Featured Review on this writing by Oleg Roschin

Even the best of humanity has at least one flaw. Sometimes it seems that those who contribute the most good in the world are capable of doing the darkest evil.



A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran



"Hey, Andy," smiled Charlie Hone, "you got all that big old backpack there on your back . . . jeez, man, that has to be real heavy. I mean, looks like you got a few hundred pounds in there." Charlie laughed and slapped Andy on a spare shoulder. Andy had barely avoided tripping over Charlie in the grasping gloom of an early Sunday morning. Charlie was one of the best neighbors Andy Ettinger had. 

In truth, they all loved Andy. Not one of them would pass up a chance to do some favor for Andy; call a cab or an Uber; mow his lawn; feed his cats when he traveled; even take his batteries to Walgreen's for recycling. 

"Seems you're always totin' someone else's bale, Andy," smiled Charlie, a seventy-year-old retired detective who wore his grey hair long and his temper short, "damn, if you don't seem to have a different size pack every time I see you, which isn't often these days, I must say. Whatcha been up to; and what's next; a duffel bag, sailor-style?" He laughed with mild merriment, just enough to bring a smile to Andy's crinkled lips.

"Hey, Charlie, needs dictate the pack, you know. Size of the surprise, eh?" Andy began his own round of laughter. When Andy laughed, his face appeared to crack between his brows; his head took on the shape and mien of a ship's prow.

"Whadaya got in there today; looks like could be baby elephants?" 

"Moon rocks, Charlie, nothing but moon rocks. That astronaut guy over on Eleventh Street told me his grandkids were spooked by having alien material in his house, so he just told me to take them if I wanted to. I'll put 'em in the back garden where they can catch the maximum moonlight. Next to the Deadly Nightshade and the Foxglove, between the Datura and the Death Caps."

Charlie nodded an ignorant nod while maintaining a neutral look on his long-lined face. It seemed to him that every time he asked Andy about the contents of his pack, he received a recondite answer, which meant that he was left with no answer at all.

"Well, neighbor, any time I can give you a hand with any of this, just let me know, okay?"

Andy looked down into his neighbor's brown dull static eyes and wondered if he had a backpack big enough to hold Charlie.

"Hey, okay, Charlie. Might do real soon. I've got a lot of digging to do coming up; maybe see how you are with a shovel, eh?" This time Andy did not laugh. But Charlie did.

Andy, white-haired and lean, was well into his eighties. He was quite tall but stooped from a lifetime of bending to the shorter height of others. His face usually wore an expression of subdued displeasure, not easily discernible without close regard. Often his lips were a mere dash, and his black eyes receded to bee-bee size behind a quasi-Neanderthal skull.

Andy turned away from his dim friend and thought about all the people around the area who either liked or loved him. He had earned their love and respect. Yes, Andy Ettinger knew how much all these people, these hundreds of people in his neighborhood, loved him. He wondered which part of his character was the top vote-getter. Or was it simply his constant willingness to volunteer for anything, to help anyone? 

On Mondays, Andy made the rounds of the local Children's Hospital, visiting sick kids, especially those with cancer. Andy often stayed until the last minute of visiting hours to give the kids encouragement in any form he could imagine. Gifts and treats were always in his backpack. Special requests were always filled.

Monday nights, Andy drove for Meals on Wheels. 

Andy lost his wife, Mavis, to a vicious South American stomach fluke some twenty years ago. Her lingering death visibly drained the determination from his jawline and left the rest of his face in a puddle. She encouraged him to keep up his driver's license and to continue driving at every opportunity, never to lose his mobility. She always warned him that once he lost his driving mobility, his physical mobility would be next, and then it was curtains.

On Tuesdays, Andy helped out at the animal clinic, spaying cats. For the remainder of the day, he picked up and delivered sick and cured animals and birds. 

