why was she even thinking of him? Nothing could come of it.

Rebecca came downstairs in a blue calico dress Margaret had never seen her wear. She spun around, making the skirt flare.

“How do I look?” Rebecca asked.

“You look wonderful,” Margaret told her.

“I’ve been working on this all day. I saved for the fabric for two months, but could only buy it yesterday. I wanted to show it off tonight.”

“Tonight?”

Rebecca put her hands on her hips. “Yes. Tonight. The spring dance in town. How could you forget?”

Margaret hadn’t so much forgotten as put it out of her mind. She was going to be a Daughter of Charity, and Daughters of Charity didn’t go dancing, at least none she knew.

“Why was it so important to finish it for the dance?” Margaret asked.

“I want the boys to see me in it. Do you think they’ll like me in it?”

Margaret smiled. “Of course, they will. You look beautiful.” Her younger sister was a cute blonde with an outgoing personality. She was already catching the attention of the boys in town.

“You need to get ready now, so we can go,” Rebecca said.

Margaret shook her head. “I’m not going.”

“You have to, Margaret. You skipped the last two dances. I need someone to talk to. It’s no fun without you.”

“You’ll be too busy dancing and talking with the boys. Besides, other girls will be there.”

“Please, come. I won’t have any fun without you.”

That was a lie, but Margaret and Rebecca did have fun together. They were the middle children in the Rosensteel family, only a year apart in age. Jack and Paul were the eldest, and they were married and starting families of their own. David, Sarah, and Michael were all under 12 years old.

The problem was that Margaret would become a sister in another year. She needed to prepare herself for that. No use dancing with boys when there was no possibility of anything more. Her parents had planned her future already, more than they had any of their other children.

Rebecca took her sister by the hand and pulled her upstairs to their bedroom. She opened the armoire that both of them shared and took out Margaret’s Sunday dress and looked at it.

“Too churchy,” the younger girl said, as she tossed it on the bed.

“It’s my best dress.”

“But not one for a dance.”

Rebecca pulled out the second work dress Margaret owned and tossed it on the bed.

“Not that one either,” Rebecca said.

She pulled out the final dress. It was a light blue dress Margaret had made for Elizabeth’s wedding last year. She hadn’t found an occasion to wear it since. Her mother considered it “too casual” for church.

Rebecca shoved the dress into her sister’s arms. “There, now get dressed. You’re going to go with me, and you’re going to have a good time.”

                      ***

Caleb Sachs sat in his room above his father’s store on East Main Street. His parents had the room at the back of the building because it was quieter, but Caleb’s room looked onto the street. He didn’t mind. He could look outside and see what was happening, and tonight, a lot was happening.

People on the sidewalks headed toward the town square, where the spring dance was being held. Everyone would be there celebrating and having fun. Everyone except the Sachs family. It was Friday night, and the Sachs, being Jewish, began celebrating the Sabbath at sundown.

Weekends were never any fun for Caleb. His was the only Jewish family in Emmitsburg, so while his family observed the Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday, he was stuck at home unless his parents went to bed early, and he could sneak off to enjoy time with his friends. Then, on Sunday, when Caleb was free to do something, his friends’ parents were making his friends observe their Sabbath. With nothing to do during the weekend, it felt as long as the week to Caleb.

He walked out of his room to the parlor where his parents sat. His mother played a song he didn’t recognize, but she often composed her own music. His father sat in his armchair reading a book.

“I can hear the band warming up at the square,” Caleb said.

“Mmm-hmmm,” his father said, as he puffed on his pipe.

“I was thinking that since it’s a special occasion, I could go to the dance for a little while.”

His father removed his pipe. “Just make sure to come home at sundown.”

“But Papa, it won’t even be getting going by then. My friends might not even be there. I won’t stay out late. I promise.”

His friends were more likely to arrive early and sneak out early as well, but Caleb wouldn’t tell his father that.

“It’s Friday, Caleb. You know that.”

His mother stopped her playing and turned around on the bench. “We can take the train to Baltimore next week, Caleb. We’ll visit your grandparents.”

“That’s not the same thing, Mama. I wanted to dance.”

She frowned, wrinkling her smooth, pale skin. “With a guy? Why would you want to do that?”

“I like to dance, Mama, and since we’re the only Jewish family in town, if I’m to do that, it would have to be with a Christian girl.”

“If you want to meet a girl, I will have your grandparents find a Jewish girl for you,” his mother said.

Caleb sighed. “Mama, I don’t want to get married. I just want to go to the dance tonight.”

His mother shook her head. “No, better you stay here and not get yourself attached to someone you can’t have.”

Caleb hung his head. His mother just didn’t understand the idea of having fun. For her, it was about finding him a wife since he would soon be 17.

As Caleb walked back to his room, he thought of the one advantage of being the only Jewish family in town, he wasn’t married yet. If there had been an eligible Jewish girl in Emmitsburg or even nearby, his mother would have already paired them up and been planning the wedding.

He looked out his window and saw Peter Wilhide walking down the street. Caleb slid open his window.

“Peter!”

Peter stopped and turned around. He saw Caleb in the window and waved. “Are you coming to the dance, Caleb?”

“My parents won’t let me.”

“Won’t let you? Oh, that’s right, it’s Friday. Then maybe… later?”

Caleb grinned. “Yes, I think so.”

Peter laughed. “I’ll let the others know.”

Caleb shut the window. He glanced at the clock on his wall. The dance would be starting in half an hour. Everyone would be there by 6:30 p.m. He had that long to plan on how he would get past his parents without them knowing.

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment about the odd effects of grief.

written by James Rada, Jr.

