MEET ME AT THE WATERFRONT • by Mark Noce

I met Tommy Fallon down by the water after sundown, to settle things with our fists. Half the kids in school showed up at the shallow creek on the outskirts of town. He was bigger and a full grade older than me. Our beef was over a girl. I can’t even remember her name now, but Tommy I will never forget.

He rolled up his sleeves, cracking those big fat knuckles that could pound me into pulp. I tried to breathe, pretending I didn’t care what those powerful fists might do to me. Tommy never lost a fight. Not once. Every kid in school knew that trading blows with Tommy was a death sentence. Two older kids had tried to take him, and neither showed their face at school for a week after.

Tommy flexed his arms like he was stretching before a run. He stepped up to the edge of the stream, the tiny trickling brook murmuring between us in the purple afterglow of sunset. My pulse jumped in my throat. All my pals and half the girls in school came to watch. If I ran now everybody would know. My knees shook. No matter what, I promised myself that I would not cry. No matter what Tommy did. He leaned his big, meaty head across the stream and made a smug face.

“Hit me,” he taunted.

He put his hands behind his back.

“Take the first shot, free of charge. I’ll stand here and take it, but after that I get a free shot at you.”

I shook my head. It had to be a trick. He would come at me with all the fury of hell. Tommy grimaced.

“I ain’t joking! Gimme the first hit, no questions asked. Then stand by and take the same.”

Raising an eyebrow, I tried to keep a stoic face. I often toyed with my dad’s old punching bag and I knew how to put my weight into my fist. Maybe I could knock Tommy down before he even took a swing at me. Maybe. I nodded my consent.

His eyes sparkled the moment I agreed. I should have known then and there that it was too late. I drew back my fist as Tommy bent low over the stream, giving me a clear shot at his head. I decked him as hard as I could, right in the jaw. The smack of bone hitting flesh resounding through the glade. Everyone stood silent.

A sting ran through my fingers as Tommy reeled backward. I hit him hard, probably harder than he thought I could. He sprawled on the grass beside me, his head rolling off his shoulders like a lopsided soccer ball. My face blanched white.

Tommy’s cranium came to rest several yards away. I couldn’t think, couldn’t move. No, no, no. It’s not possible. Somehow, I’d knocked Tommy’s head clean off his neck. There was no blood.

Tommy’s eyes blinked and a crooked grin spread across his face. I staggered back, those glittering hazel eyes of his leering up at me. His body crawled toward the missing head and righted his skull back atop his shoulders. Like the way I used to screw on a doll’s head for my sister when she busted one of her toys. Only now Tommy stood straight and tall, like nothing happened. He sneered.

“My turn.”

He wrapped one palm around my throat, drawing back his fist. If my life didn’t flash before my eyes then something happened very much like it. I remembered my first steps, the day my kid sister was born, and a whole bunch of other things I thought long forgotten. Tommy glared down at me, his prey.

“Why don’t you run? Why don’t you squirm, boy?”

I didn’t answer. I gave him one shiner, and gave him my word that I’d take one myself. But my head wouldn’t grow back. Tommy’s grin faded.

“I must have fought a dozen guys and each of them ran away after the first punch, but not you.”

“And I ain’t gonna.”

I shut my eyes, knowing Tommy’s fist would come down like an anvil against my skull any moment. God, I wished I was safe at home, but Tommy’s challenge stirred something inside me. If I was to die in front of my pals and all the girls at school, I’d die standing up.

He released his grip on me, as though all the power had gone out of his limbs. I opened my eyes to see Tommy sauntering off into the woods. One kid shouted after him.

“Ain’t’cha gonna knock his block off, Tommy?”

Tommy glanced at me over his shoulder, his crooked head wagging.

“I could hit him, but I can’t beat him.”

Tommy disappeared into the woods. Only then did I realize that in all the fights Tommy ever had, he never threw a single punch. Always he took a blow, and after that the other boy was so scared over Tommy’s size, he peed his pants and ran.

The girls crowded around me in a circle, whispering to themselves. My pals clapped me on the shoulder, saying I was the first to lick Tommy Fallon. But I knew better.

Tommy didn’t show up at school the next day. Or any day after. No one ever saw him in town again. His folks’ house was abandoned and eventually foreclosed. The grownups never believed their kids’ stories of how Tommy’s head rolled off. Parents chided their children for lying, but the adults gave each other sidelong glances, each hearing the identical story repeated by other children. I said nothing. No one ever picked a fight with me again, and each year the newest crop of kids in school would whisper when I passed by. The kid who called Tommy Fallon’s bluff.


Mark Noce is a Technical Writer by day and Fiction Author by night. He writes novels about historical fiction, ranging from pirates to the colonial frontier to the American Civil War. He also writes contemporary short-stories.


