“Hendry! Will you stop it? Hendry! You’ll hurt yourself,” the eight-year-old boy’s mother pleaded, wringing her hands in desperation.
Hendry, better known as Henry to his friends, ignored his mother as he swung from limb to limb, climbing to the top of the mighty maple tree. “Ta-da!” he exclaimed, thrusting his hands into the air in a victory sign.
“Hendry!” his mother shrieked. “You’ll kill yourself. Come down this instant!”
“Relax, Mom.” Henry peered down at his distraught mother. “My super powers will save the day!”
“What you’ll have is a sore rear end when I catch you. Now, be careful and come down. You’ll never amount to anything climbing trees.” Dear God, help Henry down in one piece she pleaded, grasping her hands to her bosom.
“What a view! I can see for miles.” With a last glance around at the magnificent deep blue sky and his mother far below, Henry frowned and began his descent. When he reached the lowest limb, he spread his arms wide apart and launched himself into a huge pile of leaves.
Thirty years later, Henry glanced at the pulsating numbers on the clock as it beeped and flashed the time: 5:25 a.m. “Ugh! Another night gone. The same childhood memory again—three nights in a row. Why? I haven’t climbed trees since I was a kid. Why can’t I sleep like a normal person?” He hit the snooze button. “Ten more minutes, and I’ll move.”
Ten minutes passed. Instead of the soft beeping, the clock switched to radio mode and the sounds of “I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth blasted Henry’s ears.
“Yeah, yeah, another day of living,” Henry grumbled, as he climbed out from under the covers. He stumbled into the bathroom and glared at the mirror.
Henry sighed and frowned at his reflection—balding except around his ears where some black, but almost gray hair stuck to his head. Bloodshot eyes and a hound dog expression rounded out the image staring back at him.
“Time to get ready for work,” Henry smiled and tried to be upbeat. “Yeah, right. Another Monday, slogging for the post office, trying to be kind to little kids and angry adults.” ‘Be nice to people’ instructed the memo from the main post office. Should’ve been: Be nice or go postal. “Kids are okay, but the constant adult whining gets me.”
An hour later, Henry felt like a new man. Showered, shaved, teeth brushed, and dressed in his blue and gray postal uniform, he readied to confront the hazards of the day. He whizzed into the Fictional Café for a coffee to go before hurrying to work.
Henry rang the buzzer to the post office’s employee entrance. As the door opened, he glanced at his watch. 7:30 a.m. Right on time.
Jake, Henry’s boss, stared at the wall clock and shook his head, a grimace contorting his face. “Glad you decided to join us today, Henry. Lots of mail for your route. The packages are piled in the truck. Better move.”
“Yes, Jake. Good morning to you, too.”
Picking up two large, overstuffed mailbags, Henry lumbered out to his designated mail van, and climbed in. Sitting down with a sigh, he began sorting the letters into a large tray to his left. “I’m not going to let anyone or anything bring me down.” He recited his daily mantra, which never worked. “I’m going to do my job and catch the Tigers on TV tonight.”
The morning passed as normal—slower than a snail crossing the road. After a quick meal at his favorite hamburger joint, Henry returned to his deliveries.
As he turned down Poplar Grove and parked his van, he noticed a young girl sitting on the curb crying. “What’s the matter, honey? Did something happen?”
“My—my cat, Shadow. Look, he’s up there. He might fall!”
Henry squinted at the large maple tree across the street. On top of the highest branch, a little black furry ball squatted. “There’s Shadow.”
The little girl broke down in a flood of tears. “Don’t worry, little one. I can save him. What’s your name?”
“I’m Gracie. Gracie Stewart and I’m four years old,” holding up a hand with all four fingers and her thumb extended.
“Hello, Gracie. I’m Henry.”
“I’m afraid he’ll fall and hurt himself. Are you sure you can help, mister?” she dried her eyes with tiny hands and the hem of her sweater.
“I know I can save him. Give me a few minutes and I’ll rescue Shadow for you,” Henry boasted, tapping a fist to his chest.
“But Shadow’s all the way at the top of the tree.” Gracie pointed at the massive maple covered in vivid hues of red and yellow. “It’s miles high, and he can’t find his way back down.”
Henry looked down at Gracie. “Hey, I can climb that tree with no problem. I used to climb a big one when I was about your size.”
