The winner of the MarchMadness Short Story Contest is.....Dreadnut!!!!! Tada Please congratulate Dreadnut for his winning story "Sam and God" Please congratulate the others for participating and writing wonderful stories in this impromptu contest. Their efforts are appreciated. Please give them all a pat on the back. Here is the winning story. Contest entry: "Sam And God" Sam and God by Marc DeRuiter I was enjoying my summer vacation from grade school early one morning in 1958, fishing a deep hole in Potter’s Creek. I had only cast my bait twice before my lure got all wound around a tree branch on the other side of the creek. I wrestled with it for a while and was about to cut the line when I spotted the old man standing in the clearing. I wondered how long he’d been watching me make a fool of myself. He came a little closer as he spoke: “Haw, haw, I don’t reckon yer gonna catch many up there, son! Need some help?” “Good,” I thought. “At least he’s not here to chase me away.” He stood there squinting in the morning sunlight, stirring his corncob pipe with a wooden match. His face was cracked and weathered, his untrimmed beard salt-and-pepper grey. He wore greasy mechanic’s overalls with “Sam” embroidered above the chest pocket, and a pinstriped railroad engineer’s cap. A thin wisp of blue smoke curled up from his pipe and hung like a small cloud above his head in the sticky, humid morning air. “Let me see that pole,” he said, “and I’ll help you get your lure back.” I handed him my rig, and he began tugging deftly on the line until the tangled bait was swinging from the branch like a pendulum. Then he gave it one hard yank, and the lure unwound itself from the tree branch three or four times, sailed through the air straight toward us and dropped into the creek below. He handed my pole back to me and I reeled it in. I was thoroughly impressed; I sensed I was in the presence of a master angler. “And if ya wanna catch some pike,” he advised, “y’oughta use live frogs. I caught a couple earlier and their bellies was fulla frogs.” With that he walked back into the woods; the cloud from his pipe smoke and its sweet aroma lingered behind. Curious now, I gathered up my tackle and followed him at a distance. Eventually he came to a dirt road; just on the other side was his homestead. It was, quite literally, a dump. Rusty reminders of a bygone era lay scattered from one end of his property to the other – a vintage John Deere tractor, various farm implements, some old cars, an abandoned yellow school bus with no wheels, and several other contraptions I couldn’t identify. It was a triangular piece of property bordered by a railroad trestle on one side and dirt roads on the adjacent sides. He’d obviously been living here a long time. I imagined he was a railroad hobo who hopped off the train here and just decided to stay. His house was a small tarpaper covered shack. A round sheet metal chimney protruded from the tin roof. There was a door, and one window. Outside there was a red long-handled pump for well water. Some chickens strutted and scratched in the dirt, and a big black Lab was sleeping in a warm patch of sunshine. I watched as he shoved pieces of split wood into the firebox of a huge, complex looking machine; thick white smoke was pouring from its stack. My curiosity coaxed me out of the woods and into the clearing on his property. “What’s that thing?” I quizzed him as I walked closer. He paused to take a drink from a brown jug, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then he answered: “It’s a steam engine. Got her off’n a retired locomotive.” It was a big, fascinating piece of machinery, and it stood out from the other run-down equipment on his property because its brass knobs and gages were all polished and shiny. He finished stoking the fire, closed the big iron door, and began fiddling with some knobs while watching the gages. Finally, he grunted with satisfaction and inched the throttle ahead; the big cast iron flywheel lurched into action, rotating slowly at first, then faster and faster until the spokes appeared to begin spinning backward. “Pull that chain,” he commanded. When I did, the steam whistle shrieked, and an empty two-pound coffee can he’d placed on top of the stack shot into the air like a rocket. I jumped back, surprised but delighted with the result. When the coffee can clanked back to earth the chickens scattered and the dog slinked under an old DeSoto. “What’sa matter,” he chortled, “did it bite ya?” I visited Sam regularly after that. I think we became friends because I didn’t question his lifestyle and because he talked to me like I was a person, not just a dumb little kid. Every