Lauratown and Other Short Stories

Lauratown and Other Short Stories

 Synopsis for Lauratown and Other Short Stories
 
“Lauratown And Other Short Stories” is a collection of writings by author Matt Shea. He specifically draws attention to the plight of those that are a little different or go by unnoticed. Their daily struggles with life challenges values and beliefs, but their faith will not allow compromise. His characters range from old to young; and cover both genders as well as all races. Through valor, they prevail in life by earning their just reward: respect followed by acceptance.

List of stories for Lauratown and other short stories

Old People

Lauratown

The Battle of Greensborough

It’s Just One Of Those Things

Young People

Secret Radio Man

Angie (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)  

Willy

Those Misinformed

The Psychic

The Haunted Exercise Bike (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)

Brother Paul

Epilogue

Author Biography

 
Angie
( By Matt Shea )
Prejudice is all around us.

Sometimes it’s based on experience, other times it was merely taught or imagined. Angie Walls was a contented African American teenager who loved her own back yard. School life was a bonus with Angie being a very popular honor student. She even had friends in the same neighborhood.

All of this would be taken away from her. Angie’s loving dad was offered a once-in-a-lifetime job promotion that he worked hard for. He had to accept it now or forever lose the opportunity. This advancement obligated the family to move far away. The city girl would now relocate in a farming town that appeared to be out of the 1800’s. Her fear was being the victim of prejudice. Her lesson would be to give others a chance and actually get to know them. 

Sunlight peered through the window as a fourteen-year-old Angie Walls laid in her bed. She clutched on to the quilts that kept her warm as she enjoyed the last moments of sleep. This was Saturday morning and Angie had her day planned out.

It was time to get up, have breakfast and prepare for the day. Her mother, Merisa agreed take her to the shopping mall to meet friends. Later, they would go to the movies and finish the day at a slumber party. Angie got out of bed and went down stairs in her pajamas. Her morning would start off by seeing her most favorite man; her father, Leon Walls.

He was in the living room as Angie ran up and gave him a warm hug followed by a kiss on the cheek.

Angie’s father spoke. “Good morning, Angie did you sleep well?”

“I slept very good, daddy,” she said.

The father’s voice changed into a serious tone. With a complex look on his face he addressed a serious matter. “Daughter,” he said. “We need to sit down and have a talk. There is something I need to tell you.”

Angie was curious. She respected her father and knew by his actions that something important was about to be revealed. He motioned her to the dining room.

Angie walked with her father to the dinner table and they took a seat. The humble man clasped his mighty hands on the table as he looked down. He was concentrating on how to express the news he was about to give. Looking up he smiled at his daughter. Using a firm soft voice he began to speak.

“My job has given me a promotion,” said Leon.

Angie’s face lit up with a smile and said, “That’s great, dad!” She leaned over and hugged her hero saying, “I’m proud of you!”

The compassionate father wrapped his muscular arms around her as he shook with emotion. Tears trickled down from his eyes. The father looked at his daughter and said, “There’s more to this promotion then just a pay increase. I am being transferred to the Midwest. Our family needs to move there after the holidays. They are being great about this and showed me detailed pictures of the nice house we will be living in.”

“But, dad,” replied Angie. “I don’t want to live there; my friends live here. Besides, those people are different and won’t like any of us!”

Angie’s father was compassionate and explained, “You have to give this a chance. Everything in this world is different, and that’s not always a bad thing.” He then smiled at her with encouragement and said, “C’mon, Angie; this is America!”

Angie could not accept leaving her school and friends behind. The teenager ran inside her room and locked the door. She fell on her bed and started to cry. Her father’s heart was broken as he understood her pain. He left her alone.

The daughter stayed in her room for over an hour sobbing.

Soon Angie came out for round two. “Please, daddy, please! I want to stay here with my friends.”

Her father anticipated this reaction. He had stayed up many nights putting a lot of thought into this move. He mentally reviewed every scenario that would affect his family and always reached the same conclusion; it would be for the best. “We have to, darling,” he said in a firm tone.

Angie went back to her room and locked herself in again.

The loving father went to the kitchen and started to make his daughter breakfast. The kind man would pick flowers from their yard and place them in a vase. That arrangement would be placed on a tray that would also hold a warm bowl of oatmeal topped with milk, nuts and brown sugar. A glass of orange juice with a small cup of diced fruit made the breakfast complete. The fortunate child would be served breakfast in her own room.

Leon walked up stairs with the food and gently tapped on the bedroom door calling out, “Room service.”

Angie knew her father’s humor and had to open the door. She opened it and saw the five star breakfast with the beautiful pastel marigolds. “May I come in?” he asked. The tears subsided as Angie’s face broke into a smile of relief. She nodded her head up and down as the bellhop brought the meal into her room. “Let’s discuss this matter in greater detail,” he suggested.

The daughter always felt love and protection from her father and shook her head in agreement. He placed the breakfast tray on her desk as she sat down in front of it. Leon pulled up a chair next to her and sat down. Angie grabbed the juice with both hands and took a drink. The room was now tranquil and ready for a talk.

“Angie,” said her father. “You need to understand that you will never lose your friends or anything you have. You will simply gain more things and will always be able to share them with others. This move will gain you more friends, teach you more things and offer you more places to go. Your friends will benefit through you because of this move. Your mother and I will also gain. This job will allow us to afford much more then we can now. At worse, we can always move back here. In the meantime, you can keep in touch with all of your friends. They can even stay with us when they come to visit.”

Angie started to open up. Her innocent brown eyes looked at her father as she asked. “What will we have over there?”

It was now Leon’s turn. “The country! It’s beautiful, clean and quiet with everything fresh. You love horses. We will be able to ride horses now. In fact, we will probably get a few of them ourselves.”

Angie’s face lit up with interest. “We might own horses?” she asked in excitement.

“Why sure,” said her dad. “That’s part of living in the country. You can learn how to ride one, then teach your friends how to ride when they visit. Their schools are also just as good as ours. When you go to college, you can go anywhere; even back here if you want to. There are also big cities in the county that have malls, movie theaters, drive-ins; just like here.

Angie started to feel better. There would be wonderful things waiting for them over there. And she would not lose her friends either. She asked another question. “What’s the name of the town we’re moving to?”

With an encouraging smile he answered, “Pardon”. Angie’s face contorted. She had no idea what a town with that kind of name would look like.

“Are you willing to give this a try?” asked the diplomat.

Angie thought for a moment and started to nod her head up and down over and over again. The daughter hugged her father saying, “I will go anywhere with you, dad. I love you so much.”

The conscientious father hugged his child and reminded her that she needed to get ready for her friends. The teenager felt much better and quickly ate her breakfast. She changed into her clothes and got ready for her day.

The news spread everywhere that she was moving. Her school served her a well-coordinated farewell party with an address book given to her as a going away gift. The book was filled with names and phone numbers of all her friends. Angie would now have guaranteed contact with all her loved ones.

Leon’s company was covering all expenses for this move. They even picked out a charming house that they put a sizable down payment on. All was looking good for his future.

Moving day had their car surrounded by Angie’s friends. The slow moving car resembled a limousine with rock stars as a swarm of teenagers followed it. She waved the address book out the back window promising that she would keep in touch. Soon the car was down the block with the Walls family driving to their new life.

It was adventurous driving halfway across the nation. The trip seemed more like a vacation with stops at fun restaurants, historical view points and fine hotels. The company credit card took care of the family on this journey.

The third day of the trip reached out to the farmlands that they would call home. Like Lisa Douglass on Green Acres, Angie began having second thoughts.

Leon followed his instructions carefully making every exit, following every road, and not missing a turn. The family car soon entered a desolate valley blanketed with soft snow. The serenity covered rolling hills for miles and miles. Country roads and telephones poles occupied this land with houses far and few between. The family drove by a red barn with rusted farming equipment laid off to the side. The antiques represented an era during the unjust Jim Crow laws of not too many years ago…

Angie’s worse fear became a reality. A small sign reading, “Welcome To Pardon” was posted along the roadside. It was like an insignificant stop sign out in the middle of nowhere. The young girl buried her head against the car door and cried like a lost child.

