Cover Art

The Story Man

by

Marissa Humphries

Brooke spun the ring around her finger over and over again. She slipped it off and then back on, moving her fingers along its smooth texture until she was sure she knew every detail. Somehow, the repetitiveness distracted her yet added to her guilt at the same time. Her mind raced, blocking the activity around her completely out. She denied the truth and reality that made her chest feel heavy and her head throb. Yes. Denial was her best friend at the moment even if it were a false one. A friend was something that she needed desperately considering her current situation. However, she refused to accept that she didn’t need one that would hold her captive in the darkness. “Brooke!” The sharp shout, caused her to jump and she dropped the small item which her idle fingers had been playing with unwisely. Ignoring the voice, she dropped to her knees in search of the ring. “Brooke,” The voice said again, this time gently. “You need to understand.” Brooke, abandoning her search for the ring, stood and facing the owner of the voice, responded, “I do understand.” “Good. Then we must continue.” The voice said. Brooke closed her eyes and collapsed back into her chair. She lacked the energy to search for the lost ring any longer and the peace to put it back on her finger, considering its true meaning.

Short Story

     Brooke spun the ring around her finger over and over again. She slipped it off and then back on, moving her fingers along its smooth texture until she was sure she knew every detail. Somehow, the repetitiveness distracted her yet added to her guilt at the same time. Her mind raced, blocking the activity around her completely out. She denied the truth and reality that made her chest feel heavy and her head throb. Yes. Denial was her best friend at the moment even if it were a false one. A friend was something that she needed desperately considering her current situation. However, she refused to accept that she didn’t need one that would hold her captive in the darkness.
     “Brooke!”
     The sharp shout, caused her to jump and she dropped the small item which her idle fingers had been playing with unwisely. Ignoring the voice, she dropped to her knees in search of the ring.
     “Brooke,” The voice said again, this time gently. “You need to understand.”
      Brooke, abandoning her search for the ring, stood and facing the owner of the voice, responded, “I do understand.”
     “Good. Then we must continue.” The voice said.
     Brooke closed her eyes and collapsed back into her chair. She lacked the energy to search for the lost ring any longer and the peace to put it back on her finger, considering its true meaning.
         It had been the day she turned sixteen years old when she had received the ring. Her father had given it to her as a gift and she had cherished it everyday since then as a promise and a sign to her father, herself, and God that she would remain pure until she married. Everyday until…
     “Are you ready to continue then?” The voice asked.
       Brooke opened her eyes and took in the details of the room around her. It was a small room but it served its purpose. A medical table was placed in the center. Brooke sat in the only chair in the room and the owner of the voice hovered over her, waiting for an answer. The woman called herself a doctor and dressed as one. Her black hair fell in a perfectly straight line at her shoulders, contrasting the white uniform which she wore.
     “Brooke,” The woman spoke again, irritation building in her voice. “If you understand, why are you unwilling to continue?”
     Tears began to build in Brooke’s dark eyes as she replied, “I’m scared.”
     Her voice sounded like a child’s though she was twenty-one.
     “There is nothing to fear,” The woman said, placing a hand on Brooke’s shoulder. “Not here. The real fear is in what happens if we don’t continue.”
     Brook’s mind clouded with images of her life is she didn’t continue. What else could she do, even if her conscience warned her against going forward in this way?
     The same question lingered in her mind. What will my parents think? She had grown up in a strong and loving Christian family. College had been a huge change for her but she hadn’t been afraid. She had been given a powerful foundation of faith and she didn’t think she would ever stumble. In fact, she hadn’t until…
     “Brooke,” The woman nagged again. “This can all be over soon.”  


**************Three Weeks Earlier**************

     “Yes, I understand.” Brooke was able to tell the nurse who had just given her the life changing news which she had expected but feared.
     The woman wore bright red lipstick and a frown of disapproval and judgment.
     “Don’t keep this a secret,” The nurse warned her. “You need to tell your parents.”
     “How?” Brooke asked in despair. How could she tell her parents such news? They had always trusted her to make the right decisions. What would they think now? They would be so disappointed in her.
     “You should have asked yourself that question before you put yourself in a situation where you would have to ask it.” The nurse retorted.
     “Please,” Brooke moaned. “I don’t know what to do.”
     For a split second, Brooke thought she detected compassion or at least pity in the woman’s sharp eyes.
     “I will give you two numbers but it is completely your decision which you call.”
     “Thank you,” Brooke breathed, taking the two index cards which the woman handed to her.
     The first had the name and contact information of an adoption center and the second that of the nearest abortion clinic.
     “Which do you recommend?” Brooke asked the nurse with fearful eyes, desperate for anything that would point her in a certain direction.
     “Well that depends,” The woman with the bright red lipstick and sharp green eyes responded.
     “Depends on what?” Brooke questioned, flipping the cards from one hand to the other.
     The nurse held Brooke’s gaze intently as she answered, “If you would rather handle this with the help of others or completely on your own.”

