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via Episode 1 (Butterflies in the Garden): Danger Above by Vivian Munnoch

Episode 1:

Butterflies In The Garden

Danger Above

by Vivian Munnoch

 

jessa-crisp-08l8_ffsgje-unsplash-inverted

Photo by Jessa Crisp on Unsplash (edited by Vivian Munnoch)

The dully gleaming ebony feathers of the crow seemed to absorb the daylight into its black mass. The motionless bird stared unblinkingly at the motion below from its perch in a tree, looking more like its deceased and stuffed counterpart than a living creature.

Below him the little butterfly flitted weightlessly, bobbing on its wings over the flowers in the garden, oblivious to the danger above.

The crow blinked just once, the thin membrane moving across its cold emotionless eye a heartbeat behind the eyelid in a slightly off double motion. The bird tilted his head.

Spindly legs reaching, the little butterfly landed on a flower. Its wings moved slowly to some soundless rhythm. It tasted the air with its antennae, picking up only the sweet pollen of the flowers.

Feeling safe, the butterfly stilled its wings, letting them soak in the delightful warmth of the sun.

With slow languid motion, the crow spread his wings and took flight, his shadow passing on the ground below.

The fleeting shade was a cooling pulse across the insect’s back, the warmth returned as quickly. Only its antennae moved in response.

Landing soundlessly on a wooden post closer to the flowers, the crow ruffled his feathers and settled to watch the little butterfly.

 

More…  Episode 1 (Butterflies in the Garden): Danger Above by Vivian Munnoch

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What do you do when you just don’t know what to write?

 

It happens to all of us. Okay, maybe not to Stephen King (but it probably has at some point even if he won’t admit it), however it happens to the rest of us. You sit down to write and . . . your mind is blank. That’s where I came up with the idea for this subject. I couldn’t think of anything, so I decided to write about that.

 

But if you really wanted to write, you would just sit down and write. Right? If only it were that simple. The reasons for the blank mind syndrome are as varied as we writers trying to write are.

 

 

Perhaps the biggest culprit is self-doubt. Who hasn’t faced off to that one at some point? You might not even recognize this is the problem because self-doubt can be a sneaky thing. It is the anti-muse of a thousand wicked faces. You don’t know if you can do it. You question how to start, what to write. Will it be garbage? Will anyone like it or are you wasting your time? And those are only a few easily recognized symptoms of self-doubt.

 

No one is going to want to read it. No one will like it. Will even you like it? You doubt you’ll ever be published anyway, or find that ever elusive agent you need to get your work considered by the big publishing houses. You can give yourself any of thousands of excuses that all boil down to one simple thing . . . self-doubt.

 

 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Time is not on your side. We all get that. Life is busy. How many things are you juggling in your daily life? Full time or part time work; maybe both with two jobs. School, maybe both school and working; homework, studying, meetings, and volunteering. Family, extended family, friends, and pets. Household and life chores, running errands, and meeting your own basic needs.

 

Before you know it day after day has been sucked away and you haven’t had a chance to even think about writing. And, we all still need a little downtime to catch that favorite show, read a book, and just have a little bit of fun and time to unwind from the hectic everyday.

 

In the constant whirlwind of life it’s too often the just for you things like writing that get pushed back and left behind.

 

 

The story has stumped you. Fiction or nonfiction, prose, essay, short or long, whatever it is, sometimes it just stops us dead and can’t move forward. You can stare blankly at it all you want, but that inspiration just won’t come. Maybe you feel something is off, but cannot pinpoint what.

 

I always find that for me if it feels like something is off, then it turns out something is off. Maybe I need to delete the entire beginning, or it might work better moved much later in the story. Something somewhere is off track so the pieces just aren’t fitting together right like trying to force in puzzle pieces that don’t go there. Scenes need to be moved or removed, details expanded on, and bridge scenes created to fill in gaps in the story.

 

Twice I have taken the drastic step of actually tearing up and deleting an entire story, scrapping it completely because it was going nowhere. They still haunt me.

 

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

You’ve been away from writing for too long. It can be hard to get back into it after not writing for a while. You’ve been hit by the lack of time, and now it’s compounded with self-doubt. Or maybe life just got in the way and you sidelined writing. Whatever the reason you took an extended break, you feel like you haven’t written in so long that you forgot how.

 

Or maybe writing has been that dream you wanted to do, but just have not managed to actually start yet. Does that mean you are not a writer? No. In the dry technical term of the definition, you do actually have to write something to have written. But self identity is a powerful thing and is what drives you to be a writer. Think of the age old saga of the chicken and egg. The chicken must lay the egg to birth the chicken, but the chicken came from an egg laid by a chicken, so. . . Are you a writer because you felt like a writer and were driven to write? Or because you wrote, which you would not have done had you not been driven to it?

 

 

Regardless if you are having an extended dry spell, have yet to dip your toes into your dream of writing, or are facing off against the inability to make the words flow, the result is the same . . . you are not writing. So how do you get back into it? Or start in the first place? Let’s explore some tips.

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

Getting back into writing can be like riding a bike. You never really forget how, but you can feel pretty rusty at it and need to get back that sense of balance and relearn the comfort zone. That takes time and practice.

 

It doesn’t have to be good. Not everyone can write a carefully thought out perfectly planned and executed word by word draft of perfection. If they did, odds are pretty good they actually wrote and rewrote it over and over in their head before committing it to the proverbial paper. The magic of editing fixes all . . . later.

 

 

There is power in small. This is one of my favorite project tools. It’s the same trick I used when overdue schoolwork snowballed out of control for my kid in grade school, or when one of my kids is overwhelmed by the size of a large project. I also use it when I just can’t think what to write when trying to work on a novel, although it probably works better if you actually outline first. I write mostly long fiction. The whole project can be daunting.

 

It is also an effective tool to combat writer’s block in all its forms. Where to start? Start small.

 

Pick a scene. If you have to number scenes and draw a number from a hat, then do it. If it’s something more epic those numbered scenes can be a mix of scenes, locations, characters, peoples or creatures; or anything else. Whatever you picked you must write. Block out everything else to do with the story, write it and own it. Put everything you have into it and make it the best little piece of writing you can. If it doesn’t fit, you can fix that later with editing. You know you’ll be editing and revising it anyway.

Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash

 

You don’t have to write chronologically. So what if you can’t think of what to write in the next scene? Is it better to not write and mope over the next scene or keep writing? If you can write something, anything, then do it. Maybe you are on chapter two and the only inspiration is chapter 32. Go write that chapter 32 scene. The rest will fall into place in its time.

 

 

My favorite rule in writing is ‘break all the rules’. There is an overabundance of so-called ‘writing rules’. From the ‘proper’ writing rules of formal writing handed down by the generations before our time to new rules being invented on the fly, rules are everywhere. The one thing they all have in common is that in writing no rule fits every single situation.

 

Sometimes it’s our own perception of what the rules we are supposed to follow are that holds us back from writing. That ingrained fear of breaking a rule. What would our grade five English Language Arts teacher think of us? What would our mothers think? Oh, the horror.

 

Be a rebel. Get reckless. Break the rules. You are not writing a business letter to the CEO of your company or formal fifth grade essay on a book you don’t understand. You are creating literature art. Feel it and let the rules go. Nobody even has to know or read it. It can be our dark little secret. You decide when you are ready to let someone read it.

 

 

Schedule time to write. Ten minutes here, fifteen there, or multi-task it during waiting time. Everything else you do daily has at least a loosely planned schedule. You get up at a certain time to go to work or school. Meals are eaten around a certain time. Maybe you don’t really have anything to do during a spare or coffee or lunch break. Do it while you are waiting for the bus or during the bus ride. When I’m waiting for an hour during my kid’s boxing class, I’m sitting there writing or editing. Maybe you decide lunch on Tuesdays will be your writing block. Once you schedule it, stick to it. It becomes easier when it is habit.

 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Use writing prompts. They are useful when you want to write but don’t have a specific project. A prompt is a tool to get the writing juices flowing. There are scores of writing prompt tools online; everything from random title generators to first lines to subjects or pictures to write about.

 

The point of a writing prompt is to make you write something, anything, about something random. If you can’t get going, start by describing it in great detail, down to every last scuff, scratch, and imagined imperfections that may be hidden beneath the surface. How it must feel in the hand, its heft and balance. How it smells. How it makes you feel to look at it. Imagine who might have conspired to create such a thing; what might have motivated them. Who might have labored to build it? Who would buy it? For themselves or someone else? For pure purposes or mischief? How did it come to be right there in that spot, in that condition, perhaps abandoned or lost, or intentional?

