Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Monday, October 30, 2017

Answered Prayer — Another Original Short Story for Halloween

A Short Story by Tim McMullen

A loud rumble of thunder was punctuated by the emphatic
crash of a slamming door. It had started to drizzle a few
minutes earlier, and the grass and the sidewalk glistened as he
walked toward the car. The door handle was wet, and he brushed
his palm on the seat after hurling himself down behind the wheel.
Mumbling angrily, he turned the key in the ignition. The car
engine raced, and he slammed the gear-shift into reverse.

Glancing over at the front door of his house, he had an
impulse to return. Then, staring in the rear-view mirror, he saw
her face; it was only for an instant, but it was Marjorie,
looking the way she had looked just moments ago when he had
growled out his oft-repeated warning, “You just try to leave!”
As always, the “ … and see what you'll get!” was implicit in his
tone. The vision vanished as the tires squealed on the damp

At this time of night, very few cars were on the road, and
within minutes he had passed the outskirts of town and was on the
road leading out into the desert. How many times had he had made
this night drive, letting the road and the sky dissipate his
anger and frustration?
It was always the same. Marjorie, with her frightened,
mousey eyes; her stupid, mousey excuses.
“I'm sorry dinner's late. Lisa had a meeting after school,
and then my mother called. I told her I'd call her back, but it
was real important,” she had whimpered. “lt'll only be a minute
longer. Why don't you go in and relax?”
He could see the apprehension in her eyes, and he could hear
it in her voice, and that made him even madder.
“This is the second time this week that we've had to wait
for dinner! What did she want this time?"
A loud peal of thunder startled him, and he relaxed his grip
on the wheel. That meddling old biddy had done everything she
could to discourage his happiness, and he had about had it.
Maybe he should do what he'd already threatened--forbid Marjorie
to talk to her mother at all. Maybe then she'd be able to get
the dinner ready on time. He smiled a smile of decision.
“As good as done,” he said aloud and then glanced again in
the rear-view mirror. Again he saw Marjorie's face, now superimposed
over the wet, desert highway; her cheeks glistened like
the roadway receding in the moonlight. Unconsciously, he looked
down at the knuckles of his own right hand and was surprised to
find what appeared to be blood. He brought his fist up to his
face, stuck out his tongue, and licked the spot. The blood
"Maybe I overdid it a little this time,· he said, speaking
confidentially to his knuckle, "but God knows she deserves it."
In fact, she had been getting worse. Just last week, he had told
her that he'd be home by eleven-thirty, and that he wanted
something hot for lunch, yet she'd been gone when he arrived. A
plate of food in the refrigerator and a note on how to use the
microwave were all she'd left. He had really blown up on that
one. Still, it was his fault; he'd been too soft, and she'd been
taking advantage of his generosity.
A truck thundered by and splattered his windshield like a
drive-through car wash. "Big Jerk,· he muttered and turned the
wipers on high. When the wiper blades began to squeek against
the dry window, he realized that the rain had stopped.
Yes, it was time to really put his foot down and have done
with all her nonsense. The Lord said, "Wives, submit yourselves
unto your own husbands ... and he shall rule over thee," and that
was how it should be.
He pictured her sitting there at the table serving him his
dinner, trying to please him, asking him about his day, listening
patiently and sympathetically while he told her all about the
jerks that he'd had run-ins with at the plant. Those had been
good times, and the only way to get them back was for her to
change back. His horne was his castle, and he was the King. The
Bible said as much; besides it made sense. You can't have two
masters. Man was born to lead; woman was created to follow, to
be a help-mate, to support and nurture; not to argue or disobey.
He had been watching the highway more carefully. After a
couple of random turns, he was now on a stretch of road which was
unfamiliar to him, and he felt a little uneasy. Up ahead, in the
elusive shimmer of the cloud-covered moon, he saw a peculiar
glare on the pavement.
“Must be a patch of oil,” he whispered under his breath,
"could be slippery in this drizzle."
The whole thing was stupid. Why was he out here driving
around in this weather? She should have to leave ... not him!
Next time, she'd go.
Suddenly, her face was there in the mirror, but it looked different. 
Her head was cocked at an odd angle as she lay on the
floor, her eye was puffed closed, and blood gushed from her nose.
He felt a surge of pity and remorse at the sight, but the remorse
turned almost instantly to rage.
It was her own fault! He wouldn't be driven to hit her if
she just did things right. He worked like a dog to provide for
her, but when he came home, demanding nothing more than for his
house to be in order, all he got was, “Sorry, dinner's late!” He
had a good mind to go back right now and get it over with once
and for all!

