Going on a Run

Those boys met up every year for deer camp — both buck and anterless — and had done so for 20 or more years. They’d spend the mornings hunting, or “waiting” as J.T.’s wife called it, an…

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Unsuspected Intimacy

wireA dense fog shrouded the facility and obscured the windows along its brick facade. The main building stood monolithic behind foreboding chain-link framed in razor wire. The same journalist assigned to cover the criminal trial had to brave the autumn chill to report on the late-night execution. He drew this lot as a cub reporter for a news outlet that covered such morbid proceedings but stayed warm inside the News 41 van as long as possible before setting up for a live shot outside the prison barrier.

Protesters drew attention – those who oppose the death penalty and supported the Reynolds’ family juxtaposed with others who wanted their brand of justice done. They staked claim on opposite sides of the main driveway and stomped around under flood lights bright enough to illuminate a sports stadium. Their signs galvanized opposing positions. Placards on the right heralded, “Down with the death penalty.” Others on the left read, “An Eye for An Eye” and “Good Riddance,” as their owners chanted, “Justice for Gwen, Justice for Gwen” outside the prison’s formidable gates.

Gwen Brown’s family sat undetected and anonymous inside a dark sedan parked on grass aligning the drive. The media spotlight cast upon them already took its toll without adding more undue probing.

Hoards of hard-line vigilantees rehashed the details of how Reynolds sadistically killed the teenage girl. A youth himself at the time, Timothy Wayne Reynolds had been defended on the basis of a crime of passion. A jilted lover. An especially humiliating break-up. A previous closed-head injury suffered in a football game the prior week that defense lawyers said incapacitated him from responsibility for his crime.

People say, “Dead men tell no tales.” The dead can’t speak of atrocities against them. The drug that accidentally killed the King of Pop, Proponol, would be used to take one of his fans to that person’s final rest.

The frenzied folks outside never knew of the turmoil within those confines. “We can’t let this leak to the press,” Warden Jenkins told his officers. “There’s enough negativity connected to these proceedings already.”

Reynolds ate his favorite meal of chicken fried steak with gravy and a piece of angel-food cake before receiving the priest’s last rites and taking those final surreal steps to his berth in a room with a one-way mirror. He couldn’t see those viewing his execution from the other side of that chamber, as his uncertain death became quite a drawn-out procedure, stretching out much longer than planned.

An unnamed pharmacy compounded a special recipe for lethal injection, even though human rights groups claimed that using untested drugs constituted ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The concoction took twice the usual timespan to work its way through his veins, twice the normal timespan. Reynolds’ heart pumped the poisonous mixture circuitously within his body until it rendered his vital organs inoperable. That same heart his adversaries insisted didn’t exist.

The man turned toward his withered image in the mirror and mouthed the words, “I love you,” in hopes the receiver would get his message. At the last moment, a panic spread through Reynolds’ body pinioned to the gurney, and he struggled against the straps that bound his wrists when the masked clinician approached him with a syringe clasped in gloved hands.

The woman who named him on June 15, 1962 at John Franklin Memorial Hospital in Tulumqua, Alabama sat sobbing on the other side of the transparent wall. She wailed painfully when her boy closed his eyes for the last time.

A satellite feed sent out a signal to major network with the report, “State officials brought an embittered battle from 1979 to a final close tonight as 54-year old Timothy Wayne Reynolds was executed for the crime of aggravated capital murder. The county coroner pronounced him dead at 12:15.”

Outside the gates, the mother of Gwen Elisabeth Brown cried into her cupped hands. She felt both relief and sadness at the news.

Inspiration Monday prompt – uncertain death inmonsterpromo

 

 

 

Image: “Razorwire” by Joi Ito via Flickr

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Unreliable Witness

internet-archive-book-imagesThat little shabby house sat back off the road behind trees with limbs so dense they obscured it from the sight of any passersby. You could only catch a glimpse driving by slowly in the wintertime or after the leave began to fall. Faded clapboards on the exterior looked nearly pink with age and negligence. The place resembled a shed with dust mites and rusted lawnmowers inside instead of anywhere a human being might sleep.