There was a yellow two story house that could be seen a mile down the road with a moving van in the driveway. Angie was now looking at her new home. There it was; standing tall in a field all alone.

“Well,” said Leon. “It looks like they got us into a nice home.” The father drove to the house and pulled into the driveway. The company had already gave him the keys. Leon’s family was now anxious to enter their new home. It was beautiful! Shiny wooden floors covered the entire home. The ceilings were a cathedral design with elegant light fixtures suspended on gold chains. The living room was spacious with a fireplace and bay view window. A bathroom had two sinks with a jacuzzi and bath. The kitchen was modern with granite counter tops that had a dining room adjacent to it. A sliding glass door led to a deck that viewed the backyard and a valley that went on for miles. A mountain range could be seen off in the distance.

Leon saw his daughter’s face gleam in approval. He then spoke. “Angie, why don’t you run upstairs and look at your new bedroom? It’s at the top of the stairs.”

Angie ran upstairs to see her new bedroom. It was located exactly where her old one was back home. This one however, was bigger with a walk in closet. It also had a deck with an improved view of the backyard with another very important feature; her own bathroom. She fell in love with it.

Downstairs had the master bedroom with a much larger bathroom and private deck. Another bedroom along with a family room and built in two car garage accompanied their new living quarters. Merisa Walls looked at her husband and said, “This will do!” The supportive wife hugged the big man and gave him a kiss.

The parents walked up the stairwell and saw Angie looking out her window. She seemed to be in awe looking out over the valley that went on for infinity.

“Angie,” said her dad. “I just called my new district manager, Mr. Collins. He is coming by to introduce himself and invited us to have dinner with his family tonight. The movers will be called to unload the van with myself showing them where everything goes. After that I will join you and your mother at Mr. Collin’s house.”

A knock was heard on the door as Merisa went down stairs to open it. She opened the door knowing that it could only be Mr. Collins. She introduced herself and then called out to her husband, “Leon, Mr. Collins is here.”

Leon went down stairs followed by Angie. The friendly visitor was a charming gray haired man in glasses that wore a three piece suit. He held a basket of flowers that had a small banner that read: Welcome home. The basket was handed to Merisa as he extended his hand to shake Leon’s. “You must be Leon Walls said the gracious elder.”

Leon spoke. “I am, Mr. Collins. Pleased to meet you.”

The happy man responded, “Mr. Collins is my dad, please call me Richard.” The boss looked at Angie and said, “This has got to be your daughter that I have heard so much about!” The man shook hands with Angie and introduced himself once again. She responded by identifying herself as “Angie”. She liked Richard Collins.

Richard continued, “I have a special surprise for you this evening, Angie. My daughter and some of your new classmates will be meeting you tonight. You will have a lot of fun, I promise!”

Angie stood tall and took a deep breath. This would be a test…

Her parents looked at their little girl with pride. She was addressing this new change in her life; head- on. “I can’t wait to meet them,” she said.

“Well good,” said a sincere Richard.

A brief conversation continued as the family got acquainted with Richard. It was arranged that the mother and daughter would ride in his car. After Leon helped the movers, he would follow the map given to him to Richard’s home.

Merisa and Angie followed the district manager outside. A shiny black Jeep Comanche waited to transport them. They felt comfortable driving through the valley having established a friendship.

They soon arrived at his modest home. It was a rambler that stood alone with a view. There were cars in front that illustrated other guests were present. Like their own home; everything was nice, but not too lavish.

Upon entering the home Mrs. Collins greeted the mother and daughter. She was equally hospitable and hugged Merisa welcoming her to their home and to the community. Angie received the same greeting with a hug. Then she was introduced to their daughter.

A pretty blonde haired blue eyed teenage girl introduced herself to Angie. “Hi, Angie, my name is Lydia.” Lydia then hugged her new friend.

Angie introduced herself and immediately liked Lydia.

“Follow me,” said Lydia. “You need to meet everyone.” Angie was led through the living room and to Lydia’s bedroom. Inside, there were more girls her age. All white and from this part of the country. “This is Angie,” announced Lydia. At once all the girls surrounded her with hugs and introduced themselves.

Her new friends were polite and showed no reaction to Angie’s ethnicity. To them, she was nothing more than a new kid in school. Angie liked not standing out. She was also perceptive and studied them through the course of the evening.

The girls dressed like she did, and listened to the same music. They even watched the same shows and had a crush on the same stars. They were just like her and also liked to go to town for the day and check out the malls.

Time passed quickly and soon a slight tapping on the door could be heard. Lydia opened it to see a large black man with a gracious smile. “Is Angie there?” he asked. Angie recognized her father’s voice and ran to the door, hugging him. She was proud of him and introduced her dad to everyone in the room. He won them over with his class and good looks.

It was dinner time with pizza, salad and beverages. The host had a buffet style display in the kitchen. This party food allowed the girls to eat in Lydia’s bedroom and for the adults to mingle in the living room. Richard Collins had invited a few neighbors along with business associates to meet Leon and his family.

The evening was the perfect ‘welcome wagon’ for the Walls family. The next day was Saturday and Angie’s new friends had plans to spend the day in the city. They wanted Angie to be with them. This outing would serve as another test…

In town, Angie had fun and discovered that there were other black families that blended in with everyone else. Angie started to drop her guard a bit more.

The next day she was invited to go horseback riding with Lydia and her family. One-by-one, her dad’s promises were coming true. The city girl was given a precious gift by Lydia. A stylish western hat that would hold in heat, shield the elements and attract boys! Angie put on the hat. It fit perfect as it highlighted her pretty face. She was then mounted on a beautiful palomino horse that was tame. That afternoon changed her life as she rode through trails and meadows that had a light dusting of snow. A special dream of hers had just come true. Pictures were taken by Lydia’s father that would be emailed to her friends.

Angie would face another test on Monday. It would be her first day in school…

Angie was the only black student in that small school. She did however, get a running start having gotten close to a few of her classmates already. There seemed to be acceptance with nothing negative being directed to her African descent. She was treated like the other students.

But there was one more test coming up that would confirm any suspicion of prejudice. Her favorite day of the year was almost here: The third Monday in January which was Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Her final decision would be based on how her new environment observed this national holiday.

To her delight the school would commemorate the holiday by holding an annual essay contest about Dr. King. This was Angie’s favorite topic. Every year she wrote award-winning essays about him and the impact he left on history. She vowed to make her presence know in this contest.

The elated student shared the news with her parents. “Do you think anyone else has a chance at winning this contest?” laughed her dad.

“Angie, you always win with your essays,” said her mother. “Do you want someone else to win this time?”

“Mom, when it comes to Dr. Martin Luther King, I will always give it my best!” said the motivated daughter.

“Just like you do with everything else,” commented her dad. “Angie, give it your all and break a leg,” advised her father.

Friday arrived and Angie was prepared. She brought her improved writings about Dr. King on the bus and departed for school. Angie knew that she created her best essay yet. With confidence she couldn’t wait for her turn to read it in the auditorium in front of the entire school. She also couldn’t wait to return home and report to her parents about her performance.

It was now four o’clock in the afternoon with the yellow school bus making its stop in front of the Walls’ house. Angie ran out with excitement. Her parents saw their child through the living room window and knew that she had a successful day at school. She entered her home to find her parents looking at her eagerly.

“How did you do?” asked the mother.

Angie was out of breath and said, “I got third place!”

The parents looked in disbelief. “You only got third place for your beautiful essay on Dr. King?” questioned her father.

Angie didn’t feel bad about how she placed; she was happy on how others placed. She justified earning a third place and credited those that placed higher than she did. “It was fair because they were better than mine,” explained the daughter. “They did know a lot about him because they cared!”

The parents were impressed.

“It doesn’t matter who wins the essay contest. All that’s important is what we learn from it,” said Angie “I didn’t know that Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite television show was Star Trek! And did you know that pecan pie was his favorite dessert?” The young woman recited more facts about the civil rights leader that she didn’t know before. Her parents were stunned with all the facts and trivia she learned that day from her new classmates.