 

 

Edit your work. So what if you haven’t finished writing it? Who cares how long it has ‘collected dust’? Just pick it up and start working through editing it. You have to anyway. Research any little thing. This gets your head back in the game and on the story or poem, or whatever you are writing. This trick doesn’t always work for me the first time I sit down to edit. It might be the third or fourth time, but inevitably the new story ideas start to flow.

 

 

Write something else. If you really are stuck, move on. Work on writing something else and keep that writing momentum going. Your nagging sub-conscious will probably be worrying at that other piece in the background. Go back and revisit the work you are stuck on. I have multiple WIPs going all the time.

 

 

L. V. Gaudet writing hat

Create a writing trigger.  You are entering dangerous territory. Really, you are. Call it a writing trigger, focal object, behavior modifier, your process or routine; or your ‘writing hat’. Anything that works goes, within reason. Let’s keep it legal. The point is finding something that flips that writing switch on, naturally or trained. Like a bedtime routine for toddlers, it switches your brain into writing mode.

 

Maybe it’s going through certain steps to settle in to write, using a particular object, or a certain place you write. Learning to flip that switch will turn on the writer’s brain and its creative juices on command.

 

The problem with this is dependency on an object, routine, or place. Whatever you trained yourself on, if you make yourself too reliant on it, you risk being unable to write without it. Like George Stark’s Berol Black Beauty pencil (Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Half’). Thad Beaumont was an anxious writer, so he invented the pen name George Stark and the writing switch (and Stark’s author ‘thing’ to make him famous), the Berol Black Beauty pencil. Without that very specific pencil, he could not be Stark and could not write like Stark. Unfortunately, because it is a Stephen King story, the fictional Stark became real and sought to terrorize and murder his creator, Thad. Hopefully your writing trigger doesn’t do the same. Fortunately, the Berol Black Beauty pencil does not exist today.

 

 

Get an accountability buddy. Also called a ‘nag’. I’m my own best and worst nag. It could be as simple as marking a deadline on a calendar or making a phone alert; it could be posting promises on your social media, or someone who will regularly ask you about your writing progress. The point is having that niggling in your head droning on at you, “Write . . . write . . . write.” How embarrassing to always have to say, “yeah, sorry. I didn’t write again this week.”

 

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

Just write. There is one tried and tested way to get out of that blank mind no writing funk. You have to find a way to write. It doesn’t matter how or when. It doesn’t have to be good. Just. Write.

 

Force yourself to sit down and write something. Anything. The more you make yourself write, the easier it will come. By making yourself write you can spur ideas. I started with *(blank)*, literally. I banged my head on the desk a few times (figuratively), tried to force an idea, and finally settled on, “Fine, I’ll right about not being able to write anything.”

 

I started writing that and as I did, ideas for other things came to me. Reasons for the mind block beget ideas. Thinking of how to break the cycle of being stuck beget more ideas. And now I have a list of other possible future topics. And whatever you are writing, when that other inspiration strikes note it down for later.

 

 

L. V. Gaudet Books:

Do you know #WhereTheBodiesAre?
Disturbing psychological thriller

Learn the secret behind the bodies.
Take a step back in time to meet the boy who will create the killer.

Everyone is looking for Michael Underwood. HMU picks up where the Bodies left off, bringing in the characters from The McAllister Farm.

Sometimes the only way to stop a monster is to kill it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden Grove project is a hotbed for trouble. Who wants to stop the development?

They should have let her sleep. 1952: the end of the paddlewheel riverboat era. Two men decided to rebuild The Gypsy Queen.

12 years ago four kids found something in the woods up the old Mill Road. Now someone found it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivian Munnoch Books (and Roxy the photobomb):

 

They heard noises in the basement.

They thought it was over. Then Willie Gordon disappeared.

It started with a walk in the woods … on a stupid boring no electronics and thank you very much for ruining my life camping trip. Madelaine’s life will never be the same.

Roxy aka The Big Dumb Bunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gypsy Queen

Coming Soon, a paranormal drama

Help.  I’m stuck.  I don’t know what to write.  My writing sucks.  How do I write better?  I hate my writing.  Nobody likes my writing.

“Help me write better.”  It is the clarion call of the writer.  It does not matter what form or words it takes.  The plea is the same and every writer has at least thought it at some point.  Many published authors still do.  How do I improve; make the reader love my story? How do I matter in the book world?

In the big picture, none of us truly matter.  Not really.  The world will go on and the reading world will fall in love with books and authors even if any one of the most famous author names never existed.

It is in the smaller picture that the author becomes something more.

It is that small moment, the brief smile on the reader’s face, the emotions they are moved to until they move on, that is what the author exists for.

We touch the lives of others in a way no one else can.  They are drawn into the worlds we create for them alone.  They feel what we tell them to feel.  Yearn for what we urge them to yearn for.  We make them laugh and cry, filling them with joy, fear, or sorrow at our whims.

How do you do this?

 

Feed your imagination.

Each moment feeds your imagination.  When you cannot put words to paper, observe how the world around you reacts to itself.  Everything is connected.  Every look, word, walk, thought… each thing matters.

Every moment touches the next and the one before.  A stranger’s mood is affected by the angry scowl or bright smile of another passing by them.

Emotions around you can be felt, as though their very scent fills the air to infect anyone near.  And perhaps it does on a level we are not aware of.

 

Allow no excuses.

“I can’t write because…”

Poppycock.  I love that word.  It’s an old out-of-use term from before my time.

Merriam-Webster defines the word as “Empty talk or writing: nonsense.”

It comes from the Dutch word pappekak, which translates to “soft dung”.

 

You make excuses because you don’t want to write.  Stop it.

  • I can’t write because I’m stuck at this place in my book.
  • I can’t write because if I write something else it will ruin what I am writing.
  • I can’t write because I can’t feel it.
  • I can’t write because I have writers’ block.

 

The list of excuses is endless and writers’ block is a self-induced syndrome of the mind.

 

You write.  Write always.

It doesn’t matter what you write.  Just write something.  No, not the grocery list.  Now you are just being silly.

There are limitless resources out there for word prompts or story prompts. If you don’t know what to write, use them.

Pick an item.  Any item in the room.  Imagine a story where it is the centerpiece of that story.  That item is the only witness to the events unfolding around it and has no voice to share what has seen except through you.

I started one with a simple single red mitten.  It ended with kidnapping and cannibalism, the single red mitten a metaphor for blood, abandonment, and loss.  Go figure.

A simple tin cup becomes a story of famine, survival, and both the terrible things people do and the goodness they hide within.

When an idea hits you, a thought for a scene, an image for a character or event, write it. It does not matter if it is for your story in progress or not.  Just write it.

There are two ways to improve your writing, just as there is to improve any other talent.  Learning and practicing.  You don’t learn to play an instrument without practice.  Only with practice can someone become a good artist.  In writing that means learning by reading good quality stories and practicing writing your own.

The more you practice writing, the better you will be.  So, write.  Always.  Write.  Write every day or as close to it as you can.

 

What you write matters.

There is no doubt about it. And if you hated playing Hot Cross Buns in music class, you are not alone.  But those few lines of music serve a purpose to teach you something important about how the song is composed.  And as lame as the song sounds, that repetition is the basis for what you will learn later.

The same goes for writing practice.

Just like those short music verses, writing short brings the point home.

Nothing teaches you to say more with less than flash fiction.  While the definition of flash fiction could be described as a story of 1000 words or less, the flash fiction E-zines take it who a whole new level where the challenge of shorter is better becomes the norm.  Flash fiction itself falls into categories from the longer stories of 1000 words or less stories, to shorter variations of micro fiction or postcard fiction.

Can you write a compelling story with relatable characters and defined plot in less than 500 words?  In less than 300?  Can you meet the 99 word challenge?

 

Short stories are the J. R. R. Tolkien of flash fiction.  Because it’s short, typically 1,000 to 7,500 words, you need to use a lot of what you learn writing flash fiction to write a compelling full-bodied short story.  Because, at over 1000 words, your readers will expect a complete story with all the elements and arcs of a novel-length story.

 

It is with the practice in the shorter stories that you will become ready to write a full-length novel that does not lag and lose your readers’ interest.

 

If the idea of writing a full-length novel scares you, start small and work into longer stories.  The more you practice, the easier it becomes.  Myself, I over write.  If my goal is 100,000 words, I will write 130,000.  Once I edit that down to 100,000, the story has become much more gripping, the reader flowing with the story without all the word clutter that always finds its way into earlier drafts.

 

Don’t be in a hurry to publish everything you write.