No one saw the accursed man who lived there, though. People said he got riled easily when kids snuck around there after dark, which many of them did on a dare at Halloween time. Smeared window panes kept people from seeing inside, though many children tried to look.

“We didn’t think he was there. Looked empty to us,” the older, Darius, later told the police officer. “That old dude snuck up on us – not the other way around.”

Those Barton boys lied so much, police officers didn’t believe the tales they told afterward. Juvenile delinquents, all of them. Having crack-head parents meant they spent a lot of time in foster care. Even though they grew up hard, they’d rend even the best situation into an utter mess. Wound up in juvenile hall over the incident at the house.

Even the most craven of people from town knew what happened was wrong. That old man should’ve been left to himself out there. Unfortunately, the Barton brothers either didn’t know any better or didn’t care.

“It was like something from a spooky campfire story,” the younger brother said later. “We went in through the back door ‘cause it was unlocked. So Darius said it was okay.” Dale worshipped his older brother and did whatever he instructed. The cops released Dale back to the foster parents, deciding he was too young to be held culpable.

Through all the denial from Darius, Dale told the truth. “He was waiting behind the door when we went in the kitchen. Smelled horrible, like he never took a bath. He breathed all over my face when he grabbed me.” Dale sobbed as he recounted the details, kept begging to see Darius.

“My brother hit the old coot to make him let me go. Darius told him to, but he wouldn’t do it.” His big eyes pleaded with them, gray crescents hollowing his face even more than fear but had no more impact than to accentuate the weariness of such a young child.

“It was so gross in there. Smelled like something dead,” he told them. “Something on the floor made it slick. That’s why they slipped and fell. That’s why that old man hit his head on the counter. Darius didn’t do it.”

The foster mother had to practically drag Dale out of the police station without his brother. Interrogators doubted such an elderly man posed much of an imposing threat, which cast doubt on the boys’ version of the facts. Officers said he might not make it through the night to tell his own side of what happened.

Dale cried even harder when they drove past the house on the way home. He blinked back tears and coughed through gasping bouts of trying to breathe.

Every light had been extinguished when emergency vehicles left there and the ambulance departed for the hospital. The place was different when Dale looked at it from the passing car. A pole barn light behind the shack was illuminated, which cast an eerie glow around its entirety and backlit the interior through its darkened windows.

Dale knew what he saw. Someone stood behind that grimy front glass, and the person seemed to watch their car. Everyone knew that old man lived out there alone. Though he’d been taken for medical treatment, someone was still in that house. Dale saw it that night, but no one believed him. He’d never pass the house again in his life.

He told his brother about it years later when Darius was released from serving time for manslaughter plus breaking and entering. He believed Dale. They’d been inside that house, and both boys knew better.

*Studio 30 Plus writing prompt – accursed s30p

image: Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr

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Life Primer

butt

“It’s too early for this shit.” Smoke trailed from his flared nostrils as Wayne tightened his grip on the steering wheel until veins protruded from the knuckles of his work-weary fingers. He’d taken time off from the tire shop to give Brandy a ride to her doctor’s appointment that morning. She threatened to tell her father about their mistake if he didn’t take her, whether he liked it or not.

They drove south on Highway 65 in Wayne’s primered Camaro with bondo-patched rust spots, its original paint color a mystery. The exhaust system’s howl  echoed down the highway and bellowed as much noise pollution as black fumes that streamed from its oxidized tailpipe. He flicked a spent cigarette out the window with bravado, red sparks spiking off the pavement as the butt narrowly missed a BMW’s hood in the adjacent lane.

Brandy folded her knees in front of her in the passenger seat, her dirty hair pulled up into a ponytail with red curls escaping its bonds to protrude out one side. She pushed the loose strands behind her ear and rubbed her jaw. That bad tooth hurt so much she didn’t know which was more important – a pregnancy test or going on to the college clinic where the students worked on your mouth for free.