Then she asked a question. “Mom and dad, since there is no school tomorrow; can I have some of my friends stay over tonight?”

“Angie,” said her dad. “You can have as many friends over as possible and let them know that we are ordering pizza! I also have some good news. My company is expanding and will be sending more families from back home over here. Some of your friends from your old school will be our new neighbors.”

“That will be great!” said the well-adjusted daughter. “I can introduce my new friends to my old friends; or my old friends to my new friends!”

Her dad laughed and said, “It seems that wherever you go you make friends!”

The happy daughter hugged her parents and thanked them. She ran to her room to call her many friends for a slumber party.

A month later there was a strange whistling sound coming from Angie’s bedroom. The father heard it first and walked upstairs, tapping on her door. The daughter answered it holding a piccolo and wearing a green outfit with a matching kilt and beret.

“What on earth are you doing?” asked the bewildered father.

Angie stood at attention and announced, “Our school is going to have an essay contest about St. Patrick’s Day and I am going to win it!” She put the wind instrument up to her mouth and blew. It made a shrill sound that irritated her father’s ears.

Leon raised his hands and covered his ears. “St. Patrick’s Day is over a month away,” pointed out the confused father. “Besides, you don’t even have an ounce of Irish in you.”

It was now Angie’s turn. The enthused daughter stared at her father and said, “C’mon, dad; this is America!”

Leon tensed up realizing where he heard that quote before. He started to laugh at himself and hugged Angie with both arms. “You are right,” said the dad. “Now I want you to learn as much as you can about those Irish customs. Keep learning and always share what you learn.”

The trembling man kissed his daughter on the forehead and continued. “Your mother and I are so proud of you, Angie. It’s people like you that make this world a better place.”

The Haunted Exercise bike
( By Matt Shea )
Final seconds ticked away. With enthusiasm, a single line of blue coveralls, white hard hats and steel-towed boots shouted the countdown. “Five, four, three, two, one; let’s get out of here!” Quickly, the line simultaneously moved, grabbing their punch cards from the alphabetical card holder and punching out. In the same motion, the card was returned to its monogrammed slot. The indentured servants were now free men. School had just let out and what was more important, it was Friday! The American worker had just earned his paycheck with Friday night rituals awaiting.

There is a space that separates a worker from the family man. From there, a corner exists way out in left field that only guys would understand. This territory is usually found in a tavern. In these gin mills men bond to prove their manhood and further control their spouses, or so they think…

Larry Floans maintained his perfect batting average by being the first employee to officially be off the time clock. The master turned around to his co-workers and said, “Last one at Milt’s Bar is a rotten egg!”

Voices from the regiment said, “See ya in a few.”

Larry was popular. It seemed that at work he was the ‘power behind the throne’. He had all the answers and gave advice to others, even when they didn’t ask. It would be an understatement to say that Larry was confident.

Larry took the brisk walk to his pickup truck and instinctively drove three blocks to Milt’s Bar. The parking space of choice was vacant. As usual he beat the Friday happy hour crowd by minutes. The short stubby man parked his car and entered the bar. Without thought he secured the best seats in the house; a booth in the corner. It seemed that everything always went Larry’s way as he sat down and lit up a cigar. 

Steve, the bartender called out to his regular customer. “Great to see you, Larry! What can I get you?”

Larry moved fast; by getting the first round of drinks, the night would be his. “How about four pitchers of beer, your famous chicken wings with lots of glasses?” answered Larry.

“Right away,” replied Steve.

Larry’s booth had a panoramic view of the entire room including the parking lot. Soon a familiar car entered the lot followed by others. Some were friends from work, others were strangers. But it didn’t matter, Larry had already staked the claim.

In moments the Friday after-work crowd rushed into Milt’s bar. Larry’s friends were at ease; they already saw his truck and knew that their favorite table was secured. The celebration of the weekend was now underway.

“Great job, Larry!” cried out Dan Hansen as the seasoned machinist patted him on the back.

“Old reliable has done it again!” said Greg Jennings as he slid into the booth. Soon twelve men surrounded the table as glasses of beer were being poured. It was now time to relax and share stories. As usual, the male bonding started off with Larry telling a joke, leaving the entire table doubled up with laughter. Then he drew everyone’s attention to the closest television screen that hung from the ceiling.

“Look at that!” said Larry as he pointed at the screen. The men all looked and saw a sexy woman on an exercise bike. Her radiant smile was everlasting as she demonstrated the product. A diagram of a female body was then illustrated showing how the bike can melt off unwanted pounds.

“I need to get my wife, Agnes one of those,” said a lustful Larry. “She was a beauty when we first dated.” Larry’s eyes bulged in ecstasy as he devoured a greasy chicken wing.

“Well speak of the devil,” said Dan Hansen. “There is an exercise bike exactly like that on my next door neighbor’s front lawn. I noticed it this morning when I left for work. I have no idea why it’s there. It’s as if it’s looking for a home.”

The wheels started turning in Larry’s head. “Do you think it’s still there?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but it might be,” said Dan.

“I am going to drive by your house and see if it is,” said Larry. “Save my seat, I’ll be back in awhile.” Larry knew a good deal when he saw it. He also knew how to manipulate his wife.

The evening quickly turned into a business venture. Without hesitation, Larry Floans dashed out of the bar; to meet fate. He drove the eight blocks to his friend’s neighborhood. As he approached Dan’s property he saw the gallant machine on the far corner of his neighbor’s front yard. It was sitting tall like the RCA dog in all its glory. Larry smiled in victory as he parked his truck next to the abandoned exercise bike.

Leaving the engine running, he got out of his vehicle and walked to the back. He opened the gate of the pickup and lowered it. Larry whistled as he walked toward model ZR7794P and declared ownership. Like the ad on television, this exercise bike was lightweight and could give anyone a new life; even Agnes. The proud owner placed the bike in the bed of his truck and secured the gate closed. Like the winner he always was, he entered the truck, closed the door and drove straight home. He wasn’t about to give anyone a chance at stealing his new exercise bike. 

About forty-five minutes passed until Larry arrived back at the bar. Within moments, the commercial with the young, sexy woman was being played again. Larry used this as a prop to draw humor. He pointed at the beautiful woman and called out, “Agnes!” His friends laughed hard until Larry interrupted. “I guess I was wrong , but soon my Agnes will be looking just like that!” said a smug Larry as he laid back in his seat puffing a cigar.

“What do you mean?” asked Greg Jennings.

Larry was in his element. He was the center of attention and giving advice. The short, heavy man with the mustache clasped his hands behind his head as he looked up in thought. The table was quiet. He removed the cigar from his mouth and began to speak. “You just have to know women,” he said in a cocky tone. “I will soon have the most beautiful, sexy, dynamo woman out there; without having to say a word.”

“How can you do that?” asked Greg.

“By controlling her surroundings,” said Larry. “Her thoughts will be focused on what she is surrounded by and what I show interest in. That will motivate her to lose weight.” With confidence he winked at his audience.

Larry continued. “Tonight I employed the final ingredient needed to set the stage. Thanks to my good friend, Dan, I was able to get the very exercise bike the dame on TV works out on; for free. When Agnes was in the bathroom I placed it in our home and left quietly. I have already taken measures by buying Jane Fonda Workout Tapes and stacking them on top of our VCR.”

Larry continued to share his strategy. “My garage has the calenders with the Sports Illustrated centerfolds pinned up. I often call out to her while I am in there to assist me on a project. When we watch a movie, or are out in public, I let her notice how I look at attractive women. Now she has a state-of-the-art exercise machine in our living room. This all puts the idea in her head to look like those gorgeous women on television!” Like Archie Bunker, Larry sat back impressed with himself.

“You’re a genius!” exclaimed Greg. Larry could only look back nodding in agreement.

The tempo in the room changed when a neighbor of Larry’s entered the bar. It was Mike Fields and he noticed Larry. “I want to thank you for the nice exercise bike, Larry,” said Mike.

