a Women Writers' Showcase
by Shelly Nidetz

Bernard, homeless for thirty-five years, sleeps in his plastic covered cardboard box in the alleyway behind city hall. He dreams the same old dream; a warm soft bed, the smell of bacon and eggs cooking, Ashley asleep in the other bed and Mama singing in the kitchen. Bernard hears Papa shoveling snow off the front walk. Mama will call them to get up any minute. Bernard smiles, waits, eyes closed.

The propane gas tank located outside the kitchen wall is leaking for the past week. No one knows. The tank is enclosed in a small wooden housing just big enough for the tank and storing canned goods. Snow on the roof of the shed causes propane gas to accumulate inside the shed and up into the wall of the old house.  Mama calls for Papa to get her three cans of tomato sauce. As he keys the lock and opens the iron hasp on the shed, causing a spark, he is aware of the faint odor of….

The explosion kills Mama and Papa instantly. The subsequent fire engulfs the old wooden house in seconds. Bernard and Ashley have burns over 40 percent of their bodies Bernard Survives, Ashley does not.

Doctors say, when Bernard is a little older they will try to reconstruct his face.

Bernard’s first encounter in a foster home is a nightmare. He wakes the household with screams as he dreams the fire over and over. The beatings don’t help.  Six foster homes in four years. The surgery does little to change his appearance.  He wears a slouch hat in public and learns to beg for food money without showing his face.

So here he is, asleep in his plastic covered cardboard box in the alleyway behind city hall. Bernard wakes with a start. Was it danger that woke him? “Can’t be too careful. Street people are rolled or beaten up all the time. It’s still dark.” He stares at the blank brick wall of the deserted bank building across the alley and listens. In the distance, a cat serenades his ladylove. Bernard smiles, or what passes for a smile. He’s about to curl up again when he notices it.

“A door?  What the hell is a door doing there? I been in this alley five year--never been a door there. Light streaming out. What the hell.” Bernard slides into his shoes and slips out of his box. His hand curls around the baseball bat he keeps nearby. “Ya never know.” A drop of rain hits his head. “Well, so much for this being a dream. This is for real.”

Bernard slowly approaches the door. “Can’t see much, just a ceiling light.” The door swings open to his light touch and he steps in. The inside looks like a Gipsy reader’s tearoom. Drapes of all colors cover the walls. Lit candles everywhere. He holds his hand over one of the candles and jumps back with a yelp. “Definitely not a dream. Hot in here.”

A Persian rug of many colors lies with pride under overstuffed chairs. In the middle of the room, an old man with striking white hair, piercing blue eyes and a trusting smile sits at a wooden table with his hands folded.

"Welcome, Bernard, we have been waiting for you”

“Who the hell are you? How do you know my name? What is this place? “

“Do not fear us, Bernard. We are here to help you.” The man says in a soft voice.

“I don’t need any help. Let me out of here.” He turns to exit from the door he entered only to see a blank wall. No door. He turns back to see the old man standing directly in front of him. Remembering the club in his hand, Bernard swings it with both hands. The old man catches the club in a grip so strong Bernard cannot budge it. The old man then twists the club causing Bernard to fall.  Bernard saw tricks like that in marshal arts movies.

The old man helps Bernard to stand holding his arm a little tighter than necessary.  “Listen very carefully, Bernard. You have suffered long enough with your disfigurement. We can change all that. This place is not what it appears to be. You are nowhere near the alleyway you occupied for so many years.” He releases his grip.

“What do you want me to do?” Bernard rubs his arm.

“You are to come with me to the upper chamber where the transformation will take place.”

“Transformation? What transformation?”

“After the procedure, your face and body will look normal as though there had been no fire.”

“What is this, some kind of joke?”

“Shall we start?” The old man pulls back a wall drape to reveal a long dim hallway. As they step onto the floor of the hallway, it propels them forward at a great speed. Several doors pass in a blur and after a time, Bernard finds himself in a bright room so large; he can not see the other side of it nor can he see a ceiling.

The old man tells him to sit motioning to a  green chair. In the distance, Bernard sees a white smudge moving toward him.  He hears the old man say, “You will be fine now.” He turns to ask a question, the old man is gone.

The white smudge is close enough now to see it is a person, a woman and a pretty one at that. She has what appears to be a white bag in her hand. She speaks and her voice is like a soft summer evening breeze. “Bernard, I must put this hood over your head.”

“What for?” Bernard recoils.

“No harm will come to you.” She places the hood over his head.

Bernard feels a sensation as if soapsuds in a warm bubble bath but with out the water. When the woman removes the hood, she hands him a mirror. He looks at her for a long moment then into the mirror. What he sees astounds him. The man looking back at him is strikingly handsome. “But how?” was all he can say.

“We here are all as we should have been.” The pretty woman says. She takes Bernard’s hand and they walk…

On the police radio, “Yes. Chief, He’s the guy they call Frankenstein. Seems the punks whacked him while he slept, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire….”

I am a 77 years young retired police officer. I’ve been writing since 1995.  I have 40 plus unpublished short stories written.  I’m also writing chapter 46 of my grandparent’s journey to America from Poland in the late 1800s. Contact Shelly.