Tag Archives: juvenile delinquents

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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The Village Idiot

 Studio30

He would sometimes stop traffic on the Interstate highway by stepping in front of moving cars. Cars moving at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. That’s a helluva way to get attention. Donald Knopp was definitely an odd one. Solid of stature, wispy graying unkempt hair in not-quite-a-comb-over the only hint at his age, he was nondescript enough to be generally ignored.

One booth at McDonald’s practically had his seat imprint in its molded plastic, and he spent most of his other time at the public library or walking the streets of the small town where his parents raised him. All he knew was Marsburg, and his reputation preceded him with many of the townspeople there.

He’d strike up inappropriate conversations with complete strangers, ogle at women who didn’t know him from Adam, and scare children away in a fit of stranger danger. Everyone suspected he wasn’t quite “all there” but not in an innocent way. A trace of malevolence lingered just below the surface, and people ducked into storefronts to avoid him on the sidewalk and risk an uncomfortable interaction. Regardless of the stories, most folks though he was relatively harmless. One just never knows for sure.

Rumor had it his parents were first cousins and probably too old when he was born, those being the main reasons he was so strange. Some people said Donald was simply “cursed by birth.” The man had no social skill whatsoever, was a complete misfit, but not quite full-on mental. Getting along in society seemed even harder for him after his mother died, and he acted out in public more often. She’d arranged for a court-appointed guardian before her passing, but the social worker couldn’t always keep tabs on him.

And hooligans took full advantage of those disabilities.

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A colossal statue marked the final resting place of Colonel William Mars of the State’s historical and much revered 100th Cavalry, with the town founder’s stone likeness brandishing a bayonet atop a rearing stallion. The monument was where those boys once left Donald Knopp tied up overnight. Bored teenagers with a little too much St. Patrick’s Day cheer in them scooped Donald off the street and to the cemetery at the edge of the city park. They’d had enough drink that they considered their prank innocent fun and quite a humorous finding for the caretaker when he unlocked the gates at daybreak the next morning.

Donald hung there limp for hours, weather-beaten and tethered to the horse’s legs at the monument’s base. Quite cold upon discovery, having been exposed to the elements over an unusually cold March night, he sported a permanent limp from that time forward. In their inebriated celebration, the boys had shaken up their bottles and sprayed beer over his legs and feet in a contest of who had the best aim at his extremities. Hypothermia in Donald’s soaked limbs claimed several toes on one foot.

No telling who won the cruel competition, but the irony came as county taxpayers picked up the tab for the indigent man’s hospital bill, some of whom were undoubtedly the boys’ parents.

Knopp stomped along with his weight centered in the right leg and the other one dragging behind him, frightening little kids with such a striking resemblance to a modern-day Quasimodo. Adults stole a second glance to see if a giant wart covered his right eye.

Donald tried to move swiftly along and one step ahead of that annoying conservator. He haphazardly crossed the street wherever he pleased, feeling like all of Marsburg was his oyster, his new gait impeding traffic more than ever before.

*This post was part of a weekly prompt at Studio 30 Plus inspired by AB’s line cursed by birth.

(photo credit: “snow cemetery” via DerekL on Flickr)

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