     That night, when she returned home, Brooke locked herself in her room. Her decision had been made at the nurse’s words. All that was left was to put her decision into action. Without hesitation, Brooke tossed the first card into her waste basket and dialed the number on the second. The nurse had been right. The past was the past. Brooke only had the ability to move forward. Ultimately, her choices included telling her parents that she had broken her promise of purity and now carried life within her or remove the life as if it had never been there in the first place. She could return to college the following fall, graduate with a degree, begin her career, and never see the look of shock and disappointment in the faces of those she loved.  So Brooke called the number on the second card and made an appointment that would take place in three weeks.
      Brooke hung up the phone and allowed herself to breath. She had expected relief but instead she only felt fear. She curled up on her bed, and holding her head, repeated the same false, assuring line to herself over and over. I can handle this on my own. I can handle this on my own. That was the only way she could keep the truth from her parents.
      Suddenly, Brooke’s phone unexpectedly rang.  
     “Brooke!” A gentle voice greeted her. “How have you been enjoying your summer?”
     “It has been great so far, Mrs. McCarthy.” Brooke lied, hoping that the kindhearted woman wouldn’t detect the falseness in her voice.
     “Wonderful!” The woman replied. “And it is about to get even better!”
     “What do you mean?” Brooke asked quickly.
     “Don’t you remember? You signed up for the mission trip to El Salvador this summer.”
     “Oh, I actually forgot.” Brooke responded. “I guess I have just been busy since school ended.”
     “No worries!” Mrs. McCarthy said cheerfully. “That is why I was calling to remind everyone. You are still able to attend aren’t you Brooke?”
     “Um, well.” Brooke began hesitantly.
      How could she go on a mission trip now? Her life had been completely different when she had signed up for the trip but how could she explain that to Mrs. McCarthy without telling her something that she hadn’t yet told anyone?
     “Brooke, is something wrong? You were so excited about it a few months ago.” Mrs. McCarthy questioned.
     She is going to suspect something. Brooke worried.
    “No,” Brooke finally answered. “Everything is great Mrs. McCarthy! And I will definitely still be going on the mission trip!”
     “Wonderful!” Mrs. McCarthy sang. “Then I will see you next week!”
     “See you then!” Brooke was able to say before quickly hanging up the phone.    

*******************************************

     Tara McCarthy hung up the phone and shook her head. She knew that something was wrong with Brooke even if the girl was set on trying to hide it. After deciding to keep an attentive eye on Brooke during the trip, Tara opened her front door and stepped onto the front porch were her husband Ed was waiting for her return. He smiled when Tara approached him and returned to her spot on the porch swing next to him. The couple was nearing their fifties but had no children. Tara’s body prevented her from barring the gifts which they had both longed for so deeply. She had suffered many miscarriages and even a stillborn. It had been painful but the couple had trusted God and grown closer to not only Him, but each other by doing so.
     Ed took Tara’s hand, patted it gently, and asked, “How did all of your phone calls go?”
     “Fine,” Tara replied. “One girl sounded a little different as if she were hiding something but I maybe I was just reading into it.”
     “It’s been two months since you’ve seen those kids.” Ed said. “A lot can change in that time.”
     Tara nodded thoughtfully. She was a professor and her students became like the children she never had. She cared for them deeply and the summertime when she was away from them felt like an eternity.
     A bright smile lit Tara’s face as she whispered, “Yes, but the way I care for them never will.”    

