HERSCHEL KRIEGE, 65 • by Richmond Weems

Herschel Kriege pretended he was John Wayne. He looked nothing like John Wayne — Herschel’s shoulders were rounded, and he walked with a stoop — but he was able to pull off a convincing swagger and he almost had the voice down. Miriam thought he sounded just like Wayne, but Herschel knew better.

“Mind if I ask what seems to be the trouble, ma’am?”

Miriam lay in bed with the covers pulled up to her chin. “There’s some bad men in town, sheriff.”

“Are they botherin’ ya, ma’am?”

“I’m scared.”

“Oh, Miriam, don’t be scared.”

“Herschel! Stay in character.”

“Sorry. I just — ”

“Please. Don’t ruin it tonight.”

Herschel gathered himself. In his best John Wayne he said, “I’ll make sure nothing happens to you, ma’am.”

But Herschel did almost ruin it when the tears came. Miriam held him. After a while they started role-playing again. Miriam wanted John Wayne tonight, and Herschel found the fortitude to give her John Wayne.


Afterwards, lying in bed with the covers pulled up, Herschel asked Miriam how she liked it. She said it was fine. He asked her if she was okay. She squeezed his hand and smiled at him. Herschel had trouble returning the smile.

Miriam whispered to him that it would be all right.

They had been married for almost 43 years, and for 43 years both had slept on their own sides of the bed. That night they slept in each other’s arms.


Herschel woke and watched his 64-year-old wife; her mouth open, snoring softly, the morning light erasing all the wrinkles from her face, making her look as young as when he first met her at the soda shop by the hardware store where he worked. He watched her for a long time.

She opened her eyes. They looked at each other, not saying anything, and tears slid down Miriam’s cheeks.

“I’m sorry.”

Herschel held her close. “Don’t apologize. I’m here.”

She cried and Herschel cried with her and they both tried to comfort each other.

Herschel said, “Maybe we should wait and see. Maybe the chemo will work — ”

Miriam shook her head. “We agreed.”

“But this can be beat, Miriam, this can — ”

She gave him The Look, and any argument withered and died on that look.

“I need my John Wayne.”

Herschel’s anger surprised him. “I’m not John Wayne.”

“I know.” She kissed him. “And I’d like my Herschel Harrison Kriege to make me breakfast.”

For a moment, he couldn’t find his voice. He cleared his throat. “I’ll bring it upstairs.”

“I’ll come down.” She started to get out of bed.

Herschel stopped her. “Breakfast in bed this morning.”

“I’m not an invalid just yet.”

“Please. I want to do this.”

Miriam smiled.

He gave her a kiss on the cheek. He put his robe on and walked downstairs into the kitchen. He put the coffee on. He scrambled the eggs (adding just a dollop of sour cream to them, just the way she liked), microwaved the bacon, and buttered the toast. He put the eggs and bacon and toast on the plate. He put the plate on the breakfast tray. He put the gun in the pocket of his robe.

He walked upstairs, the arthritis in his hands not bothering him this morning, and placed the tray in front of her.

She made a big show of the breakfast in front of her. “Oh, this smells wonderful.”

Herschel watched her eating. He debated with himself.

She said, “Aren’t you eating?”

He busied himself by the dresser, looking at family photographs. “Maybe later.”

When she finished eating she said, “That was wonderful. Thank you.”

He moved closer to her. His hand went into the pocket of his robe.

“I love you, Miriam.”

“I love you, too. Thank you. For everything.”

He smiled. “Can you reach over there and grab that magazine? Just put it on the tray. Thanks.”

“This one?” She reached across to Herschel’s side of the bed. Her back was to him. He pulled the gun out.

She grabbed the magazine. “Oh, did you read the article on gardening?”

Herschel shot her in the back of the head. The sound of the gun was very loud.

He took a step back. He looked at the picture on the dresser. It was of Herschel, Miriam, and Henry, their only son who’d died in 1987 in a car accident. They looked so happy together.

He briefly wondered if he had done the right thing.