When that moment comes that an opportunity is there to submit a story, you don’t want to be dashing off a last minute story.  As painful as it might be, keep unpublished stories to yourself in a variety of lengths just for that reason.  If you are always writing, exploring new stories, new story matter, new genre variations, that won’t be a problem.

You will also be a much better writer for all those stories you explore.

 

The message is simple.  Write.  Always.  Write.

 

L.V. Gaudet, author of

The McAllister Series:

Where the Bodies Are

where the bodies areAre you ready to step into the twisted mind of a killer? What kind of dark secret pushes a man to commit the unimaginable, even as he is sickened by his own actions?

A young woman is found discarded with the trash, left for dead. More bodies begin to appear, left where they are sure to be found and cause a media frenzy.

The killer’s reality blurs between past and present with a compulsion driven by a dark secret locked in a fractured mind. Overcome by a blind rage that leaves him wallowing in remorse with the bodies of victim after victim, he is desperate to stop killing.

The search for the killer will lead to his dark secret buried in the past, something much larger than a man on a killing spree.

 

The McAllister Farm

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]Take a step back into time to meet the boy who will create the killer and learn the secret behind the bodies in Where the Bodies Are.

William McAllister is a private and reclusive man who does not like to have attention drawn on his family. His family history is as dark as the secret hiding in the woods.

Just as he begins to bring his troubled son into the family business, a serial killer starts preying on local young women. The McAllisters quickly find themselves drawn into the spotlight when the town decides William McAllister is the killer.

The attention is a threat to both William McAllister’s profession and his family. He has no choice but to find the killer himself.

He might not like what he learns.

 

Hunting Michael Underwood

Hunting_Michael_Unde_Cover_for_KindleThe third book in the series, Hunting Michael Underwood follows on the heels of book one, Where the Bodies Are, bringing the reader back to the present after a diversion to the past in The McAllister Farm. Hunting Michael Underwood brings these two stories and their characters together as the search for the killer continues.

Step deeper into the twisted mind of a killer as he slips further into madness.

Michael Underwood has vanished and everyone is searching for him. Detective Jim McNelly is determined to not stop until he finds him. Working with the detective, Lawrence Hawkworth is still chasing the bigger story he knows is behind the bodies. Jason McAllister knows he must stop the killer he created before he goes too far. He may be the only one who can stop him.

Unable to let go of his barely remembered past and the search for his sister, the killer goes looking for Jason McAllister’s past, and his family.

 

Killing David McAllister

Killing David McAllister (Coming)

Sometimes the only way to stop a monster is to kill it.  He has gone by many names, but he was raised as David  McAllister, and finding what he is looking for is not enough to quiet the darkness inside him.

 

 

Other Books:

Garden Grove

Garden Grove Cover - Amazon ebook - front coverWho wants to stop construction at the new Garden Grove residential development? Everyone, it seems. Garden Grove is a hotbed of complications from costly mistakes and petty vandalism to sabotage and the poisoning of the work crew.

While the construction crew struggles to stay on schedule, they face growing problems and, with them, a growing sense of unease.

A group of local housewives drawn into the growing mystery uncovers a secret that brings Garden Grove deeper into a new mystery connecting all the suspects.

When all attempts to have the site shut down permanently fail, two long time local elderly residents step up their own efforts. Each with their own family secrets, the pair of quirky old birds are pitted against each other and their longstanding family feud is brought to the boiling point.

The mystery deepens with the discovery of old human remains that have their own dark past recently planted at the jobsite.

 

The Gypsy Queen (coming soon)

The Gypsy Queen1952

When a young man with an enthusiasm for get rich quick schemes discovers an old abandoned paddle wheel river steam boat, he has dreams of the riches and glamour she will bring.

His best friend and unwilling business partner sees only rot, decay, and their ruination in the old boat.

Struggling to rebuild her, they are pitted against everyone from the Shipbuilders’ Union to the local casino boss. Meanwhile, strange accidents and a sense of dread falls on those who enter the boat as she awakens with a hunger for her ounce of blood.

The Gypsy Queen’s dark past will not be forgotten.

 

For the middle years grades check out:

The Latchkey Kids

The_Latchkey_Kids_Cover_for_KindleWhat would you do if you came home from school alone and heard noises in the basement?

Five kids, twelve and thirteen years old and on their own before and after school, each faces their own struggle. A broken home, illness, crushes, bullying, depression, absent parents, suicidal thoughts, broken friendships, and fear of being only a kid and home alone.

There is also the strange noises houses make when they are quiet and you are alone, particularly the noises in the basement.  Something is down there.

Madison, Andrew, Kylie, Anna, and Dylan are brought together by circumstances that feel overwhelmingly out of their control.  The temptation of exploring an old abandoned brick building, loneliness, and fleeing an attempted abduction, each is drawn to the old abandoned building for different reasons.

There, they will fight for their lives, where the monsters in the basement nest.

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Today is anti bullying day.

To help spread the word and in support of the movement to end bullying, I have written a short story.

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This is the story of Sarah Carpenter.

Sarah Carpenter is a teenager with a big problem.  She is being bullied.

With her low self esteem and the stress and helplessness of being a victim of bullying, Sarah has become a suicidal girl whose salvation comes through a promise not to kill herself if only she received a sign through a special gift sent to her in the waves

** All characters and events are fictional.

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Gift in the Waves

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It all changed the day I found the gift in the waves.  But that isn’t what this story is about.

This story is about how I got there.

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If you asked Sarah Carpenter why she felt so unhappy all the time she wouldn’t tell you.  Sarah didn’t know why.

You see, Sarah was depressed and depressed people don’t always know why they feel that way.

Sarah was a suicidal girl whose salvation came through a promise not to kill herself if only she received a sign through a special gift sent to her in the waves.

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That’s me, Sarah Carpenter, the most despondent teenager in town, and this is my story.

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The alarm clock buzzed and Sarah rolled over with a groan, slapping blindly at the clock until she managed to hit the snooze button.

She didn’t get the chance to snooze.

“Sarah, get up.  Let’s go,” her mother called impatiently from the doorway.

“Ugh, five more minutes,” Sarah moaned.  She felt like hell, she was so tired and she hated getting up early.

“Now Sarah!  We have to be out of here in thirty minutes,” her mother said.  Her voice was full of stress.  It always was in the mornings.

Sarah heard her mother leave the room, rushing about to toss stuff together.

Her eyes opened a crack, the glaring orange light of the clock told her it was only six-thirty.

“Stupid early dance class,” Sarah muttered, dragging herself out of bed.  “Just once I wish I could sleep late on a weekend like everyone else.”

Sarah’s life was a parade of moving about from one place to another, school, soccer, baseball, and dance.  She hated them all, but her parents apparently thought the activities would make her a better person.

By the time Sarah was dressed and racing down the stairs her mother was already in the car honking the horn at her to hurry up.

Sarah thought that was very rude.

That the neighbors might be sleeping and disturbed by the horn was just one of many things that never seemed to occur to her mother.  She was too busy rushing everywhere to stop and think about it.

Sarah settled into the car and closed her eyes for the drive, imagining that she was sleeping with the whole day to do nothing else.

The motion of the car would have been soothing if she hadn’t seen her mother’s frantic driving with her eyes open.

The car zipped through traffic, in and out of lanes as her mother jockeyed for position as if she were in a race instead of just going to ballet class. A horn honked as a driver made a rude gesture, angry at being cut off.

They were barely in the dance studio when her mother was already on her phone on a business call, completely ignoring Sarah.

She never stopped working.

Her parents were busy and successful in their careers.  Unfortunately that also meant they didn’t have a whole lot of time for Sarah or her siblings.  They made up for it by buying them a bunch of stuff all the time.

Sarah would rather have a better family.

Sarah survived her class, muddling through pliés and frappés while the teacher glared disapprovingly at her lack of effort.

The other girls huddled and giggled, giving sly looks towards her.

Sarah knew they were gossiping about her.  They always did and it was never anything nice.

After dance were soccer practice and a baseball game.

Soccer wasn’t any better.  Margaret Mansfield tripped her on purpose and half the team laughed at her.  At baseball they put her far out in the left field where she mostly just stood around waiting for the time to pass.  When it was her turn at bat, she got hit with the ball and did nothing but strike out.

When they finally got home Sarah slouched off to her bedroom and closed the door, relieved to finally be alone and away from the comments and looks from all the other kids and the endless chatter of her mother on the phone.

 Sarah was an average teenager with an average family and an average life.  Nothing eventful happened in her life and she preferred it that way.

