This is the 16th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “P“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “P” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(3,205 words – approx. reading time: about 12 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Once upon a time, there was Man.
Pardon me, O’ Magnificent One . . . I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start over.
Once upon a time, there was a man. The man’s name was Fink – Earnest T. Fink. Earnest loved two things on earth, and two things only. He loved his wife, Isabelle, and he loved golf.
Having dated Isabelle for 3 years in the early 90’s, he finally gathered the gumption to kneel and plead for her hand in marriage. She trilled and blushed but said no. “Not without my daddy’s blessin’.”
Over a dinner of barbeque pork chops and turnip greens, Mr. Gus Duckwater asked: “What are your prospects, young man?”
Earnest swallowed a gob of chop. “If by that you mean, how do I plan to support your daughter, Mr. Duckwater, I suppose my best and most truthful answer is . . . gulp . . . golf.”
Truth be told, he might very well have accomplished that improbable dream. He was talented and worked hard at the game and had won dozens of local tournaments. He skipped the college route, working instead as a club pro at the City Golf Course.
That night, at Gus’s dinner table under Gus’s roof, there was laughter. Earnest was not laughing; neither was Isabelle. Her brothers, mother, and father, however, nearly choked on their chops.
“Gawf,” Gus Duckwater spurted. “How the holy hell are you gonna support my Issie by knockin a ball inna hole with a crooked stick?”
Earnest stood and removed the bib from his neck. “I’m going to win, Mr. Duckwater. I’m going to win the Georgia Open next month and then I’m going to apply for my PGA tour card. I’ve got savings – with that money, I’m going to travel to every Open in every state and win my way into the top 100 golfers in the PGA. There’s money in it, Mr. Duckwater. Big money. Cuz I won’t stop at a hundred. Mark my words, Earnest Tamerlane Fink will be the number one golfer in the world in two years. That’s how I’m going to support your daughter.”
He reached for her hand and she reached back. “That, sir, is how I’m going to support my wife,” he amended. She leaped and kissed him as the brothers mocked the name Tamerlane.
Gus Duckwater liked the cut of the kid’s jib. He blessed the union, and even offered to roast a goat for the reception.
They were married by Reverend Sammy Longpickle at the First Church of Christ on Deer Tick Road. There was no music – disallowed by church doctrine – and there was no booze – disallowed by the pastor’s wife. But there was a ceremony and a celebration and a signed marriage certificate.
That’s the happy part of this very, very sad story. It ends, as you well know, Most Esteemed One, with the complete extinction of humanity.
So, where was I? Golf.
Earnest did win the Georgia Open and he did go on to get his pro card. Just as he was beginning to hit the money-boards, tragedy struck. A hurricane blasted the eastern seaboard of Georgia. He and Isabelle’s house was, miraculously, undamaged. However, his in-law’s clapboard-slat home took a drubbing.
Earnest skipped the U.S. Open in California and flew to the aid of his family. Big mistake. As he was sawing fallen trees with a gas-powered McCulloch chainsaw, he got careless. His mind drifted the U.S. Open that was taking place in Winged Horse Golf Club in San Francisco. It was a long course – close to 8000 yards – perfect for his big drives and rescue woods. He saw himself sinking the final putt on the final hole on the final day and reaching out to accept the trophy . . . with half a bloody hand.
“Earnest,” Isabelle screamed, dropping a pitcher of sweet ice tea. “Your hand!”
The chain had slipped and kicked, catching his wedding ring in the gullet of a steel cutter. All that to say this: Earnest lost three of his best fingers on his best hand.
Two years later, he tried to make a comeback. Golfers welcomed him, but Golf did not. His handicap – some pun intended – was too great to overcome. Golf shanked him into the hazards and left him for lost.
No one knows better than you, O’ Glorious Creator, just how resilient these humans are. Earnest T. Fink was doggedly determined to make a living for himself and Isabelle . . . without abandoning his first and purest love: golf.
