And here we have the third and final set of "Spohn Challenge" stories that I was forced to post elsewhere while having issue with this site over the course of the summer. This set brings up up to this week's entry (No. 48), so barring any recurrence of the glitches that gave me such fits, next week we'll be picking up back on schedule as far as the stories being posted here as opposed to on my Facebook wall.

So let's get started, shall we...?

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I believe I may have learned something about human nature this past weekend.

Little of it good, I’m afraid.

My wife got called in to fill in at the store where she works when another employee came down sick, so I thought I’d take advantage of the situation and sneak off with the kids to do a little early Christmas shopping for her. Seemed like a good idea at the time; how was I supposed to know where it would lead?

So after Nancy headed out for the salt mines, I bundled up 6-year-old Clark and 1-year-old Eddie and pointed the trusty family wagon toward the shopping mall on the other side of the county to buy a particular item I knew I wouldn’t be able to find any closer to home. It was going to be a special day for the Johnston men; we rarely get the chance to spend that kind of time together, and it seemed fitting and proper that we should spend it doing something nice for the woman we all love.

Things seemed to be going well. The boys actually conducted themselves in a manner both reasonable and proper. We found the item we were looking for – and at a fairly reasonable price, to boot. During lunch I even got to see first-hand something I’d heard Nancy talk about a hundred times: Eddie’s ability to catch the attention of all the pretty girls who passed by. 

It’s really something to behold: He focuses in on them, grins, gurgles some comment that’s apparently intelligible only to other 1-year-olds and pretty young girls. And the girls come running and make a fuss over him. Sheer magic.

I’m not sure just where he acquired this power beyond those of mortal men, but I know he didn’t get it from ME. Whenever I tried to catch the attention of a pretty girl, the typical response was for the girl to run away screaming. (Come to think of it, that’s STILL their typical response…) 

Nancy was the first pretty girl I ever met who didn’t do this, which leads me to suspect she needed a stronger perscription for her eyeglasses at the time.

In any event, after lunch we loaded up Mom’s early Christmas present and pointed the trusty family wagon back towards home, satisfied with our day’s labors.

That’s when things went kerflooey.

Upon pulling out of the parking lot onto the highway, I noticed the car had trouble getting revved up. A quick glance down at the dashboard explained that: I had inadvertedly pulled the gearshift down past “D” into “3.” 

Whatever “3” means. But, hey, no problem; there’s a red light up ahead. I’ll just shift back up when I stop.

Except that it wouldn’t shift back up. The gearshift wouldn’t budge; my poor, aging automatic transmission was frozen in a gear it was apparently never really meant to use. Which made me wonder, if only for a moment, why the manufacturer had even put it there to begin with.

We almost made it back across the Red River. But with the bridge in sight, the formerly trusty family wagon decided she’d had enough. She just quit, leaving its mechanically disinclined operator, his two young children and an early Christmas gift for the lady of the house stranded there on the side of the highway.

And the fun was only the beginning.

Clark and I got out of the car, and I went through the motions of looking under the hood. A futile effort at best, and we both knew it; I wouldn’t have known what the trouble was if you’d put a big flashing neon sign that read “Here’s The Trouble!” on it. It is a testament to my son’s character that he doesn’t seem to think less of me because I don’t know my way around a car engine. 

For what seemed like forever, the two of us took turns trying to flag down passing motorists for help. And it was during this time the lesson in human nature began. Nobody wanted to stop and help a stranded motorist. Nobody seemed to care. Even the sight of a cold and miserable 6-year-old trying to help his poppa get help didn’t seemed to move them. In fact, many of the motorists picked up speed as they approached us, leaving us coughing in a trail of road dust.

Finally one fellow in a small, fully-loaded pickup truck stopped and offered to take us up the highway to the truck stop just outside Millerton. Clark and Eddie rode up front in the cab with the driver; I hung on for dear life in the back, perched perilously atop our early Christmas gift for Nancy and whatever his truck was loaded down with. My ears are still cold.

By the time we reached the truck stop I knew Nancy should be back home from work, so I used the pay phone to give her a call. After learning of our plight, she rallied a couple of family friends to come save our bacon and her early Christmas present. (Which is no longer a surprise, of course, but all things considered it wasn’t such a bad trade-off.) As I write this our mechanic is still looking at the car, trying to determine the exact nature of the problem. It may be time to get a rifle and put the poor old jalopy out of its misery…

Having had time to mull things over, I’d like to say that I’m still shocked at the lack of concern demonstrated by the motorists who sped past. I’d like to, but I can’t. How many times have I done the exact same thing? Saw a stranded motorist and passed right by?

I suppose it’s the day and age we live in. 

Once upon a time most folks didn’t give a second thought to lending their fellow man a helping hand; now you can never be sure when that fellow man you’re helping might turn out to be some nut with a gun. Modern society has been conditioned to expect the worst, and at some point self-preservation takes precedence over being a good neighbor. It’s a sad fact, but a fact all the same.

Still, how do you explain that to two cold, tired little boys who only want to get home?