Like any teenager, nothing ever seemed to go Sarah’s way.  Everyone in her parents circle told her she was pretty, but she didn’t agree.  If she was, she would have more friends like her sister and brother.

She had two brothers and a sister who all seemed to be better at everything than her.

Sarah didn’t really like any of her siblings either.

Her older brother Jordan, the oldest of the siblings, was the family hero.  He was the best at everything, did everything right, was handsome, and everyone was supposed to be just like him.

Her older sister Carrie was taller, prettier, and dressed right.  She was popular and the best boys in school followed her around like puppy dogs.

And then there was Sarah’s younger brother Trenton, the youngest of the bunch.  He was flat out a pest and pain in her rump.  He got anything he wanted by throwing tantrums and always got into her stuff and wrecked it.

Sarah disliked him the most.

But not as much as she hated herself.

She could hear her family off in the house doing whatever they were doing and hoped they would just leave her alone.

With a heavy sigh she grabbed her MP3, plugged the ear buds into her ears, and turned it on, music instantly crashing into her eardrums.

Sitting at her computer, Sarah clicked it on and waited for it to boot up.  She decided to check out her social networking sites first.

Within minutes Sarah wished she hadn’t.  The comments streaming through her feed were peppered with mentions of her, none of it flattering.

“Sarah U R So LAME!” Margaret messaged for everyone to see.

Sarah’s stomach suddenly hurt.  She felt like her heart was sinking right down below her achy stomach.

After that the comments just got nasty.  Before Sarah closed the site Margaret and a few other girls promised to beat Sarah up at school Monday.

“Great!” Sarah muttered.  “Another thing to look forward to.”

Margaret and her friends have been bullying Sarah all year.  They made up mean stories about her, spread hurtful rumors, and were always waiting for her to hurt or embarrass her.

Sarah had tried complaining about it.  She told her parents and they talked to Margaret’s and the other girls’ parents.  She told the teachers at school and her parents talked to the principal.

But telling only made the bullying worse.  Nothing seemed to happen to the bullies and they came after her worse every time she told, punishing her for telling.

Sarah stopped telling anyone.  It was just easier that way.

“Sarah, supper!” her brother Trenton called, opening the door and slamming it closed too hard.

She took her time going downstairs for supper.  She was hungry, but didn’t feel much like eating.

Sarah sat mutely picking at her dinner.

It was the usual dinner conversation.

Jordan and her father bragged about Jordan’s wonderful exploits.

Carrie and her mother talked about shopping and fashions and how fabulous Carrie would look in this and that.

Trenton goofed and burped and farted, interrupting everyone’s conversations with his inane laughter over how funny he was.  He managed to get his elbow in Sarah’s food and seemed to annoy nobody except Sarah.

Sarah quickly lost her appetite and sat there pretending to eat, moving the food on her plate around with her fork until enough time had lapsed that she could ask to be excused.

Nobody noticed how little she’d eaten as she skulked off with her plate to scrape it and put it to be washed.

It was Sarah’s job to clean up after supper.  She started on the task right away so she could get it done and go back to sitting in her room alone.

.

Done with washing the dishes at last, Sarah went up to her room.

She froze in the doorway, staring in horror at her bed.

There, in a tattered mess of torn pages blotched with fat ugly marks from a felt marker, was her diary.

Tears welled in Sarah’s eyes and she clenched her fists at her side in fury.

“TRENTON!” she screeched.

Footsteps thudded through the house, approaching as she stepped in on wooden legs, staring at the mess.

The clasp locking the diary was snapped right off the pressed cardboard book cover.

“What happened?!  What’s all the yelling about?!” her father called as he rushed into the room.  Mother, Jordan, Carrie, and Trenton were hot on his heels.

Jordan craned to see past his father, snickering at the sight of the mangled diary.

Carrie gasped and then smothered a giggle behind her hands.

Mother gave Trenton a look.  He didn’t have the decency to look guilty.

Father glared at Sarah, angry at her outburst.

“He destroyed my diary,” Sarah cried, the tears stinging her eyes beginning to flow despite her attempts to keep them at bay.

“It’s just a book!” Father snapped.  “We’ll buy you a new one.  It wasn’t worth shrieking about!”

But it wasn’t just a book.

This was her diary, her only confidant, and where she hid all her deepest secrets.

It was more than the destruction of a part of her.

What if Trenton had read it?!

The thought horrified Sarah beyond what words can explain.

“Clean up the mess,” Mother said more gently than Father’s accusing tone.  “We’ll buy you another one.”

As if that would make it better.

“I don’t want another one!”  Sarah stamped her foot in frustration and hurt feelings.  “I want this one!”

Everyone filed out except Trenton who stayed back just long enough to wait until no one would see and he had a clear escape path.

He pulled a fistful of pages out of his pocket, making sure Sarah saw them.

“Sarah’s got a secret,” he sang mockingly.

Sarah’s eyes widened and she screeched like a wild beast, leaping after her little brother.

Trenton squealed and ran down the hallway, pounding down the stairs so fast he almost slide down them.

Sarah almost caught him twice.

She didn’t know what she would do when she did, but tearing him limb from limb felt like a pretty good idea.

Sarah stumbled on the stairs, catching herself on the railing as she fell and getting carpet burn on one knee.

She looked up to see her parents standing at the bottom of the stairs looking angry.

Trenton hid behind them looking smug.

.

Grounded!

Sarah couldn’t believe it.  Trenton was the one who wrecked her diary, stole pages from it, and teased her, causing all the trouble.  And she was the one grounded!

Sarah knew she’d be in even more trouble if they knew she was on the computer, but she was so angry that she was beyond angry.

She felt hollow and empty.  Her eyes still burned with the tears that had run out and her jaw ached.  Her whole head felt stuffed with cotton and her nose wouldn’t stop running.

Sarah was searching the internet for ways to kill herself.

It wasn’t the first time.  She thought about it every day.

“Tomorrow,” she whispered.  “Tomorrow I’ll do it and they’ll all be sorry.”

She knew she would go to Hell.  But she was going to Hell anyway.

Her parents dragged them all to church every Sunday morning.

Tomorrow morning she would be sitting awkwardly in the uncomfortable wooden pew in her Sunday best, feeling small and insignificant in the grand and gaudily decorated building, while the priest commanded them to sit, stand, sing, and chant on cue with a gesture of his hand in between lecturing them on God.

She always felt like he was telling them nobody was worthy of God or Heaven and they were all going straight to Hell unless they smartened up.

.

Sunday morning dawned and it was off to church.

Sarah followed her family sullenly, wishing she was anywhere else.

Some of the girls snickered behind their hands, giving Sarah looks that suggested she was funny in an Elephant Man kind of way.  Of course, Margaret was right in the middle of them.

Sarah sat through the endless sermon, not paying attention and turning red with embarrassment when she was caught still sitting seconds after everyone else had stood and started chanting on cue.

Her mother glared at her.  The look said how much of an embarrassment Sarah was to her family.

Sarah wished she would be absorbed into the wooden pew like the gas the old man sitting behind her kept passing.

After church Sarah had to go play a soccer game.  Her father drove her there impatiently and stood on the sidelines looking annoyed that he had to be there.

“Well, I didn’t ask to be signed up for soccer,” Sarah muttered, feeling like he was blaming her for making him waste his time there.

During the game Margaret kicked Sarah in the shin, shoving her down at the same time, and stomped on her ankle with her soccer cleat, drawing blood.

Margaret’s friends snickered at Sarah as she limped off the field.

Margaret and Sarah exchanged looks as she limped by.  Sarah’s was shell-shocked and Margaret’s was smug.

Once home after soccer, Sarah snuck out and wandered off to the nearby beach.  Her house was only a short jog from the ocean.

She wasn’t supposed to leave the house since she was grounded, but her parents were always too busy to notice.

Sarah’s feet slipped and sank as she struggled to walk along the sandy shore line. Even the sand seemed to be trying to knock her down.   Seaweed and other refuse from the ocean was pushed up and up the shore as each wave came in to give it a shove as if the sea were just too tired of it all and couldn’t put any real effort into it.

“I know how you feel,” she said to the ocean.  Sarah felt tired of it all too, like pushing that gunk up the beach was just too much effort.

She plopped down on the sand and just sat there for a while watching the waves and the seagulls.  Clouds tracked slowly across the sky, playing peek-a-boo with the sun.  The sun warmed her when it peeked out, then the breeze cooled her when the sun hid.

“If I just swim out far enough the undertow will take me so far out into the ocean that nobody will ever find me,” she told the waves.

The idea of drowning didn’t really scare Sarah.

