One More Cigarette

Harry Jenkins strikes a match and takes a long draft from the Chesterfield cigarette. “Please tell me you heard them?” His voice shakes.

His wife Lucy places her warm fingertips into his cold sweaty palms. “Who did you hear?”

“Mathew, Robert, Timothy, and Daniel.” He rubs her fingertips. “They say I’m in great danger and that we should turn back now.”

“Are those your friends from…?” She hesitates.

“They’re all dead.”

Lucy’s eyes grow wide.

They stop at the car parked along the side of the street in front of their house.

“What will we tell your Uncle Joe and Aunt Sally? They’re waiting for us at Stacey’s Diner,” Lucy says. “They haven’t seen you since you left for the war.” She chews on her bottom lip before letting the words rush forth. “I arranged this get-together at your favorite diner. I think you need to clear your head.”

“I heard the boys on the radio in the living room. I can’t believe you didn’t hear them!”

Lucy sighs. “Let’s go before we’re late.”

They enter the diner long after most have finished breakfast, but the lunch crowd has yet to arrive. Uncle Joe and Aunt Sally greet them at the door, and the four of them find a booth in the back. Harry and Lucy sit together on one side, and his uncle and aunt take the other side of the booth.

A few other families are scattered throughout the diner, their children’s high-pitched voices echoing against the tiled walls. A radio sits on the counter playing Frank Sinatra’s “East of the Sun.” Harry keeps his head down and stares anxiously into his cup of coffee. Nothing has changed since he was last here except the overhead lights. They used to be tan, but now they are red to match the red trim around the wooden tables.

He crumples up an old pack of Chesterfields and pulls out another from his pants pocket, unwrapping the plastic from the cigarette package. A terrible cough is the only thing that comes out of his mouth.

“We’ve missed you,” Aunt Sally says.

Uncle Joe nods. “Good to see you back. What’s it been, six years since you left for the army?”

Lucy nudges Harry’s elbow, signaling his need to engage in the conversation.

“I should have never gone.”

“We’re just glad to see you alive. You’re like a son to us, Harry,” Aunt Sally says before biting into her biscuit.

“I’ve killed men. Saw my squad fall to the Japanese.” The cough returns, wracking Harry’s body. “I’m not well anymore.”

They spend the rest of the meal in silence. Outside, as everyone says their goodbyes, Harry finishes his last Chesterfield. He tosses the cigarette into the overgrown lawn in front of the diner.

Lucy folds herself into the car’s passenger seat, but before Harry can close the door for her, she speaks her mind. “You were quiet. Too quiet.”

“I’m fine,” he says, shrugging her off.

“You’ve always been outgoing. Now you hardly say a word. And you hear voices.”

Harry shuts the car door.

As he drives past the diner, smoke rises from the papers and grass.


Early the next morning, before the sun is fully up, he tunes in to the news station on the radio. All the children inside Stacey’s Diner perished in a fire when flames engulfed the building the day before, just before the lunch rush. Officials are investigating. Harry remembers tossing his cigarette into the grass. His hands and knees tremble.

The news ends, and a familiar voice takes over the radio. “Attention, Jenkins! You must leave immediately. The police will be at your doorstep any minute. Pack up your belongings and go far away from here.”

“Who’s there?” Harry asks, gripping the radio.

“Lieutenant Curtis!”

“Sir! You’re… you’re dead! I’m the only one who survived. It was an ambush. The boys… none of you made it. But you’re alive now?” Harry holds his breath for a second before letting it rush out. “I’ve got so much to tell you.”

“Jenkins, there is no time! An order is an order!”

Harry packs all his clothes into a suitcase. He tosses drawers all over the bedroom and mutters under his breath. The commotion wakes Lucy from her deep sleep.

“Is everything all right?” Lucy asks, jumping out of bed.

“I have to go.”

“What’s going on? Tell me this instant!”

“I’m a dead man. I’m a killer.”

Lucy shakes her head, taking in the mess he has created. “What are you talking about?”

“No time to explain. I have to get out of here before it’s too late!”

Lucy grabs Harry’s arm, but he pushes her away. She stumbles back on the carpet.

“You’re acting like a madman. Stop it! Stop it!”

“I just received orders from Lieutenant Curtis.”

