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Contemporary Drama Inspirational

A wet bar towel hit Josh in the back of the head. He turned to see the bartender point at the door.

“I know who you are. Get out.”

Josh looked at the full buffet table. Quiches, quesadillas, sandwiches, wraps and more, displayed for the taking. So much food, hardly touched. He’d never seen such a spread.

Customers watched with vague curiosity.

Josh said, “Happy hour’s almost over. I thought…”

“I didn’t see you come in. That’s for customers…” Josh hesitated. “I said, ‘clear out.’ No dogs allowed.”

Patrons laughed. The bartender tipped an imaginary hat and bowed. Applause followed. This was home to many.

But not for Josh.

“Some water?” The bartender stared. “Could I at least have some water?” No response. “Please? I’m thirsty…”

The bartender pointed at the rear door. “There’s a spigot out back… Get.”

Josh walked down the corridor, passed the restrooms, to the rear door. Laughter followed him. He didn’t look back.

He found the spigot on the back wall and kneeled to drink.

The door burst open. A busboy tossed the buffet leftovers into the dumpster.

Josh called out. “Don’t waste that! What are you doing?”

The busboy wiped his hands on his apron.

“You’re not supposed to be here.” He glanced at the door. “I can’t talk to you.”

“The bartender said it was for customers and you’re throwing it?”

“Happy Hour’s over. You want it? Go for it.” The busboy re-entered the building.

Three rats had begun feasting. Josh kicked the dumpster. The rats retreated long enough for him to rescue some food perched on top.

He ate while walking.

~

A few hours later, Josh awoke on a bus bench. Not sure of his whereabouts, he gathered his thoughts. It was dusk. Light from the shelter’s ceiling flickered on a poster for a movie Josh had never heard of. Moths flew in tight circles. Josh brushed a few from his face.

It wasn’t cold, but sleeping without a blanket allowed the damp to seep into his bones.

Office buildings lined the street. But foot traffic had abated. Occasional cars passed with Doppler whooshes.

Standing to stretch, Josh noticed someone in the shadows, outside the shelter. A young woman in business attire, moved away as he stepped to the curb.

He thought, ‘Must’ve worked late.

He pulled his duffel bag from the bench and stepped from the shelter.

“Hey!” She watched him. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to hog the bench.”

She stayed in the gloom.

“You want to sit? It’s yours…”

She stared at the street. “I’m fine. Bus’s due any minute.”

Her manner intrigued Josh. He peered into the shadows. He knew her.

“Sharon?” She edged away, poised to run. “It’s me. Josh. Aren’t you Sharon?”

She held her phone up. “I’m calling the police.”

Josh stepped back. “No need. Won’t bother you. Just wanted to say hello. Long time.”

She held her phone up again. The light from the screen lit her face. She hadn’t changed. They used to be close. Considered marriage in another life.

Moving away, he called out. “I’m leaving now. Sure you want to be alone out here? Kind of dodgy at this hour.”

Sharon did not respond.

“I hope your family’s okay.”

She spoke. “I can’t talk to you, Josh. Don’t you see?” He nodded. “After what you did…” She sobbed. “What did you expect? Does nothing matter? How could you…?”

Unthinking, he stepped closer.

She put her hand up. “Stay back! I can’t know you, Josh.”

“It’s been so long. I’m sorry. No one listens.”

“Stay away…” Her voice trembled.

“I’m going to my father’s.”

A distant horn broke the silence.

She said, “It’s too late. You can’t do anything. Go away.”

He missed the last few words. They sounded like ‘dead to me.’

The bus sighed to a stop. She mounted the steps and was gone.

Josh stood in the shadows.

~

The sun had burned off the mists when Josh arrived at the lane leading home. The road stretched over a mile to the ridge top. The house had a full view of the valley.

Hoisting his bag, Josh started up the long hill.

A car approached. Josh stepped to the roadside. The car passed, slowed, and crunched to a stop.

Josh’s brother, Isaac, stepped out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s my home.”

“No more. You left.”

Neither moved. Crows circled above a distant oak.

Isaac said, “What do you want?”

“Came to see Dad.”

“You have a death wish?”

“He okay?”