Rate this story:
 average 4.3 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Avalina Kreska

    Mark, I was gripped by this story – what a great turn that Tommy had never hit anyone. It almost made the head falling off a normal event!!

  • Avalina Kreska

    Mark, I was gripped by this story – what a great turn that Tommy had never hit anyone. It almost made the head falling off a normal event!!

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    What a wonderful tricky story. Not something I usually care to read, but your writing pulled me into it and the payoff was brilliant. Just perfect–that matter-of-fact voice leading us into the Twilight Zone like that. Five stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    What a wonderful tricky story. Not something I usually care to read, but your writing pulled me into it and the payoff was brilliant. Just perfect–that matter-of-fact voice leading us into the Twilight Zone like that. Five stars.

  • Good one, Mark. Reminds me of my own wonder years — without the missing head.

  • Good one, Mark. Reminds me of my own wonder years — without the missing head.

  • Great story Mark! Lots of dramatic tension! Really gripped me. And I loved the line ““I could hit him, but I can’t beat him.” Well done!

  • Great story Mark! Lots of dramatic tension! Really gripped me. And I loved the line ““I could hit him, but I can’t beat him.” Well done!

  • Donna K. Weaver

    Wow. You totally had me. The paranormal twist threw me. Thought for a minute that I’d read wrong. Well done.

  • Donna K. Weaver

    Wow. You totally had me. The paranormal twist threw me. Thought for a minute that I’d read wrong. Well done.

  • Jonathan Hau

    Great story Mark! I love how dramatic it was from beginning to end. Also loved the details about the scene and the characters. Awesome job!

  • Jonathan Hau

    Great story Mark! I love how dramatic it was from beginning to end. Also loved the details about the scene and the characters. Awesome job!

  • Carl Steiger

    Outstanding! I myself always ran before fists started flying.

  • Carl Steiger

    Outstanding! I myself always ran before fists started flying.

  • Kristin Smith

    This is a great story, Mark! Loved it! My favorite part was when you tell us that in all the fights Tommy had been in, he’d never thrown a punch. And the head falling off thing, totally gave me the chills! So glad the boy didn’t get beat to a pulp — I was seriously scared for his life!

  • Kristin Smith

    This is a great story, Mark! Loved it! My favorite part was when you tell us that in all the fights Tommy had been in, he’d never thrown a punch. And the head falling off thing, totally gave me the chills! So glad the boy didn’t get beat to a pulp — I was seriously scared for his life!

  • Kristin Ames

    Loved the story Mark! It was such a great read with interesting surprises 🙂

  • Kristin Ames

    Loved the story Mark! It was such a great read with interesting surprises 🙂

  • Elizabeth

    Exciting story from start to finish. Had an unexpected twist that I loved. Awesome work!

  • Elizabeth

    Exciting story from start to finish. Had an unexpected twist that I loved. Awesome work!

  • Wow, I loved this story. It was unexpected and brilliant and drew me in from the first word to the last.

  • Wow, I loved this story. It was unexpected and brilliant and drew me in from the first word to the last.

  • Tony Saric

    Love this story! great twist in the end.

  • Tony Saric

    Love this story! great twist in the end.

  • Shannon Lawrence

    Great story! I was waiting for him to take a beating, but I much preferred the way this ended. His never having struck anyone was a nice detail. I figure he moved on to another town and started over again.

  • Shannon Lawrence

    Great story! I was waiting for him to take a beating, but I much preferred the way this ended. His never having struck anyone was a nice detail. I figure he moved on to another town and started over again.

  • richard

    Nice writing. I was wondering how your character was going to stand up to the bully. I ended up feeling sorry for Tommy.

  • richard

    Nice writing. I was wondering how your character was going to stand up to the bully. I ended up feeling sorry for Tommy.

  • Left Field Laws

    Wow.. what a great story. Great surprise and great ending too. Bravo

  • Left Field Laws

    Wow.. what a great story. Great surprise and great ending too. Bravo

  • Nice story, Mark! I think you adroitly take on the challenge of writing something in 1000 words. Your prose is always so clear and fluid. I’m left with several questions, which adds to the interest. Was Tommy ever even living, I wonder?

  • Nice story, Mark! I think you adroitly take on the challenge of writing something in 1000 words. Your prose is always so clear and fluid. I’m left with several questions, which adds to the interest. Was Tommy ever even living, I wonder?

  • Whoa! Talk about a twist. Great job, Mark! 🙂

  • Whoa! Talk about a twist. Great job, Mark! 🙂

  • Rachna Chhabria

    Wonderful story, Mark. It pulled me in tightly the moment I started reading. The dramatic tension ensured that I continued reading to know what would happen next. Gave it five stars.