Larry put his beer down and looked at his neighbor. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“That exercise bike that was on the corner of your front yard,” he replied. “I just carried it into our house before I got here. I want to thank you for leaving it out so that someone like my wife can get use of it.”

Larry sat low in his seat staring at his glass of beer. His eyes were dilated as he calmly said, “I didn’t put it there.”

Mike looked perplexed and asked, “Do you think Agnes had anything to do with it?”

Larry thought for a moment and looked up with a puzzled expression. “She didn’t have time to try it out because she had an appointment with her hairdresser.” The room silenced in bewilderment.

“Do you want me to pay for what it cost you?” asked Mike.

Larry was pinned in a corner. He was just bragging in front of the guys on how he got it for free. He couldn’t take advantage of him at that moment. He was forced to respond with class. “No, that’s alright. It’s yours now,” he replied.

Larry wanted to maintain his composure and invited Mike to join his friends for a beer. He changed the conversation with more stories generating more laughter. An hour passed, then the mystery of the bike arose again.

Mike was sitting next to Larry and noticed his brother-in-law, Stan pull into the parking lot. It was obvious that he was aware of Mike’s presence. When he entered the establishment, he looked around until he saw Mike. “Hey, I want to thank you for the exercise bike.”

A dumfounded Mike slowly turned and looked at Larry. Larry sat still looking at his beer, absorbing the message. Mike looked up at Stan and asked, “What are you talking about?”

“The exercise bike that was on your front yard. It was close to the sidewalk, so naturally I thought that you wanted to get rid of it,” replied the in-law. “I was going to get one for my wife, Susan, but you saved me a trip and some money.”

Mike stiffen up and calmly remarked, “I didn’t put it there.”

“Maybe someone broke into your home and put it there,” suggested Stan.

“I don’t see how; we always keep the doors locked,” said Mike. “Besides, my wife was attending a Tupperware Party across the street and would have seen any suspicious activity.” The room sat still in wonderment…

Finally, Larry spoke up. “I have an idea. Let’s drive through our neighborhood and see if it has moved again.” Mike and Stan were curious and agreed to ride with Larry. “We’ll be back in a few,” said Larry. The three neighbors left the table to further inspect this phenomenon.

Night had arrived with a fall chill in the air. Fog was setting in this community as the three detectives entered Larry’s truck. “This is getting spooky,” said Larry. They left the parking lot and drove the few blocks to their homes. As Larry rounded the last corner to make his final approach, the three men gasped in horror. Riding on top of the fog like the Flying Dutchman was ZR7794P! It was now floating on the edge of Stan’s front lawn for all to see. It’s shiny metal frame was moist from the elements and glistened as it defied boundaries.

Larry grasped the steering wheel with both hands and accelerated down the street.

“Did you see that?” exclaimed Mike.

“We all saw it,” muttered Larry.

The trio returned to Milt’s Bar and reunited with their friends. “You won’t believe what we just saw!” said Larry. He then told of the supernatural occurrences that surrounded the exercise bike that evening.

It was now time to have a meeting of the minds. The group of men sat quietly at their table and took turns with their theory on what was happening and why.

Pete Wilson was always the quiet one of the group. He spoke first. “Larry, do you think that you are cursed?”

Larry leaned back in his chair and pondered on that thought. He then questioned, “Why would I be cursed?”

Another voice broke the silence, it was John Carolson. “Do you think that your son from your first marriage put a spell on you?”

Larry digested the probability. In defense he answered. “That teenager is the luckiest boy in the whole world! Every Christmas I out-spend his mother and their entire family. I also never write him unless I put money in the envelope, and get this; every year I take him to Disneyland!”

“Wow,” said John. “You have class!”

The men raised their beers and cheered Larry for being a great father.

Steve Hayes spoke next. “Do you think that after the bike was manufactured that it was flown over Stonehenge or the Bermuda Triangle?” The table was stunned as they slouched over and looked at one another in fear.

It was now Rick Schroder’s turn. “Maybe someone that’s a member of a cult tried using it as a demonstration model and decided not to buy it. But they did touch it!” Heads nodded with the understanding that that’s all it would take.

Stan stood up and said, “Well there’s one thing for certain; I won’t have that evil machine in my yard!”

“Where are you going to put it?” asked Mike.

“In your yard,” said Stan.”That’s where I found it. Our house will be haunted until I return it to its natural burial site!”

“But, it wasn’t originally there,” replied Mike. “I found it on Larry’s property!”

All eyes were on Larry. In a quivering voice he said, “I found it in Dan’s neighborhood!”

“Do you think that it’s following you?” asked Pat Gibbons.

“Maybe it’s centuries old and haunts the entire planet until Judgment Day.” suggested Phil Write.

“I’m getting it off of my property right now!” exclaimed Stan. He finished his drink and left the bar.

The congregation stayed behind pondering on the spirituality of the exercise bike. Within ten minutes Stan’s car returned to the parking lot. He entered the tavern with a pasty white face and bulging eyes. “It vanished!” he proclaimed. “It must have floated away in the fog!” The room was petrified as they stared at one another. All were in silence.

The moment was interrupted when Stan’s brother, George entered the bar. He walked up to Stan and said, “I was happy to take that exercise bike off of your hands. Now it’s just a matter of getting my wife to use it,” he said. “She is at the Tupperware Party tonight with all the girls. She will be surprised when she gets home and sees it in the living room.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” remarked Mike.

It was getting close to seven o’clock. The guys decided to order a pizza and have a last round. Nothing more was needed to be said about the traveling exercise bike.

Milt’s specialty was his house pizza. It was served in a jumbo size extra-large pan; enough to feed a small army. The men devoured the tasty meal and ‘bottoms up’ their glasses. Each patron opened their wallets and littered the table with bills. There was more then enough to pay for the evening with a handsome gratuity for the server.

Larry looked at his friend, Stan and asked what his plans were for the weekend. “I want to get in Paul’s Thrift Store before the crowd gets there.”

Larry’s face contorted as he asked Stan, “What crowd?”

Stan grinned at Larry and asked, “Don’t you know? This is Paul’s Three Day Weekend Sale. He does this every year. There are always long lines in the morning when he has his three day sale. It’s like Macy’s when they kick off the holidays!”

Larry never knew of such a sale and wanted to know more. “If it lasts three days then it must have started today,” he said.

“It did start this morning, but being Friday not many customers will come,” said Stan.

Larry asked, “Aren’t they opened until ten at night?” He looked at his watch and said, “It’s only a quarter to nine, let’s get in there right now!” They shook their heads in agreement and raced to the parking lot. “I’ll meet you inside the store,” said Larry.

Larry arrived first with Stan close behind. It was the calm before the storm at Paul’s Thrift Store with the parking lot almost full. Together they hustled in the store and filtered in with the crowd. The lines to the cash registers were several customers deep with the donation bins and backroom being emptied to fill depleted shelves. Larry’s jaw dropped when he saw the marked down prices of the used merchandise. Using his instincts, he raced to the department that held exercise tapes and equipment.

Larry was like a kid in a candy store! Pink dumb bells, with matching sit-up benches graced the room. Posters of Hollywood celebrates endorsed their workout videos with money back guarantees. A multitude of diet drinks and health bars crammed the shelves. He turned around to see Stan staring at him. Larry cried out, “We struck it rich!”

Behind Stan was the windows that outlined the front of the store. The dark autumn night gave the glass an obscure, rippled look; serving as a mirror. Larry was momentarily distracted when he saw his own reflection. He suddenly reached a state of panic when he saw ZR7794P zeroing in behind him! Larry knew that it was the spirit of the haunted exercise bike trying to get him and turned around to flee.

A long metal platform on wheels used to transport items was coasting towards Larry with the bike on its bow. The exercise machine appeared to be in the same stance a bull would use before charging a matador. It was placed on the very front of the cart with old clothes underneath it. The bike’s rear end was elevated as the structure slightly weaved back and fourth from the motion. Its pink handle bars seemed to be pinned back; ready for attack. He was now face-to-face with this demonic metal contraption and fainted.

