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Crooked Man

Silver Bullet

By C. Rommial ButlerPublished 11 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - July 2023
Photo by Matthis Volquardsen:

The mist marches across the surface of the pond like an army of ghosts. Vaporous tendrils intertwine and disperse like footsteps falling beside each other in the perfect rhythm of purpose.

The crooked man limps beneath the streetlamps near the bank. Infinite shadows cascade about the tip of his cane, an opaque mandala withered by the cold regard of electric light, expanding and contracting in a kaleidoscopic flurry as the point of the stick rises and falls onto the earth.

He stops and leans on his cane, gazing at the water on this frigid fall morning. The sun is yet to rise, and he's alone. He worked in the building behind him, years ago, when a different business occupied it. He still lives in the neighborhood and walks by this pond every day.

His name is Del. Because of his limp, the kids in the neighborhood call him the crooked man. Like the old poem, perhaps, though they probably heard the reference in a movie. He wonders if kids bother to read anymore.

On the other side of the pond is a line of trees. Behind them an occasional car goes by on the main road. The headlights illuminate the spaces between the trees, creating a strobe effect that dances through the mist on the pond.

Del envisions the mist as soldiers in lockstep. It reminds him of his time in the army. He did his share of marching. He did his share of killing. He earned his share of pain, as his aching leg never fails to remind him.

The light strobes more and more through the trees as traffic thickens for the morning commute. As the flashes rapidly oscillate, an unpleasant scene forms in Del’s mind.

Then he's there again, in Vietnam. No marching because Charlie scattered his platoon with mortar fire. Shrapnel whizzes by his cheek.

Del is trying to pull his friend up out of the mud, but Tommy is too weak, almost gone, the muck of the jungle soaking up his life like it can't get enough of the young, foreign blood.

"Leave me, Del, I'm good as dead," Tommy says. He's lost most of his right leg, up to the crotch. He's struggling with his left hand to free something from the remaining pocket of his pants. "Take this, Del. Take it and keep it. You'll use it one day."

In his grimy, bloody palm, Tommy holds a bullet. It glimmers in the sunlight, and Del can just make out his own reflection as he leans in to examine it. "I got plenty of bullets, Tommy. Too many, dammit," Del says.

"This ain’t no ordinary bullet, Del. It's a silver bullet. I ain't worried ‘bout no werewolves, but I always keep it on me for luck... And I know you'll need it. I—"

Tommy dies abruptly, his hand falling to the ground. The silver bullet rolls off his fingers. Del picks it up and puts it in his pocket. He figures Tommy was delirious, but he's never one to deny a dying man’s last wish.

On the bank of the pond, the vision fades as the sun breathes its first rose-hued rays into the morning sky. Del clutches the silver bullet tightly in his left hand. He lets go and it falls back to his chest, where he's kept it suspended from a chain since 1971.

Too many bullets. Too many dead men. Too many last wishes. The Vietnam War was Hell, littered with the broken dreams of a lost generation.

It wasn't long after Tommy died that Del took sniper-fire through his right knee. It left him scarred and lame, but it sent him home alive instead of in a body bag. He remains grateful for that.

He came home from 'Nam to people who loved him. His parents and his younger brother took care of him while he mended. A good year he spent languishing in his childhood home, processing what he experienced in the jungle.

Family was a touchstone to another reality, one he desperately needed to reconnect with. He never fully escaped Vietnam. It torments his nightmares, but because of love he wakes up to something worth living for, something worth fighting the demons that haunt the darkest recesses of his memory, to overcome them, to overcome himself, to embrace a light that scatters the demons like the cockroaches they are.

His high school sweetheart ditched him over the leg, but for this too he is grateful. Otherwise, he would not go on to meet Celia in his mid-twenties. Their life together wasn’t always perfect, but she was perfect to him. She made him feel loved whether he was providing for his family or waking her up with his night terrors. He loved Celia until her dying breath when cancer took her.