He'd been watching the dark patch in the highway since it
was just a speck on the horizon, but now its swift approach
startled him, and he decided to slow down. He was already on the
patch by the time he hit his brakes, and as soon as he touched
them, he knew it was a mistake. The rear tires lost traction
instantly, and the car began to fishtail. He tried to compensate
by turning the wheel slightly, but this just threw the car into a
spin. He clenched his fists on the steering wheel and uttered a
few quick phrases of prayer as the car jerked off the pavement
and the left tires reared up off the dirt of the shoulder.
Oh, God, it's gonna' roll, he thought. “No!” he screamed.
The car careened down the steep embankment and tore through the
scrub brush. His breast slammed against the steering wheel, and his 
head crashed against the windshield and blasted him into 

 Before his eyes opened he heard the sound of frying bacon.
It sizzled and popped in such a way as to invite his eyelids
open, but the pounding in his head petitioned him to keep them
closed. Slowly, the sound won out, and he pried one eye open.
His unfocused eye came to rest on a splash of dark which
eventually became the floorboard of his Plymouth. 

“W-What the… ?”
Only then did he remember the spot of oil, the spin-out, and the
crash. That, of course, explained why he was now lying on the
front seat of his car—in a ditch—in the middle of the night.
However, it did not explain why someone was frying bacon on the
hood. As he raised himself up on his right arm and looked out,
he was blinded by a brilliant burst of light and sparks.
When he opened his eyes again, his sphincter convulsed and a
violent and involuntary tremor coursed up his spine, raised the
hairs on the back of his head, then raced back to bring a quiver
to his loins. His breath caught in his chest, and he lay,
propped on his elbow, frozen in fear. He instantly apprehended
the situation: Staring him in the face, only inches away, was the
ragged end of a broken power line. This clearly was the source
of the sound he had mistaken for sizzling bacon. Now it just
lay there. The sparks had apparently subsided with the last big
Instinctively, he retracted his limbs as he frantically
searched the car. He was looking for exposed metal. He thanked
God that there was a moon tonight. He might already be dead if
he hadn't seen that downed wire. But was it possible to get
electrocuted through the car? It was probably insulated. The
tires were rubber—they’d keep the car from conducting
electricity. But the wire was making contact with the hood, so
maybe it was hot? It wasn't sparking anymore, though. He wished
to the Lord that he knew more about electricity!
The light in the car had been gradually fading. From his
awkward position he tried to catch a glimpse of the moon, but he
found only a large bank of ominous storm clouds which had
apparently begun to cover the moon. Only then did he realize
that the car had hit a huge power pole. His door, the driver's
door, actually rested against the pole itself. There was no
getting out that way! Then the light was gone.
For many seconds he could see absolutely nothing; slowly his
eyes adjusted to the new darkness, and his thoughts raced. He had to
get out of there! Maybe he could just drive out from under
it ... if his car still started. He reached over to turn the
ignition then pulled back violently. Was he crazy? If anything
could electrocute him, it would be the key in the ignition.
Apparently, he wasn't as calm as he'd thought.
Maybe he should just sit and wait. The line he knocked down
must have cut out power to somewhere. The line crew would track
down the problem soon, and they would find him and get him out.
He looked out the window, trying to find where the line went.
Through the cloud-shifting dark he made out a small structure in
the distance. With his gaze fixed on the building, his hope
“Help!” he screamed. “Help!” But he knew instantly that it was hopeless; 
all the windows in his car were rolled up tight. Nobody could hear him yelling,
and he didn't dare roll them down because of the metal handles.
He couldn't honk the horn either. Exasperated, he sat and
anxiously watched the structure in the distance. A triangle of
silvered moonlight suddenly fell on the building, and his spirits
plunged. The roof of the shack had fallen in, and one side of
the building had collapsed. It was obvious that no one had been
there in years.
His hands were sweating now, and his eyes felt like they
were being held in place by fish hooks. A pounding at the back
of his skull had become so excruciating that his helpless stomach
threatened to vomit every few moments.
Then, as suddenly as the crash itself, his panic subsided.
A moment's reflection assured him that he had no need for it.
When Marjorie realized that he hadn't come home, she'd worry.
He'd never stayed out a ll night on one of his "cooling-off"
drives, so she would certainly call the police to search for him.
They'd be out in an hour or two and he'd be alright. But how
would they know where to look? Where could she send them?
"Where do you go?" she would squeek.
“For a drive…around!” he would say, glowering to shut her
up and to make it clear that it was none of her business.
So how were they going to find him? The way the shoulder
dropped off so steeply where he'd gone over, nobody was going to
see him from the road. In fact, he hadn't heard a single car the
whole time he'd been down there. It could literally be days
before anyone came across his car. Then he remembered Marjorie
the way she had looked when he left. !t wouldn't look too good
to the police. Of course, she would clean herself up, but it
would be hard to hide her eye. He took in a large gulp of air.
"Don't you go to anyone!” he had told her repeatedly over
the years. "This is between a man and his wife; it has nothing
to do with anybody else. Don't you dare call the police!" Then,
he'd stomp to the door, shake his fist, and say, "You just try
to leave…and see what you'll get."
She's so stupid, he thought, she'll probably let me sit and
rot out here without telling anybody, just so I won't be mad.
Clenching his teeth, he sat back against the seat.