******************************

     The man was old and withered. He sat alone on his porch, feeding a small flock of birds which chirped cheerfully as they searched the dirt for the seeds the old man was throwing.
     “Don’t be so greedy,” The old chided a small bird which danced franticly in circles as it gathered as many seeds in its beak as possible.
     The old man seemed to be alone in life. His wife had died years old, his only child had died tragically at a young age, and even his friends had left him in death. Yet the old man was not depressed nor cynical nor angry. In fact, he was content and happy. He lived alone in a small cabin in El Salvador. He was not a native. He and his wife had moved to the country from America shortly after the death of their daughter. They had given their lives selflessly to missionary work and had become fully part of the community in the small town of El Paisnal.
     The old man’s wife had been completely devoted to the people of El Paisnal. The man had loved his wife deeply and after her death, he had retreated to his cabin where he stopped aiding the poor of the surrounding areas. However, the locals drew him from his isolation. After years of healing, he became the content, peaceful, old man that feed the birds and made daily trips to town to tell stories to the children of El Paisnal.


*************************************

     Brooke took a deep breath and stepped out of the bus. The air was thick with dust and humidity and the scent of animals made her feel nauseous. She pulled her t-shirt over her nose to hide her disgusted gags.
     “Brooke,” Tara McCarthy said gently, placing her hand on the young girl’s back. “Are you feeling alright?”
     “Yes, of course.” Brooke responded, letting her shirt drop back into place and attempting to smile.
     “Don’t worry,” Tara said kindly. “You will get used to the sights and smell of El Paisnal soon enough.”
     With that, the professor motioned for the group of college students to follow her. Brooke walked at the back of the twenty of so students. She had many of friends in the group. Some had even been very close to her when they had preformed community services around campus over the past three years. Yet, now, everything was different, including the way Brooke felt towards and trusted people. Everything had changed and nothing would ever be the same again. She decided to keep her distance from as many people as possible during the trip. It would be safer that way. They would be less likely to detect the truth in something she said or did.   
     Brooke finished arranging her sleeping bag and other personal items on the floor of the room her and the other woman would share. She glanced around at the other girls in the room who were chattering excitedly as they did the same. Maybe it was a mistake coming on this trip. She worried over and over. She was so tired, so scared, so ashamed. Closing her eyes, Brooke lowered herself onto the sleeping bag. The ground was hard beneath her body but her mind raced too quickly to notice. Without thinking, she placed a hand on her stomach. It was flat and normal to her touch but she knew it couldn’t remain that way for long if she didn’t go through with her appointment in a few weeks. She moved her other hand to rest on her stomach also and sighed. It wasn’t fair that the existence of her child should be hidden from the world but she didn’t know what else to do – who to tell. It didn’t matter much anyway. The thing inside of her would be gone before anyone knew it was ever there.
     “Alright girls!” Mrs. McCarthy’s bright voice startled Brooke, causing her to jerk her hands from her abdomen and sit upright. The quick motion made her dizzy and hoped that no one else had noticed it.
     “I hope you are all settled in because it is lunch time!” The cheerful woman continued.
     The other girls squealed with joy.
     “Good. I am starving!” A thin girl with a blond ponytail whispered to Brooke.
     Mrs. McCarthy must have overheard the girl’s comment because she smiled and added, “But remember we are here to serve not to be served.”

********************************

     Something is definitely wrong with Brooke. Tara decided as she stood and watched her group of college students serve lunch to the people of El Paisnal. Though she smiled as she filled the bowl of each hungry individual, the light of peace and joy had left Brooke’s eyes. Yet, Tara knew asking the girl about what she observed would only make Brooke remain silent longer. She would have to be patient and let God guide her words and actions if wanted to help the young, troubled girl.