Saturday he’d fire up the steam engine. Kids would come on their bikes from miles around when they heard the lonesome sound of that old locomotive whistle. Our Dads would even show up sometimes to talk with Sam and admire his steam engine. Of course, they also stood in line to pull the chain and blast the whistle. One day as I was approaching Sam’s place, some older kids came by and parked themselves up on the train trestle. They started bombarding his house with a bunch of apples they’d picked, and yelled stuff like “Sam, you dirty old bastard!” They taught me one of life’s early hard lessons, that mean people suck. Sam took it in stride though, he picked up the apples and used them in his still. One day when my Dad was there with me, Sam invited us into his house. There was no electricity, for light he used a kerosene lamp. There was a table with a couple of chairs, a bed, and a wood stove he used for heating and for cooking. He had no indoor plumbing, and his privy was a toilet seat on top of a five-gallon bucket. The intense odors of kerosene, pipe tobacco, stale cooking oil and fried fish permeated everything. I also decided his privy was long overdue to be emptied. He offered us a seat, and we politely sat down at his table. Sam took his reading glasses off his Bible, then he pulled out a box of old photographs and proudly began showing them to us. The box was filled with faded sepia prints from his early life; turn of the century Michigan logging operations that helped rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire, bearded farmers with their horse teams and thrashing machines, towns with main streets of dirt being shared by horses and Model T’s. I listened quietly as he and my Dad reminisced, and I wondered what had happened in Sam’s life since then that had brought him to this place. As we went back outside, a car pulled up and two men in suits got out. One of the men handed Sam some papers and mumbled something that I couldn’t quite hear. Sam tore the papers in half and threw them back at the man; they fluttered to the ground. “You got no right tellin’ a man how to manage his personal affairs,” he yelled. “Now git off my property!” For effect, Sam held his dog by the hackles as she growled and bared her teeth at the unwelcome pair. “Alright Sam, but you ain’t heard the last of this!” They retreated to their car and sped away. Not much later, the sheriff drove up. He rolled down the window of his cruiser and kept a wary eye on the dog. “C’mon, Sam,” he tried reasoning, “these guys are just trying to do their job.” “And so am I,” Sam replied. “I’m trying to run a salvage business here!” “I’m sorry, Sam, but they have a court order. Either clean up your property or it’ll be condemned. Then it’ll fall on me to evict you…” His voice trailed off as they both pondered the scenario. Sam towed a couple cars away that week to placate the county, but they were soon replaced by more junk. The sheriff continued paying him regular visits; Sam continued relocating inventory, and so the cycle was repeated. As the years passed, my visits to Sam’s place were curtailed by a growing interest in muscle cars and girls. Still, I’d stop by and see him on occasion; Sam was one constant in my fast-changing world. I was in Viet Nam when my folks wrote me that Sam had died. His shack burned down one night while he slept. The county coroner ruled his death accidental; the fire marshal determined that the blaze started in the chimney of his wood stove. The county gave him a proper Christian burial. He had no family to mourn his passing, so a preacher who never knew him delivered a brief eulogy, muttering some words about ashes and dust as they committed his rugged old body to the ground. Hearing the news about Sam made me hurt for home even more. I cursed the war, again, for taking me away. But eventually I had to admit that Sam had an appointment with destiny and even if I’d been home, I couldn’t have done anything to prevent it. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my old friend over the next days and weeks. I laughed aloud when I thought about how he’d frustrated the county officials; Sam didn’t take any guff from anybody. Deep down inside, I think, they really envied the ornery old cuss for being so unfettered and independent. His life was uncommonly simple; Sam answered only to Sam and God. After he passed, the county came and hauled away all his junk. I’m not sure who got the steam engine. Years later, his old piece of property is still vacant. I took my boy there last summer to fish for pike in Potter’s Creek. He caught a couple, but I spent most of my time extricating his bait from the trees.