“Number Two” by Bruce Harris
Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.
This week, Bruce Harris faces a split-second decision.
by Bruce Harris
Acadia National Park, Mount Desert, Maine
“More powerful than a locomotive!” screamed the headline in Maine’s Portland Press Herald. Ted Schultz feasted his eyes on the front page, and then turned his attention to the meat eaters’ breakfast special in front of him. “It’s got bacon, ham, sausage, and corned beef hash over three eggs,” pined the diner’s waitress minutes prior. “Breakfast special number two, a meal fit for a hero. And it’s on the house!”
Schultz didn’t consider himself a hero, but to his own surprise, he enjoyed the attention—and the free breakfast. He felt as though he hadn’t done anything special, noting that anyone else placed in his predicament would have done the same. There was time only for a split-second decision. He didn’t think twice. He simply reacted. Ted forked the four meats, split one of the yolks, and took a mouthful. He glanced at the photo of himself and read the first few sentences of the day’s news.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but last Tuesday, local resident Theodore Schultz, known to friends and family as “Ted,” personified that distinction. While driving on Forest Avenue near Morrill’s Corner, Schultz came upon a panic-stricken Janice Tiefanauer. Her 2013 Chevrolet had stalled on the railroad tracks. Schultz, a Maine resident for his thirty-three years, spotted the momentary paralyzed Ms. Tiefanauer and the eastbound train bearing down on her immobile automobile. A quick calculation revealed that the locomotive would make contact with the vehicle within thirty seconds. Without regard to his own safety, Ted Schultz jumped from his pickup, extracted Ms. Tiefanauer from the Chevy, and, with the frightened woman in his grasp, leaped and rolled out of harm’s way as the train’s locomotive made mincemeat of the disabled automobile. Neither Schultz nor Tiefanauer were injured. “Amazing,” said Portland police chief Martin Hazelwood. “In all my years of law enforcement, I have never seen such a brave and unselfish . . .”
Schultz stopped reading. It was his fourth time through the article.
The waitress started to refill his coffee mug, but Schultz put up a hand. “Stop. It’s too hot for another cup.”
Schultz sopped up the reaming yolk with the last piece of toast. He patted his stomach. “I’m stuffed,” he proclaimed. He dropped a deuce on the counter and headed out into the one-hundred-degree Fourth of July weather.
Despite the unusual heat and humidity, it was his day to enjoy—a hero’s day to relax and unwind. Schultz drove his truck north to Acadia National Park. He liked the place for its picnic areas and unblemished beauty. Despite the heat, visitors were out in full force for the holiday. The month-long heat wave had taken its toll. Visitors moved alone at quicksand speed. Each hoped to find a shaded area and temporary relief from the scorching sun.
With his mind at ease, Schultz was solitarily strolling around the historic grounds when nature called. It was a sudden and immediate emergency. It hit him harder than the hump on a moose’s back. The diner was the only place open on the Fourth of July, but there was no way Schultz could drive back there in time. Not even close. Desperate, he looked around. There was no cover for the fearless hero. This new impending accident appeared unpreventable. He cursed the breakfast he had eaten earlier. Ted squeezed and prayed. How could this be happening to me? he thought.
Then he remembered passing the park’s lone restroom. Given the circumstances, he sprinted as quickly as he could before coming to a stop. CLOSED—OUT OF ORDER. He spotted a sun-bleached green porta-potty. His face was drenched with sweat, soaked shirt stuck to his skin, armpits dripping. He eyed the portable lavatory. It literally fried in the sun, the same way the bacon, ham, sausage, corned beef hash, and eggs had done in the greased skillet earlier. The plastic structure reeked beyond hydrogen sulfide on steroids. It was nauseating. He was genuinely scared. He touched the metal-lined handle and jerked his hand away. Laser hot. Schultz was losing precious seconds. He was about out of time. He was resigned to jerk the door open and go inside when he saw the piece of paper encased in chipped, yellowing plastic. It read: The Johnny—Cleaning Schedule. In horror, he noticed an undecipherable signature scribbled next to the most recent posting, dated April 24.
Nature waits for no man or woman. His choices? The woods with onlookers, the Johnny, or . . . ? Yesterday’s hero faced another split-second decision.
BRUCE HARRIS is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: About Type.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 2–4 months after the notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 2, 2016
Category: Wilderness Wednesdays | Tags: flash fiction, short story, Maine, short fiction, Bruce Harris, Wilderness Wednesdays, wilderness, wilderness noir, Number Two, Acadia National Park, Mount Desert
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