*********************************

     For the first time since that awful night, Brooke forgot about what she had done and the consequences of her actions. The worries, fears, and doubts which had pressed so violently on her mind, suddenly disappeared as handed out bowl after bowl. The joy and appreciation in each person’s expression as he or she received the food, chased away all memories of the past or fears of the future. Brooke noticed that each local was uniquely grateful. Some thanked her verbally, other with a simple yet meaningful smile or nod of the head. Each word of gratitude was like music to Brooke’s eyes and the kindness she saw in each pair of dark eyes was more beautiful than anything she had ever seen. Without realizing it, the young woman was slowly beginning to heal while serving the people of El Paisnal.
     The last bowl had just been served when Brooke heard the sounds of children’s laughter and squeals of joy.
     “What’s going on?” She asked Mrs. McCarthy when the woman approached her.
     The woman smiled and responded, “It is the story man or as the children call him El hombre Historia.”
     “Come on,” Mrs. McCarthy said when she detected the confusion in Brooke’s expression. “I will show you.”
     The story man was an old man. His long beard was silverly, gray and his tanned skin held countless winkles which appeared each time he smiled at the group of children, which was quickly gathering around him. He spoke to the children in Spanish, preventing Brooke from understanding his words. Yet, she decided that she didn’t need to. The kindness she heard in the voice of the old man and the adoration in the eyes of children was enough. Forgetting, everything else, Brooke lowered herself onto the ground and sat cross-legged at the rear of the group of children. She smiled at the intent way the kids stared up at the story man. She laughed when they laughed at the story, though she couldn’t understand what was funny.
     She forgot about the burden of secrecy and the gift of life; both of which she carried deep inside of her. She forgot about the shame, pain, fear, and future until she looked away from the story man and his audience of children. A woman from El Paisnal stood nearby. Her dark hair was pulled away from her face and she was busy hanging a basket full of clothes on a rope which had been stung from the roof of one home to the roof of its neighbor. The woman stopped her work, stretched her back, and placed her hand affectionately on her pregnant belly. Suddenly, every emotion returned to haunt Brooke. No matter where she was or what she was doing, she couldn’t escape the truth. She held a child within her and she had chosen to call the number on the second card.
     Fear grasped the girl. Brooke stood quickly and left the story man and his group of children. She glanced around but couldn’t find Mrs. McCarthy anywhere. It didn’t matter much anyway. She didn’t know how she could face the woman or what she would say to her. Brooke knew that her professor had detected something different about her. It was only a matter of time before the woman discovered the truth. And then what? Once the truth was out, there was no question that Brooke’s parents would find out also. Horror twisted Brooke’s stomach uncomfortably. No. Her parents could not find out no matter what. She only had to get through the trip and then her appointment. After that, it would all be over. Nothing more than just a thing of the past. She could go on with her life. Her parents would never know. And she would forget. But for right now, she needed to get away. Away from the story man. Away from the group of laughing children. Away from the  expecting mother.
*************************************

     The old man saw the girl suddenly panic and leave the group of children. Concern filled him when he watched the girl struggle to control herself as she drifted down the long path out of town. She was obviously isolating herself; a dangerous thing to do when dealing with a crisis. The old man knew this better than anyone. After quickly but skillfully finishing the story, the old man waved goodbye to the children. He knew what he must do. Without a backward glance, the story man hurried down the path which the troubled girl had taken. Even in her distressed state, the girl would most likely be too fearful of the unfamiliar forest to venture from the path. With this in mind, the old man continued calmly down the dirt path deeper and deeper into the forest of El Salvador.
     Unlike the girl, the story man knew where the path led. When the refreshing sounds of slashing water reached his old ears, the old man knew that he was almost to his destination and probably the girl’s also. A smile crept across the old man’s face when he finally spotted the scene which he had only heard for the last leg of his journey. A large waterfall danced in all its glory before the story man. Its powerful, silvery-blue water cut beautifully through the gray cliff behind it and skipped around the bright green vegetation which grew in abundance on the gray stones of the cliff. The water, which splashed freely down the cliff, landed in a blue pool. The pool was a popular place to swim and cool off but today it was empty and still. The story man visited this spot often. It was perfectly peaceful and offered a refreshing quality which allowed one to think clearly.
     The story man spotted the girl near the clear pool. Unlike the old man, she was not staring up at the waterfall with amazement. Instead, she sat on a large rock with her knees pulled into her chest and her head buried in her arms. The old man moved toward the girl quietly, not knowing what to say but also knowing that something needed to be said. When he reached the girl, the story man noticed her sobs and the violent shaking of her body. Without saying a word, the story man reached out and gently placed a winkled hand on the girl’s shoulder. Immediately, Brooke spun around the face the old man with both tears and fear in her eyes.
     “Don’t be afraid,” The old man whispered with a smile. “I didn’t come here to hurt you.”
     “Than why did you come?” Brooke asked. “How did you know I was here? Why did you follow me?”
     “Because I knew that you were upset about something when you left during my story. You couldn’t be leaving because of boredom.” The old man said with a grin and then added, “My stories are far too good for that.”
     “I am sorry,” Brooke told the story man. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was enjoying your story even if I couldn’t understand what it was about. In fact, it distracted me from everything until…”
     Brooke gazed into the blue pool but still refused to look up at the waterfall.
     “You know,” The old man began, finding a place to sit on the large rock. “I don’t just tell stories. I enjoy listening to them as well.”
     Brooke turned to face the old man. Her eyes were still large with fear and fresh tears began to build in them.
     “But I haven’t told anyone this story. I wouldn’t know where to start or how to put the words together the right way.” She whispered.
     The story man smiled encouragingly at the terrified girl.
     “Take strength from the power of the waterfall.” The old man said. “I believe God created it for just that purpose. He wanted us to be encouraged and refreshed when we gazed upon it.”  
     The story man prayed and hoped as he watched Brooke turn to face the waterfall. She lifted her tear-stained face to its beauty and gazed upon its power. As soon as her eyes met the glory of God’s creation, she began to sob and through the sobs came the story. All the words she hadn’t spoken to anyone flooded from her mouth as she looked at the refreshing waterfall. And the story man listened.