Neither one of the pair had much sleep after partying the night before. They’d been up half the night, and Wayne’s temperament showed it.

Their clandestine meet-ups usually took place off the beaten path in the dark — either out in a fallow field out in the boonies with no livestock to upset or even further out on a little-used dirt road in the middle of nowhere, the “boontoolies.”

Hiding in a copse of trees the night before helped their group feel safe out of sight. The likelihood of a county mounty patrolling was slim to none.

They built a quickly extinguishable campfire for enough illumination to light up, get high, and then get gone as soon as possible. Such a short party served its purpose to self-medicate. No socialization necessary for that purpose. That sort of thing could stymie a buzz superfast.

In the car, Wayne rubbed a bloodshot eye with the back of one hand, and she noticed the chewed down stubs of his nails framed by yellowed fingertips. His thumb was wrapped in soiled tape that hadn’t been changed since bloodying it with a lug wrench the week before.

“Why did that asshole, Stevie, show up out there? Listening to his mouth run is even worse than yours.” From the look on her boyfriend’s face, Brandy sensed it best not to say anything else and piss him off more. He shook his head violently to wake himself up, jerking the wheel in the process, and Brandy grabbed the door handle to steady herself.

“If that wasn’t bad enough, now I’m up at the ass crack of dawn taking you somewhere. I’d think you could get your old man to fix your car so you can drive yourself.”

“I thought you might want to find out the results with me,” she said softly. She read his opposing feelings on the matter from a sideways glance.

He sniffed. “Huh. You must think we’re playing house or somethin.’” The tip of his right ear was turning that crimson tinge it always did when Wayne got mad. “I don’t care what your daddy says, this ain’t happenin.’”

She flinched at the timbre of his voice. It sounded just like her father’s before he reached out to slap her. “Why don’t you just shut up the rest of the way? I can’t deal with this so early in the damn morning.” He looked down at the blue Bic while he lit another smoke, and the car inched toward the median. The car nearly crossed the highway dividing line.

He took the first drag off his cigarette and blew a long plume out one side of his mouth while talking out of the other. “You’re sadly mistaken if you think I’m havin’ any part of this business. If it’s positive we’re headed right to that place on 47th Street and bustin’ through that string of people with the protest signs. They can yell at us all they want, but you’re gettin’ rid of it.”

Brandy put her flip-flopped feet back on the floorboard and stared at the tiny bump in her middle. At such an early stage, it barely pushed out the waistband of her cotton shorts. She closed her eyes to shut out his words and rubbed her swollen jaw to concentrate on the toothache instead of the pain in her chest. Even though the reality of what Wayne and her dad would expect weighed on her, she knew better than to let her dad find out their predicament.

Wayne’s rant continued, “It’s none of their damn business anyways. Those ol’ bitches at that clinic can kiss my ass. I don’t care what’s in their damn Bible. You’re going in there if I have to drag you. That’s what’s next, girl.”

She rolled the window down a little in hopes the wind might carry her just a whiff of woodsmoke from the embers of a fire somewhere. They had fun at that field party, or at least it seemed like it. Brandy wished she could go back there and get high again.

Image: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – copse s30p

 

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Reunited

punch glass

final installment in Reunion series – following New Old Friends

Gwen and Jennifer continued their conversation with Gwen’s husband, Cameron, while sipping vodka-spiked punch that kept the trio in a celebratory mood. They rose glass after glass to toast health and friendship, and the awkward confrontation with Jennifer’s ex earlier in the evening was soon forgotten.

Other classmates stared from adjacent seats, perhaps jealous of their lively exchange, and seemed catatonic in comparison. Laughter exploded from their table and even caught the attention of Matt’s young wife. Despite her bedazzling appearance with no lines emerging  on her face like everyone else’s there, the poor woman looked trapped in a dutiful gloom of boredom. Anyone watching the scene would feel her palpable disappointment at coming to his 20-year high school class reunion.