It would be daybreak soon, and unconsciously, he began
praying for rain. Except for this freak thunder shower, the
temperatures had been in the high hundreds for weeks, and here he
was sitting in a car in the middle of the desert with all the
windows cranked up tight. He had once seen a Collie that had
been left in a car all day in the desert sun. Apparently it had
battered itself to death trying to escape, but it had lain long
enough for its eyes to literally explode in their sockets.
He slapped his palms against his own eyes to drive out the
vision, and then clapped them over his mouth to squelch another
wave of nausea. Obviously, he would have to get himself out, and
he would have to do it now.

"God, please keep the rain coming!" he pleaded.
Randomly, his eyes took in the rear-view mirror. He winced
and looked away. Finally gathering courage, he looked back. In
the mirror he saw the roof of the car, and beneath that, the
shadows of the clouds moving across the face of the early morning
"Whew!" he sighed aloud, "At least she's gone." His words,
though uttered in relief, were not reassuring. Another shiver
traveled up and down his spine. He raised himself to a sitting
position, carefully pulling his legs up onto the seat in a
further effort to avoid touching any metal, and he peered into
the mirror again. There was a face, but it was his own. In the
shadowy light, beads of sweat glimmered from his quaking forehead.

Suddenly, he had an urge to see Marjorie. He consciously 
tried to call her face up in the mirror, but he just couldn't get
it. He could remember what he'd seen; he could verbalize it in
his head: his wife, Marjorie, tears streaming down her face; her
face, spots which would soon be bruises just beginning to show;
the floor; the blood. The weird thing was that these were only
words; there were no pictures in his mind. It was ridiculous.
The woman had lived with him for almost nine years. She had had
his child. He tried to picture Lisa, his daughter, but he
couldn't find her image either.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on pulling in his
favorite picture of his wife and daughter , the one that sat on
the television set. Marj was wearing her blue sweater, the one
he liked so well; funny, she had stopped wearing it. Lisa had on
a white party dress; the picture had been taken on her fifth
birthday. He remembered all these things in explicit detail, but
he could not recall the actual images to mind.
Without warning, the cable flexed, emitted a shower of
sparks, and came to rest a few inches closer to the windshield.
“Oh, Jesus, please help me. Get me out of this, Lord,” he
cried, his hands clasped in fervent supplication. “I've always
been a good Christian…I’ve raised my child in the path of
righteousness. We've tried to have a Christian family. Please,
Lord, do not forsake me. Have pity…Lord, Jesus, Save me!”
A huge drop of water splattered on the windshield, followed
by several more. He thought of Marjorie's tear-stained face, and
he waited for it to reappear in the mirror, but it didn't.
He had a thought. Maybe he could break a window and crawl
out? He gave the interior of the car another quick inspection.
Nothing. He had often bragged to Marjorie and his friends about
the fact that he kept his old Pontaic cleaner than Marjorie kept
the house, but now, there was nothing he could use to break the
window. He could try to break it with his hand or foot, but the
glass they used in cars nowadays was reinforced; he'd probably
just break his hand. Besides, how could he get out any of the
windows without touching the car? No way! No, he had to open
the car without touching the metal, but how?
“Dear Lord, please show me the way. Help me ... Please ... 
Help me escape,” he pleaded, tears of frustration stinging his eyes.