She nodded.

“Yes, that’s what I’ll do,” she said, nodding as if the matter were decided.  “I’m going to drown myself.  Today.”

Sarah just sat there and didn’t move.

She imagined everyone’s reactions to her death.

Most of them wouldn’t care at all.

Margaret would be happy.  She’d probably brag to everyone that she did it.

Her family wouldn’t care at all.  Hell, her parents probably wouldn’t even notice she was missing.

Well, Trenton would care, she mused.  He’d be happiest of all.  He wanted her computer and MP3 really badly.  If she died, he would get to have them.

“I should take them with me,” Sarah thought.  She pictured herself struggling through the sand, awkwardly carrying the bulky computer to take them out into the ocean with her.

She almost laughed at herself just seeing how silly it would look.

Her mirth was short lived.

The sadness came over her again, filling her with emptiness.

“I’m just a hollow nobody,” she thought.

Sarah sat for a long time, not thinking or feeling much of anything, trying to not think or feel at all.

It was useless.  She felt like she was so useless, so hopeless.

“No wonder nobody likes me,” Sarah said sadly.

She felt even smaller and more insignificant against the vast sky and ocean.  She was a speck of sand on the beach and nothing more.

She felt like God was up there, his back turned to her, ignoring her.

“Even God doesn’t care,” she sighed.

.

On Monday Sarah went to school.  She slinked all the way there, watching for Margaret and her friends, desperately hoping they wouldn’t see her.

She made it to school safely and didn’t see Margaret or her friends until she was heading to her third period class.

Sarah squeezed between bodies in the crowded hall, watching and alert for the first sign of danger.

She staggered from a painful blow to her back.

At the same time a fist crashed into her from nowhere, sending her books flying out of her arms, one smacking her painfully in the nose.  Something also struck her legs, knocking her off balance.

She staggered, trying to get her footing, but couldn’t seem to control her feet.  Something blocked them.

Sarah tipped and fell to the floor with a thud and the raucous laughter of half the school.

She watched helplessly as her books were kicked around the hallway.

Sarah’s face reddened and her eyes welled with tears.  She wasn’t sure, but she thought she might have even gotten a paper-cut on one eye when her book hit her.

For the moment Sarah didn’t feel invisible.

She felt like the whole world saw her.

She wished she was invisible.

The bell rang and the hallway cleared quickly.

Sarah got up painfully, rubbing her bruised knee, and searched for her scattered books.

She couldn’t find them all.  She would be in trouble.

Sarah was late for class and tried to slip into the room unnoticed.

The teacher missed nothing.

Sarah tried to disappear into herself as her teacher scolded her in front of the whole class and threatened her with detention for being late.

Her face burned and her stomach hurt.

.

Almost the last class of the day was gym.  Sarah hated gym more than any other class.

She felt useless and humiliated by her pathetic attempts at whatever activity the teacher punished the class with that day.

And Margaret and her friends were always there too, making fun of her and everything she did.

At the end of gym class, Sarah tried to hide in the locker room as she changed back into her regular clothes.

She was awkwardly struggling with her pants when she heard them.

Margaret and her friends were somewhere in the change room, laughing.

Sarah froze, her veins turning to ice as dread washed through her.

She felt like she would throw up.

“Hurry, hurry,” she muttered to herself, rushing to get her pants on and finding it suddenly nearly impossible.

And then they were on her.

With one pant leg around her calf and her other foot trapped in the opening of the other leg, Margaret and her friends swooped down on Sarah like a pack of cackling hyenas.

They grabbed her, pushing and dragging as she fought against them, her struggles useless against their overpowering numbers.

The girls dragged Sarah and shoved her through the door into the open gym.

She fell on the floor with an ungainly plop, her legs still trapped in her pants legs.

Everyone who was leaving stopped and stared.

Sarah was horrified.  They were all staring at her in her panties!

She stared back, her mouth working but nothing coming out.

The looks she got ranged from amusement to shock to stunned expressions.

Sarah wished with everything she had that she were dead, that she just never even existed.

Her face twisted with despair and she managed to get to her feet and hobble clumsily to the change room.

Sarah pulled up her pants and hid in the furthest corner, waiting for everyone else to leave.

The embarrassment was too much.  The whole school would be talking about this for the rest of the year.

Worse, the boy she had a crush on had been there too.  The stunned look on his face was like a blow to her heart, crushing it.

She missed her last class, hiding in the gym locker room through the entire period.

Sarah looked at everything she saw, imagining all the ways she could kill herself right then and there.

She felt like she was broken.  Sorrow and despair filled her until it hurt so bad she couldn’t believe the pain didn’t kill her.

When the bell to go home rang Sarah still sat there, huddled into herself.

She was too embarrassed to leave.

She was also afraid.

Margaret and her friends were still going to beat her up today.  They’d promised.

But if she didn’t go she’d be locked into the school over night.

At last Sarah skulked out of the change room, leaving the school by a side door and not even bothering to try to get her books.

She walked stiffly home; sure that everyone on the street was staring at her.  The hot flush of embarrassment on her cheeks would not go away.

A bus came barreling up the road, driving fast, its hulking mass unstoppable.

Just as the bus was passing by Sarah leapt out in front of it.

Pain exploded through her as the front grill slammed into her, breaking all her bones.  She fell to the pavement with a wet sound and the bus wheels rolled over her even as they screeched with the stink of burning rubber as they driver braked to stop the bus.

She was dead before she hit the pavement.

The blaring horn of the bus snapped Sarah out of it and the bus swerved as it careened past her.

She looked up in mute shock.  She was standing on the edge of the road.

She had not jumped in front of the bus after all, but had wandered too close to the road while lost in her daydream about killing herself.

Sarah flushed in embarrassment at the stares from the people around her and she scurried off for home.

.

Sarah didn’t go straight home.

She would be in trouble when she got there.  The school was sure to have called about her skipping class.  She would have to explain and the thought of telling her parents what Margaret and her friends did was almost as bad as living through it again.

Sarah went instead to the beach to watch the waves.

She sat there staring at the water in its endless tired attempts to push the seaweed up the sand.

A broken little crab struggled in the sand, a victim of a hungry seagull.

Sarah felt just like that little crab.

Empty and broken and floundering in the sand.

“Why me?” she sobbed, wanting an answer she would never get.

Sarah felt more than ever like killing herself right then and there.

She picked up a broken sea shell.  The flat shell was missing the other half.  Its broken edge was jagged and sharp.

Sarah sawed at her arm, slicing through the skin and bringing up a flow of red liquid.

She sawed at the other wrist until it bled too.

She watched in fascination as the liquid dripped into the sand and was immediately soaked in.

She grew sleepy and weak until she was no more.

Sarah opened her eyes.

She had dozed off.

She looked down at her wrists.

She held the jagged broken shell in one fist.

The other arm was scratched, but not bleeding.

Sarah sobbed piteously, letting herself be carried away on a crashing wave of sorrow.

The broken little crab was gone and that made her feel more alone than ever.

Sarah looked off into the horizon where the sky vanished into the ocean.  The setting sun filled the sky with colors that reflected off the water.

“Even the sky is bleeding,” she whispered. “So why can’t I die too?”

She looked up sadly to the heavens above.

“Please God,” Sarah begged.  “Just let me kill myself.  Or do it for me so I don’t have to go to Hell.  Please just let me die.”  She sobbed harder.

As much as Sarah wanted to die, she was afraid.

She wasn’t afraid of dying.

She was afraid of going to Hell and burning and being tortured forever.

“I’m already in Hell,” she sobbed.  “Isn’t Margaret and her friends’ punishment enough?”

Sarah thought about her problem.  Then she had an idea.

“I’ll make you a deal God,” she said, feeling defiant against this omnipotent being who refused to listen or care about her problems; this creature who had banished everyone to be punished for not being good enough for him.

“If I’m not good enough for Heaven and I’m going to Hell anyway, then it doesn’t matter if I kill myself or not.  I’m going to Hell either way.”

“I’m going to kill myself unless you give me a sign – tonight.  Send me a special gift in the waves to show me that I’m good enough for you, and maybe I won’t kill myself.”

“Do you hear me?!” she yelled to the sky.  “I’m going to kill myself tonight!  I’m going to swim out until the waves take me away forever!”

Sarah put her head in her arms and sobbed like she’s never sobbed before.  She cried until the tears ran dry and she felt like she was floating on nothing but the emptiness that filled her.

She sat there for a very long time.

The sun set and the moon crept across the sky, its reflection dancing on the waves.

Sarah gave up waiting.