She could’ve used a drink if not for her husband’s self-proclaimed, if not pretentious, victory over his alcoholism. Jennifer remembered their teenage dalliances during what seemed a short time but actually happened over two decades ago, how she and Matt practiced anything but safe sex. They, as stupid kids, drank a lot and took more chances than other not-so-lucky couples.

What she couldn’t recall was how she and Gwen ever became friends. Was it in class, at lunch, maybe even in the principal’s office? Jen saw enough of the administrative wing back when she spent several days in detention for skipping school with Matt.

Gwen seemed to read her mind. The woman confessed, “We only had one class together, Jennifer. Gym in freshman year. Back when so many girls bullied me because I was big. Bigger than any of them anyway.” Jennifer looked down at her lap in hopes she wasn’t one of them.

“Oh, no,” Gwen said efficaciously. “Not you. You were the only one nice to me in P.E.” Jennifer exhaled, glad to know she hadn’t been one of the culprits. “Or at least took up for me, though you didn’t really know me. You told them to shut up and leave me alone.”

Jennifer nodded, relieved. “I have to admit I don’t remember. Some of those girls were such jerks, I tried to not act like them. They could be so mean. At least I didn’t participate in that.”

Gwen’s husband sat quietly listening to their conversation and reached over to clasp his wife’s folded hands as she stared blankly across the room. Cameron sensed the subject’s obvious sensitivity, as Gwen absentmindedly rubbed the inside of one wrist. After the awkward silence, she nodded toward a group of people standing beside the dance floor. “A couple of them are right over there.”

Cameron and Jennifer turned to look at the bunch, and Jennifer recognized two girls she’d ran around with back in school. Gwen continued, “I was pretty torn up about all that for a while. Even into college when I met Cameron.” She squeezed her husband’s hand, and he smiled at her reassuringly.

“It was hard for me to come tonight, but I vowed to never let people like that bother me again. To be proud of who I am.” Gwen shrugged and laughed, “Cameron always tells me I’m beautiful, even though I know he’s exaggerating.”

“You are to me, hon,” Cameron said. He got up to refresh their empty punch glasses.

A brief silence followed his leaving before Jennifer finally said, “I’m really glad you came up to talk to me tonight, Gwen. I was pretty nervous about coming here myself because I didn’t want to see Matt. You’ve made it fun, and I forgot all about that despicable person. So thanks.”

“You’re welcome. And I want to thank you, too. You made my freshman year a lot more tolerable. Even if you didn’t remember me tonight.” She winked at Jennifer.

Jennifer’s mouth fell open in fake shock. “Was it that obvious?” They laughed.

“No worries,” Gwen told her. “It doesn’t matter, because we’re friends now.” She glanced up at her husband’s return to the table. He held three partially-filled glasses of punch, and Gwen pulled a bottle of clear alcohol out of her purse to fill the remaining space in each. “Let’s toast to that!”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – efficacious s30p

Image: blogto.com

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New Old Friends

Part three of Reunion series: previous installment – Dying Embers

pink drink

Almost everyone was dressed to the nines, most likely to try and impress each other. A high school class reunion is the opportune time to pretend to be someone a person is not. Matt had no pretense, though. The ragged jeans and faded polo shirt he wore made him resemble a ragamuffin, and he probably felt overdressed. Jennifer wondered if he owned any other clothing than a blue work shirt with his name stitched on the pocket.

She tried to make her mouth move as she stared at him, willed herself to come up with a snappy come-back to his rudeness, to say anything. Instead, she stood there slack-jawed and stammering while he looked at her expectantly. His bimbo wife joined him, having followed him across the ballroom like a lost puppy. Or just a jealous young wife. Jennifer looked beyond Matt’s shoulder at the woman clicking awkwardly on stilettos, which was easier than looking Matt in the eye.

Her old love was right there in front of her, and he waited for some type of response. He asked, “Are you already drunk? I’d say it’s pretty early in the night for that.”