On slow days around the pet clinics, Andy would go and read to the blind. Sometimes he accomplished this in a studio where they disseminated his words throughout the entire area, as well as the meeting rooms and living quarters of the blind children. By the time six o'clock rolled around, even the ferociously optimistic Andy Ettinger was partially deflated. 

Ten years ago, Andy's son, Hunter, died from an overdose of cocaine. Although Hunter was a well-respected dentist in the city, he somehow lost his way. 

First, he tried the nitrous oxide, often slumping all night at his clinic, drifting in and out of states of stupor and seventh heaven. When the aggressive effects of the oxide began to dwindle, Hunter turned to cocaine, which he scored from several of his patients. The day before his death, Hunter learned he had inoperable brain cancer. His last lines were as much a celebration of death as they were a festival of his rapidly concluding life. His Head Nurse found him draped over the pick tray in Suite A with a smile on his lips and a terrible complexion.

On Wednesdays, Andy made the rounds of five hospitals, a skilled nursing center, and three long-term retirement homes, where he read a variety of fiction and non-fiction, as well as the local newspaper and the New York Times to bedridden residents. Invariably, some members of the institutions would insist on another story. This made for very late nights and a cold supper.

Last year, Andy's grandson died when he inhaled toxic fumes from a massive fire in a warehouse holding Performance Art presentations. A number of other people also died, mostly from being trampled to death. For weeks, neighbors noticed Andy's absence. Most had no idea that his grandson was a victim of the fatal conflagration. When they discovered this horrible fact, many placed candles and flowers at the base of Andy's mailbox. Some left tuna casseroles, others cherry pies.

Every Thursday would find Andy either in the Presidio or along one of the several beaches bordering the city. Andy would stoop, bend, and grunt in these locales while picking up loose seaweed holding beer cans, or digging holes for planting trees and shrubs. On several occasions, Andy would lead the Beach Patrol to check for broken glass and can tabs hiding under an inch or two of sand. Metal detectors were his third or fourth hobby, and so he relished Thursdays for the opportunity to get right at it with a detector. Sometimes he found a collateral treasure: coins, jewelry, watches, and on one occasion, a full denture.

Andy had two sisters and three brothers. All were alive but in various types of 'homes'. Neither Jocelyn nor Arabella could communicate because of their hearing loss and faded vision. They dimly recognized Andy and would shout at him for hours but could not decipher anything he said, leaving the impression that they and he were on two sides of a soundproof piece of Plexiglas with only a one-way audio function. However, Andy never missed a day and continued sending all the appropriate cards and wishes for good health, another birthday, or Happy Holidays. The sisters greatly appreciated this and reciprocated.

Andy's three brothers, Clem, Curtis, and Devon, were scattered in one-room walkups throughout the city's lower-income areas. Nevertheless, they continued to live alone and attempted to sustain their dignity, if not their pride, in the eyes of their brother by volunteering to lead singsongs and square dances at the nearest Senior Center.

The home economics and home money management bug stung Andy's wife twelve years before the fatal fluke. Almost from the instant of concluding her online courses in investing and wealth growth, she rang the bell, buying one harebrained stock after another until their portfolio resembled that of a mad techie with a one-track mind. However, as the years rolled along, these initial flyers like Apple and Amazon, Google and Facebook burst into the light of general consideration and promptly went through the roof. As a result, Andy had money coming out of his pants from every pocket. He quickly came to appreciate that their fortune was not from good fortune but one earned by his darling wife's extraordinary powers of premonition. At the time of her death, Andy could supplement the care of his sisters and enliven the lives of his three dim brothers, undertakings to which he applied himself with gusto and great success. All five were extremely happy, considering where they were perched in the goofy cage of life.

On Fridays, Andy labored to preserve the glories of the municipal holdings; parks; terraces; rose gardens; the Dahlia Gardens; the Botanical Gardens, and the hot weather inhabitants of the steamy Conservatory of Flowers. In addition, Andy volunteered to direct attention to the various exhibits and conduct tours for out-of-town Rotarians and Masons. Morning and afternoon, Andy was with glove and trowel; microphone and leaflets; soil and pricks. Many a Friday night found Andy bent over a sickly plant or butterfly while a full moon threatened the arrival of lycanthropes.