**************Three Weeks Later**************


     “This can all be over soon.” The woman repeated again.
      Ever since Brooke had come back from the mission trip to El Salvador, she had deeply regretted her decision to call the number on the second card three weeks earlier. However, whenever she began to tell her parents about her pregnancy, she became weak and forgot about the refreshing feeling of truth which her time with the story man at the waterfall had given her. The old man’s words played through her head on a daily basis yet she couldn’t bring herself to telling her parents the truth nor cancel the appointment.
     “Brooke,” The woman pressed, interrupting Brooke’s thoughts.  
     But Brooke chose to listen to the words of the story man instead. I would give almost anything to see my daughter again. He had told her that day, with the refreshing sound of the waterfall in the background. Why would you allow your child to be taken from you without even seeing the beauty of her innocent face?  
      Suddenly, something inside of Brooke snapped. This would never be over like the woman told her. Even if she went through with it, she wouldn’t forget. Even if she was free from the responsibilities of having a child, she would always regret never seeing her face.
     “No!” She screamed. “I don’t understand and I don’t want to. I won’t do this!”
     Her head spinning and her heart pounding, Brooke pushed past the woman and rushed from the room. Woman in the waiting room stared at her she exited the building in disarray but she didn’t care. All she knew was that she was about to make a mistake and she had to escape.
     The warm summer air hit the young woman as she stumbled through the parking lot. Finally finding her car, Brooke climbed in and locked all the doors. Grabbing her throbbing head, she began to scream. The tears overflowed and rapidly trailed down her face, blinding her as she remembered.
     It had been a mistake. The entire night had been a mistake. She had been stupid, had let her guard down, and had abandoned all reason. It had been a party for her – a birthday party. She had originally though that it was nothing more than a simple birthday party but she had been wrong. When she had left the house for college, she had been so confident that she would never attend that kind of party but somehow she had forgotten when her friends organized the party for her twenty-first birthday and purchased all of the drinks that would be served during it. She had been so hesitant but they were convincing. She had been such an innocent, pure girl but he had been charming.
     It had been the end of her junior year. She was excelling in school, her professors adored her, her heart throbbed with passion for the career which she was pursuing but in a single moment everything had changed. In a single moment, she had chosen to change everything.
     She knew in her heart that she couldn’t just remove the life which had been placed inside of her. Just like that party, those friends, that boy, coming to that place had been a mistake and she was thankful that she had realized it before it had been too late.
     With tears still running down her face, Brooke pulled her phone from her back pocket. With trembling hands, she dialed the number.

***********************************

     With tears pouring down her face, Tara McCarthy hung up the phone. Was it true what she had heard or was it just a dream. Would she finally receive her heart’s desire? Her husband entered the room and she moved to stand in front of him.
     “What’s wrong?” The kind man asked with concern, gently wiping the tears from Tara’s face.
     “They are tears of joy,” Tara whispered. “We are finally going to be parents.”

*******************************

     The old, story man smiled as he finished reading the letter from Tara McCarthy. He had suffered through many painful situations in his life but they had all been for a reason. God had planned everything out flawlessly. The deaths, which he had experienced, had saved the life of an innocent child and built the family of a longing couple. The old man’s story was finished. The story man finished his silent prayer of thanksgiving and opened his eyes to gaze upon the waterfall one last time.
 

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