Jennifer was stunned into silence, but the classmate friend whose name she couldn’t remember spoke for her. The woman was so tall she towered over Matt’s head. Unfortunately, her embroidered attire was almost as atrocious as Matt’s. Sweater Vest asked him, “What kind of hello is that, Matt? Pretty judgey coming from you. I remember you being quite the drinker back in the day.”

“Not any more. I’ve been in recovery for six months now, in fact,” he paused, staring at the woman. He moved the pair of sunglasses that rested on his balding head to a front shirt pocket. It had been dark outside for a few hours, so maybe he left them there instead of getting a hair transplant. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you,” he went on. “Jennifer …”

Standing next to Matt, his petite wife’s eyes flashed between him and Jennifer as if they volleyed a tennis ball back and forth. Hands on her hips in indignation, she clearly didn’t like being ignored by them.

“Oh, forgive me. I’m Gwen Collins,” Sweater Vest told Matt. “Of course, you wouldn’t remember me. You never spoke to me in school, but I’m a friend of Jen’s.” Gwen gripped Jennifer’s shoulder with a protective arm. She suddenly liked having the long limb around her in solidarity.

Gwen continued, “Congratulations on your new sobriety, but you don’t have to act so superior. We all remember how you used to act when drunk. Don’t be such a downer. This is a party.”

Jennifer finally found her voice. “It’s good to see you, Matt. And your wife.” She tossed her head in the wife’s direction, and the woman smiled at finally being acknowledged. “I was just reminiscing with Gwen, so please excuse us.” She got a tiny rush turning her back on Matt. Damn, she thought, is that all I could come up with? 

She waited a moment until the couple retreated across the dance floor and then told Gwen, “Thank you so much for that.” Jennifer felt a twinge of guilt at initially not remembering the big woman.

“Don’t mention it,” Gwen said. “Now, let’s go get a drink.” She grabbed Jennifer’s hand, grinned widely, and pulled her toward the table where her husband sat waiting. He lifted a glass as if to toast the women’s approach.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – ragamuffin  s30p

photo: Sheri Wetherell (Flickr Creative Commons)

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Dying Embers

Part two of Reunion series: continued from previous post – The Past Catches Up

punch

The doors opened onto a festive ballroom full of balloons, streamers, and white strings of light that ensconced friends from what seemed like a previous lifetime. A large paper banner reading, “Welcome Class of 1996” spanned the stage above a rock-n-roll cover band. Classmates gathered in small clusters, much like cliques in a long-ago lunchroom.

Listeners nodded at talking heads across from them, plastic smiles plastered on faces pretending to be happier and more successful than their lives actually made them. Spouses stood slumped-shouldered at being forced to attend a party among strangers and people they may not otherwise associate with in public. Some looked up every few minutes to affect interest.

She ripped an adhesive name badge from its paper backing and moved into the space with the purpose of mingling. It’s not like the old days when I had to find my pack. I can talk to anyone I want here, she told herself. Spanning the room, she questioned herself, But who would that be? A few familiar faces made eye contact and grinned subtle acknowledgement, yet she wanted to get a lay of the land before approaching anyone in particular.

An exceptionally tall woman wearing an embroidered sweater vest approached to ask, “Jennifer, Jennifer Stockton? Is that you?” She searched her memory to decipher who the seemingly ancient woman could possibly be but found no answer lurking in her grey matter. How could I possibly have graduated with someone so old? Jennifer pondered.

“Hi,” she began and offered a hand to greet the woman but lost both arms to her bear-hug grip instead. “What’s with this shaking business? Come here, you!” she giggled, explosively invading her personal space with gangly limbs encircling her body. Her height towered above Jennifer so that her face smashed into one of the rose appliques on the pilled cotton sweater.

“Come on over and meet my husband,” the lady urged. “He’s over here eating, of course, just like always.” For the life of her, Jennifer couldn’t place her new-old friend’s name but followed obediently to the food table. An incessant monologue ensued, complete with career explanations and offspring descriptions. Jennifer thought the woman would prattle on forever, but she heard none of it.