No longer competitive on the Tour, he decided to teach. He got a job as a golf instructor on a municipal course in Georgia. The money was weak, but he was strong. Slowly, he assembled a stable of students. When they excelled, his reputation grew. He established a small academy. He scratched and scrabbled out an honest, modest livelihood, but no matter the size of his successes, Isabelle was unhappy. She’d had a taste of wealth and fame, and sadness penetrated her soul. She became clinically depressed the day they had to sell their manse in affluent Druid Hills and move closer to her family in Americus – the arsehole of Georgia.
That’s when Earnest got the idea of going global. He’d read about golf’s sudden rise in popularity in Asia and the Middle East. America was awash with washed-up golf pros – what he needed was a fresh start with new clientele. And it didn’t hurt if his clients were flush with oil money.
“Go,” Isabelle said, almost smiling. “I’ll stay here. Daddy’s poorly and so is Mama. They need me.”
He did go. He went to Salalah, Oman. And that is where I met Earnest Tamerlane Fink.
He learned Arabic – the tongue of the Holy Quran and your servant, the Prophet Mohammed. Peace be upon him. Earnest endeared himself to Sheiks and Sultans, Imams and Princes. He introduced them to the beautiful game and shared the secrets of his expertise. Soon, all the Royals wanted golf courses on their prized properties and resorts. He designed lovely Links, picturesque Parklands, and stunning Sandbelts. He oversaw every detail, advising on everything from grass seed to green speed, from the grain of sand in the bunkers to the species of ducks in the water hazards.
The money was good, but Earnest spent great sums on his wife, Isabelle. After her parents passed, she fell into a deeper, darker depression. Being an expatriate, Earnest had no Medical Insurance in the U.S. He happily paid psychiatrists, faith healers, and random quacks for the lessening of her depression and return of her happiness. He flew back to the States every 2 months to be by her side. The transatlantic flights also drained his savings. But he carried on. He persevered. He approached overseas’ success as if her life – their lives – depended on it.
I met Earnest in the tournament called The Sultanate Tournament of Kings. It was created to honor the Tariq Al Said, the Monarch of Oman, on the 10th anniversary of his rule. No expense was too great, no feature too lavish. Earnest was given the green light to secure the top 10 golfers in the world. These pros would receive a guaranteed show-fee of 3 million American dollars and a chance to win a 50-million dollar first-place prize. Earnest did as he was instructed. He was pleased when he secured all 10 of the echelon, but slightly hurt that none of the new generation of golfers even knew who he was.
It was Fall in Oman, but still warm. Being in the brass lamp for 700 years, I developed a recognition for the seasons. The Sultanate Tournament was a 3-day affair. It seemed all was going well until Earnest received a call. One of the golfers had been stopped in Riyadh International Airport in Saudi Arabia. Customs found 3 grams of marijuana in his bag. He would be detained until consulates and ambassadors could work out an arrangement. He would not be playing in The Sultanate Tournament.
“You will play,” His Majesty, The Sultan told Earnest. It was not a question or suggestion, it was a command.
Earnest protested as much as he dared, stating that he was nowhere near the caliber and quality of these young men. He displayed his mangled hand like a white, tattered flag.
“You will play,” Tariq Al Said insisted.
Earnest grabbed his gear and sprinted to the tee-box, where the introduction ceremonies had begun. The nine anointed players looked puzzled and disgruntled. Humbly, Earnest explained his predicament. “Take it easy on me, boys,” he laughed, showing his two-fingered hand.
They did not take it easy on Earnest. They were killers and they wanted the prestige of the inaugural victory in The Sultanate Tournament of Kings, and they wanted every dime of the 50-million dollar purse.
Nor did Earnest take it easy on them. He surprised himself with a 72 on the first day. It put him squarely in 8th place. Better than he could have hoped for. On the second day, he shocked the field with a 69.
“You really know this course,” a young player named Chadwick said.
“I should,” Earnest replied. “I built it.”
“What’s your name again?” the kid asked, slanting his Nike cap to shield the sun.
“Earnest T. Fink.”