Their daughters Betty, Nancy, and Grace were there. Betty and Nancy held one hand, Grace and him the other, as Celia faded away.

When he looks into each of his daughter’s eyes, he sees their mother, and he sees Celia’s legacy live on in the eyes of his grandchildren too. Even in his sorrow, he feels blessed. Over time, he gave himself to the superstition that Tommy’s silver bullet imparted some luck. In this way, he consoles himself with the belief that Tommy, along with all the fallen, died not in vain.

A generation was lost, but not every dream died.

How long has it been now since Celia passed away? More than a few Christmases have gone by without her. He and Celia used to walk this route. He supposes that's why he still does, even on cold mornings like this.

"The crooked man! The crooked man!"

Del looks over beyond the line of trees, toward where the road is visible. The neighborhood kids are picking up their morning bus to school, shouting out to him as usual. They must have gathered while he was lost in his revery.

"I keep telling you kids, there ain't no crooked man!" Hollers the bus driver out of her open door. "Now get on in here, we gotta get you to school!"

The kids whisper to each other and point at Del as they crowd onto the bus. He sees some of them still staring from the windows after they sit down.

He has time enough to wonder why the bus driver never sees him before he disappears in the full light of dawn.

FableShort Story

About the Creator

C. Rommial Butler

C. Rommial Butler is a writer, musician and philosopher from Indianapolis, IN. His works can be found online through multiple streaming services and booksellers.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (17)

  • Lynn Jordan8 months ago

    Oh, that got me all in the feels. Beautiful and bittersweet. Loved it!

  • StoryholicFinds8 months ago

    Love it ❤️

  • Novel Allen9 months ago

    I miss so many great ones. I have found this one though. It is so brilliantly written, with a twist that is worthy of the great Bards of old. A really well told and beautiful story. Late, but still congrats.

  • Jay Kantor10 months ago

    CR ~ I so remember "Charlie" - Thanks for this - JB

  • Trip L.11 months ago

    This was absolutely captivating! Great story 🙌

  • Babs Iverson11 months ago

    Awesome story!!! Loving it!!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Hannah E. Aaron11 months ago

    I truly enjoyed reading this story! There is so much vivid imagery, especially in the beginning. This imagery does a fantastic job of providing a spooky, melancholic tone. I also really enjoyed the twist, with the possibility that Del is one of the fog-ghosts marching along through time and the past. Well done!!

  • Rob Angeli11 months ago

    Congratulations on your top, difficult and well deserved!

  • Margaret Brennan11 months ago

    so heartbreaking. My best friend, Eddie came home in a box. My brother came home, broken and scarred both mentally and physically. Your story is so wonderful and really hits home.

  • Melissa Ingoldsby11 months ago

    Ohhh this was expertly written with such a deft flair and exceptional call for mastering human emotion and deep war-torn history, I very much enjoyed this very lovely piece. Well done sir💕❤️❤️

  • Pravi11 months ago

    Enter the Vocal writing awards contest

  • Dana Crandell11 months ago

    Very well written, with a nice twist. Mother Goose would approve. I think she also wonders if children read anymore.

  • Cathy holmes11 months ago

    This is great. Well done and congrats on the TS

  • I loved the crooked man poem as a kid! I even had it memorised for some reason, lol! The twist had my jaw drop! You got me real good! I wasn't expecting that at all!

  • Test11 months ago

    Outstanding! What a gripping, biting, poignant ghost story – I loved it. Love your choice of language, your short, punchy sentences, and the lingering sense of sadness that's left behind. Well done!

  • KJ Aartila11 months ago

    This beautiful story gave me chills. ❤️

  • Veronica Coldiron11 months ago

    I wondered where this would go from the title and wasn't disappointed! I loved the reference to the electric light, kaleidoscopic description. It gave me the feeling of seeing something almost "otherworldly", but I was so involved with Del's thoughts that I didn't see the end coming. GREAT story! 💖

C. Rommial ButlerWritten by C. Rommial Butler

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