Could the sun shine any brighter, the day be any warmer than perfection?
The scent of every crop and flower mushroomed with abundance, filling the air of Welcome, Tennessee, where everyone smiled and nodded as they passed, polite and welcoming as could be.
Howell Rogers, the blind mayor of Welcome had lived here all his life, as had his forefathers. It was a quiet recluse of a town nestled in rolling hillsides and verdant fields. The population had remained the same since his father was mayor.
“Ms. Goodson, ladies,” he said, nodding as he heard the twins passing.
They returned his greeting and moved on.
Howell Rogers had been blind from birth, but after the twins passed and the healing sun’s rays blessed his eyes at just the right angle, his sight was restored.
Not quite surprised, he paused with delight, then joyously crossed the street, his long wooden cane tapping out of memory ahead of him as it had for over five decades.
“Mayor Rogers. What a surprise,” Norrell Landers, the owner of the Curio Shop said.
“And a good day to you sir.”
“How can I help the city’s finest mayor?” Landers said.
“I’d like to make my choice, if you will.”
Norrell Landers paused. Everyone in town had taken their turn some years back. No one thought twice that the kindly old mayor would be the last to make up his mind.
“Delighted to help you,” Landers said, turned around, and lifted a foot-wide, four-foot-long mahogany board and set it on the counter next to his cash register. “There you go.”
Five ceramic figurines, each nearly a foot high, were evenly spaced along the length of the aged board. Each richly hand-painted in wondrous detail by the original founder of the town. “A gift,” he said, “to all future generations.”
“Make sure your choice is really what you want, sir, as I always warn, because your decision will last an eternity.”
Without hesitating, Rogers reached out to the figurine of the fattened man at the far right and grasped its warm head and just as quickly released his grip.
“Really? I might have chosen another path for you, sir, knowing you as I do. But if it’s wealth you want, wealth you will have.”
Howell Rogers stepped away from the counter and looked around the store as never before. The shelves were bare. There were no curios in the Curio Shop. No small or unusual objects, novel gifts, or collections. Not an oddity or curiosity in sight. Not what he had expected.
“What happens next?”
“Everyone asks that question,“ Landers said, returning the set of figurines to where it had stood for over a century. “Probably best, I always say, to let things take their natural course and you will be surprised.”
“What would you have chosen for me?” Rogers said, still playing the blind man.
Norrell Landers considered the question. The end figurine on the right was a man with a big cigar and heavy gold chain looped under his pot belly. The Mayor’s choice. The one to the left was a man with a shovel. In the middle, a man with a bolt of lightning in his grasp. Next, a man kneeling in prayer, and at the other end, a man cradling three children.
“The man at prayer.”
Rogers had been anticipating this singular moment for his lifetime. But he was waiting for a sign from the Lord. Direction and guidance, he prayed every morning, and when he regained his sight he knew it was time.
“I’ll get the ledger for you to sign,” Howell said and walked into the darkened back of the shop.
Rogers went behind the counter, plucked each figurine from its perch, clutched the five under his arm, and ran out. Now it was his turn to show the residents of Welcome what he thought of them, as they had already so diminished his service, his salary, and limited his discretion that he was as cold a figurehead as their precious figurines.
As he turned into the alley leading to the back of the shops along Main Street, people stopped in horror.
The Curio Shop had vanished.
Just up and disappeared.
“Fools,” Howell Rogers chuckled as he held his booty close.
At the end of the deeply shadowed alley where light awaited him, you could see the grin on the old man’s face. He was so filled with the joy of righteous revenge.
The moment he came back into the light, the gift of sight vanished, and he tripped on a baseball some kid had lost in years past. He fell face-forward, landing on the figurines and sending their fractured remains tumbling out onto the dirt.
“Oh no, dear God, my lord, let it not be,” he said in frantic prayer. He stuck his hands out, groping blindly into a sea of unidentifiable ceramic shards.
Rogers stumbled to his feet. “My damn cane,” he said, realizing he had left his cane in the Curio Shop. He kicked out angrily at the shards that had betrayed him and fumbled his way back to Main Street.
Had the gift of sight lasted longer, he would have seen bodies laying in the street, on the sidewalk. Shards of once animate bodies were scattered everywhere. He would have noticed the sea of death from one end of Main Street to the other, and the empty space once occupied by the Curio Shop.
“Is anybody there?” he yelled several times.
He took a wrong turn and wound up on the wooden steps of the Cleaver House, a small but worthy hotel where most of the fashionable travelers paused.
“I’ve lost everything,” he said, sensing the cleaved opening grow along the side of his scalp
A wetness he couldn’t identify spread across his back, and his neck became so weak his head rolled off his shoulders and into the street where it came to rest among the shattered remains of the still smiling Goodson twins.
Arthur Davis is a management consultant who has been quoted in The New York Times and in Crain’s New York Business, taught at The New School and interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1. He has advised The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, Senator John McCain’s investigating committee on boxing reform, and testified as an expert witness before the New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing. He has been published in over eighty journals, a single author anthology, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, received the 2018 Write Well Award for excellence in short fiction and, twice nominated, received Honorable Mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. Additional background at www.TalesOfOurTime.com, (https://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Davis/e/B00VF0GDG4) and at the Poets & Writers Organization.