Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by Richard Short

There Was a Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

Back in the 1940s, I lived way out in the backwoods of Northern Minnesota.  Our neighbors were country farmers and lumberjacks.  When I started high school there was a bus that came around to pick the kids up and take us to town.

The driver of that bus was a middle-aged man named Abner.  Now Abner had a physical condition, some kind of acute palsy.  St. Vitis Dance we called it.  But this did not stop him from driving the bus.  No sir!  He had a perfect spotless history and no accidents or tickets on record in twenty years of bus driving.  

He could barely walk because he shook so badly.  His hands on the steering wheel would twitch and pulsate, but the bus he drove traveled straight and true down the road.

Those backwoods gravel roads where we lived would develop a condition called washboard.  They took an exceptional beating in the wintertime when the ground would freeze and the logging trucks with their huge loads would rumble over them. 

Those roads got so rough and the shaking so relentless, parts would vibrate loose from cars and springs would break.  It was not unusual to see broken down vehicles abandoned by the side of the road.

On school days we waited for the bus and Abner never failed to pick us up.  As the bus pulled away and began to pick up speed it would start to shake.  We would bounce up and down and if we relaxed our face muscles for only a moment our teeth would clatter like castanets.

Abner was already shaking.  The washboard road only intensified this effect.  As he shifted up through the gears he began to vibrate more and more violently until it got to the point where the combination of the bus’s vibrations and Abner’s pulsations caused him to become nothing but a blur.  He would completely disappear.  Anyone standing outside the bus looking at it would see a bus driving down the road with no driver.

This phenomenon lasted only a short time because as the bus continued to pick up speed, at about forty-two miles per hour I think it was, the frequency of their vibrations would synchronize and somehow get on the same wavelength.  Abner would “plane out” and reappear- as if by magic and continue driving, confidently and steadily to the end of the line. 

BIO:  Richard Short was born in the backwoods of Northern Minnesota in 1930. To supplement the family's meager income, some of the jobs he worked at were: lumberjack, farmer, beaver-dam buster, weasel trapper, skunkskinner, deer poacher, log roller, and bounty hunter. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951 and served in a tank battalion in Japan. After his discharge he came west to seek his fortune. One of the positions he held was Talent Coordinator at Mustang Molly's Bunny Ranch on the outskirts of a small town in Nevada. He finally settled in California, and for a brief time he was Entertainment Director at Forest Lawn. He was married 45 years and has three children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grand children.