HAPPY BACK TO SCHOOL 2017!!
Here’s a piece of FLASH FICTION to start the year off! The Jock & The Nerd is a really short story about twin brothers Ryan the Jock and Ray the Nerd who team up to rescue their firefighting father!
THE JOCK AND THE NERD
By Burton Voss, Roy Voss & Laurie Voss Barthlow
Two brothers celebrated their high school graduation, one at a party in the desert where a beer can pyramid rose to a record height, the other at the home of his girlfriend who, like him, was also a member of the computer club.
Even though the brothers were identical twins; except for appearance, they couldn’t be more different—a strange anomaly which baffled medical science. Ryan, the older by seven minutes, excelled physically while Raymond read and retained everything available. The boys had the same builds, looks, and mannerisms, but their similarity ended there. The sports-loving Ryan won an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona; Ray a scholastic scholarship to Arizona State. Mom and Dad were extremely proud of both boys and though tempted, never interfered with their lifestyles.
Ryan finished another can of Coors and added it to the growing monument to the Class of 2017. He drew laughs, cheers, and boos when he blew out a high decibel belch. Then, on wobbly feet, he made it back to the blanket where Leah waited—smiling with somewhat glassy eyes.
He dropped down beside her and closed his eyes. “It’s the end of an era, girl. Starting tomorrow, all this is over, and we start life as adults. Well, more or less.”
Leah nodded, happy to agree with anything he said.
Ray sat at a kitchen table with Meghan and her parents. They had just finished binge-watching Outrageous Acts of Science, a program which was both entertaining and educational and one which Ray explained to the others before the TV experts did. As the series ended, Ray picked up his iced tea glass and took it to the sink. “This was great, you guys. Thanks for having me over, but I’ve overstayed, so I’ll be going.”
Just after 1:00 a.m., as Ray told Meghan good night and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, a strange sensation engulfed him. At first, he thought it was the proximity of the beautiful, nerdy girl, but it persisted as he turned to go to his car. He had experienced this feeling only once before: when Ryan had concussed after hitting a submerged rock with his jet ski.
Ray had to reach his brother, of that he was sure. So why was he turning his worn-out green Chevy downtown when Ryan was at the desert drinking party for jocks and cheerleaders? A wave of urgent incompleteness rushed to his stomach. He down-shifted but didn’t stop at the intersection, hard-turning left and making the bald tires squeal for the first time since he bought the old car.
Buildings ahead were silhouetted by the fire glow of a large structure fully involved in raging flames. The library was burning.
Perhaps Ryan was with their volunteer firefighter dad. Ray parked as close as he could and spotted a volunteer he knew. As he ran forward, he spotted Ryan rushing from the other direction. Relief!
They both yelled, “Where’s Dad?”
The fireman turned a blackened face, shiny from underlying sweat and jerky in the leaping flames. Furrows worried his brow, skin tight across cheekbones. “He’s still inside. He went in after Mrs. Weber. We can’t get back in.”
“I will!” Ryan spun toward the building, but both Ray and their friend grabbed him.
“Use your head,” Ray whispered fiercely. “Come here.”
They moved away; Ray still had a tight grip on his brother. “Heat rises, but I know of a boarded-up old basement entrance out back. I used to use it to sneak into the library for extra reading time. We can go in that way.”
Ryan nodded. “Yeah. I know it. I used it to sneak out of the library when I had detention there.”
“Stay down. Crawl,” Ray said as they made it from the basement to the top to the stairs. Ray going first on his hands and knees pointed at the smoky image of a man dragging a person. “Dad! Dad! This way!” he yelled.
The figure turned toward them as the roof collapsed. A rush of hot wind saturated with sparks and streams of flame swirled past. A large beam crashed into a bookshelf knocking it over, pinning the struggling rescuer.