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“Now that’s odd,” Jillian muttered as she opened the door and looked into James’ suite on the fourth floor of the Dolenz Communications Building. “The secretary’s not here.”

“So maybe she’s on a coffee break or something,” Julie answered. “And anyway, why complain? That’s just one less thing you’ll have to worry about when you go into your act.”

Jillian nodded. That much was true, she had to admit. She stepped into the office suite, loosening ever so slightly the belt that held her full length coat closed. She couldn’t help but feel just the slightest bit silly about this thing Julie had talked her into doing; on the other hand, the whole thing had an adventurous aspect to it that just fascinated the bejabbers out of her.

Besides, she could have said "no" when Julie had first brought the idea up back at the store. She wasn’t THAT easy to manipulate, you know…

Julie took Jillian’s purse and set it on the sofa which faced the secretary’s desk. “Okay, kid, this is it,” she said, sounding a little like a coach ready to send her star player into the state finals. “You ready?”

Jillian took a deep breath, let it sout slowly, and nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” she answered honestly. She took a quick glance behind her, to make certain nobody had followed them into the office area. Then she unfastened the coat and took it off, revealing a body barely covered by what little fabric made up Crimson Jack Talbot’s “Skintillation” nightie.

Julie shook her head and smiled again in admiration. “My God, you look good in that thing.”

“Let’s just hope he thinks so,” Jillian responded.

“Are you kidding? The poor idiot will never know what hit him. Now get in there and do your thing like you’ve never done it before.”

Jillian smiled, turned the doorknob, and backed into the office. Pulling the door shut behind her, she slowly turned and faced her husband’s desk.

And almost fell over in a dead faint.

James Drummond looked up, his eyes suddenly wide with shock and surprise. And not just a little fear. “My God, Jill, what are you doing here?’ he exclaimed as he squirmed there in his seat.

Further movement was greatly impeded by the nubile young lady straddling him with her back to Jillian. She said nothing, concentrating instead on maintaining the pace of her up-and-down motions as she took him inside. One thing was certain: this certainly wasn’t James’ usual secretary. Vivian was well into her fifties, and was probably still a virgin into the bargain, something this sex machine probably hadn’t been for sometime despite her relative youth. Jillian didn’t know who she was, but she definitely looked like she knew what she was doing.

There were several things Jillian wanted to do at that particular moment in her life. She wanted to scream. She wanted to faint. She wanted to throw up. Part of her even wanted to die.

One thing she didn’t want to do was just stand there and watch. But that’s exactly what she did.

God, what a movie this would make, she thought. James was so obviously panic-stricken, but at that particular moment he was far too occupied with the business at hand to stop. The raven-haird stranger balanced there on top of James was oblivious to everything other than her own gratification. And then there was Jillian, just standing there watching it all like some little kid peaking through the keyhole of her parents’ bedroom.

It might have been hilarious if it weren’t all so blasted real.

“So, James,” she finally managed to say, with a great deal more composure than had imagined herself capable of. “Is this the way we break in the new help? By screwing them during your lunch break?”

“I beg your pardon!” The woman on top of James said with great indignation. She turned just enough to catch sight of Jillian in the corner of her eye. “I am NOT this man’s secretary. I’m his boss. I’M the one screwing him, NOT the other way around.” And then she turned her attention back to the matter at hand.

Jillian could feel her eyes bulging out of her face. Good Lord, the woman actually sounds offended, she thought.

“Well, pardon me all to hell,” she said, fully aware she would not be able to maintain her composure very much longer. “I certainly didn’t mean to interrupt.” And with that she flung open the door and stormed out.

“Who was that?” Valeri Trager asked.

James Drummond closed his eyes. “That, Miss Trager, was my wife.” Valeri simply smiled, pressed her legs tighter against him, and lost herself in her pleasure…

On the other side of the door Jillian wrapping herself back up in her overcoat and angrily heading back out of the outer office. Julie snuffed out a cigarette and stood up. “What’s the matter, hon?” she asked.

“Ask me again some time,” Jillian answered. She stopped there just long enough to take her purse back from Julie, then she stepped out the door into the hallway and started towards the elevator. “I’ll see you later.”

Julie scratched her head and pursed her lips together as she watched her friend disappear. “Now what in the world was that all about?” she queried aloud, even though there was nobody standing there in the room with her to hear the question. She turned and looked at the door which separated the outer office from James’ inner sanctum, took a step towards it, then stopped short. Did she really want to find out just what it was that had sent Jillian off in tears?

Now that was a stupid question...

So she threw open the door and stepped through just in time to see James crumple back into his chair, tired and spent, as Valeri climbed off and set about the task of retrieving her clothing. As she bent over to pick up her bra she happened to notice Julie standing there in the doorway.

“Is there something I can help you with?” the still-naked woman asked in her most businesslike tone.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Julie responded, the expression on her face one of pure innocence. “I was just looking for a friend of mine, but obviously I’ve got the wrong office.” If looks could kill, the glance she then shot in James' direction would have laid him out flat in an instant. "Hi there, James. How's the family?” Then Julie spun around and headed out to find Jillian...

