J. Scott Hardin

The short stories of J. Scott Hardin have appeared over the years at places like The Louisiana Review (“The Last Marble”), Bewildering Stories, (“The Needle”), The Houston Literary Review (“The Dump at Santa Cruz”), Bards and Sages Quarterly (“The Locks of Enchantment”), Yellow Mama (“The Wraith”) and anywhere else people wink at the crime of writing without a license.

Keep the Faith

They think I’ve gone mad, but it’s not true.  It’s because I can sense something they cannot.  What they are merely able to imagine, — clumsy, distorted, childish imaginings –, I can almost touch.  I get so close to it sometimes.  I clench a faith others try to juggle.  My body shakes with an anticipation they can only fake.

I must remain vigilant, for this thing, this god is swift as the wind.  He is cunning as the smartest of men but elusive like a ghost.  He hides, breathing right at the edges of where I can hear, creeping just out of reach of what I can smell.  He plays every trick in ten books and knows each secret place there is.  He escapes and escapes and escapes me again, teasing me until the very hair on my flesh stands on end.

But I will find him.  You’ll see.  You don’t believe me, yet that is why I will find him and you never will.  How can you hope to succeed when all you do is talk.  You talk and read and pray, but I search and watch and . . . .

Wait.  Did you see that?  Of course you didn’t.  That is another of my advantages.  I see far better than most.

It was I that fake tree by the window.  Can you see the light grey leaf?  It’s the fourth one from the top.  No, it’s on the right.  It moved.

You didn’t see it.  You’re too slow, and you don’t pay attention.  That isn’t a good combination.  You don’t see any grey leaves at all?  In that case, you are beyond my ability to help.  You can’t understand.  There are over forty shades of grey on that tree.  There, actually forty-six.

Alright then.  You’re hopeless.  Now leave me be!  This time, I am sure I will find him.  I must leave you now.  He disappears quickly, and so I crouch and step.  Two more steps.  Now I look away.  I know he watches me watching him.  If I look away, he may forget about me.  That will be my one great chance.

Listen!  He moved to the bathroom.  I know, I jerked my head.  I shouldn’t have, but he takes advantage of my instincts.  It helps me hear, helps me strain with all of my senses.  If he makes another noise, I’ll be more alert.  More focused on the exact spot.  If it happens again, I’ll run faster than a blur.  He knows better than to make that mistake.  He vanished most probably.  Don’t worry, I’m still keeping an eye on the leaves.

There it is!  Drat, he’s outside this time, just beyond the wall.  I definitely heard him.  He hides out there because he knows I cannot get out.  Even if I did, he would be long gone before I could find him.  I told you he was tricky.  His magic is like finding that single secret bug you want in a forest.

I must be patient as the rock.  Silent.  Still.  So incredibly calm.  I’ll wait.  I’ll keep absolutely motionless for minutes, even an hour if I have to.  Everything stops.  My eyes will lay open.  I can keep from blinking for ten minutes straight if I have to.  It’s another advantage.  Success demands that I use them all.

At last.  He doesn’t suspect, but I have found him at last.  If he makes a noise only once, I know he’ll escape.  That’s his pattern.  This time, he made it twice.  This time, there can be no escape.  It will be the proof that I alone am worthy.  It must be my destiny.  You are still here, so there will be a witness.  It’s too much evidence to be a coincidence.  This is no piece of luck, I tell you.

Now be quiet.  Don’t do anything.  Breathe reluctantly.  I need you to live, but breathe softly.  He must not hear.  Crouch and step.  Eyes to the side.  Another step.  Crawling gentle as the night.

Oh yes, I can see very well in the dark.  Two more noiseless steps.  It’s this thing in the corner.  That’s where He hides most often.  It makes a constant noise, but that is just another trick.

There’s a second noise.  It comes so much more softly and only rarely.  I can barely hear it.  And a little circle, some kind of ball comes out of the bottom of this thing.  It glides upward slowly, moving and twisting until it gets to the top.  Then it disappears.  It vanishes into thin air, I tell you.

I used to think that’s how it eludes me, by turning into nothingness.  Now I know better.  I study it.  I’m pressed up against the thing now, so we don’t have to be cautious anymore.

You see?  The ball came out again.  Don’t let it distract you.  We won’t fall for that slyness again.  It’s in there.  It’s down there in the bottom somewhere.  We will wait until he comes out, patient as the rock.

Oh no, bright light everywhere!  His magic is all around.

“Marv?”

            “Yes, dear. What is it?”

            “It’s that crazy cat again.”

            “What, by the humidifier?”

            “Marv, you know she always gets in there. I told you a hundred times, her hair gets in the filter. You forgot to close the door again.”

            “I’m sorry, honey. Come here, you . . . .”

Thwarted again, just on the brink of the Great Discovery.  I will not lose my faith or lower my guard.  I will find him.  I am cunning and patient.  I have many advantages you do not.  You will see.

© 2020 J. Scott Hardin