Herschel put the gun underneath his chin and pulled the trigger.

Richmond Weems is an all-around nice guy who moonlights as a superhero on a far-flung planet. Or maybe not. He really can’t remember.

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Every Day Fiction

  • A very engaging and poignant piece until it got towards the over-the-top ending – plus a dead son thrown in for good measure.

    Rework the ending, keep it low key, and this could be a masterful piece.

  • JB

    I found it all very believable. Overall, very engaging. It was written well.

    Yes, there’s a but coming…it’s just so godawfully depressing. I guess that’s the point. And I’m not totally against gut-wrenching pieces, it’s just I’m normally geared toward that kind of thing in advance by the tone of the piece. This was kind of comical with the John Wayne thing.

    Not bad at all…just not my favorite flavor of soup.

  • Gaius

    Works for me. I sort of knew something like that was coming and was grimly captivated to find exactly how. Loved the contrast of the cosy togetherness.

  • Ending a bit over the top, but a wonderful development of characters. Sad and poignant. Nice work.

  • Jon Stover

    I liked it. It reminded me a bit of early (1940’s) Bradbury, back before he ate a thesaurus.

  • Wow, deftly gripping. Thanks.

  • Unfortunately when this kind of fiction is someone’s reality, it’s a very disturbing read first thing in the morning.

    One one hand, the writing was excellent – character development was stellar and the dialog was well crafted.
    But on the other hand, the lead up to the tragic ending changed the tone so much it was physically jarring. Good writing elicits emotional response, but when that emotion is so overwhelmingly negative, it reflects negatively on the content.

  • Margie

    What a bummer. 🙁

  • J.C. Towler

    Well done, though I tend to agree with Paul that tagging the dead son on the felt like too much. Using John Wayne was clever: strong, brave, and a victim of (stomach) cancer himself. Even the name “Herschel Harrison” has a ring of “Marion Morrison” to it. Skillfully woven.


  • I loved this story. I wouldn’t change anything. I especially like the irony of Herschel becoming John Wayne, even to the point of using a gun; merging fantasy and reality.

  • Jen

    Wow. I certianly wasn’t expecting that ending. I enjoyed it though, as I did the opening. It was great to see a potryal of a loving older couple who had such an interesting sex life.
    When I first read that Miriam had cancer, I was hoping this wasn’t another “typical” cancer storyline. It certianly wasn’t. To me Herschel’s actions wer entirely realistic. He was only trying to give Miriam what she wanted.

  • Bob

    Jeez, another great story with terrific characters, nice dialogue, good pacing . . . and the author can’t figure out how to end it gracefully.

  • rich

    Thanks for taking the time to read, and the comments, guys.

  • DP

    Well done. Poignant and gripping. You moved me emotionally with very few words, which is no small task.

  • tigerlily

    The over-the-top ending ruined this for me.

  • laura

    hi, good story. i was hoping to see more motivation as to why he killed her. wasn’t strong enough as she wasn’t bedridden yet and i didn’t pick up that she requested it. thanks. laura

  • Anthony

    I liked this, for a lot of the reasons the comments before me listed. I agree with those who think you could have done without the dead son being tacked on, but I had no problem tracking the development from John Wayne role-play to a very real shooting. I went back and re-read, and there are hints even at the star that Herschel is in more emotional pain that his wife is in physical pain.

  • KS

    I liked this story, even with the unhappy ending.

    I disagree with Paul about the son at the end, it clarifies why both of these people feel the need to go through with this dramatic end. If they had childeren still alive than they would feel inclined to live for something, even if the odds are against them.

  • Nancy Wilcox

    I agree with KS. The bit about the dead son rounded it off. It reinforced the fact that they were totally alone, and all they had was each other. Well done. I like the tone, the pace and the ending.

  • Kevan R. Craft

    Take no notice of people trying to get you to change the ending. There’s no need to it works..

    This is a great short story with heart, emotion, good characters and a great down ending.. Poetic!!

    Don’t change a fucking thing.. This is your voice and how you see the world – leave it be – genius..