God wasn’t listening.  Nobody ever did.  Not her parents, not her teachers, nobody.

There would be no special gift in the waves, no sign.

Sarah got up and stood on the edge of the water, the cool waves lapping at her feet.

She braced herself for what was to come.

The water would be cold.

And then she saw it.

Something dark bobbed in the water.  It broke the moon’s reflection; otherwise Sarah never would have seen it.

She gasped and started wading towards it.

It bobbed and moved with the waves as she approached it.

“What is it?” Sarah asked the ocean.

When she got close enough Sarah reached out, gripping it in her finger tips.

It was too heavy and big.

She waded closer.

It was getting pretty deep and the waves were knocking her around, almost pulling her off her feet.

Sarah felt herself getting sucked out by the waves, dragged further away from shore.  She had to fight against the waves that didn’t want to let her go.  It was harder because she was determined to not lose whatever was floating in the water.  She almost lost the object and at one point was sure she was about to drown, that God was answering her by doing the job for her.

Suddenly Sarah didn’t want to die, not just yet.

Sarah got a better grip the object and pulled it to her, dragging it along as she struggled for shore.

She was halfway back to shore before she realized what it was.

“TRENTON!” Sarah screamed, frantically pushing harder for shore, dragging the inert form behind her.

She almost lost her footing when a bigger wave crashed into her, pulling at her, trying to suck her and her brother out into the ocean.

Sarah kept screaming.

‘HELP!  SOMEBODY HELP ME!  TRENTON!” she screamed over and over.

When she finally made shore, she dragged the lifeless body out of the water, dropping him on the sand.

Desperate and not knowing what to do, she rolled him roughly onto his side, pounding on his back like she’d seen in a movie.

Water gushed out of the boy’s open mouth.

Her mother came running down the bank of sand, screaming.

Distant shouts echoed across the beach and lights bobbed.

Hands pulled her off her brother.

Sarah fought them off, grabbing for him, trying to pound the water out and the air in.

She finally sagged weakly to the sand sobbing as she realized it was people trying to help her brother.

“He must have gone looking for you,” her mother sobbed.  “He must have ended up in the water.”

“Oh God, please don’t let him die,” Sarah wailed.  “Please, I’ll do anything.  I won’t kill myself.”

Weak coughing sounds came from the drowned boy and then his whole body convulsed with hacking coughs as his body tried to rid itself of the water he had swallowed into his stomach and lungs.

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One day, for a lark, I decided to play with a random title generator online.  I clicked the button a number of times, flipping lists of randomly generated titles faster than I could read them.  Then, I picked the three best titles on the list, picked one of those three, and started writing to see what would come of it.

This story is the result.

Stones in the Ships

By L. V. Gaudet

© January 28, 2010

     The wet sound of waves lapping against waves danced with the wind in a unique chorus.

     The world bobbed and rocked drunkenly.  It was dark and dank, reeking of an old dampness that never dried out.  It was the utterly unique odor that only trillions of gallons of water sitting forever in a cesspool of life and rotting detritus being eaten and defecated out by billions of creatures for a couple billions of years could have.

     The cry of a solitary gull that had winged its way much too far from land pierced the air.

     A distant buoy clanged.

     “What are you doing?” a boy’s voice sneered.

     Instantly, the real world crashed back.

     The girl didn’t look up.  She didn’t need to.  She knew who the boy was, and who the other boys that would be with him were too.  She stayed motionless, squatting with her bum barely off the ground, leaning slightly forward, and just stared at her little boats.  They were crude creations of paper and sticks and bits of string that barely resembled boats.  She’d made them herself.

     “What are those supposed to be?” another boy said, his voice full of meanness.  “Boats?!”

     He laughed.  It wasn’t a fun laugh.

     “You’re a girl,” the boy said it like an insult.  “Girls don’t play with boats.”

     “Yeah,” a third boy added.  “Girls don’t play with boats.  Go find your doll-ies.”  This last was sung in a nasty way.

     Tears stung the girl’s eyes, threatening to flow.  She made a conscious effort to hold them back.  Crying would only make the boys worse.

     The boys had circled her, standing over her very close, their shadows chilling her with more than their shade.

     The first boy, Trevor, stomped on her little paper boats, grinding them into the mud of the shallow little puddle they almost floated on.

     Brian “Buster” Brogan and Oscar mimicked his mindless guffaw.

     One of the boys shoved her roughly as they walked away, making her fall in the mud.  Laughing, they went off in search of other victims.

     Laindra looked down at her muddy shorts and legs, then at her boats, now little more than soggy torn paper scraps and broken twigs.  Her face twisted into sadness and the tears flowed down her cheeks.

     A man stepped from the trees.

     “I saw what those boys did,” he said.  “It wasn’t very nice,”

     “They’re mean,” Laindra sobbed, staring at the ruined boats.

     “Let’s see what you have there,” the man said, plucking a soggy paper scrap from the mud.  He looked at it, puzzled.

     “It’s a boat,” Laindra said without looking up at him.

     “Hmm, a boat, huh?”

     “Yeah,” she whispered.  She looked up at the man, and then stood up, shifting her feet nervously.

     “Um, I have to go.  I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”  She ran off down the trail away from the creek she’d been playing beside.

     The man watched her go.  When she disappeared from sight he went too, going the same way he had come, past the trees.

     The next day Laindra was back playing beside the creek.  It was her favorite place to play.  It was usually quiet here.  Nobody, not even her mother, knew she came here.  Well, now those mean boys knew.  She hoped they wouldn’t come back.

     It had rained during the night, and the little puddle had grown wider and deeper.

     She squatted next to the puddle, gently putting the new boats she had made in it.  This time the puddle was deep enough for them to float.  The breeze blew the boats slowly to the puddle edge nearest Laindra.  She blew on them, sending them back the other way.  Too soon the little boats made of paper, twigs, and bits of string became soggy and fell apart.

     She sighed.  The boats never lasted long.  Still, she loved them.  She would remake them again, float them again, imagine life on the sea in them, and watch them grow soggy and fall apart.

     They made her feel closer to her dad.  He had always loved boats, always worked on and with boats, and was often gone for months at a time on a boat.  He had been lost at sea on one of a number of ships that had been rolled and sunk by storm tossed waves.  Her mother was convinced it had to be more than just waves to sink the ship her dad was on, but it was a very bad storm.

     “Did the boys break your boats again?”

     Laindra looked up.  It was the man again.

     “No, they always fall apart.”

     Then her eyes widened and she stared at what the man held.  She was on her feet in a flash, drawn to the man, reaching out a tentative hand, wanting badly to touch.

     He held it out to her.

     “It’s ok,” he said.  “Go ahead and touch it.”

     “It’s beautiful,” she whispered, gently running her fingers along the graceful curve of the wooden ship’s hull.

     “I made it myself,” the man said proudly, “in my workshop just on the other side of those trees.”

     Her face beamed with obvious longing.

     She would need both of her little hands to hold the sleek ship.  Its two masts stuck out proudly, the sails carefully rolled and tied to the beams, ready to be unfurled with the tug of a string.

     “You can have it,” the man said.

     Laindra’s eyes grew even wider.  She stared up at the man in awe, her arms twitching with the desire to take the ship.

     She looked away shyly.

     “I-I can’t,” she said quietly.

     “Sure you can.  I want you to have it.”

     “I have to ask my Mom.”

     The man stared at the boat thoughtfully for a while, and then looked at the young girl.

     “You are probably right,” he sighed.  “Your Mom probably wouldn’t understand.”

     “It’s so beautiful,” the girl said longingly.  “I couldn’t take it anyway.  You worked too hard on it.”  She drew nervous patterns in the dirt with the toe of her shoe.

     “Why don’t you make your own?” the man said.

     She looked at him like he had corn silk growing out of his ears.

     “I’m just a little kid,” she stated the obvious.

     “I could help you.  Whenever you have time, you could come to my workshop.  We’ll build it together.”

     She knelt down, picking at the sodden mess of her paper boats, making a point of not looking at the man.

     “I can’t.”

     “Why not?”

     “I don’t know you.  I shouldn’t even be talking to you.  I’m not allowed to talk to strangers.”

     “I’m not really a stranger anymore.  I think we’ve kind of gotten to know each other.  You know my workshop and house are just on the other side of the trees, and I know your house is just over the little hill.  We’re neighbors.”

     She dared a quick glance at him, and then returned to staring at the remains of her paper boats.  She really wanted a wooden ship like the man’s, badly.

     “I’m Mr. Collins.  Mr. Jeffrey Collins,” he said.  “But since we’re going to be friends, you can call me Jeff.  What is your name?”