Instead, her eyes locked on him from across the buffet. His visage was unmistakable regardless of the balding pate and sallow complexion. How could a person so previously handsome become so pasty? Maybe it was years of heavy drinking.

Matt looked bored. He stared into the pink concoction in his clear plastic punch cup, and a woman next to him yammered on at the couple standing next to them. Matt scanned the room until his gaze caught her own, but his dour countenance indicated no hint of recognition. Jennifer thought, How can he not know who I am?

The guy was and always would be a wannabe. He pretended to be important, almost an attempt to make others think he was as special as he found himself to be. He was unique alright … just like everyone else. Matt was a fraud and she knew it. He knew she knew it, although he tried to pretend he didn’t. Even back in school.

Yet her fondness for him stayed with her over the years regardless of it not being reciprocated. She felt an aching in the space behind her heart, that orange glowing space that so wanted to be filled.

Their eyes remained locked until his expression turned to one of surprised recognition.

Jennifer’s brow furrowed in disappointment at the delayed reaction. Why wouldn’t he remember me? She tried to concentrate on what Sweater Vest was saying, but she struggled to feign interest. Catching Matt’s approach out of the corner of her eye flustered her even more. She stared at Sweater Vest, nodding, faking a laugh. Anything to make Matt know he didn’t deserve her attention.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. Matt beckoned, “Jennifer, is that you?” Turning to face him, she acted shocked to see him. “Hello there, Matt,” she crooned and plastered a toothy grin across her face.

Jerking his head backward, he wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Oh, my God. Are you drunk? You smell like booze.” Jennifer felt mortified.

Studio30

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – prattle

(photo: the drink nation)

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The Past Catches Up

Dodgeball_Throw

She hated it when P.E. class became co-ed in their freshman year, even if they just played dodgeball. The guys always waited until the teacher wasn’t looking to throw the dimpled red ball as hard as possible to hit the girls. They aimed at either the bum or the boobs. Every time.

Mr. Ray Monroe once told her, “Pay no mind to them boys. If they pick on ya, that means they like ya.” She could never fathom how abuse equaled fondness. Mr. Monroe turned his head from that business. He probably threw things at girls when he was young, too.

The thought of their high school reunion being just a week away put her in a funk. Why put herself through such misery to see those same guys again? The people she wanted to stay in touch with were still her friends, and the others didn’t matter.

Her hometown hadn’t changed at all, and she doubted the people had either. Many stayed there after graduation, working mundane jobs to pay the bills. Survival would be difficult without an elixir to pass time, so the tavern earned a lot of that take-home pay. That’s how she imagined Matt’s life of subsistence to be unless things had drastically changed for him.

He’d be at the reunion. No way to avoid seeing him. His wavy red hair and deep, hearty laugh haunted her dreams. That wry smile. A repetitive invitation to reunite. Awakening brought back reality.

Unsure how to react at seeing him live instead of through a subconscious illusion in her sleep, she resigned herself to go anyway. Not going would otherwise feel like defeat. She took time off work to go.

She’d have to speak to him but wasn’t looking forward to it. He cared not one whit for how she felt, then or now, and his apathy left her heartbroken and despondent.

Three days passed with no sunshine, and she hated to wake in the morning to yet another rainfall battering the window. It took every ounce of mental energy to rise from bed and face the day. Want of coffee can convince anyone to at least venture from the solace of the bedroom to the kitchen for a cup. An extra-strong espresso started the morning of the reunion, and caffeine jitters got her through the day.

She put the gearshift in park upon arriving at the venue. Semi-familiar faces greeted each other with smiles at the entrance, and everyone shook hands while adhering adhesive name tags to save each other from awkward re-introductions.