As Mrs. Weber’s beloved books burned, smoke pressed upon the coughing boys as they crawled toward their father. Only the top of his white helmet was visible from under the massive piece of furniture. Together the boys heaved the bookcase off the prostrate figures. The boys’ dad had thrown himself on top of Mrs. Weber to protect her, and the boys gingerly rolled him over. It was clear their father was severely injured as he groaned in pain.
If the brave volunteer was surprised to see his two sons, he didn’t show it. “Boys,” he croaked, “Help Faye.”
Faye Weber had been the faithful steward of the downtown library for decades. Generations of local kids grew up knowing her, including the boys and their dad, who was raised within walking distance of the now burning building.
As the fire consumed the children’s section around them, it became difficult to breathe, and Ray knew there was precious little time to find their way out of the inferno. The doorway to the basement staircase was no longer visible through the dense smoke. Ray’s eyes stung and teared as he crouched over his wounded father, and he wondered if his mother would lose her sons as well as her husband. He tried to think logically, but he and his brother both seemed paralyzed.
Just then water poured through a now absent roof and drenched them all—providing a momentary relief from the heat. Ryan looked toward the door to the stairway and thought he saw a flashlight bobbing up and down as if beckoning them. “Come on!” he shouted to his brother. “I see the way. Grab Mrs. Weber!”
Ryan rallied at the sound of his twin’s voice and used his athletic strength to pick up the elderly librarian. Ray hauled his father up by his good arm and supported him as the two men made their way toward the light. Ryan followed behind cradling Mrs. Weber, doing his best to crouch and run. Reaching the door, they half slid and half crawled their way down, the boys trying hard not to spill their wounded charges. As they neared the bottom, Ray saw a figure of an old woman turn the corner of the stair case holding high what appeared to be a lantern.
Was it a miracle the group cleared the basement door just as the hundred-year old building buckled around them? It seemed to almost spit them out, and the boys landed on their knees, somehow protecting the wounded from hitting the deck. Perhaps it was the mysterious light which caught the attention of other firemen fighting the perimeter of the fire. Ryan heard faint yelling as people started running towards them.
As EMTs loaded their father and the unconscious Mrs. Weber into ambulances, the boys collapsed on the sidewalk across the street from the fire. Ray noticed a large crowd of people behind barricades, anxiously watching the destruction of the historic building, and he vaguely wondered if Meghan was there.
Charlie Casson, an older friend from school rushed over. He was now a medic who rolled with the fire department. He had been astonished to see the pair emerge from the back of the building, and he quickly came to check them for injuries. “Guys, how in the hell did you get out of that building? What were you doing there?”
Ryan managed a weak smile and answered, “You know Ray; he just had to look something up.”
“Charlie, did you see the woman with the lantern?” Ray asked.
Their distracted friend paused from poking and prodding them both and looked at Ray. “Who?”
“The woman with the lantern who guided us out. Do you know who she is?”
The medic stared at his friend. “The only woman was Mrs. Weber. I don’t know who else you mean.”
Ray persisted. “She guided us out. She saved us, and I want to thank her.”
Charlie and Ryan looked at each other and shared a silent thought; perhaps Ray had hit his head and had seen stars, but further discussion was interrupted by the appearance of Fire Chief Williams.
“I don’t know how you fools got into that building, much less how you got out, but you saved two lives tonight, one of them being your dad. He’s banged up bad, but he should heal. Faye Weber’s in critical condition, but she’s still breathing. Once you two get out of jail for trespass and stupidity, you just might get medals. Casson, if these two heroes are okay, I need you to come with me.”
As their worried friend hurried off with the chief, Ryan pulled his brother up. “Come on, Stupid. We need to get to the hospital and find Mom so she can yell at us, too.”
As the twin brothers, the jock and the nerd, walked stiffly away, they could both see a light seemingly suspended in midair. An odd feeling washed over Ray, a sense of peace and calm which was unlike the feeling of dread that warned him earlier in the night.
Suddenly a face came into view. The boys both froze and stared at a figure who appeared to be their grandmother—their father’s mother—who they had not seen since she died the year before.
She smiled before she lowered her lantern and disappeared into the night.