The exercise bike was being put on the market once again. Soon another husband with bright ideas will buy it in attempt to motivate his wife. Like a fruitcake during the holidays; it will make its rounds as a gift throughout the office and entire neighborhood. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Many of the women who attended the Tupperware party knew of the bike and were disgusted with it. As far as the lovely Agnes goes; she didn’t attend the party and was at the beauticians. Did she actually play a part in this stray machines life and know a few secrets she’s not telling? One must ask thyself:

Does she, or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure…”

Angie
( By Matt Shea )
Prejudice is all around us.

Sometimes it’s based on experience, other times it was merely taught or imagined. Angie Walls was a contented African American teenager who loved her own back yard. School life was a bonus with Angie being a very popular honor student. She even had friends in the same neighborhood.

All of this would be taken away from her. Angie’s loving dad was offered a once-in-a-lifetime job promotion that he worked hard for. He had to accept it now or forever lose the opportunity. This advancement obligated the family to move far away. The city girl would now relocate in a farming town that appeared to be out of the 1800’s. Her fear was being the victim of prejudice. Her lesson would be to give others a chance and actually get to know them. 

Sunlight peered through the window as a fourteen-year-old Angie Walls laid in her bed. She clutched on to the quilts that kept her warm as she enjoyed the last moments of sleep. This was Saturday morning and Angie had her day planned out.

It was time to get up, have breakfast and prepare for the day. Her mother, Merisa agreed take her to the shopping mall to meet friends. Later, they would go to the movies and finish the day at a slumber party. Angie got out of bed and went down stairs in her pajamas. Her morning would start off by seeing her most favorite man; her father, Leon Walls.

He was in the living room as Angie ran up and gave him a warm hug followed by a kiss on the cheek.

Angie’s father spoke. “Good morning, Angie did you sleep well?”

“I slept very good, daddy,” she said.

The father’s voice changed into a serious tone. With a complex look on his face he addressed a serious matter. “Daughter,” he said. “We need to sit down and have a talk. There is something I need to tell you.”

Angie was curious. She respected her father and knew by his actions that something important was about to be revealed. He motioned her to the dining room.

Angie walked with her father to the dinner table and they took a seat. The humble man clasped his mighty hands on the table as he looked down. He was concentrating on how to express the news he was about to give. Looking up he smiled at his daughter. Using a firm soft voice he began to speak.

“My job has given me a promotion,” said Leon.

Angie’s face lit up with a smile and said, “That’s great, dad!” She leaned over and hugged her hero saying, “I’m proud of you!”

The compassionate father wrapped his muscular arms around her as he shook with emotion. Tears trickled down from his eyes. The father looked at his daughter and said, “There’s more to this promotion then just a pay increase. I am being transferred to the Midwest. Our family needs to move there after the holidays. They are being great about this and showed me detailed pictures of the nice house we will be living in.”

“But, dad,” replied Angie. “I don’t want to live there; my friends live here. Besides, those people are different and won’t like any of us!”

Angie’s father was compassionate and explained, “You have to give this a chance. Everything in this world is different, and that’s not always a bad thing.” He then smiled at her with encouragement and said, “C’mon, Angie; this is America!”

Angie could not accept leaving her school and friends behind. The teenager ran inside her room and locked the door. She fell on her bed and started to cry. Her father’s heart was broken as he understood her pain. He left her alone.

The daughter stayed in her room for over an hour sobbing.

Soon Angie came out for round two. “Please, daddy, please! I want to stay here with my friends.”

Her father anticipated this reaction. He had stayed up many nights putting a lot of thought into this move. He mentally reviewed every scenario that would affect his family and always reached the same conclusion; it would be for the best. “We have to, darling,” he said in a firm tone.

Angie went back to her room and locked herself in again.

The loving father went to the kitchen and started to make his daughter breakfast. The kind man would pick flowers from their yard and place them in a vase. That arrangement would be placed on a tray that would also hold a warm bowl of oatmeal topped with milk, nuts and brown sugar. A glass of orange juice with a small cup of diced fruit made the breakfast complete. The fortunate child would be served breakfast in her own room.

Leon walked up stairs with the food and gently tapped on the bedroom door calling out, “Room service.”

Angie knew her father’s humor and had to open the door. She opened it and saw the five star breakfast with the beautiful pastel marigolds. “May I come in?” he asked. The tears subsided as Angie’s face broke into a smile of relief. She nodded her head up and down as the bellhop brought the meal into her room. “Let’s discuss this matter in greater detail,” he suggested.

The daughter always felt love and protection from her father and shook her head in agreement. He placed the breakfast tray on her desk as she sat down in front of it. Leon pulled up a chair next to her and sat down. Angie grabbed the juice with both hands and took a drink. The room was now tranquil and ready for a talk.

“Angie,” said her father. “You need to understand that you will never lose your friends or anything you have. You will simply gain more things and will always be able to share them with others. This move will gain you more friends, teach you more things and offer you more places to go. Your friends will benefit through you because of this move. Your mother and I will also gain. This job will allow us to afford much more then we can now. At worse, we can always move back here. In the meantime, you can keep in touch with all of your friends. They can even stay with us when they come to visit.”

Angie started to open up. Her innocent brown eyes looked at her father as she asked. “What will we have over there?”

It was now Leon’s turn. “The country! It’s beautiful, clean and quiet with everything fresh. You love horses. We will be able to ride horses now. In fact, we will probably get a few of them ourselves.”

Angie’s face lit up with interest. “We might own horses?” she asked in excitement.

“Why sure,” said her dad. “That’s part of living in the country. You can learn how to ride one, then teach your friends how to ride when they visit. Their schools are also just as good as ours. When you go to college, you can go anywhere; even back here if you want to. There are also big cities in the county that have malls, movie theaters, drive-ins; just like here.

Angie started to feel better. There would be wonderful things waiting for them over there. And she would not lose her friends either. She asked another question. “What’s the name of the town we’re moving to?”

With an encouraging smile he answered, “Pardon”. Angie’s face contorted. She had no idea what a town with that kind of name would look like.

“Are you willing to give this a try?” asked the diplomat.

Angie thought for a moment and started to nod her head up and down over and over again. The daughter hugged her father saying, “I will go anywhere with you, dad. I love you so much.”

The conscientious father hugged his child and reminded her that she needed to get ready for her friends. The teenager felt much better and quickly ate her breakfast. She changed into her clothes and got ready for her day.

The news spread everywhere that she was moving. Her school served her a well-coordinated farewell party with an address book given to her as a going away gift. The book was filled with names and phone numbers of all her friends. Angie would now have guaranteed contact with all her loved ones.

Leon’s company was covering all expenses for this move. They even picked out a charming house that they put a sizable down payment on. All was looking good for his future.

Moving day had their car surrounded by Angie’s friends. The slow moving car resembled a limousine with rock stars as a swarm of teenagers followed it. She waved the address book out the back window promising that she would keep in touch. Soon the car was down the block with the Walls family driving to their new life.

It was adventurous driving halfway across the nation. The trip seemed more like a vacation with stops at fun restaurants, historical view points and fine hotels. The company credit card took care of the family on this journey.

The third day of the trip reached out to the farmlands that they would call home. Like Lisa Douglass on Green Acres, Angie began having second thoughts.

Leon followed his instructions carefully making every exit, following every road, and not missing a turn. The family car soon entered a desolate valley blanketed with soft snow. The serenity covered rolling hills for miles and miles. Country roads and telephones poles occupied this land with houses far and few between. The family drove by a red barn with rusted farming equipment laid off to the side. The antiques represented an era during the unjust Jim Crow laws of not too many years ago…

Angie’s worse fear became a reality. A small sign reading, “Welcome To Pardon” was posted along the roadside. It was like an insignificant stop sign out in the middle of nowhere. The young girl buried her head against the car door and cried like a lost child.

There was a yellow two story house that could be seen a mile down the road with a moving van in the driveway. Angie was now looking at her new home. There it was; standing tall in a field all alone.

