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Unreliable Witness

internet-archive-book-imagesThat shabby little house sat back off the road behind trees limbs so dense they hid 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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Back-to-school Blues

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Bright magenta peonies with a tall sprig of ornamental grass sprouting from their center graced the corner of their neighbor’s lawn. Such a lush grouping never hinted a seasonal onslaught loomed so close in the distance. The assortment would dry and wither as autumn sucked away the nutrients supplying that color.

Cleve followed his big brother’s school bus all the way down the street as it passed the flora and left their neighborhood. He hated to see summer end and his older brother go back to school. His legs couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up with the vehicle, as it turned the corner and accelerated down the block. Marvin turned to wave through the back window.

The kid watched the bus fade into the distance and began to lose his balance from the sobs that began to rack his slim shoulders, their freckles barely starting to fade. Cleve put a bare foot down on the pavement before he wrecked and tumbled to the street. A crash of the aluminum frame joined the sound of Cleve’s crying as the bike fell to the ground. He lost himself to sadness and sat down heavily. Still wearing his thin summer pajamas, he shuddered in the chilled morning air.

Recent memories flashed through his young mind as he longed to be back at the swimming pool playing Marco Polo. Lakeshore rocks under his bottom while his fished with his brother felt better than the smooth concrete beneath him now. Sweltering games at the baseball diamond where Marvin made a double play only a few weeks ago differed greatly from the cooler temperatures already descending each evening. It all ended so quickly, and now the boy sat on the damp pavement of their quiet street with only a few birds trilling from treetops.

Cleve resented their cheerful music. “Shush,” he muttered half-heartedly.

He looked up from where he’d crumpled and saw his mother strolling up the block toward him, having watched her youngest son follow the yellow bus Marvin climbed aboard minutes prior. Kleenex appeared from her right pocket and a chocolate Pop-Tart from the other as she reached him. The boy never realized his mother’s power to produce a magical elixir when the situation called for it, but its soothing effect was not lost on him.

“Mom, I don’t want Marvin to be in second grade,” he told her and grabbed the woman around her calves, tears coming in a new torrent. “And I never want to go to school either – it’s stupid,” he declared. “I want to stay with you.”

She looked down into the well of his brown eyes and shook her head in pity, not wanting to quibble the details requiring this little one to join his brother on that bus next year. Her heart breaking for her son and with a sorrow she knew all too well herself, she replied, “I know, honey. I’ll keep you at home with me as long as I can.”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quibble

Studio30(photo: Eric E. Johnson via Flickr)

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