  • Rachna Chhabria

    Wonderful story, Mark. It pulled me in tightly the moment I started reading. The dramatic tension ensured that I continued reading to know what would happen next. Gave it five stars.

  • This has the distinct flavor of one of the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, from my distant childhood, but with a heroic flair. A fun and unique story. Thanks, Mark!

  • This has the distinct flavor of one of the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, from my distant childhood, but with a heroic flair. A fun and unique story. Thanks, Mark!

  • Kathleen

    Not only is the writing well done, but it’s a great story! It’s usually a good sign when an EDF story generates this many comments. Hope to read more of your stories!

  • Kathleen

    Not only is the writing well done, but it’s a great story! It’s usually a good sign when an EDF story generates this many comments. Hope to read more of your stories!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Quite frankly, I thought the head falling off bit nonsensical. The story went from Huckleberry Finn to an unresolved sort of cyborg-ish twist. The story worked fine without the paranormal twist.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Quite frankly, I thought the head falling off bit nonsensical. The story went from Huckleberry Finn to an unresolved sort of cyborg-ish twist. The story worked fine without the paranormal twist.

  • The head twist pushed this well written story on the same shelf as S. King but as a show stopper, it was not relevant; your writing is.

  • The head twist pushed this well written story on the same shelf as S. King but as a show stopper, it was not relevant; your writing is.

  • This is an amazing story. The decapitation sent my mind in one direction but then the bluff sent it in another. A masterpiece of misdirection and very well-written.

  • This is an amazing story. The decapitation sent my mind in one direction but then the bluff sent it in another. A masterpiece of misdirection and very well-written.

  • Peggy Eddleman

    Wow! Way to hook your reader! That was incredible!

  • Peggy Eddleman

    Wow! Way to hook your reader! That was incredible!

  • Sarah Russell

    Loved this. I was pulling for our hero all the way! But I don’t think you needed the surreal head falling off to sell the story. In my mind, it took away from the very real confrontation and defeat of a bully’s mentality. The “I could hit him, but I can’t beat him” line said it all.

  • Sarah Russell

    Loved this. I was pulling for our hero all the way! But I don’t think you needed the surreal head falling off to sell the story. In my mind, it took away from the very real confrontation and defeat of a bully’s mentality. The “I could hit him, but I can’t beat him” line said it all.

  • Lisa Coulter

    Awesome Story Mark!!! I love the twist once he threw the first punch….so creative!

  • Lisa Coulter

    Awesome Story Mark!!! I love the twist once he threw the first punch….so creative!

  • Stephanie Thornton

    Vivid writing and very Twilight Zone-esque. Well done!

  • Stephanie Thornton

    Vivid writing and very Twilight Zone-esque. Well done!

  • Great story with a great voice! And an excellent message.

  • Great story with a great voice! And an excellent message.

  • David Green

    I had a lot of fun reading this. I wasn’t expecting the supernatural twist partway through. I applaud the decision to not provide any real kind of explanation for what happened. I’m glad you left that job up to the readers, because I’ve formulated for myself what I’m sure is the right explanation. 😀 Well done!

  • David Green

    I had a lot of fun reading this. I wasn’t expecting the supernatural twist partway through. I applaud the decision to not provide any real kind of explanation for what happened. I’m glad you left that job up to the readers, because I’ve formulated for myself what I’m sure is the right explanation. 😀 Well done!

  • Beautifully told with great narrative drive, and the right amount of ambiguity and surprise to keep the reader interested. Bravo, Mark!

  • Beautifully told with great narrative drive, and the right amount of ambiguity and surprise to keep the reader interested. Bravo, Mark!

  • Ann Pudlow

    Love the story – only someone of Irish descent would start a story with a fight! Looking forward to reading more of your stories 😉

  • Ann Pudlow

    Love the story – only someone of Irish descent would start a story with a fight! Looking forward to reading more of your stories 😉

  • Teresa Noce

    Very interesting story! Loved the ending – keep writing!!!!!!

  • Teresa Noce

    Very interesting story! Loved the ending – keep writing!!!!!!

  • Kathryn McKendry

    Great story! I loved the twist.

  • Kathryn McKendry

    Great story! I loved the twist.

  • Carter Pittman

    I found the head falling off, as startling as it was, incidental (shades of Sir Gwayne and the Green Knight?) at best. The point of the story is less fantastic but definitely true: the best way to defeat a bully is to deprive him/her of your fear–strength is the least important factor–as witnessed by Tommy. Good job, my friend!

  • Carter Pittman

    I found the head falling off, as startling as it was, incidental (shades of Sir Gwayne and the Green Knight?) at best. The point of the story is less fantastic but definitely true: the best way to defeat a bully is to deprive him/her of your fear–strength is the least important factor–as witnessed by Tommy. Good job, my friend!