     “Laindra,” she whispered, keeping herself at a safe distance from the man.

     “Well hello Laindra,” he motioned as if shaking her hand.  “I am very pleased to meet you.”

     “I-I have to go.”  She hurriedly got up and ran off in the direction of home.

     Mr. Jeffrey Collins, Jeff to his friends, went back through the trees towards his own home and workshop.

     The next day Laindra was back at the creek with her little paper boats.  This time Mr. Collins was already there, floating his elegant wooden ship in the creek.

     She took a spot some distance away, making a point of trying not to look at the man and his boat.  Before long the little paper boats grew soggy and fell apart.  Then Laindra turned to other games while surreptitiously watching the man with his wooden ship.  As soon as he tried to talk to her, Laindra ran off home.

     They repeated this ritual day after day.

     Sometimes the man brought a different boat.

     Sometimes the mean boys came and tried to tease her.  They quickly learned it was best to just turn around and quietly leave when Mr. Collins was there.

     Laindra stopped bringing her sad little paper boats to the creek.  That was exactly what she thought of them now, sad.  But it wasn’t just the pathetic little creations of paper, twigs, and bits of string that made them sad.  It was what they represented too, the desperate longing for a father she missed terribly.

     And then one day Mr. Collins wasn’t there.

     Laindra looked up and down the creek, but he wasn’t there.  She waited, and waited.  No Mr. Collins.

     Jeffrey Collins stood in his workshop, an old barn converted to a workshop, carefully studying a large chunk of driftwood.  He turned it this way and that, inspecting it from every angle.  Bright sunlight from the open large barn doors flooded the workshop, dust motes danced in the light beams.

     He turned at the slight sound of a scrape by the door.  He smiled.

     “Well, hello there young lady.”

     Laindra stood nervously in the doorway.

     “Have you finally come to help me build your boat?”

     She nodded hesitantly.

     “Well come in then, come in.”  He waved her forward with a friendly manner.

     “Come see,” he urged.  “This here is your boat.”  He proudly held out the chunk of driftwood for her to see.

     She looked at the ugly gnarled chunk of dead wood in confusion, and then looked at Mr. Collins as though he had just sprouted squirrel tails from his head.

     “Oh, I know it doesn’t look like a boat now.”  He caressed the chunk of wood as though it was the elegant smooth side of a boat like the other one that Laindra so desired.

     Drawn by curiosity, she stepped forward.

     “Driftwood is the best wood for making a boat,” he said, ignoring the girl as he studied the wood.  “A driftwood boat can never sink.  It has lived a good life, died a proper death, and cast itself out to sea because the tree just knew that was where it was meant to be, a natural sailor.  Old sailors’ tales are full of the belief that sailors are trees that became driftwood, reincarnated of course.”

     By now the girl was holding the driftwood in her own little hands, looking at it with careful awe.  She was amazed at how much lighter it was than she had expected it to be.  A chunk of wood that big should have weighed much more.  It was still kind of heavy, but not so that she’d have trouble lifting it.

     “Well, let’s get to work,” Mr. Collins grinned eagerly, rubbing his hands together.

     He helped Laindra put the driftwood in a clamp, his larger hands covering her little ones completely as he helped hold it in place and helped her turn the rod to close the clamp securely on the would-be boat.

     He laid out tools, explaining what each would be used for.

     With strong and gentle hands Jeffrey Collins guided the young girl as she slowly drew the boat forth from the chunk of driftwood.  They talked as they worked.  The afternoon wore on, the sunlight grew old, and a slight dimness began to invade the workshop.

     Laindra suddenly noticed the change in light and looked up startled.

     “What time is it?” she asked urgently.

     “Oh, you’re going to be late for supper aren’t you?  You’d better hurry along.”

     She looked at the driftwood longingly.  It didn’t look like anything yet, but in her imagination she could see through its twisted bulk to the sleek hull hidden within it.

     “We can finish it another day.  It will take days to do it properly anyway.”

     Laindra turned and scampered for the door.

     “Um, Laindra,” Jeffrey said hesitantly.

     She stopped, turning and looking at him expectantly.

     “Uh, maybe we shouldn’t tell your Mother about this just yet.”  He cleared his throat.  “Um, about the boat and about us, our friendship.”  He paused.  “She might not understand.”

     Laindra thought about this a moment.  Her Mom was crazy worried about her talking to strangers.  She always had to meet all her friends and their parents, and then told her which ones she was allowed or not allowed to play with.

     Mr. Collins was nice, but she suspected her mom might not approve of her spending time with a grownup instead of kids.

     She didn’t like playing with other kids.  Sometimes they weren’t very nice about her not having a dad.  Sometimes they didn’t even know they were not being nice about it.  But sometimes they were cruel about it on purpose.  And hearing about the things they did with their dads only reminded her that she would never do those things.  Things like going fishing, building a tree house, or … or building a boat like she was with Mr. Collins.

     “Ok,” she nodded before turning and running for home.

     Laindra spent a lot of time with Mr. Collins that summer.  They worked on her boat, spent time down by the creek floating boats, went for walks, or sometimes they just hung out and talked.

     Laindra’s mother noticed changes in her daughter that summer too.

     She spent more time out playing, and when she was at home she seemed preoccupied.

     Laindra had kept mostly to herself and talked little since they learned of the loss of her father.  She had grown increasingly distant from her friends and eventually stopped playing with other children altogether.  When she talked, she talked about her father and boats.

     This was a topic Laindra’s mother didn’t like.  She missed Laindra’s father desperately and talking about him broke her heart.  But even worse was when Laindra sometimes talked as though she was convinced her father was still alive out there somewhere, stranded and waiting for rescue.

     That terrified her.

     It terrified her that Laindra would hurt herself further clinging to an impossible dream.  He was gone forever.  A lot of men on those ships were.

     It also terrified her because the thought tickled at that tiny shred of doubt, that inkling of hope she dared not hope lest it make her go mad.  They never found him.  They never found a lot of the bodies from that disaster.

     Laindra had always shared her father’s love of ships.  Her mother had always suspected it was just because it was the only way the girl could feel connected with her often absent father.

     Since his ship sank at sea the girl had become obsessed with ships and boats.  She spent hours re-reading any book with a boat in it, and even more hours building and re-building those little blobs of paper, twigs, and bits of string that she called boats.

     It wasn’t a healthy obsession, she worried.  Not healthy at all for that child’s mind.  She had tried to put a stop to it, taking away any book with a boat, tossing away the girl’s sad little paper boats whenever she caught her with one.

     It was always a very ugly scene.  The girl screamed as if she were witnessing the death of someone close to her.  She’d bang her head against the walls, smash things in the house, and just scream and scream until she choked on her raw throat and lost her voice.  The hoarse screams that continued after that just sent terrified chills down her spine.

     The doctor had advised she leave the girl to her books and boats, and so she did.  The violent episodes ended, and she watched her baby girl go through her days quietly withdrawn within her own little world.

     But that summer Laindra stopped talking about her father.  She read books about horses and dogs, books without a single boat to be found within the typewritten pages.  And, she stopped building the sad little paper boats.

     Laindra’s mother wondered at the changes coming over her daughter.  Was she finally getting over the loss of her father?  Was she finally starting to adjust, to cope?  But at the same time she worried that Laindra was hiding something; that she was preoccupied with some secret she knew her mother would not like.

     She wasn’t sure just when it began, but Laindra started to be increasingly moody and angry.  Her sad little girl, who had always clung to that shred of hope that shone through her eyes, had turn empty and emotionless, yet always one small trigger away from a furious fit.

     One day she might go into a violent tantrum and throw her dinner plate across the room because her mother asked her to scrape it and place it in the sink.  Another day she’d find Laindra’s toys broken and tossed in the garbage.  When she asked what happened, Laindra would just shrug emotionlessly and answer that she’d cleaned them up.  Was this all part of her adjustment to the realization her father would never return?

     And then came the day the doorbell rang.  Drying her hands on a tea towel, Laindra’s mother opened the door to a frighteningly furious Mrs. Brogan.  The anger lines on her usually stern face looked strung so taut they were about to snap.  Her eyes blazed, lips were a puckered little o, and a tick was gearing up to start twitching her face.

     She was so angry that she couldn’t talk.  Her mouth opened and closed, her jaws clacking, and nonsense sounds squeaking from the tight angry line of her lips.

     Laindra came in the room behind her mother, took one look at the fearsome visage of Mrs. Brogan, and tried to melt into the next room before the woman set eyes on her.