“Well,” said Leon. “It looks like they got us into a nice home.” The father drove to the house and pulled into the driveway. The company had already gave him the keys. Leon’s family was now anxious to enter their new home. It was beautiful! Shiny wooden floors covered the entire home. The ceilings were a cathedral design with elegant light fixtures suspended on gold chains. The living room was spacious with a fireplace and bay view window. A bathroom had two sinks with a jacuzzi and bath. The kitchen was modern with granite counter tops that had a dining room adjacent to it. A sliding glass door led to a deck that viewed the backyard and a valley that went on for miles. A mountain range could be seen off in the distance.

Leon saw his daughter’s face gleam in approval. He then spoke. “Angie, why don’t you run upstairs and look at your new bedroom? It’s at the top of the stairs.”

Angie ran upstairs to see her new bedroom. It was located exactly where her old one was back home. This one however, was bigger with a walk in closet. It also had a deck with an improved view of the backyard with another very important feature; her own bathroom. She fell in love with it.

Downstairs had the master bedroom with a much larger bathroom and private deck. Another bedroom along with a family room and built in two car garage accompanied their new living quarters. Merisa Walls looked at her husband and said, “This will do!” The supportive wife hugged the big man and gave him a kiss.

The parents walked up the stairwell and saw Angie looking out her window. She seemed to be in awe looking out over the valley that went on for infinity.

“Angie,” said her dad. “I just called my new district manager, Mr. Collins. He is coming by to introduce himself and invited us to have dinner with his family tonight. The movers will be called to unload the van with myself showing them where everything goes. After that I will join you and your mother at Mr. Collin’s house.”

A knock was heard on the door as Merisa went down stairs to open it. She opened the door knowing that it could only be Mr. Collins. She introduced herself and then called out to her husband, “Leon, Mr. Collins is here.”

Leon went down stairs followed by Angie. The friendly visitor was a charming gray haired man in glasses that wore a three piece suit. He held a basket of flowers that had a small banner that read: Welcome home. The basket was handed to Merisa as he extended his hand to shake Leon’s. “You must be Leon Walls said the gracious elder.”

Leon spoke. “I am, Mr. Collins. Pleased to meet you.”

The happy man responded, “Mr. Collins is my dad, please call me Richard.” The boss looked at Angie and said, “This has got to be your daughter that I have heard so much about!” The man shook hands with Angie and introduced himself once again. She responded by identifying herself as “Angie”. She liked Richard Collins.

Richard continued, “I have a special surprise for you this evening, Angie. My daughter and some of your new classmates will be meeting you tonight. You will have a lot of fun, I promise!”

Angie stood tall and took a deep breath. This would be a test…

Her parents looked at their little girl with pride. She was addressing this new change in her life; head- on. “I can’t wait to meet them,” she said.

“Well good,” said a sincere Richard.

A brief conversation continued as the family got acquainted with Richard. It was arranged that the mother and daughter would ride in his car. After Leon helped the movers, he would follow the map given to him to Richard’s home.

Merisa and Angie followed the district manager outside. A shiny black Jeep Comanche waited to transport them. They felt comfortable driving through the valley having established a friendship.

They soon arrived at his modest home. It was a rambler that stood alone with a view. There were cars in front that illustrated other guests were present. Like their own home; everything was nice, but not too lavish.

Upon entering the home Mrs. Collins greeted the mother and daughter. She was equally hospitable and hugged Merisa welcoming her to their home and to the community. Angie received the same greeting with a hug. Then she was introduced to their daughter.

A pretty blonde haired blue eyed teenage girl introduced herself to Angie. “Hi, Angie, my name is Lydia.” Lydia then hugged her new friend.

Angie introduced herself and immediately liked Lydia.

“Follow me,” said Lydia. “You need to meet everyone.” Angie was led through the living room and to Lydia’s bedroom. Inside, there were more girls her age. All white and from this part of the country. “This is Angie,” announced Lydia. At once all the girls surrounded her with hugs and introduced themselves.

Her new friends were polite and showed no reaction to Angie’s ethnicity. To them, she was nothing more than a new kid in school. Angie liked not standing out. She was also perceptive and studied them through the course of the evening.

The girls dressed like she did, and listened to the same music. They even watched the same shows and had a crush on the same stars. They were just like her and also liked to go to town for the day and check out the malls.

Time passed quickly and soon a slight tapping on the door could be heard. Lydia opened it to see a large black man with a gracious smile. “Is Angie there?” he asked. Angie recognized her father’s voice and ran to the door, hugging him. She was proud of him and introduced her dad to everyone in the room. He won them over with his class and good looks.

It was dinner time with pizza, salad and beverages. The host had a buffet style display in the kitchen. This party food allowed the girls to eat in Lydia’s bedroom and for the adults to mingle in the living room. Richard Collins had invited a few neighbors along with business associates to meet Leon and his family.

The evening was the perfect ‘welcome wagon’ for the Walls family. The next day was Saturday and Angie’s new friends had plans to spend the day in the city. They wanted Angie to be with them. This outing would serve as another test…

In town, Angie had fun and discovered that there were other black families that blended in with everyone else. Angie started to drop her guard a bit more.

The next day she was invited to go horseback riding with Lydia and her family. One-by-one, her dad’s promises were coming true. The city girl was given a precious gift by Lydia. A stylish western hat that would hold in heat, shield the elements and attract boys! Angie put on the hat. It fit perfect as it highlighted her pretty face. She was then mounted on a beautiful palomino horse that was tame. That afternoon changed her life as she rode through trails and meadows that had a light dusting of snow. A special dream of hers had just come true. Pictures were taken by Lydia’s father that would be emailed to her friends.

Angie would face another test on Monday. It would be her first day in school…

Angie was the only black student in that small school. She did however, get a running start having gotten close to a few of her classmates already. There seemed to be acceptance with nothing negative being directed to her African descent. She was treated like the other students.

But there was one more test coming up that would confirm any suspicion of prejudice. Her favorite day of the year was almost here: The third Monday in January which was Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Her final decision would be based on how her new environment observed this national holiday.

To her delight the school would commemorate the holiday by holding an annual essay contest about Dr. King. This was Angie’s favorite topic. Every year she wrote award-winning essays about him and the impact he left on history. She vowed to make her presence know in this contest.

The elated student shared the news with her parents. “Do you think anyone else has a chance at winning this contest?” laughed her dad.

“Angie, you always win with your essays,” said her mother. “Do you want someone else to win this time?”

“Mom, when it comes to Dr. Martin Luther King, I will always give it my best!” said the motivated daughter.

“Just like you do with everything else,” commented her dad. “Angie, give it your all and break a leg,” advised her father.

Friday arrived and Angie was prepared. She brought her improved writings about Dr. King on the bus and departed for school. Angie knew that she created her best essay yet. With confidence she couldn’t wait for her turn to read it in the auditorium in front of the entire school. She also couldn’t wait to return home and report to her parents about her performance.

It was now four o’clock in the afternoon with the yellow school bus making its stop in front of the Walls’ house. Angie ran out with excitement. Her parents saw their child through the living room window and knew that she had a successful day at school. She entered her home to find her parents looking at her eagerly.

“How did you do?” asked the mother.

Angie was out of breath and said, “I got third place!”

The parents looked in disbelief. “You only got third place for your beautiful essay on Dr. King?” questioned her father.

Angie didn’t feel bad about how she placed; she was happy on how others placed. She justified earning a third place and credited those that placed higher than she did. “It was fair because they were better than mine,” explained the daughter. “They did know a lot about him because they cared!”

The parents were impressed.

“It doesn’t matter who wins the essay contest. All that’s important is what we learn from it,” said Angie “I didn’t know that Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite television show was Star Trek! And did you know that pecan pie was his favorite dessert?” The young woman recited more facts about the civil rights leader that she didn’t know before. Her parents were stunned with all the facts and trivia she learned that day from her new classmates.

Then she asked a question. “Mom and dad, since there is no school tomorrow; can I have some of my friends stay over tonight?”

“Angie,” said her dad. “You can have as many friends over as possible and let them know that we are ordering pizza! I also have some good news. My company is expanding and will be sending more families from back home over here. Some of your friends from your old school will be our new neighbors.”