Most of Andy's school chums died before their eightieth birthday. Now that Andy was about to hit the nineties, he began to miss a number of those dear pals of yesteryear.

With his vast and available pile of cash, Andy undertook to seek out the families of his old friends and, where required, drop large amounts of money into their bank accounts. After visiting the thirty-fifth widow, Andy decided to find out what caused all his classmates to succumb at what society now considered a relatively early age. This led Andy to several conferences with longevity experts, gerontologists, Life Extension weirdoes, and a worldwide cross-section of strange people, all obsessed with trying to squeeze out another week or two when the end of the stick got pretty much shitty.

After investigating all his high school and college mates, Andy decided to look into the progress of death in his architecture class. They were—almost to a man and woman—sturdily marching through their eighties and into their nineties, matching Andy step for step in their assault on the higher numbers of the mortality charts. And they were damned glad to see Andy. Most of them insisted on staying in touch; Andy obliged. These were the first moments of enjoyment in Andy's personal life since he could remember. In torment, each night before he fell asleep, he had this image of all his closest friends sinking while on an architectural cruise through the Northwest Passage, bowled over into the icy deep by a mutant iceberg the size of Latvia.

Saturdays, Andy made the rounds of the Missions, where he would prepare and serve lunches and dinners to the influx of homeless and downtrodden members of the community. After finishing the clean-up, Andy would counsel both men and women about their choices at the moment, often urging them to undertake one challenge or another for which Andy would pay. School and job training were the most popular.

While a large portion of his neighborhood was at church on Sunday morning, Andy chose to visit God's errors in the insane asylum. He often forced a debate with some religious type about the theory of intelligent design. Andy would then lead his debate opponent down the corridors of the poverty-green-painted building, pausing at particular doors, rooms, or gatherings to highlight one or more of the inmates as an exhibit for his point of view. His opponent never failed to be humbled, but, as with most zealots, the moment they escaped Andy Ettinger, they reverted to their idiotic position and prepared for the next debate, writing down Andy's salient arguments and vowing to visit the church or one of its elders during the week to garner some new ammunition.

Andy's pals from his Vietnam War days were rapidly diminishing. Death and disease maintained a ferocious pace in eliminating the best friends he ever had. On Sunday afternoons, the few who remained received calls, emails, and Skypes. Those in the VA received personal visits, which often lasted well into the quiet, mournful Sunday nights. Andy would also make a point to rush to the VA and console his old buddies whenever he was rained out of any of his weekly outdoor volunteer activities. 

On every late Sunday evening, an impenetrable curtain of heartbreaking gloom shrouded all the sunshine of Andy's disposition. When he arrived home, he waited, with his cats, until midnight before turning his back on the latest week of profound misery that surrounded him, his neighbors, and theirs, and theirs. They were all unable or unwilling to acknowledge the endless layers of deprivation and suffering that surround us on all sides, every day, throughout the year, since the beginning of time. Blazing interior heat scalded his mind, his thoughts, and his soul. 

'How can anybody presume anything from life, other than death?'

Maybe that's why Andy Ettinger did what he did in the early hours of every morning between two and five am.

He had lost four cats to dogs over the years. Dogs had menaced or bitten several of his family and most of his friends and acquaintances. Everyone he knew deplored the fact that dogs piss and shit on everything and anything whenever they want. The scale of this health crisis appeared to Andy to be either covered up or blown off by the consortium of dog owners, dog lovers, pet storeowners, and everyone with stock in PETCO. 

He decided that after every day of every week helping those incapable of helping themselves, he would do what he could to reduce the surplus canine population. Depending on his reconnaissance and surveillance, Andy would choose the proper size bag and head off into the gloom of night, intent on completing his rounds despite snow, fog, or rain.