“More voices?” Lucy closes her eyes and forces a slow breath out. When she speaks again, her voice is tightly controlled. “What has gotten into you?”

A pulse ticks in Harry’s neck, and veins bulge from his arms. He finishes packing his clothes and grabs the car keys dangling from the key hook on the bedroom wall. “Goodbye.”






The sun is setting, turning the sky a bright orange with pockets of gray moving through it. A billboard on the side of the highway advertises the Lucky Thirteen Motel. There are five stars below the logo along with the quote, “Best rated motel in all the country.”

Harry has been driving for ten hours, but it feels like twenty hours. He shifts into the right lane. The thought of having a cigarette has been nagging at him throughout the entire drive. He taps on the steering wheel and ignores the pack of smokes.

“Good job, maggot.” The lieutenant’s voice emanates from the radio.

“Sir, I never told you what happened after the ambush.”

“I’m listening.”

“I was sent to a camp in Japan for three years. None of the guards spoke English. You learn Japanese fast or you get a beating. I worked in the fields for hours. Nothing good to eat. Men died right in front of me. I never thought I would see tomorrow. I just wanted to see Lucy. That’s what kept me going.”

“I knew you’d make it out.”

Harry checks into the motel. His room is a disaster. The bathroom has a pungent smell, tiny holes are on the walls, mold grows on the windowsills, and several cockroaches are scurrying back and forth under the desk. The room suits him. He is a disaster as well. Since the war, he has not been keeping himself up, neither showering nor combing his hair.

At the bathroom sink, he shaves quickly with a few strokes of a razor blade and washes the remaining scruff down the drain. A careful inspection in the mirror shows him the baby face Lucy has always admired. He looks away from the eyes staring back at him. He slowly runs his index finger across the scar extending across his chest, remembering the snarl on the face of the man who stabbed him.


It had been raining for hours, and Harry was drenched head to toe. The prisoners were surrounded by barbed wire, wooden fences, and armed guards in towers. Harry’s stomach growled as the shovel dropped from his hands.

“They’ll beat you to death if you stop now,” a prisoner said.

“I’m sick of soya beans and seaweed stew! My body aches all over.” Harry examined his blister-covered hands.

“Back to work!” the colonel said, stepping up to Harry to scowl at him.

Harry glared back, holding the man’s eyes. Just as the colonel opened his mouth to yell more threats, Harry spit at the center of his forehead. Saliva streamed down the bridge of the colonel’s nose. For a moment, everyone froze.

Harry took a blow in the gut from the colonel’s boot. “How dare you disrespect me!” The colonel pulled a knife from his holster and stabbed Harry’s chest.


Harry stares at himself in the mirror, no longer seeing the baby face. He splashes water on his face, then makes his way to the motel’s small restaurant to order a cup of black coffee.

He sits in the back corner. Two police officers are talking to each other nearby. A couple sits with their child at the table next to him. The boy looks to be about thirteen years old. His voice is high pitched and loud.

“Dad, if you had to choose between being frozen to death or burning in a fire, which one would you choose?” Before the father can answer, the boy speaks again. “I would go with burning to death. I’ve never liked the cold.”

The couple chuckle as they share a grin.

Harry sips the coffee slowly. The cops are still busy talking to each other about God knows what. Outside, three children peer in through the window. Their skin is burned all over. Their eyes are deformed, glossy and white. They drag their grimy, bloodstained fingernails screeching down the glass. The scraping sound weighs heavy on every muscle in Harry’s body, as if bags of sand are pulling him down.

“Hey, you! Down here, mister!”

Harry looks down into the cup of black coffee. A small ghostly figure of a boy rises from the steam.

“I don’t want to die. Anything but that! I beg you, please, get out of here while you can.”

The ghostly figure slowly melts back into the coffee, which turns to blood. Harry drops the coffee mug onto the table, soaking it in blood.

A clock on the wall chimes its bell once, twice, and then a third time for seven-thirty. The children have disappeared. Nightfall descends, and a streetlamp flickers for a second before lighting up the parking lot.

A mass of people approaches outside. The men hold crowbars and baseball bats. The women light the way with torches. They all scowl at Harry through the restaurant window.

They’ve found me! I’m a dead man!

“He’s the one who took our children away from us,” one of the women says.