All the metal in the interior of the car seemed to gleam in
the moonlight. The knobs on the dash, the horn bar on the
steering wheel, and the chrome around the mirror all twinkled
ominously. The door handle looked particularly menacing.
“Oh, my sweet Jesus …!” he said, “I swear….” As he said
these words, he placed his hand over his breast, and there, in
the breast pocket of his coat, was his little personal Bible. He
pulled it out and kissed it, exclaiming, “Thank you, Lord. Oh,
thank you. You've given me a sign and shown me the way. I
promise you: More than ever, the Lord's will is my will, the Good
book is my book ... and Marjorie's! So help me, God!”
Having raised the Bible up in his right hand as he spoke, he
leaned over to the passenger side of the seat and examined the
door handle. He thanked God that he had neglected to lock the
door when he had driven out into the night. All he had to do was
use the Bible to push the handle, and the door would open. He
gripped the top edge of the Bible tightly with both hands and
ever so slowly, but confidently, moved it toward the handle. When
it had come within a quarter of an inch of the handle, he felt
his whole body convulse. His hands shook so violently that he
had to pull them back. The sweat dripped off his forehead and
landed on his arm, startling him.
“C’mon…c’mon…c’mon!” he whispered, reassuring himself.
The Lord was with him. He had shown him the way. All he had to
do was open the door and carefully walk out.
Again he moved the Book toward the door; again he felt the
fear; again he felt the sweat, only now it was trickling down his
side, under his shirt, but he managed to overcome the shaking and
push the book forward. He braced his mind and body for the
impending contact, but something was nagging at him. It was the
mirror. He had an overwhelming urge to look in the mirror.
“No! No! No!” he cried loudly, then he touched the book to
the door. “Ahh!” he gasped. He followed this exclamation of
terror with a torrent of laughter. It had worked! He could get
out! He was alright!
“Praise the Lord!” he cried. “Thank you, God, thank you!”
Only now did his gaze fall on the rear-view mirror. There
she was again clasping her upraised hands in supplication. Those
treacherous woman's tears running down her face. He felt the
heat at the back of his neck, the warning signal of his rising
anger. Then he laughed loudly right into the face in the
“You almost killed me, you …you….” He struggled to
find the right word. BITCH! screamed in his head, but he
never used that word. He was a good man, a righteous man, and he
did not use profane language. He kissed his Bible, shook it at
the mirror, and laughed again.
Now confident, he quickly, but cautiously, pushed the book
against the handle. He was surprised to see the Bible begin to
bend as he applied more pressure, and he was momentarily
dismayed, but by placing his left hand against the back of the
book, he was able to make the handle begin to move.

It seemed minutes before he finally felt and heard the
click of the latch. While pushing outward with both hands behind
the Bible, he began to open the door. He breathed a huge sigh
when he felt the door crack open, revealing a sliver of space
between the door and the car. Encouraged, he put his body behind
the effort. He nearly tumbled onto the ground when, after
opening only a few inches, the door lurched and swung open wide.
The Bible fell from his hands and made a splashing sound. 
It was all he could do to keep himself from plunging headlong after it.
What was that water doing there? He peered out of the car
door, and as he did so, the tip of the rising sun emerged from
behind a cloud.


The Bible had already been washed away. He and his
car had landed in the middle of a flood channel. He'd seen these
channels carved all over the desert basin, caused by flash floods
as they sought the path of least resistance. And this one was
filling up rapidly. The water was already within inches of the
open door.

A giant thunderclap drove him back to the middle of the car,
and as the rain began to beat down, he could see and hear the
torrent growing as it swept around and beneath his car. A bolt
of lightning crackled brightly, and as if in answer, the wire,
which he had almost forgotten, crackled and swayed.
“Oh, dear Lord," he cried. "Please don't! Please ... PLEASE
In the mirror he saw his own, pleading face become
Marjorie's face, and his words were her words which he'd heard so
“Please…PLEASE DON'T!"
Now it was his face again: frantic, pleading, terrified,
looking for a way to escape. Finally, he poised himself on the
edge of the seat facing the open door. The water had already
submerged the floorboard of his car. He crouched ready to leap
into the torrent and take his chances. There was no other way.
As he crooked both elbows behind his back, preparing to plunge
forward, the car door slammed in his face. 
Cringing on the seat, he stared at his reflection in the window. 
With its hand upraised and its fist clenched, the reflection glared down 
at him and shouted, “YOU JUST TRY TO LEAVE!”

©1985 Tim McMullen
   All rights reserved

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