“That will be great!” said the well-adjusted daughter. “I can introduce my new friends to my old friends; or my old friends to my new friends!”

Her dad laughed and said, “It seems that wherever you go you make friends!”

The happy daughter hugged her parents and thanked them. She ran to her room to call her many friends for a slumber party.

A month later there was a strange whistling sound coming from Angie’s bedroom. The father heard it first and walked upstairs, tapping on her door. The daughter answered it holding a piccolo and wearing a green outfit with a matching kilt and beret.

“What on earth are you doing?” asked the bewildered father.

Angie stood at attention and announced, “Our school is going to have an essay contest about St. Patrick’s Day and I am going to win it!” She put the wind instrument up to her mouth and blew. It made a shrill sound that irritated her father’s ears.

Leon raised his hands and covered his ears. “St. Patrick’s Day is over a month away,” pointed out the confused father. “Besides, you don’t even have an ounce of Irish in you.”

It was now Angie’s turn. The enthused daughter stared at her father and said, “C’mon, dad; this is America!”

Leon tensed up realizing where he heard that quote before. He started to laugh at himself and hugged Angie with both arms. “You are right,” said the dad. “Now I want you to learn as much as you can about those Irish customs. Keep learning and always share what you learn.”

The trembling man kissed his daughter on the forehead and continued. “Your mother and I are so proud of you, Angie. It’s people like you that make this world a better place.”

The Haunted Exercise bike
( By Matt Shea )

Final seconds ticked away. With enthusiasm, a single line of blue coveralls, white hard hats and steel-towed boots shouted the countdown. “Five, four, three, two, one; let’s get out of here!” Quickly, the line simultaneously moved, grabbing their punch cards from the alphabetical card holder and punching out. In the same motion, the card was returned to its monogrammed slot. The indentured servants were now free men. School had just let out and what was more important, it was Friday! The American worker had just earned his paycheck with Friday night rituals awaiting.

There is a space that separates a worker from the family man. From there, a corner exists way out in left field that only guys would understand. This territory is usually found in a tavern. In these gin mills men bond to prove their manhood and further control their spouses, or so they think…

Larry Floans maintained his perfect batting average by being the first employee to officially be off the time clock. The master turned around to his co-workers and said, “Last one at Milt’s Bar is a rotten egg!”

Voices from the regiment said, “See ya in a few.”

Larry was popular. It seemed that at work he was the ‘power behind the throne’. He had all the answers and gave advice to others, even when they didn’t ask. It would be an understatement to say that Larry was confident.

Larry took the brisk walk to his pickup truck and instinctively drove three blocks to Milt’s Bar. The parking space of choice was vacant. As usual he beat the Friday happy hour crowd by minutes. The short stubby man parked his car and entered the bar. Without thought he secured the best seats in the house; a booth in the corner. It seemed that everything always went Larry’s way as he sat down and lit up a cigar. 

Steve, the bartender called out to his regular customer. “Great to see you, Larry! What can I get you?”

Larry moved fast; by getting the first round of drinks, the night would be his. “How about four pitchers of beer, your famous chicken wings with lots of glasses?” answered Larry.

“Right away,” replied Steve.

Larry’s booth had a panoramic view of the entire room including the parking lot. Soon a familiar car entered the lot followed by others. Some were friends from work, others were strangers. But it didn’t matter, Larry had already staked the claim.

In moments the Friday after-work crowd rushed into Milt’s bar. Larry’s friends were at ease; they already saw his truck and knew that their favorite table was secured. The celebration of the weekend was now underway.

“Great job, Larry!” cried out Dan Hansen as the seasoned machinist patted him on the back.

“Old reliable has done it again!” said Greg Jennings as he slid into the booth. Soon twelve men surrounded the table as glasses of beer were being poured. It was now time to relax and share stories. As usual, the male bonding started off with Larry telling a joke, leaving the entire table doubled up with laughter. Then he drew everyone’s attention to the closest television screen that hung from the ceiling.

“Look at that!” said Larry as he pointed at the screen. The men all looked and saw a sexy woman on an exercise bike. Her radiant smile was everlasting as she demonstrated the product. A diagram of a female body was then illustrated showing how the bike can melt off unwanted pounds.

“I need to get my wife, Agnes one of those,” said a lustful Larry. “She was a beauty when we first dated.” Larry’s eyes bulged in ecstasy as he devoured a greasy chicken wing.

“Well speak of the devil,” said Dan Hansen. “There is an exercise bike exactly like that on my next door neighbor’s front lawn. I noticed it this morning when I left for work. I have no idea why it’s there. It’s as if it’s looking for a home.”

The wheels started turning in Larry’s head. “Do you think it’s still there?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but it might be,” said Dan.

“I am going to drive by your house and see if it is,” said Larry. “Save my seat, I’ll be back in awhile.” Larry knew a good deal when he saw it. He also knew how to manipulate his wife.

The evening quickly turned into a business venture. Without hesitation, Larry Floans dashed out of the bar; to meet fate. He drove the eight blocks to his friend’s neighborhood. As he approached Dan’s property he saw the gallant machine on the far corner of his neighbor’s front yard. It was sitting tall like the RCA dog in all its glory. Larry smiled in victory as he parked his truck next to the abandoned exercise bike.

Leaving the engine running, he got out of his vehicle and walked to the back. He opened the gate of the pickup and lowered it. Larry whistled as he walked toward model ZR7794P and declared ownership. Like the ad on television, this exercise bike was lightweight and could give anyone a new life; even Agnes. The proud owner placed the bike in the bed of his truck and secured the gate closed. Like the winner he always was, he entered the truck, closed the door and drove straight home. He wasn’t about to give anyone a chance at stealing his new exercise bike. 

About forty-five minutes passed until Larry arrived back at the bar. Within moments, the commercial with the young, sexy woman was being played again. Larry used this as a prop to draw humor. He pointed at the beautiful woman and called out, “Agnes!” His friends laughed hard until Larry interrupted. “I guess I was wrong , but soon my Agnes will be looking just like that!” said a smug Larry as he laid back in his seat puffing a cigar.

“What do you mean?” asked Greg Jennings.

Larry was in his element. He was the center of attention and giving advice. The short, heavy man with the mustache clasped his hands behind his head as he looked up in thought. The table was quiet. He removed the cigar from his mouth and began to speak. “You just have to know women,” he said in a cocky tone. “I will soon have the most beautiful, sexy, dynamo woman out there; without having to say a word.”

“How can you do that?” asked Greg.

“By controlling her surroundings,” said Larry. “Her thoughts will be focused on what she is surrounded by and what I show interest in. That will motivate her to lose weight.” With confidence he winked at his audience.

Larry continued. “Tonight I employed the final ingredient needed to set the stage. Thanks to my good friend, Dan, I was able to get the very exercise bike the dame on TV works out on; for free. When Agnes was in the bathroom I placed it in our home and left quietly. I have already taken measures by buying Jane Fonda Workout Tapes and stacking them on top of our VCR.”

Larry continued to share his strategy. “My garage has the calenders with the Sports Illustrated centerfolds pinned up. I often call out to her while I am in there to assist me on a project. When we watch a movie, or are out in public, I let her notice how I look at attractive women. Now she has a state-of-the-art exercise machine in our living room. This all puts the idea in her head to look like those gorgeous women on television!” Like Archie Bunker, Larry sat back impressed with himself.

“You’re a genius!” exclaimed Greg. Larry could only look back nodding in agreement.

The tempo in the room changed when a neighbor of Larry’s entered the bar. It was Mike Fields and he noticed Larry. “I want to thank you for the nice exercise bike, Larry,” said Mike.

Larry put his beer down and looked at his neighbor. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“That exercise bike that was on the corner of your front yard,” he replied. “I just carried it into our house before I got here. I want to thank you for leaving it out so that someone like my wife can get use of it.”

Larry sat low in his seat staring at his glass of beer. His eyes were dilated as he calmly said, “I didn’t put it there.”

Mike looked perplexed and asked, “Do you think Agnes had anything to do with it?”