“Are you sure, mister? Can you bring Shadow down?” A glimmer of hope appeared in her eyes while tears continued to trickle down her cheeks.
“Watch me. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Henry walked over to the tree. Fortunate to reach the lowest branches without any trouble, he pulled himself up and began swinging from limb to limb. “Climbing a tree is like riding a bike,” he muttered to himself. “Once you learn, you never forget.”
Ten minutes later, Henry reached the tree’s highest limb. “I can save him. Yeah, where is he?”
Henry glanced up. Perched on a small branch Shadow sat beyond his reach. Meow, meow, meow, Shadow called as Henry approached.
“Shadow, Sha-dow, here Shadow.”
Meow, meow. Shadow began inching his way downward, jumping to the branch Henry balanced on. Henry reached down and tried to pick Shadow up. Nothing doing—his claws embedded deep in the limb as he hissed while arching his back.
“Come on, Shadow,” Henry pleaded. “Let go!” He almost lost his balance when Shadow responded. Henry picked him up and gripped him to his shoulder.
Purring vibrated from Shadow as he relaxed and kneaded Henry’s shoulder.
“Ow! Be careful, Shadow. Your claws are sharp.” Henry made his way back to the ground. The little girl waited for them.
Before Henry handed him to Gracie, Shadow leaped from his arms to his mistress’ shoulder. “Thank you so much, mister. You’re a hero!” She walked up to Henry and gave him a big hug. “I’m gonna tell my momma about my new friend, Postal Man, who rescued Shadow from the big tree.”
“Glad to help out. Now, how about you take Shadow home so I can finish delivering the mail.”
“Okay, ‘bye Henry.” Gracie hugged Shadow as she skipped along the sidewalk to her house.
Henry left the last house on Poplar Grove and headed around the corner to Ash View. He parked the van, grabbed the bag, and headed up one side of the street. Letters went into the mail chute for the first ten houses without incident. As Henry crossed over to the over side of the street, a huge shape thundered toward him.
Woof, ruff, woof! A giant boxer named Tyson wagged his tail and pranced towards Henry. Tyson’s owner, Mrs. Johnson had warned Henry that Tyson didn’t like mailmen.
Whenever he got loose, he chased after them like prey, Henry included. So far Tyson had never caught him, but he didn’t want to end up with his arm or leg in his gigantic mouth, even in a game.
Henry dropped the mailbag and ran. Tyson gave chase as normal, and loped past Henry. Woof, woof thundered down the street as Tyson’s tongue lolled from side to side.
Henry made a beeline for his van, wanting to climb inside before he became lunch. Of course, he knew what Tyson wanted, a treat from the van.
Bang! Henry shot through the open door and slammed the sliding door shut.
Tyson plowed into the door. A moment later, Tyson’s front paws and head appeared outside the window.
Henry believed Tyson wouldn’t hurt him. Every week Tyson escaped, and they played this game. Henry grabbed a leash he kept in the van and shimmied out the other side. Hidden in his pocket was Tyson’s goal—chicken jerky, made for dogs.
“Here Tyson. Here you go.” Henry came around the van and tiptoed toward the dog. Tyson reared up on his hind legs and his front paws landed on Henry’s shoulders, almost knocking him over. “Just a minute, Tyson. Here!” Henry gave him the jerky and clipped the leash on to the dog’s collar.
Tyson’s owner, Mrs. Johnson, witnessed the whole episode and came outside when Henry walked back with Tyson. “Thank you so much. Tyson takes a shine to you—unlike the other mailmen.”
“I think the chicken jerky is what he’s taken a shine to.” Henry unleashed Tyson and helped him in the door.
“I was worried he might run away this time. But you always bring him back.”
“I can always catch him, I can. No worries, Mrs. Johnson.”
“Well, as far as we’re concerned, you’re a hero for always bringing our Tyson back safe and sound.”
“All part of the service, Mrs. Johnson. Neither rain, shine, snow, nor huge dogs, will stop delivery of the mail.”
“Thank you again, Henry. Tyson you be good now and thank Henry, ya hear?” Tyson barked once at Henry.
“Enjoy the rest of the day, Mrs. Johnson.“
Henry delivered his letters and packages until he smelled smoke as he drove along Pear Tree Way.