“It’s time to get over this bullshit and face him. I’m not that intimidated girl in gym class any longer,” she thought and steadied her nerves. Reaching under the seat to grab the bottle and take a last long drink helped a little, too. “Here goes nothing,” she told herself and opened the car door to go inside.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – mundane

image: commons.wikimedia.orgs30p

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Dirty Tricks

cemetery

Gravel-road cruising while getting drunk was not her favorite weekend activity, but stopping at a church cemetery off the beaten path rated even worse. Blythe agreed to go with a friend because the duo had been invited by boys, one on whom Caroline had a crush, and his buddy didn’t want to be a third wheel.

“Caroline, you are going to owe me big time,” she whispered in the girl’s ear when the driver turned to head out of town. Cute or not, these guys seemed up to no good. Alcohol only exacerbated their fiendishness.

Dylan and Bradley laughed, as if sharing an inside joke, and practically fell out of the truck when it slid to a stop. “I’m gonna go take a piss,” the driver announced. His friend chuckled knowingly and agreed, “Yeah, I gotta go, too,” and trailed after him. The two took off at a sprint and disappeared into the darkness beyond a line of decrepit grave markers. Whatever they aimed to do, Blythe wanted no part of it.

She grabbed Caroline’s arm when she started to slide across the seat toward the door. “This is not a good idea, Caroline,” she warned, but the girl jumped out anyway. “Oh, come on! Don’t be such an old lady, Blythe.”

Caroline pulled Blythe unwillingly out of the truck and across the grass, wet with dew, and headed toward the church. Blythe’s feet became soaked and grew cold, and she began to shiver. “This place is giving me the creeps,” she said. “I don’t think we should be here. It seems disrespectful.”

“Let’s go, Blythe! We should look for the guys. See what they’re up to,” Caroline urged as they crossed the cemetery gate. She could be such an airhead when she liked someone, especially a goofball like Bradley.

Blythe replied, “No way. I don’t care where those jerks went.” She regretted her decision when she gaped out at the emptiness surrounding her and suddenly felt scared. All she could see was a mist obscuring most of the landscape. A mishmash of tombstones stood in the distance, some upright and others leaning in disrepair.

Half expecting a revenant being to emerge above the monuments, Blythe crouched down behind one to hide. Her hands shook as she peeked around its rough stone edges to see if anyone else was near. Touching the grave marker chilled her fingertips even more. “Damn you guys,” she muttered under her breath, not daring to make any noise.

The vista lay menacingly in front of her. She felt in her bones that nothing good would come of the situation, and a chill ran down her spine. She thought of an old superstition about how a shiver meant someone walked across your grave.

“Come back, Caroline,” she whispered into the blank night as loudly as she dared. Blinking back tears, she squinted her eyes tightly in disbelief at the frightening sight a hundred yards or so away from her position. The girl froze in horror.

Spectral images floated above the lowest level of fog hugging the ground. She had a hard time believing her eyes and wished she hadn’t accepted her friend’s invitation to come out. Being back at home beneath warm blankets would’ve been so much wiser.

“It isn’t real! It isn’t real!” she kept repeating to convince herself while mentally berating Caroline for talking her into coming on such a hair-brained roadtrip. She felt a breeze rush past her that gently glided across her body and rose goose-bumps on her skin.

Blythe parted her lips slightly to call out for her friend but dared not bring the wraiths’ attention her way. She could hear the boys laughter echoing from out beyond the church yard but had no idea where they could be. Caroline was nowhere to be seen either, so Blythe decided it was now or never.

She jumped up and ran back to the truck to discover the keys still in the ignition, which solidified her decision to abandon them all. She felt bad about leaving Caroline, but it was every woman for herself.

Fleeing the scene as quickly as she could, Blythe glanced into the rearview mirror. She felt only slight remorse at seeing either Dylan or Bradley, but not knowing which one, running down the gravel road after the truck. His arms pin wheeled in the air as if grasping for help. Although slightly blurred by dust spun up from the tires, several wavering figures appeared to be following closely behind the boy.

“Sucks to be you,” Blythe groaned. She stepped on the gas pedal and sped away.