Larry thought for a moment and looked up with a puzzled expression. “She didn’t have time to try it out because she had an appointment with her hairdresser.” The room silenced in bewilderment.

“Do you want me to pay for what it cost you?” asked Mike.

Larry was pinned in a corner. He was just bragging in front of the guys on how he got it for free. He couldn’t take advantage of him at that moment. He was forced to respond with class. “No, that’s alright. It’s yours now,” he replied.

Larry wanted to maintain his composure and invited Mike to join his friends for a beer. He changed the conversation with more stories generating more laughter. An hour passed, then the mystery of the bike arose again.

Mike was sitting next to Larry and noticed his brother-in-law, Stan pull into the parking lot. It was obvious that he was aware of Mike’s presence. When he entered the establishment, he looked around until he saw Mike. “Hey, I want to thank you for the exercise bike.”

A dumfounded Mike slowly turned and looked at Larry. Larry sat still looking at his beer, absorbing the message. Mike looked up at Stan and asked, “What are you talking about?”

“The exercise bike that was on your front yard. It was close to the sidewalk, so naturally I thought that you wanted to get rid of it,” replied the in-law. “I was going to get one for my wife, Susan, but you saved me a trip and some money.”

Mike stiffen up and calmly remarked, “I didn’t put it there.”

“Maybe someone broke into your home and put it there,” suggested Stan.

“I don’t see how; we always keep the doors locked,” said Mike. “Besides, my wife was attending a Tupperware Party across the street and would have seen any suspicious activity.” The room sat still in wonderment…

Finally, Larry spoke up. “I have an idea. Let’s drive through our neighborhood and see if it has moved again.” Mike and Stan were curious and agreed to ride with Larry. “We’ll be back in a few,” said Larry. The three neighbors left the table to further inspect this phenomenon.

Night had arrived with a fall chill in the air. Fog was setting in this community as the three detectives entered Larry’s truck. “This is getting spooky,” said Larry. They left the parking lot and drove the few blocks to their homes. As Larry rounded the last corner to make his final approach, the three men gasped in horror. Riding on top of the fog like the Flying Dutchman was ZR7794P! It was now floating on the edge of Stan’s front lawn for all to see. It’s shiny metal frame was moist from the elements and glistened as it defied boundaries.

Larry grasped the steering wheel with both hands and accelerated down the street.

“Did you see that?” exclaimed Mike.

“We all saw it,” muttered Larry.

The trio returned to Milt’s Bar and reunited with their friends. “You won’t believe what we just saw!” said Larry. He then told of the supernatural occurrences that surrounded the exercise bike that evening.

It was now time to have a meeting of the minds. The group of men sat quietly at their table and took turns with their theory on what was happening and why.

Pete Wilson was always the quiet one of the group. He spoke first. “Larry, do you think that you are cursed?”

Larry leaned back in his chair and pondered on that thought. He then questioned, “Why would I be cursed?”

Another voice broke the silence, it was John Carolson. “Do you think that your son from your first marriage put a spell on you?”

Larry digested the probability. In defense he answered. “That teenager is the luckiest boy in the whole world! Every Christmas I out-spend his mother and their entire family. I also never write him unless I put money in the envelope, and get this; every year I take him to Disneyland!”

“Wow,” said John. “You have class!”

The men raised their beers and cheered Larry for being a great father.

Steve Hayes spoke next. “Do you think that after the bike was manufactured that it was flown over Stonehenge or the Bermuda Triangle?” The table was stunned as they slouched over and looked at one another in fear.

It was now Rick Schroder’s turn. “Maybe someone that’s a member of a cult tried using it as a demonstration model and decided not to buy it. But they did touch it!” Heads nodded with the understanding that that’s all it would take.

Stan stood up and said, “Well there’s one thing for certain; I won’t have that evil machine in my yard!”

“Where are you going to put it?” asked Mike.

“In your yard,” said Stan.”That’s where I found it. Our house will be haunted until I return it to its natural burial site!”

“But, it wasn’t originally there,” replied Mike. “I found it on Larry’s property!”

All eyes were on Larry. In a quivering voice he said, “I found it in Dan’s neighborhood!”

“Do you think that it’s following you?” asked Pat Gibbons.

“Maybe it’s centuries old and haunts the entire planet until Judgment Day.” suggested Phil Write.

“I’m getting it off of my property right now!” exclaimed Stan. He finished his drink and left the bar.

The congregation stayed behind pondering on the spirituality of the exercise bike. Within ten minutes Stan’s car returned to the parking lot. He entered the tavern with a pasty white face and bulging eyes. “It vanished!” he proclaimed. “It must have floated away in the fog!” The room was petrified as they stared at one another. All were in silence.

The moment was interrupted when Stan’s brother, George entered the bar. He walked up to Stan and said, “I was happy to take that exercise bike off of your hands. Now it’s just a matter of getting my wife to use it,” he said. “She is at the Tupperware Party tonight with all the girls. She will be surprised when she gets home and sees it in the living room.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” remarked Mike.

It was getting close to seven o’clock. The guys decided to order a pizza and have a last round. Nothing more was needed to be said about the traveling exercise bike.

Milt’s specialty was his house pizza. It was served in a jumbo size extra-large pan; enough to feed a small army. The men devoured the tasty meal and ‘bottoms up’ their glasses. Each patron opened their wallets and littered the table with bills. There was more then enough to pay for the evening with a handsome gratuity for the server.

Larry looked at his friend, Stan and asked what his plans were for the weekend. “I want to get in Paul’s Thrift Store before the crowd gets there.”

Larry’s face contorted as he asked Stan, “What crowd?”

Stan grinned at Larry and asked, “Don’t you know? This is Paul’s Three Day Weekend Sale. He does this every year. There are always long lines in the morning when he has his three day sale. It’s like Macy’s when they kick off the holidays!”

Larry never knew of such a sale and wanted to know more. “If it lasts three days then it must have started today,” he said.

“It did start this morning, but being Friday not many customers will come,” said Stan.

Larry asked, “Aren’t they opened until ten at night?” He looked at his watch and said, “It’s only a quarter to nine, let’s get in there right now!” They shook their heads in agreement and raced to the parking lot. “I’ll meet you inside the store,” said Larry.

Larry arrived first with Stan close behind. It was the calm before the storm at Paul’s Thrift Store with the parking lot almost full. Together they hustled in the store and filtered in with the crowd. The lines to the cash registers were several customers deep with the donation bins and backroom being emptied to fill depleted shelves. Larry’s jaw dropped when he saw the marked down prices of the used merchandise. Using his instincts, he raced to the department that held exercise tapes and equipment.

Larry was like a kid in a candy store! Pink dumb bells, with matching sit-up benches graced the room. Posters of Hollywood celebrates endorsed their workout videos with money back guarantees. A multitude of diet drinks and health bars crammed the shelves. He turned around to see Stan staring at him. Larry cried out, “We struck it rich!”

Behind Stan was the windows that outlined the front of the store. The dark autumn night gave the glass an obscure, rippled look; serving as a mirror. Larry was momentarily distracted when he saw his own reflection. He suddenly reached a state of panic when he saw ZR7794P zeroing in behind him! Larry knew that it was the spirit of the haunted exercise bike trying to get him and turned around to flee.

A long metal platform on wheels used to transport items was coasting towards Larry with the bike on its bow. The exercise machine appeared to be in the same stance a bull would use before charging a matador. It was placed on the very front of the cart with old clothes underneath it. The bike’s rear end was elevated as the structure slightly weaved back and fourth from the motion. Its pink handle bars seemed to be pinned back; ready for attack. He was now face-to-face with this demonic metal contraption and fainted.

The exercise bike was being put on the market once again. Soon another husband with bright ideas will buy it in attempt to motivate his wife. Like a fruitcake during the holidays; it will make its rounds as a gift throughout the office and entire neighborhood. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Many of the women who attended the Tupperware party knew of the bike and were disgusted with it. As far as the lovely Agnes goes; she didn’t attend the party and was at the beauticians. Did she actually play a part in this stray machines life and know a few secrets she’s not telling? One must ask thyself:

Does she, or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure…”

 

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