Mrs. Smith lived a small, white cottage set back from the street. Flames shot high into the sky as black smoke billowed from her window. Without thinking, Henry jumped out of the van and rushed to the door. He tried the handle. Locked.
He pounded on the door several times. “Mrs. Smith! Mrs. Smith! Are you there?”
Henry couldn’t see anyone. He heard sirens in the distance. Someone must have called the fire department. Glass shattered as the heat intensified. He glanced around—no one to give him a hand. “I can’t do this.” He recoiled as fear gushed through his trembling body. Panic set in and he froze. Being burned in a fire remained Henry’s worst fear.
“Help me,” a weak voice pleaded. “Help m—“ A series of coughs silenced the voice. “Help me! Ahhhhh!” The screams became unbearable.
Henry surged forward. “Hold on Mrs. Smith, I’m on my way!” He pushed his panic aside, hurried to the door, and kicked; once, twice, three times. The doorjamb splintered into several pieces, the door flying back on its hinges. Henry rushed inside.
Plumes of black smoke engulfed the room. Henry covered his face with a handkerchief from his back pocket, and threw himself on the floor. He listened to Mrs. Smith’s cries for help and followed her voice into the living room. “Mrs. Smith! Where are you?”
“I’m on the sofa … Some … something fell on me. I can’t move,” she uttered between racking coughs.
Henry began coughing from the acrid smoke as he crawled along the floor, his heart pumping harder and harder while perspiration from his fear and the heat poured off his face. The ceiling glowed, casting eerie shadows around the room, providing enough light for him to find her. “Relax, Mrs. Smith.” Henry spoke in a calm voice trying to reassure her, although his heart threatened to pop out his throat at any moment.
Henry stopped as his lungs filled with the smoke, sending him into a series of loud coughs. “Don’t worry. I have you,” he stated, coughing once again as tears stream down his face. “Let’s get outta here.”
Henry lifted the floor lamp trapping Mrs. Smith on the sofa, helped her to the door, and outside into the fresh air. Both continued to wheeze and cough as their lungs tried to cleanse the inhaled smoke. By this time the fire department arrived, along with an ambulance. A crowd had formed on the street, watching as firemen trained their hoses on the flames and tackled the fire.
People cheered when Henry brought Mrs. Smith out of the blazing inferno. “My hero!” Mrs. Smith cried out. “Thank you so much for rescuing me. I would have died without your quick thinking and bravery.”
The ambulance crew administered oxygen to Mrs. Smith and Henry. As they strapped Mrs. Smith on a gurney for the ride to the hospital for treatment, she grasped Henry’s hand. “Thank you, young man. I owe you my life.”
“Hey everyone, Postal Man’s a hero!” a teen shouted. Another person repeated the words. Soon the crowd chanted, “Postal Man! Postal Man! What a super guy!”
The crowd closed in on Henry. Everyone wanted to pat him on the back or shake his hand. He felt embarrassed. “Aw shucks, I only did what needed to be done. I guess I did save her, though, didn’t I?”
Everyone dispersed after the fire department extinguished the blaze, and the ambulance had disappeared with Mrs. Smith. Henry remained alone, him and his mailbag. He finished delivering the mail without further incident and made his way home.
Throughout the evening, Henry caught himself repeating, “Postal Man, Postal Man.” Now he had something to celebrate! For once he had a good day, and felt warm all over. “Celebrate, celebrate …” He sang and danced into the kitchen, grabbing a beer before heading upstairs to watch the ballgame.
When the game was over, Henry climbed into bed, reminiscing about the day. He grinned, thinking about everyone calling him Postal Man.
Shutting off the light, he gazed out the window at the sky’s shimmering stars and thought about his mother’s admonishment about him never amounting to anything.
Henry exclaimed to heavens, “I may not be the world’s best superhero. Maybe not one at all, but I’ve made everyone’s day and they survived to tell the story. Perhaps being Postal Man isn’t so bad after all.”
* * *
Randall Krzak is a U.S. Army veteran and retired senior civil servant, spending almost thirty years in Europe, Africa, Central America, and the Middle East. His residency abroad qualifies him to build rich worlds in his action-adventure novels and short stories. Familiar with customs, laws, and social norms, he creates authentic characters and scenery. He penned A Dangerous Occupation, a winning entry in the August 2016 Wild Sound Writing and Film Festival Review short story category.