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In The Way of Life

Cog, Pool, Feather

By Chelas MontanyePublished 9 months ago Updated 9 months ago 7 min read

“One day you’ll be in death’s way, when he comes walking by,” sang a voice on the radio. A sweet little girl sang along. It was eery to hear those words coming out of the mouth of such a young child.

“Turn dat der dial and find sometin perty for us to sing,” Frank said to the little blonde girl who sat in the passenger seat.

She did as he asked and turned the knob on the radio to the sound of static. “I don’t think there are any other channels,” she shouted, with a reverberating vocal sound. Her teeth were rattling from the vibrations made by the old farm truck as it travelled down the rough country road. The vibration was strong enough to impact their vocal chords and their eardrums, making their voices sound otherworldly.

“Look Pappy,” she yelled to her grandpa. “The radio dial can’t move any further.”

Grandpa Frank looked over at the radio. The red needle that moved across the radio channels had reached the end of the channel box and could go no further. He looked his granddaughter in her pool blue eyes and smiled a huge grin half full of crooked and stained teeth. His weathered and wrinkly skin left only a twinkle of his eyes visible.

“Den you sing sometin perty,” he shouted over the engine. He looked down, between them, at the exposed gear box and drive shaft of the truck in the hole in the floor. He shifted into a lower gear and headed up a hill. The truck bucked and squealed, but it did as it was meant to and crept forward.

Frank’s granddaughter returned to fussing with the radio knob. She turned it in the opposite direction, back to the channel she had been singing to. The static cleared up and the silky voice returned.

“You’re nothing but a cog in the wheel of life. One day you’ll be in life’s way, when she comes walking by.”

“Pappy,” the little girl shouted, her teeth and voice vibrating, “what’s a cog?”

Frank looked downward at the exposed gear box that connected to the driveshaft. Frank held the manual shift stick knob in his hand as he drove. “Dis here stick makes dem der gears in dat box down der move.”

His granddaughter peered down into the hole in the floor to where her grandpa described. The truck was very noisy, but the noise coming up from the hole was even louder.

“When da stick moves from one gear to another, da truck, it moves fast or slow,” Frank explained in his vibrating voice. “Da gears, dey don’t move if dey don’t have cogs. Cogs, dem like fingers. They fit into one another and hold onto to each utter and together dem move the gears. No cogs, no gear. No gear, it all breaks down.”

As if to prove her grandfather’s words were true, a loud crack shook the truck. Grandpa shifted the gear stick to a lower gear, but a loud clunking noise rose up from the hole in the truck’s floor.

“Like that, Pappy!” Shouted the little girl.

“Like dat,” smiled Grandpa. The truck had reached the top of the hill and stalled out in the middle of an intersection. Grandpa restarted the truck and tried to shift into first, but the gears appeared to be jammed and the stick shift would not budge. The little girl watched with wide eyes as her grandpa tried with all his might to force the gear into place.

“Pappy,” whispered the child. Grandpa looked up into the girl’s large pool blue eyes. He did not see what she was staring at. A trailer hauling live chickens had rounded the bend at high speed.

A tall man in long black robes stood at the edge of the road and watched as a child pulled herself up off of the roadway and slowly stood up. She looked around her at what appeared to be the wreckage of a battlefield, except for the strange white feathers that floated down from the sky. The man held out his thin, long fingers and pulled one from the air. He held the feather upright and looked closely at it. It is a white chicken feather stained with blood.

The young girl turned in the direction of the man and studied him before asking him a very direct question. “Are you Death?”

“Death? Or maybe just a passing witness to the act of death?” The stranger asked.

“I heard you on the radio,” said the girl. “I recognize your voice. Was I in your way? Like you sang?”

Death appeared surprised. “You heard me singing? On the radio?”

“Yes,” said the child, “You said that sometimes people get in your way. Was I supposed to be in your way? Or was it maybe an accident?”

“Rarely are there accidents,” said the tall man in the black robes holding the bloody white feather.

“I think that this time might have been an accident,” said the girl softly.

“What?” The man reacted, “Who are you, and how old are you? You look like a child, but my eyes may be deceiving me.”

“My name is Greta,” said the child sternly. “And I’m ten. And you may be death, but I should not lose my life because I got in your way.”

The tall dark figure stood silent twitching a feather in his hand.

“And I am most certain that I accidentally got in your way,” she completed her demand.

“Well, you are quite a fighter, Greta, but I assure you that this was no accident,” the man stated.

“This was indeed an accident,” repeated Greta. “Just look at the mess.”

The man opened his mouth to speak, but young Greta continued with her rant.

“Do you really expect me to believe that someone would do this on purpose?!”

The man shut his mouth to think about her words. “How old did you say you were?”

“Ten,” said Greta. “I will be eleven in September.” She looked about at the fallen apples that had ruptured from the back of her grandfather’s truck. September was not too far away. “It would be nice to be eleven,” she quickly added.

“That is sad,” said the man. He was rather speechless at the abruptness of the child’s thoughts.

“What’s sad,” replied the child, “is that you said that people were unimportant cogs.”

“No, I didn’t,” said the man, a bit defensively. “Where are you getting these ideas?”

“The song. You sang that we were nothing more than cogs, as if we meant nothing,” the little girl’s voice wavered, as if she were about to cry.

“I said you were a cog in the wheel of life,” said the man, explaining himself. He waved the feather about as he spoke.

“I knew it was you,” Greta said slyly, squinting her eyes up at the tall figure.

“Oh,” said the man, “that was good. You’re a smart one.”

“Do you see this destruction?” Greta asked the man.

He looked about the ruin. The scattered chickens, the torn metal, broken glass, the squashed apples smeared into the dust and gravel. “What about it?” The man asked her.

“It was caused by the loss of one cog.”

“Oh?” The man feigned surprise.

“I’m a cog, you say? Can you think of the destruction that my loss could mean to the entirety of the wheel of life?”

The man’s laugh sounded like death.

“Well,” said the child. “Are you going to put this child back onto that wheel or not?”

The man fell silent again. He held up the bloody feather and examined it, before looking into the deep pool blue eyes of the child. He suddenly realized the mistake he had made. That he had gotten into Life’s way again, and she wasn’t happy about it. “Oh, darn it, I did it again, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” said Life. “Put the child and her grandfather back to where they belong. Clean up this mess, and next time, you need to COMMUNICATE better. Capiche?!”


About the Creator

Chelas Montanye

I’m an advocate for education and equal health care. I love satire. I love to express myself through art and writing. Social issues fascinate and astound me. Co-founder of Art of Recycle.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (1)

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  • Doc Sherwood8 months ago

    Chelas Montanye, now there's a new name! Thank you for liking The Special Wallpaper, Chapter One. I'll pin the second chapter for you now, if you'd like to see it all pans out. Your story above makes me wish I'd discovered you sooner! As unto the winding country lane on which it's set, this little tale takes us to all sorts of unexpected places. We start with a warm and cosy family scene, the very lovable rough-tough Grandpa Frank giving his granddaughter some advice. That eerie song at the very start, though, and then the dial which won't turn...! The reader kind-of knows from there that something mysterious and even cosmic may just be in the air. And the reader's not disappointed, seeing as this beaten-up old pickup truck proceeds to take us on a guided tour starting at Ingmar Bergmann's The Seventh Seal and rounding off with the balance of the universe itself! And the shining figure throughout is the little girl Greta, beautiful and terrifying by turns. "It would be nice to be eleven" is a line that would give anyone chills. Wonderful work, Chelas Montanye!

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