 

– photo: Garrett Gabriel via Flickr

s30p*writing prompt – revenant

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Family Values

70s bike

My fuchsia bicycle with the flowered banana-seat conveyed me all over town, my travel unrestricted. Stranger Danger didn’t get forced on a kid in the ‘70s like the present day. I pedaled pretty much anywhere the strength of my legs could take me.

I got to ride that bike to visit my friend, Veronica, from school. My mother knew where I was going and said, “You can go but only if you don’t tell your daddy.” I could ride my bike there by myself, but my father would’ve forbidden me from going. I’d never been to a black family’s house in my nine years of life.

This was the 1970s, not Jim Crow, not the segregated South, although the Midwest wasn’t exactly a cozy nest of inclusion. Few of my elementary school classmates were black, whom I could count on one hand from three third-grade classrooms.

Our home may have been typical in a small town, but I didn’t know since kids didn’t compare notes. While my mother didn’t condone our dad’s racism, her inaction was complicit. She’d also been raised to think the races need to remain separate, to “stick with their own.” She must’ve fallen into a torpor from the seeming normalness of that environment. Almost as if you can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em in their prejudice.

My dad was inexorable and totally justified in his behavior. We’d been raised with this example as normal, but we knew better inside. Such an ugly secret we hid behind closed doors felt wrong. The balance of our blooming consciences grew lopsided to what seemed right, no matter what we knew as normal in our home.

Me and my sisters were warned to never bring a black or Asian guy home or we’d have no home. We’d be disowned, which scared me enough to never dated outside my race. As a teenager, I realized what bigotry meant but that my father wasn’t even a consistent bigot. He wouldn’t been fine with one of us dating someone Native American, but he would’ve lost his shit with any of us dating an African American.

He once said, “I know one at work, and he’s okay. He’s a hard worker.” Like that was a bonus, as if the man would otherwise slack because of being born black. I have no idea what caused his negativity about other races. It didn’t seem personal. His parents never acted that way. Their rural background likely didn’t involve much, if any, interaction with anyone other than white people. Maybe simple isolation took its toll on him.

My dad’s racist attitude and language overshadowed his other virtues. Being a hard worker who provided and care for his family didn’t weigh as heavy as the hatred and inconsistencies I witnessed. Someone who claimed, “Never think you’re better than anyone else,” was the same one who told us who could be our friends. I remember him saying, “Nobody is any better than you either, no matter how much money they have.” Such mixed messages.

He didn’t like Jews and gave running commentary on the nightly news, especially if it included the likes of Henry Kissinger or JFK, although he never gave a reason why. Astonishingly enough, I think he voted Democrat. We couldn’t watch video of Eddie Murphy’s comedy routine without a hateful diatribe if our dad walked into the room. Why demonize these people we didn’t even know?

It was personal for me. Veronica was my friend, and going to her house excited. Everyone welcomed me there. With its unique decorations and varied kitchen aromas (as in anyone else’s home), theirs was an average middle-class household. We lived on the north side of the railroad tracks that delineated the poorer side of town. Ironically, I crossed those tracks to go to Veronica’s house not five or six blocks further down the same street.

I came home afterward to report, “Mom, Veronica has three mamas. They all live at her house.” Looking back, I imagine extended family lived there. My mom made sure to explain that couldn’t be right, that they must be different.

Always different, never the same. Making folks different could keep us separate. Twenty-three years after his death I still wonder what stemmed my father’s antipathy.

I’m lucky to have learned a different way of living by moving to a bigger city and meeting individuals of all races, nationalities, religions and lifestyles. My own life experience is richer for it. I know people are ultimately just people.

Some of those people are good and others bad, regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, indifference exists in all human beings. A generation later, I could cross railroad tracks all over the country — or the world — and find the same wherever my wheels take me. But making it personal makes it better.

Photo: deer_je via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt: bonus

Studio30

With a sad spirit, these thoughts are dedicated to a transcendent artist now missed by the world – RIP Prince.

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