“Kill him!”

“Make him pay for what he’s done!”

Harry gets out of his seat to plead with them, letting the guilt pour out of him. “It was a mistake. I never meant to kill anyone!” Silence envelopes him, and he holds his breath, waiting.

Somewhere in the distance, a tiny noise breaks interrupts the scene.

A fly buzzes near a light in the ceiling. The restaurant patrons are staring at Harry. Even the annoying child is still and quiet, watching Harry on his hands and knees, confessing to no one.

Harry catches his breath. The parking lot is empty except for the flickering streetlamp. His waitress is at his table cleaning up the spilled coffee.

“Everything all right?” she asks.

Harry grips the table to pull himself to his feet. “Did you see them outside?”

She stares at him in quiet, just like everyone else.

Harry points to the window. “The children.

“I think you need to go get some rest, dear.”

“What about the mob? Men and women with torches and weapons? They were just outside a minute ago.” He spins around, looking for confirmation from the patrons. The police officers lower their hands to their belts. “I’m not making this up!” he shrieks.

Harry bolts back to his room at the end of the hall, fumbles the lock for a few minutes, flicks on the light switch. and enters. The thought of Lucy rattles around in his mind. She’s probably worried sick. He picks up the telephone to call her.

“I think I’m losing it. I’m seeing things and hearing things that aren’t there.”

“I’ll do anything to help you.” Lucy’s voice cracks.

“Yesterday I heard the boys through the radio. Today, Lieutenant Curtis was on the living room radio. He gave me orders to leave.”

“I’m here for you, Harry.”

“He’s been dead for three years.”

“Oh, God.”

“A few minutes ago, I saw the children from Stacey’s Diner. Even the children’s families were there too.”

“The diner? What does the diner have to do with anything?”

“I threw a cigarette in the grass when we left. I burned the place down. Didn’t you hear it on the news?” Harry’s voice raises an octave.

“No, it was a grease fire. In the kitchen.”

“That can’t be.” Harry grinds his teeth.

“The firefighters couldn’t get there fast enough. It spread that quick. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Lucy, I want to come home.”

“You’re a good man, Harry. Just come home.”

“I want to see you.”

Lucy’s voice is hesitant. “Where are you?”

“The Lucky Thirteen Motel.”

“Come home soon.”

Harry places the phone on the hook and lies back in bed. He hasn’t had one since yesterday, but he can taste a Chesterfield on his lips. The smell is sublime, or it would be if he could just light one up. He takes one from the pack and smokes it as if it is his last.

As he shuts off the lights, the radio on the table turns on by itself.

“Jenkins, check out at eight tomorrow and head far away from here. The families of the children you murdered are coming for you. You shouldn’t have stated your location on the phone. The authorities are wiretapping you. The police are already on the lookout for you. See you bright and early, maggot.”

“Shut up! You’re not real! Get out of my head!” Harry throws the radio on the floor, then tears at his hair.

“An order is an order, maggot!”

“I’m not taking any more of your orders!”


In the morning, Harry burns through half of a Chesterfield and leaves it lit on the ashtray rim. He closes the door, and the cigarette falls to the floor. He heads to the lobby.

“Checking out?” the clerk asks.

“I’m going home,” Harry says, handing over the key.

“And your name was again?”

“Harry Jenkins.”

That morning, the fire rips through the entire motel. Nothing remains when the police and fire department arrive, except for the sign reading “Best rated motel in all the country.”

A warm afternoon breeze brings the aroma of dinner from a window in his house to Harry as he walks up to the front door. He takes a puff from the Chesterfield and rings the doorbell while brushing his shoes off on the mat. The door opens. Lucy wraps her arms around his waist.

“I’m sorry I put you through such a scare.” Harry looks into her dark brown eyes.

“Don’t ever do it again.”

“I won’t.”

“You made it just in time for dinner.”

She grabs his hand and leads him into the kitchen, where low, dim lights create a cozy feel. Harry almost smiles. From the living room, the radio stops playing its hourly music and broadcasts a news report that echoes throughout the entire house.

“The Lucky Thirteen Motel burned to the ground today, killing a young couple and their three children. Officials are still looking into the cause of the fire, although unnamed sources are suggesting it was caused by a cigarette.”