Author: Bernard J. Schaffer
Title of Short Story Collection: Women and Other Monsters
Genre: Fantasy with science fiction and horror elements.
Sample Short Story:
I grew up in a converted farmhouse on the outskirts of Horsham, Pennsylvania. We were surrounded by open space—woods, corn fields, big sky, and a small airstrip down the street where Cessna’s and other light airplanes would fly in circles overhead for hours.
There was a house at the end of the airstrip where Poppy and Mrs. Springer lived. Poppy Springer was born in the late 1800’s and had fought in the First World War. He wasn’t allowed to drive a car anymore, so he would get around on his riding lawnmower. Over the sound of chickens and airplanes, you would hear that thing’s engine puttering down the street toward you and know that he was coming to visit.
Poppy Springer was missing a few fingers on his right hand from his early days as a machinist. He was an inventor and constant tinkerer, and had bought his house near the airfield because airplanes fascinated him. He told me he’d been born before the invention of the airplane, and could spend a whole day just watching them fly around.
When Mrs. Springer died, my parents used to send me down to read to Poppy Springer, but I hated to go. He didn’t seem particularly pleased to have to endure the company of a ten year old and would either fall asleep or start talking about fighting in France during the Great War. He died a few years after that, and it was the first time I ever saw my father cry.
Sometimes, I would stand on our front porch at sunset and look out over the fields and trees. A light breeze would roll in, carrying the scent of honeysuckles from the bushes planted along our front yard. I would look up and imagine an enormous space ship coming toward me over the horizon, its width stretching from one end of the sky to the other. I could imagine it so vividly that to this day I still know exactly what it would have looked like.
At night, I would terrify myself before going to sleep by imagining monsters lurking in the woods and killers hidden in the corn stalks, ready to snatch me up the next time I ventured into either one of them alone. It occurred to me that every scary movie I’d ever seen was happening at a place that looked exactly like where I lived. Jason Vorhees never attacked anybody on a cul-de-sac. Serial Killers weren’t strolling down York Road picking off people coming out of Burdick’s Candy Store.
Those fears disappeared in the daylight, though.
My favorite place was a wide stream that ran through the woods across the street. It had large, moss-covered rocks all along its banks, and being in that place made me feel like one of Mallory’s Arthurian Knights. I would trudge through that stream like Sir Percival, searching for the Grail’s hidden location.
I stayed in those woods until my father would come out to the edge of the driveway and unleash his world-class split-finger whistle. My father’s whistle can stop your heart at short distances, and as kids we learned to return home at its signal.
It had been his decision to move the family so far out into the boonies. For my old man, nothing was better than standing on the front porch drinking a beer, looking out across the open countryside.
My mother was raised in Philadelphia and hated that we lived so far from civilization. She often complained that we should have lived in a residential development with sidewalks and other kids to play with. A neighborhood, where I had more to do than spend all day trekking through the Bower Farm’s fields getting chased by skunks. In my defense, I only got sprayed once. My dog got it too, and the two of us spent an afternoon soaking in a bathtub full of tomato juice.
It was my mother who taught me how to read and then carted me around to used bookstores in search of hidden treasures.
I cannot recall what kinds of books she read when I was a kid. It pains me to admit it, but I suspect they were of the Jackie Collins variety. We had an enormous seven-shelf wooden bookcase in the living room, filled with her books and some Time Life collections that my parents acquired through television commercial advertisements. My father had only two books on that bookshelf, and they were consigned to the very bottom right corner: I AM NOT SPOCK by Leonard Nimoy and CHARIOTS OF THE GODS? by Erich Von Daniken.
My father has one of the most singular belief systems I’ve ever encountered. He will tell you that the Bible is the gospel truth and Revelations is upon us. He loves the NRA, America, Republicans, and Jesus Christ…except he also thinks we might have been brought here by aliens.
Through the course of my life we have had many discussions about religion that ranged from gentlemanly debates to vicious screaming matches. Those talks normally end with him calling me a liberal and me calling him a delusional nutcase. In print, the word “liberal” just doesn’t have the venom it does when he says it. Imagine someone saying “Baby killing domestic terrorist intent on handing over everything we have to China” and you might be close. As far as right-wing maniacs go, he’s okay though. After every one of our arguments, we sit down and have a beer. At his house the beer is Keystone Light and I say, “What is this, piss- water?” At my house, the beer is Modelo Negro and he says, “I feel like I should be outside cutting someone’s grass when I drink this.”
As I look back, “Nazareth” clearly originates from our family dinner table discussions where my dad described “Ancient Astronauts” coming to earth and teaching pre-historic man their ways. He’d always qualify the story by saying, “That isn’t what’s in the bible, though.” It was almost as if he was apologizing for having such radical thoughts that ran contrary to everything he was taught to believe. He’d be silent for a long time after that, and when everyone else left the table, he’d lean in real close to me and say, “But that sure as hell would explain a whole lot.”
The house I grew up in was torn down and replaced with a custom-home that has a fire-pit in the backyard and two-car garage facing the street. The fields have all been plowed under and replaced by one of those developments my mom coveted for so many years.
Old men with missing fingers don’t go riding a lawnmower down the street there anymore. Boys don’t spend their days walking in the woods anymore, and whatever ghosts and mysteries that used to inhabit that mysterious place are all lost to time.
Sometimes I still dream of that stream and those moss-covered rocks, ever the questing Knight. I create these stories in that place, wondering what monsters are waiting in the woods for me. They wait for little boys that venture alone into the darkness.
But this time, I had you with me.
Bernard J. Schaffer