“No thanks to you. Leave it alone, Josh. Enough…”

“I want to see him.”

“Don’t be a jerk. Stay away. You’re not welcome.”

“Zak, I need to see him.”

Isaac shook his head in disgust. “You don’t change. Never listened.” Neither gave ground. Isaac shrugged. He had things to do. “Turn back. Nothing for you here.”

Josh took a step toward the house.

Isaac said, “What don’t you get, Josh? Haven’t done enough? Not caused enough pain? Is it always, and only about you? Can’t let it go? Just this once?”

Josh stepped toward him. “I let it go. No one else would. Came to make it right…”

“Too late, Josh. Some things can’t be fixed. You made choices. Did what you did. Some things stay broken. Not everything heals. Can’t demand forgiveness.”

Josh stared at the ground. Nothing would change.

Isaac continued. “You pretend to care so much. You come back now? To put him through it all again? Take another shot? Stir the dust to feel better about yourself? Get real.”

“I’m no threat, Zak…”

Isaac rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Listen to yourself. You’re like a kid who…”

Their competing voices rose, but no one listened. Josh held his hand up and they fell to silence.

“I don’t expect a party. But I need to hear it from him. Then I’ll leave. You’ll be rid of me.”

“Right.”

Behind him, Josh heard his name. “Josh?”

His father stood alone. He’d walked all the way from the house. 

“Dad?”

His father opened his arms. Like no time had passed. Josh ran to his strong embrace. They sobbed into each other’s shoulders.

Beaming, his father held him at arm’s length. “Josh! You came! I thought I’d lost you.”

Josh couldn’t speak.

His father said, “Zak’s going to the store.”

He called to Isaac. “We’ve got ribs. Get fixin’s for a barbecue! Whatever you like…”

Isaac looked at them, mouth open. Nothing coming out. He went to them.

“What are you doing?”

“Look, Zak. Your brother has returned. We need to welcome him.”

“Have you forgotten…?”

“No, Zak. I remember everything. I remember how you have always been here for me. Please remember our family needs to become whole again. Remember your brother. I need you both.”

Isaac nodded, returned to his car, and drove away.

His father put his arm over Josh’s shoulder. “Come on. You need to clean up. I need to make some phone calls… My sons are home.”

They walked toward the house. They began to laugh together.

July 27, 2022 22:58

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7 comments

Courtney Moore
23:28 Aug 03, 2022

Cool story. I'm not familiar with the original, but it seems like an interesting re-telling. I like the way you keep the pace moving. It does get a little confusing at times, when you link one character's dialogue with another's action. Overall, an interesting read.

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John K Adams
23:46 Aug 03, 2022

Thank you for your gracious comments, Courtney. Comments from fellow writers are always appreciated, even (or especially) containing criticism. I look forward to reading your other stories.

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Tommy Goround
23:13 Jul 31, 2022

Nice rendition. Pacing: loved the bar scene. Slowed for exgirfriend scene. Made me think "I wonder how a guy can get a whole town to go against him?" The brother scene was necessary and did not appear to make the story go forward until I realized what the parallel. Odd, I have not come across anyone working this Bible story in this way. Perhaps I have forgotten. You have succeeded in making the original story much more intense. Next level? What if the father was frail or lost a leg and Josh had to realize that the time he lost was ve...

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John K Adams
00:59 Aug 01, 2022

Thanks Tommy. It is rare to get so much commentary and with such depth. And thanks for the suggestions. Ultimately, I think it is the undeserved favor, the grace, from the father that makes all the difference. No other factors matter as much as that. Your reading and comments mean a lot.

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Tommy Goround
03:54 Aug 02, 2022

Good point on role of father.

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Bonnie Clarkson
19:31 Aug 01, 2022

Loved the retelling in a modern setting. I immediately recognized the prodigal son story in the ending. I published on Reedsy a modern version of the prodigal son story with there being a third son. It was called Spirit of the Father to the prompt of cutting family ties. Since then, I have re-written the whole story, doubled the length, and made the third son attempting to be a peacemaker. Good job.

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John K Adams
20:02 Aug 01, 2022

Thanks Bonnie. I enjoy reframing and modernizing those great old stories.

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