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Publisher Wasteland Press
eBook Kindle Edition
The End of the Line and other stories is a collection of fact-based short stories often with a twist...
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
The year 1864 was an eventful year. The Red Cross was founded in Geneva. Union General Sherman carried out his four month long siege of Atlanta culminating in the capture and ultimate burning of the city, vividly portrayed in "Gone With The Wind". The Confederate army was in retreat as the North rapidly approached victory in the Civil War.The great American author Nathaniel Hawthorne died. And in the Bowery in New York City, the life of another contributor to American art and culture was coming to an end.
The Bowery had once been a neighborhood of splendid mansions and shops catering to the wealthy. But by the mid-1800s it had become home to the impoverished class, with run-down buildings, cheap flophouses, the area peppered with bordellos and other unsavory enterprises.
A young man of thirty-seven years was down and out on his luck. Several years of poverty, malnutrition and alcohol had taken their toll. He looked much older than his age. Deeply discouraged by his seemingly insurmountable debts, his inability to earn enough to support himself, let alone his beautiful wife and daughter whom he adored, the resultant stress had aged him considerably. Distraught over his wife and child leaving him three years earlier, he had become even more addicted to alcohol to wash away painful memories. Or was his addiction one of the primary reasons for them abandoning him?
For the past several years he had resided in the run-down Bowery Hotel. His sparsely-furnished room was dirty, with chipped paint on the walls and window frames, creaky floor boards, and a small bed whose thin mattress and box spring sagged heavily when he reclined on it.
Over the years, his circle of acquaintances had evaporated until he was left with but one true friend, a poet, George Cooper. They had met a year earlier when both were shopping for food in a small Bowery grocery store that specialized in cheap and often stale, or on the verge of turning bad, grocery items. Cooper was familiar with some of Collins' writings, and having many interests in common, they became fast friends.But as he took note of Collins' ragged clothes, unkempt hair that looked like it had just suffered through a heavy rain and windstorm, and got a whiff of cheap alcohol on his breath,Cooper realized that his new-found friend had reached the bottom of the barrel.During the ensuing fourteen months, on the increasingly infrequent occasions his friend was sober enough to work, they collaborated on producing works for performance in local theaters and saloons.
On January 10,1864, Collins came down with a malaria-like illness that caused ma high fever and frequent chills. He was confined to his bed in the cold, drab hotel room, perspiring profusely, but with periodic intervals of extreme chills that caused his extremities to shake uncontrollably. The illness was compounded by a lack of adequate nutrition that caused him to become progressively weaker. As Collins got up from his bed, the room seemed to start spinning and he felt as if he were a leaf caught in a whirlpool. He fainted. As he fell, his head struck the nearby wash basin, shattering it.
One of the shards struck him in the neck, causing a severe gash in his throat that began oozing blood.
George Cooper worried because he had neither seen nor heard from his friend for a couple of days. Walking past the front desk of the dilapidated hotel lobby, he exchanged greetings with the clerk and then hastened up the stairs to the second floor. Briskly walking down the hall he proceeded to Collins' room. Knocking loudly on the door, he called out Collins' name. In response, he heard a weak voice begging: "Help me please. Help me."
Finding the door unlocked. George burst into the room. On the floor beside the bed lay his friend, naked, with an ugly bruise on his head and a severe gash in his throat from which blood was oozing into a dinner-plate size red-colored pool on which his head was resting.
"I'm done for", his friend whispered. "Get me some whiskey."
"Not if I can do anything about it", Cooper replied, as he ignored his injured friend's request for alcohol and ran to the top of the stairs, calling down to the front desk clerk to summon a horse and carriage to transport his severely wounded friend to the hospital
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Mel King is a graduate of Bates College and Harvard Law School. After spending five years as a professor at a California law school and over forty years as a successful trial attorney, he retired. Recalling many unusual incidents in the lives of famous people that he learned while taking history courses in college, as well as news items and articles that he read and researched over the years, he turned to writing short stories in a style reminiscent of the late Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story". He hopes they will not only entertain the reader, but also stimulate readers' interest in history. For history does repeat itself, and those who do not know about the past are destined to make the same mistakes in the future.