2: the killing road

“Peter, you make sure you stay away from the road,” Betty Douglas told her son as they ate breakfast in their kitchen.

He spooned his Corn Pops into his mouth and talked with his mouth full. “I always stay away from the road. You told me this before when I was little,” six-year-old Peter said, slightly indignant that his mother still considered him a child.

Betty knew she had told Peter to stay away from the road many times before. It was popular Mom talk. But after seeing what she had seen the day before, Betty felt a need to repeat herself once again. She didn’t trust Old Kiln Road. Not the drivers, not the road. Something about it was wrong. She didn’t even like the name. Old Kiln. She always made sure to pronounce the N in Kiln, but too many people let it fade, so it sounded like “kill.”

Old Kill Road. It lived up to its name.

Betty spent the morning working outside. She painted large yellow signs with black lettering that read: “Slow.” When they dried, she nailed the signs on trees at each end of the dangerous stretch of road. She also put up chicken wire along the road to act as a fence to discourage animals from going onto the road. If the animals went around the fence, they would be far enough away from the dangerous portion of the road to make it to the other side.

For two days, Betty sat on the porch and watched how her precautions affected the road. She saw no road kills, and the cars drove slower as they came around the curve. The road seemed to pale from lack of food. At least Betty hoped the road paled. She imagined it becoming a light gray during the second day of its fast.

Betty sensed victory close at hand. No longer would the road lure animals to their deaths.

Then, she saw Peter’s soccer ball bounce over the backyard fence. It rolled to a stop about three feet from the road. As Betty watched, the ball started bouncing again, this time on its own. It bounced up the slight rise to the edge of the road and then across the road. Peter came running from behind the garage, following the ball. He didn’t even hesitate as he ran across the road to get the ball.

“Peter!” Betty yelled as she jumped out of the rocking chair.

Her son stopped in the middle of the road at the sound of his mother’s voice. As he turned to look at her, a sports car charged around the curve. Betty could tell by the engine noise that it was coming too fast, ignoring her signs.

Peter didn’t even have time to scream. The car hit him, and he rolled over the hood, smashing into the windshield headfirst. The car skidded to a stop. Peter’s body slid forward off the car and fell onto the road, limp as month-old celery.

Betty ran down to the road. Peter lay on the asphalt, a portion of his brain showing through his broken skull. Blood flowed from his body onto the road. The road absorbed the blood like a dry sponge absorbing water…or a thirsty beast greedily drinking greedily. Betty grabbed her son by the shoulders to lift him up, and his head rolled lifelessly backward. She knew he was dead, but just couldn’t believe it.

“Peter! Peter!”

The teenager who had driven the car was standing next to his car with his head buried in his hands as he cried. He slid down the side of the car and sobbed violently, not looking at Betty. Betty held her son in her arms, rocking back and forth, until a Thurmont ambulance finally came half an hour later when a passerby saw the accident and phoned it in.

The road turned a darker gray.

Betty sat on the front porch, rocking in her chair and watching the road. In the week since Peter had been killed, the road had fallen back into its rhythm of killing and eating.

Old Kiln Road was a deep ebony now. It was the road that had killed Peter, not the teenage driver of the car. The road had lured Peter onto it, so he could be killed. Old Kiln Road was trying to get even with Betty for depriving it of food for two days.

She heard the screen door open on her left, but she didn’t look up. She knew who it would be since only two people lived in the house anymore.

Jack set his suitcases down on the porch. “I can send someone else out to Los Angeles. It doesn’t have to be me, Bet.”

Jack worked as an auditor for a manufacturing company in Frederick. He usually had a half-hour drive to work, but occasionally, he went on long trips to the firm’s corporate offices in Los Angeles.

“I’ll be fine. Go,” she told him.

“You’re not acting fine. I’m worried about you. All you do is sit out here and look at the road where he was killed.”

Jack just didn’t understand. It wasn’t just the spot where Peter had been killed. It was where Peter had been eaten. It was the spot where many animals were eaten day after day. And no one ever noticed. No one but her.

“Please, go, Jack. I’ll be fine.”

He kissed her on the cheek. “I left all the phone numbers and places where I’ll be staying on the bulletin board. If you need me, give me a call, and I’ll come right home.”

He left, and Betty sat on the porch, only seeing him go when he crossed over her field of vision as he drove down Old Kiln Road.

Sometime later, the phone rang. The caller wouldn’t be anyone important, so she let it ring until the answering machine picked it up. What was happening out here was more important than anything anyone could say to her.

A small, gray rabbit hopped out into the middle of the road. It sniffed at the asphalt as if he were following a scent across the road. When it reached a certain point in the road, it stopped and lay on its side. A few minutes later, a car came creeping slowly over the hill. Slow enough that the rabbit could have moved in time to get out of the way, but it didn’t. It let itself be run over. It committed suicide.

That’s what she should do, Betty thought. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. Jack still had his work to keep him busy, but her work had been raising Peter, and the road had taken that from her. There was nothing left for her now. Except to destroy the road. To watch it wither away slowly and agonizingly. To let the road know the pain she felt at the loss of her son. That’s what she wanted to do.

Once she made up her mind, Betty knew exactly how she would kill the road. She took Jack’s chainsaw out of the garage and walked over the hill. Finding a medium-sized tree near the road, she sawed into it, so it toppled across the road, blocking any cars from coming over the hill. Then she walked down the hill and did the same thing to another tree, blockading the road. The next thing she did was to take one of the dessert pies from the oven and set it in the field to draw the animals away from the road.

Old Kiln Road didn’t eat that night, and in the morning, it was grayer.