Andy Ettinger had been poisoning dogs for over ten years.












Submitted: August 03, 2017

© Copyright 2023 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


Oleg Roschin

A very unique story with a somber plot twist. It left me with a lot of contradicting emotions - pity for Andy, but also the realization of what drove him to do what he did. Very thought-provoking and deep. Truly excellent work, Nicholas! I can't fathom how you can be such a prolific writer yet always come up with fresh ideas and supply such level of quality. Thumbs up!

Thu, August 3rd, 2017 7:04am


Hi Oleg,
Once again, my sincere thanks to you for your very kind words as well as your thoughtful comments. You know how much I value and appreciate your analyses.
My ideas come from many sources but mostly from characters I have met along the way.

Fri, August 11th, 2017 2:56pm

william mcnear

Awsome. :)

Fri, August 24th, 2018 1:46am


Thanks William. Both for reading and commenting-----and especially the comment.

Sat, August 25th, 2018 4:13pm

Ezra Enzo

If it hasn't been said already, this is really good. I'm the kind of reader that's more fond of characters bringing up the past and what they know in a conventional way and not a way that just says "since you're the reader, let me explain", but this story makes it flow and go with the story. Thoughts, ideas, and feelings are given very well through out the words, and you did very well. I'm more interested in what you will do along these lines with new stories. - E.E

Tue, March 2nd, 2021 5:34pm


Hi Ezra,

I am extremely pleased about your critique of the story. The kind words are much appreciated.
I agree with your preference for these types of stories. I’m trying to create more.
I am always gratified that readers take time away from their own labors to not only read my stories but also to give a critique or leave comments.
Thanks again, Ezra.

Wed, March 3rd, 2021 3:56pm


I think this was a good story, especially the ending!

Tue, March 2nd, 2021 6:54pm


Thank you, DC. I appreciate you taking your time to read and comment on my story. I had no idea how the story would end when I began. I’m a “pantser”. I find the rewards are greater when you write what you want and go from there.
I see you are a ‘newbie’. You have come to the right spot. Booksie is outstanding . . . and a mystery: How do they juggle thousands of writers, hundreds of thousands of ‘writings’, contests, forms, Publishing ‘Houses” . . . ?
Good luck in your career.

Tue, March 2nd, 2021 5:23pm

Zoe Vladimir-Marlow

This is truly excellent. One of the best stories I've read on here, in any genre.

Any chance the name comes from "Titus Andronicus"?

Sun, July 4th, 2021 10:24pm


Hey Zoe ! What complementary and encouraging words. Loads of thanks. Reviews like yours are the fuel to get my butt in the chair. I’m A-OK and ready for lift-off.
Neither the play nor the rock group provided the title; it just flew into my head on the wings of the great speckled bird and Roy said to use it.
Isn’t this fun?
You probably know, but Jonathan Franzen says the major reason to write is to have fun.
I think we are. By the bye, two of your stories bleed off my screen to the right? The others are superlative. I’ll get notes on each soon.
And thanks for being a fan. I am one of yours at once.
And another CV-19 fridge full of Cheers!

Mon, July 5th, 2021 1:39pm


Nice work. Great story. Keep writing my friend.

Sat, September 11th, 2021 7:51am


Thanks, Edmund--- for reading and for your kind words of encouragement. These are the comments that get my butt in the chair every day.
And thanks for becoming a fan. I will try to provide you with some interesting characters and plots to entertain you with my lies.

Sat, September 11th, 2021 8:56pm

Stories by Boz

We all have darkside and Andy found his. Poor dogs though. Very good story, with a slap in the face ending.

Thu, March 10th, 2022 5:40pm


Boz! Hey, man, glad you liked the story; and double thanks for reviewing it. Kind words get my butt to the chair. I’ll continue to do my best to entertain you. Cheers!

Sun, March 13th, 2022 4:03pm

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