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...The Villain thus suitably vanquished, the Square Jawed Hero swept the Lovely Damsel into his arms. "At last you are free from the bonds of evil, and we can declare our love to all the world!" he exclaimed happily.

He pulled her close and tried to kiss her, but the Lovely Damsel placed her hands against his chest and pushed him away. She looked at him, then back at the spot where the Villain still lay in a heap, then back again at the Square Jawed Hero.

"I'm sorry," she told him. "I could never love you!"

The words were like a punch to the Square Jawed Hero's gut. "But... but why?" he finally managed to stammer.

The Lovely Damsel hesitated before answering. "Let's face it, man, you're a bore," she told him. She looked back at the Villain again, then added, "He may be wicked and evil. He may have delusions of grandeur and a somewhat warped sense of reality." She looked down at the harem-type outfit the Villain had insisted she wear after he had kidnapped her. "He may even have questionable tastes when it comes to fashion. But I'll say this much for him - he sure knows how to show a girl a good time!"

And with that she pulled away and ran back to where the Villain was struggling to rise from where he had fallen. The Lovely Damsel took his arm and wrapped it around her shoulder, helping him to stand. Then she wrapped her arm around his waist as they turned to walk away.

The Square Jawed Hero's jaw went slack as he watched them depart. And the sight of the Villain turning back just long enough to grin and thumb his nose and yell "Neener neener neee-neer!" was like rubbing glass in an open wound...

*      *      *



There was one fellow who used to live in our hometown who I'll never forget. 

Zachariah Jefferson was one of those guys who simply could not contain himself when it came to expressing his appreciation for feminine pulchritude.  He did so openly. Without hesitation. And with little if any regard for whether or not the target of that appreciation might be standing within earshot.

He didn't mean anything by it. He wasn't trying to be harassing or sexist or leering in that "dirty old man" way like your weird Uncle Philip at the annual family reunion. It was just something he did without thinking. And all very innocent, really. 

Most of the women in town knew this. They realized Zac was basically harmless, never called the police to file a sexual harassment complaint when Zac would pass them on the street and say something that called attention to the curve of their bustline or the shapeliness of their hindquarters. I'm pretty sure that some of them even came to enjoy getting that kind of attention from him - although I am equally sure that none of them would likely have admitted it publicly. 

Occasionally some visitor to town would take offense when Zac would comment or whistle in their direction. She would turn and cast a dirty look at him, perhaps stomp a foot or make some other public display of outrage. Every now and then one of them might even walk up to Zac and begin verbally assaulting him or threatening to call their attorney. At which point one of the local womenfolk would intervene, patting Zac on the arm reassuringly and sending him on his way before taking the offended party aside and gently - but firmly - setting them straight. Sometimes the offended party understood, sometimes they did not. Even when they did not, they still agreed to drop the matter and go on about their business. And then nothing more would ever be said about the incident.

It was nice, the way the local ladies would rush to Zac’s defense that way. Everybody said so. Well, almost everybody. Which was good enough for most folks.

Anyway, one evening Zac was walking back to his apartment after having supper at the diner down the street when he found himself following someone who really caught his eye. A short, thin form with long, flowing black hair, clad in tight-fitting bell bottom jeans and a green-and-white striped T-shirt, and moving along at a slow, leisurely pace. Naturally it was the woman's jeans in particular that got his attention - and, being Zac, he just couldn't help himself. A smile spread across his features and, in a voice loud enough for all of us who were in the immediate vicinity at the time to hear, he proclaimed, "Ummmm, nice buns!"

At which point the other individual came to an abrupt halt, slowly spun around and faced Zac, who was astonished to find that the woman he had been following for the last couple of blocks wasn't a woman at all. It was a short, thin man, probably in his late twenties or early thirties, with an equally long beard and matching mustache, and a positively sullen expression on that hirsute face of his. 

"Thanks, man," the fellow said in a long, slow drawl that reminded Zac of Eeyore in the "Winnie The Pooh" cartoons. "You're not so bad yourself." Then he turned back around and was on his way once again, leaving Zac wishing that there were a large rock someplace nearby that he could crawl under.

Such an occurrence would no doubt have a reformatory effect on any poor slob who had lived through it. It probably had such an effect on Zac, but nobody ever knew for sure. The morning after it happened Zac gathered his few belongings together, packed them into the old duffel bag he used to carry his school books in as a boy, walked down to the bus stop next to Gerry’s Grocery Store downtown and boarded a Greyhound for parts unknown, never to be seen here again. 

He was gone, but hardly forgotten. And definitely missed - although, again, nobody admitted it publicly that I ever heard tell of. But they didn't have to, really. Some things you can just sense.

One of the women in town that he used to make comments about came home from vacation one year saying that she had seen someone who she thought might be Zac walking along a beach in San Diego. But she couldn't be certain because, when she had tried walking up closer to him to see if it was him, the poor fellow turned and high-tailed it in the opposite direction...

(The above stories are all copyright 2014 by John Allen Small)