The kid looked to his 3 caddies, quizzically, then back to Earnest. “Fink. Fink. Fink. Didn’t you used to be somebody?”
Earnest shook his hanging head and said: “No, son, I was never anybody.”
On the third and final day, Earnest started the round in 4th place. One of the players had succumbed to heat prostration, despite it being a mere 95 degrees. Another had broken three clubs over his knee and was forced to use what equipment remained. Another two players struggled with jetlag and simply played like shit.
With each stroke, Earnest began to believe that he may just finish in the top 3. It would garner him a nice purse, with which he could pay Isabelle’s medical bills and initiate some alternative treatments for her depression.
At the turn, he sat on a respectable 35. He checked the Leader Board. He was firmly in second place. Chadwick, the kid that had asked the searing question (Didn’t you used to be somebody?) was two strokes ahead.
With his bad hand, Earnest could not hit nearly as far as the field, but on the greens, he was an assassin. He fully gripped the putter shaft with his left hand, then using a pencil grip with his two fingers, he finessed the ball across the sleek greens that he’d personally seeded and manicured.
On the back nine, he was in the zone. He got on in regulation and he was one-putting like a maniac. One birdie became two birdies, and two became a flock.
It all came down to the eighteenth hole. It was a par 5 and it was a killer – a double dog-leg with an island lake-green. He had designed it to slay the faint of heart – golfers that weren’t willing to take risks. A par was there for a pro that managed it conservatively, but a birdie or eagle awaited the fearless man that threw caution to the wind to become the first winner of The Sultanate Tournament of Kings . . . to become somebody.
Chadwick swatted a 315-yard drive onto the fairway. He had only to clear a copse of trees and a duck-studded lake to make the green. That was 240 yards – very doable, for a pro. The catch, however, was that the green was an island, and a very small island at that. Earnest had designed it so that the loft of the ball must descend from at least 100 yards apex, and at a 63 degree angle. Easily achieved with a short iron, but almost impossible with a long irons.
Most – rather all – had played sensibly. They laid up on the shore of the lake, then pitched onto the island green for 3. While on in 3, they typically two-putted and quickly scribbled a 5 on their scorecard, happy to save par. This safe plan was Chadwick’s plan, and Earnest knew it. Earnest also knew every square yard of the 555-yard hole. Knowing he couldn’t belt a 300-yard drive, Earnest knew he must attempt a shortcut.
The gallery watched in confusion as Earnest addressed his ball in the final tee-box. He did not line up straightaway to hit the fairway, instead, he asked that some onlookers move so that he could safely strike far left. The marshals moved the crowd and asked for silence as he stared at acres and acres of stubborn tussocks – the evil plant reserved for golf course roughs.
“What are you doing, old fella?” Chadwick asked.
“Golfing,” he said.
“Yes, I know, but you’re aiming at the rough. Those tussocks will eat your balls like a hungry whore.”
“There’s a place out there, some 278 yards away. A clearing. It’s my happy place. I used to eat my lunches there while building this course. If I hit this ball as hard as I can toward the minaret on that mosque, I might, just maybe . . . with the help of God Almighty . . . land one there.”
Chadwick laughed. “And that would put you within pitching range – a nine for me, a seven for you?”
“That’s the plan,” Earnest said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Chadwick leaned in and whispered: “Good luck, lobster-claw.” He snapped his hand like a pincer and grinned.
Earnest thought of Isabelle; thought of the career and kids he never had; thought of the regrets he’d have if he played safe, of the regrets he’d have if he flubbed his last chance to be somebody.
He swung and the ball soared toward a field of horsetail shrubs and troublesome tussocks. He did not watch it. He simply walked – using the minaret of the faraway mosque as his guide.
That’s when he found me, O’ Loving Master. I was there in the tussocks. Rather, I was there in my lamp in the tussocks. I’d been there for centuries, as you know. As he searched for his ball, he saw the sun glint of my metal prison. He plucked me from the sand and shrubs and rubbed me with his unfortunate hand. I appeared, grateful for my freedom.
