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Paul Beckman’s story, “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his 100 word story, “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. His stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Pure Slush, Jellyfish Magazine, Thrice Fiction, and Literary Orphans. His latest collection, “Peek,” weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. Paul lives in Connecticut and earned his MFA from Bennington College.


Trigger Warning

“Help!” I heard the cry as sure as I heard the umpire yell, “Strike” when I was at bat last week with a full count and our only hope with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with runners on second and third and my team down by one run.

I was walking alone in the big field strewn with broken bottles, soda cans, empty cigarette packs and scurrying squirrels, rats and other creatures foraging for whatever they forage for. “Help!”

Nothing blocked my vision and while I saw nothing I knew it came from my left towards the factories and not from the low brick two story project apartments with tiny yards of dirt and short clotheslines with stiff-legged pants flapping in the breeze.

“Help!” The call was louder now that I was heading towards the factory and the small mound of dirt which turned out to be a man in dark, dirty and bloody clothes squeezing himself and resting between his calls for help.

I walked around him, afraid to touch him and catch whatever was causing the blood staining the ground around him. I picked up a small leather satchel, weathered and cracked, and it popped open, and there was money, twenty and hundred dollar bills, probably a few inches high and a gun.

I’d never been this close to so many twenty dollar bills or ever seen a hundred before much less a gun. I was afraid of both and dropped the satchel. A few twenties floated away when they popped out after the satchel hit the ground and lay sideways.

“What’s wrong, mister?” I asked.

“Help,” he whispered. “Help me.”

“I’ll go call the police,” I said.

“No. Help me.”

“Okay. I’ll call an ambulance. I’ll be right back.”

“No. Help me.” He gasped.

I kneeled down next to his face and asked him how I could help him.

“The bag. Take the bag.”

“You want me to take all that money?”

“My hand,” he said, and I looked down and I could see his hand barely visible inside his jacket and I reached in, and he grabbed my wrist and squeezed it hard, and I saw a piece of paper flutter to the ground, and the wind lifted it and began to carry it with the dirt and dust, and I tried to yank my hand away from his grip and watch the paper at the same time, and he gave a heavy exhale and released me, and I ran after the paper and finally caught it and before reading it ran back to the man who was a little opened up from his curled position, and I saw the knife in his chest and began to run, and I was half-way across the field when I stopped to catch my breath and opened the crumpled paper and read a phone number my phone number.

I ran back to the man and grabbed the satchel and ran towards home. The blowing dirt blocked out the setting sun but it was still light but it was supper hour and everyone was in their kitchens eating something if they had it, and I had a gun and money and had to figure out how to get past my mother and sisters and up to my room with the bag,

They heard me come in and my mother came out to the living room and almost saw me holding the bag, but I tossed it behind the chair with the springs showing. “Go wash up for dinner, we’re having company.”

I ran up the stairs two at a time and into my bedroom. I closed the door and took off my dirty jacket. I went into the bathroom, washed up, scrubbed the blood off my wrist and slicked down my hair with water combing it with the wide teeth of the comb and slow-walked downstairs to the kitchen but not before grabbing the satchel from behind the chair and pushing it between the couch and wall.

In the kitchen my sisters were sitting, fidgeting, my mother smoking and the table set for one extra. Finally my mother got up and put away the extra place setting and served our supper, a hot dogs and bean casserole with wonder bread and margarine. She took out a large pickle jar from the refrigerator and poured us all grape Kool Aid, and after we ate, we stayed in the kitchen to do our homework.

That night, I snuck downstairs and grabbed the satchel and scurried back to my room. In my closet ceiling was a small opening to the low attic and I pushed aside the board and hid the satchel.

In the middle of the night, the police came, and we all had to sit in the living room and answer questions about a father we don’t remember ever seeing, and my mother sat smoking with a stare as vacant as the big lot and left with the policeman to go identify our father’s body.

After breakfast, Wonder bread toast and margarine, we were leaving to go to school when my mother crooked her finger at me. The girls were outside, and my mother in her housedress and apron with her arms folded in front of her, stared down at me. “Where?” She asked. I shrugged and ran out of the house and walked the girls to school looking over at the field with police cars and their lights blinking and the cops walking around looking down.

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