|Submitted by G.S. Williams on Fri, 03/16/2012 - 13:48|
The man was large, but his hands moved with a sure grace over the wood as he used the lathe. His fattened fingers had lost none of their skill, it seemed. He didn't smile, in fact rarely ever did, but his stern face lost some of its glumness as the rough wood transformed into a smooth chair leg. There was something calming about a job well done.
He set the leg on his work-table beside two more and grabbed a third log for lathing. His old stool creaked under his weight but held. It was hand-made and sturdy. He eyed the log for flaws and then set to work.
“Peter!” his wife called from the back porch of their house. He looked out the open door of his woodshop and stopped the lathe.
“What is it?”
He nodded and put the log down. It took him two tries to get up from the stool, and he had to reach back and push off the work table to do it. His stomach bulged and he gave a soft belch as he got to his feet. He rubbed his diaphragm, looked over the table, and found his beer bottle. He picked it up in his meaty fist and swigged back the last of it before heading to the house.
Peter came through the back door and took off his boots. He sat at the table and looked up at his wife as she set down a plate of ham and potatoes, heaped high.
She smiled and sat down across from him with quite a bit less on her plate.
“Would you like to go for a walk after dinner?” she asked. “The weather's nice but it's supposed to rain later.”
He shrugged and grunted a negative around a mouthful of food.
“Doc Paulsen said it would be good for your heart,” she said.
Peter chewed in silence, staring at the plate. He swallowed, took another bite, and then swallowed that.
“I wanna finish that leg,” he said finally. “Chair's almost done.”
She pursed her lips but remained silent. He nodded and went back to his meal.
He sat back when he was finished, his hands on his wide belly. Peter looked rather satisfied for an unsmiling man. His wife stood to take his plate, and carried it over to the sink for washing.
“Thank you, Molly,” he said.
Then he got up and went back out to the woodshop.
It was late. Molly had turned out the bedroom light, which meant that, if she wasn't asleep already, she would be soon. Peter sat at the worktable, sanding the chair pieces. His hands moved confidently, firmly. In between he drank from another beer bottle.
He sat back and rotated his beefy neck, and then rubbed the back of it, feeling stiff. Peter shifted his feet and legs, trying to get more comfortable.
“Almost done,” he said to himself.
The rain had started outside without him noticing. He sat up with a start when the first flash of lightning arced across the sky. It was followed shortly after by rolling thunder.
“Shit!” he said, and then laughed at himself. “Just the storm.”
He watched the rain come down, his eyes on the sky as another flash burst. He blinked, and thought for a moment that he'd seen someone move in the yard, just in his peripheral vision.
Peter looked out in that general direction and waited for the lightning. When it came, the lawn was briefly illuminated. A form moved closer to the trees on that side of the yard.
“Someone there?” he called. “Molly?”
Peter heaved his girth up off the stool and stood in the doorway. He slid one hand along the wall to a shelf, grabbing a large wrench but keeping it out of sight, just in case. He leaned as casually as he could against the doorframe and watched the yard.
A man stepped into view just as the next bolt of lightning lit up the yard. Peter blinked and peered at him.
“Hey, this is my property!” he hollered.
The man looked towards him, lifting his face. When the lightning hit again, Peter saw his face.
“That's impossible,” he breathed.
He put his hand to his chest, feeling tightness there. His head swam.
Peter stumbled out into the storm, towards the figure. His fat legs moved faster than they had in years. He reached the trees but there was no one there. Water soaked into his clothes quickly, it was really pouring out. He looked this way and that, his heart pounding.
“Nothing,” he sighed to himself. “Now I'm seeing things.”
He wiped his face, which did little to alleviate the streams of water there, and brushed his hair back. He walked back to the woodshop, sitting down in the dark, soaked.
“No such thing as ghosts,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “No such thing.”
“You sure came to bed late,” Molly said, serving the bacon. “Did you get enough sleep?”
Peter looked up at her from the table, as he drank his coffee with jittery fingers.
“What?” he said, putting down the cup. “Oh, yeah, just fine.”
The circles under his eyes and the paleness of his face didn't make that a reassuring statement. Molly served his breakfast, keeping quiet, and sat down to hers. She had one egg and a few strips of meat. Peter had six eggs and even more bacon.
He ate almost absently, staring out at the yard. His focus was so intense that Molly stole a few glances out that way, wondering what he was looking at.
“I have to get to work,” he said as he finished.
“See you tonight. Love you,” Molly said.
He got up from his chair slowly and came around to kiss her cheek. Then he left for the day.
It started raining in the middle of the day, putting a halt to outdoor construction on the house his team was building. Some of the men opted to go home, while others worked on the interior rooms and the basement. Peter kept up with the younger men, which always amazed newer employees. The man was heavy, sure, but under the flab his arms were still thick with muscle too. He just didn't remember panting and sweating so much even five years ago.
His chest felt tight as he walked to his truck after the shift was finished. Even his breath felt wheezy. Peter shrugged it off and looked forward to getting home. He decided he would have dinner, watch some TV, and go to bed early.
“That's the ticket,” he muttered to himself.
He drove down the road with his window-wipers going, sloshing water off the windshield in big streams. The ditches at the sides of the road were muddy little rivers, and there were huge puddles along the way. He had to steer through some of them carefully on the muddy road, feeling every bump and jostle. The town hadn't yet paved the way to the new housing development.
The rain seemed to pick up as he went along, and then there was a bolt of lightning again.
“Stormy weather,” he said as he steered. He couldn't make out a lot in the dark, as clouds covered the sky and his headlights seemed to make the pouring rain dance and shimmer. He started to slow down cautiously.
A man stepped into the road ahead of him. Peter would have had plenty of time to turn and swerve around him. But the shock startled him enough that he turned too sharply, his wheels churning up mud and then slipping towards the ditch. He spun his wheel desperately and hit the brakes, and only the front right wheel hit the ditch.
He shoved open the door and rushed out into the rain, leaving his truck askew halfway on the road and halfway off. His legs pumped, dragging his feet through the thick mud.
“Dennis!” he yelled into the storm, certain he had seen his dead son again. “DENNIS!”
His heart pounded in his chest, so much so that he could hear his pulse in his ears. But there was no other answer to his calls.
Peter Francis started crying, though you wouldn't be able to tell with the rain. He walked back to his truck and worked to get it unstuck. He put it in neutral, and stood at the front to push it back towards the road. The right wheel wasn't that far off from where it should be, but the mud made it harder going than he expected.
Peter grunted and heaved, puffing. He groaned as his arms strained, sinews emerging through his skin, and then the truck rolled back up off the muddy shoulder a bit. He pushed harder, neck bulging as he turned red, sweating, and the truck slid back more… more…
“YAHHH!” he roared as the truck got back up onto the road. He slipped down himself in the mud, and tried to catch his breath.
“Hello, Father,” a cold voice said.
He looked up to the road. There, illuminated by the headlights, he saw the apparition.
“Dennis,” he moaned. Peter clutched his chest.
They found him face down in the mud four hours later. The coroner ruled it a heart attack, which surprised no one after the seventy pounds he had gained in the last year, the beer drinking, and a lifetime of hard work and poor general eating habits.