“You have three wishes,” I said, as per Djinn Doctrine.
He was, understandably, confounded and incapable of speech, seeing my massive blue body prostrate at his feet. “Three wishes,” I repeated. “Be wise, for my magic is as powerful as my gratitude.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said, checking his forehead for sun-fever. “I just want to find my ball. It’s here somewhere. I just wish I could find my ball.”
I did as he commanded. I revealed the dimpled sphere to him. It had not landed in the clearing – rather, it was nested like an egg in a single stalk of tussock.
“You did it,” Earnest cried. “You found it.” He was delighted by my power, yet dismayed by the ball’s location.
“You have two more wishes,” I said.
He looked at the ball, then at the flag, then at his hand. Impulsively, he blurted: “My hand. Restore my hand. Please, make it whole again.”
I fulfilled his request. I must say, at first I thought the wish was a waste. But when I saw the human marvel at my . . . handiwork . . . I felt that it was the best gift I could have given.
He did something then that amazed me. He ignored me, a mighty jinni, and focused on the white ball in the brown thatch of tussock. When I told him that he must hurry, he put his new finger to his lips and shushed me.
The man, Earnest T. Fink, struck the ball and sent it flying toward a small green island. I watched as it hit behind the flag. In my estimation, it would undoubtedly continue its trajectory and bounce into the lake. But it did not. It hit, and it checked, and it spun, and it rolled backward, to within 7 feet of the hole.
He rejoiced. He was happy when I restored his hand, but this happiness far surpassed that.
“Do you want to use your last wish to make the putt?” I asked.
He scoffed and marched toward the green. I was left there, with my lamp, alone. I could not transport to the celestial realms to be with you, Supreme One, until my final wish had been granted.
The centuries were long; but not so long, it seemed, as the time between the second and third wish. So as not to be seen by the thronging people, I waited until the celebrations had ceased. I appeared to Earnest T. Fink in his resort suite that same night.
“You,” he said, hanging up the phone. “You’re back.”
“Yes,” I said, “we have unfinished business. You must make your final wish so that I can be free of people and this stinking world.”
“Stinking,” he said, insulted. “This is a beautiful world. Sure, it’s got its flaws but” –
“Your last wish, please,” I said, impatient with people.
“My wife, Isabelle,” he said, looking at the phone. “I just talked to her. I told her that I won the tournament. That I won 50 million dollars. You know what she said?”
“No, tell me.”
A tear slid down his sunburnt face. “’That’s nice, dear’.”
King of Gods, I didn’t know how to respond. He’d brought me into something personal, something exclusively human – people problems. “I could fix her,” I said. “If that’s what you want.”
“With my wish?” he asked, his face hopeful.
“Yes,” I said, “your third and final wish. I could make her happy.”
He studied his reflection in the gleaming trophy that sat on his nightstand. He peered deeply into his own weary eyes, as if searching for wisdom.
“This world has sometimes done me wrong, but it ain’t all bad,” he said. “There’s hate out there. There’s some stink and some meanness. There’s poverty, pain, and downright unhappiness. I want happiness for Isabelle. But that’d be selfish. How about . . .”
“Careful,” I cautioned. “I’d ask that you consider each word of your wish.”
He paused, snapping his restored fingers. “How about, I ask for happiness?” he said.
“Go on,” I said.
“Happiness . . . not just for Isabelle. But for the whole stinking world. For the whole stinking planet?”
I sighed. “Is that really what you want, Mr. Fink?”
He stood and shook my hand with his repaired hand and said, “Give me this wish and you’re free to leave this stinking planet.” He cleared his throat and closed his eyes and said: “Let History reflect that I, Earnest T. Fink, am somebody. I am the man that brought happiness to planet earth. I wish for a happy planet!”
And that, Great Allah, is how I came to eradicate all the people on planet earth. For, as you know, a happy planet is a planet without people.
(… of the world as we know it …)
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Poetic Justice <<Link
Permeability Police <<Link
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