     It was too late.  She turned eyes wild with fury on the young girl.  The ferocity of the woman’s glare pinned the girl in place, freezing her motionless with fear.  She took a half step forward as if to go for the girl.

     Laindra’s mother stood blocking the door, a look of stunned confusion on her face.

     “Th-that that GIRL!” the woman sputtered.

     Laindra’s mother sighed.

     “Now Mrs. Brogan,” she began.  “Surely …”

     “Surely that GIRL should be locked up!” the woman spat, turning her furious look to the girl’s mother.  “There is something wrong with that girl, she shouldn’t be allowed around other children!”

     Laindra’s mother’s blood boiled.

     “That girl…”

     “Now Mrs. Brogan,” she said sternly.

     “…needs to be put away somewhere!”

     The woman’s shrill voice was grating and her insinuation only served to raise her protective mother’s hackles.

     “Now Mrs. Brogan, that is enough!”

     “If you don’t do something about that child…”

     “Either tell me what you think she did, or get off my doorstep.”

     “Sh-she broke my Brian’s nose, that’s what she did,” the woman finally spat.

     Laindra’s mother finally noticed the boy standing behind Mrs. Brogan.  Brian held a bloodied cloth to his swollen tear-streaked face.  This boy, who was so much bigger than little Laindra, suddenly looked much smaller and younger.  She stifled a giggle, which made the furious woman before her even angrier.

     “So, little Brian Buster-the-Bully Brogan got his nose broken by a little girl much smaller and younger than himself,” she humphed.

     Brian hung his head at the nickname everyone knew the kids called him by, but his mother turned a deaf ear to.

     Mrs. Brogan only grew more furious.

     Laindra fully expected to see steam come whistling from the woman’s reddening ears.

     “Your daughter…” the woman spat.

     “My daughter is a little girl dealing with the death of her father, while the whole town knows that your son and those other boys are nothing more than dimwitted bullies that go around picking on anyone smaller and weaker than them!”  She leaned toward the other woman, her fury in return making the woman back down.

     “…just like his all too present father!”

     Without a pause, she went on.

     “Whoever did this to Buster, Mrs. Brogan, you can be rest assured it was well deserved.  That he would blame a little girl much smaller and younger than himself is just pathetic.”

     “But,” Mrs. Brogan sputtered, the wind having been taken out of the fury of her sails.

     Laindra’s mother calmly closed the door in the woman’s face and turned to Laindra.

     “Did you break Buster’s nose?”

     Through the little window by the door Laindra could see Mrs. Brogan cuff Buster with her hand and drag him off while scolding him all the way down the sidewalk and beyond the sight of the window.

     She looked down at her feet and fidgeted.

     “Yes,” she mumbled.

     Fighting an amused smirk, Laindra’s mother asked as sternly as she could manage, “how did you do that?”

     “I hit him,” she paused nervously.  “With a big dead tree branch.”

     “Why?”

     “He broke my boat.”

     She sighed.  So, Laindra hadn’t given up the boats after all.

     “Go to your room.”

     “But…”

     “Go!”

     “But he…”

     “I said go!”  Her heart wasn’t in punishing her daughter.  She knew those boys, and knew that any broken nose one of them got was well deserved.  She was secretly proud of her daughter for standing up to him and fighting back.

     Laindra stomped her foot in stubborn frustration.

     “It’s not fair!”

     “You broke his nose,” her mother said calmly.

     She turned and stomped off to her room.

     “I think you should stay around here for a while,” her mother called to her retreating back.  “You know, stay close to home.  Play in the yard.”

     Laindra froze, horrified.  She turned and stared at her mother as if she’d just turned into a giant slathering fire-spitting poisonous monster with razor sharp claws grasping to tear her into mouth-sized shreds.

     “Don’t look at me like that,” her mother warned.  “You know as well as I do that next time you see Buster he won’t be alone.”

     “But, but,” she stammered, “how long?”

     “A while, until things calm down.”  Her mother shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Maybe until school starts, maybe longer.”

     “No!”

     Surprised, she stared at her daughter.

     “I-I can’t.”

     “Laindra…”

     “I-I have stuff I have to do…”

     “Laindra.”

     “I-it’s important!”

     “Laindra!”

     “I-I…”

     “What?”

     “Ihavetomeetsomeone!”  She spat it out so fast that it was all garbled into one word.

     Laindra’s mother stared at her, sorting the sounds out until they made sense.

     “Meet someone?  Who?”

     “A-a friend.”

     Her heart skipped a beat.  A friend?  Has Laindra finally started doing what little girls are supposed to do?  Has she finally started playing with other children again?

     “Well, who is this friend?  I’d like to meet her.”

     “Just … a friend.”

     “Does just-a-friend have a name?  Where does she live?”

     “Um, he …” she said too quietly.

     “What?”

     “He …” a little louder.

     “Oh, a boy.  Ok, so what do you play?”

     “Boats.”

     Boats, she thought.  Ok, boys like boats.  This might be ok.  She looked at Laindra expectantly, waiting for more.

     “We’re making a boat, a ship, like Daddy’s.”

     Her heart turned to an icy lump in her chest, heavy, a cold dead weight.

     “Did-did you know if you put stones in the bottom of the boat it won’t tip over?  It should work on a big ship too, same principle.”  She stared up at her mom expectantly, hopefully, willing her to understand.

     “Every sailor would know that…”  Laindra looked down at her fidgeting fingers.  “If-if Daddy…”  She fought back tears.  “Daddy would have known that, Daddy, he, maybe…”

     “Laindra.”

     “And driftwood doesn’t sink,” Laindra grasped, desperate.  “Daddy would know … if he had driftwood and stones … he could make …” her voice was trailing off.  “… a … ship … and…”

     “Laindra, enough!”  Her heart dropped in her chest like a stone.  This scared her.  She had thought, hoped, that Laindra was getting better.  Was she dragging this other child, this boy, into her dark fantasy?  Or worse, could she be playing with some imaginary friend, losing herself into this fantasy world, making her father alive and well and building boats with him in her mind?

     Laindra burst into tears.

     “What is his name, this boy?”  She was terrified of the answer.

     “J-Jeff.”

     “Jeff.”  Her mind raced, her heart lurched.  Ok, Jeff, you might be a real boy.

     “Ok, I want to meet him.”

     Laindra just stared at her like she couldn’t figure out what kind of creature her mother was.

     “This Jeff, I want to meet him.  His parents too.”

     Laindra stared.

     “You know the rule.  I meet your friends and their parents.  Before you play with Jeff again, I want to meet him and his parents.”

     “But,” Laindra whimpered while inside she screamed, “I can’t!”

     “He has a phone, I’m sure.  You have a phone number for Jeff, don’t you?”

     “Yes,” she whispered.

     “Ok then.  Invite Jeff and his parents over.  They can come for supper, a visit, whatever.  Or else we can go knock on their door.  Either way, I meet them.”

     Laindra looked hollowed out, like she had been gobbled up and spat out.  This made her mother worry more.

     “I’m glad you made a new friend,” she said gently.  “Now, off to your room.  You still broke that awful Buster-the-Bully’s nose.”  She had to fight a smile when she said this.

     Laindra’s mother was fidgety.  She kept fussing with everything, wanting to make a good impression.  Jeff and his parents were coming for dinner.

     The doorbell rang and she nearly jumped.  She rushed for the door and opened it.

     There, stood a nicely dressed, not bad looking, man.

     “Um, hello,” she said.

     “Hi,” he said with a smile.  “You must be Laindra’s Mom.  I’ve heard a lot about you.  You look even more beautiful than Laindra described.”

     Her heart beat faster.

     “Um, and you…”

     “Sorry,” the man said with a hint of nervousness.  “Jeffry, Jeffrey Collins.”  He produced his hand to take hers in a warm greeting.

     She took his hand and he shook hers.  His touch was gentle and warm.

     “And,” she looked past him, seeing nobody.  “Where is your wife, Mr. Collins?”

     “Oh, there is no Mrs. Collins.”

     Her heart fluttered.

     “Where – where is Jeff?”

     “I am Jeff.”

     She stared, puzzled.

     Laindra burst past her mother, throwing her arms around the man.

     “JEFF!”

     Aghast, she stared.

     “You?  You are Jeff?  The Jeff?  Boat-making Jeff?  Jeff who Laindra has been spending so much time with?”

     He nodded eagerly.

     She stiffened, alarm bells clanging in every part of her being.  Why is this man spending so much time with her daughter?

     “Well, Mr. Collins, this is a bit of a surprise,” she said icily.  “When Laindra said she had a new friend, I just thought …”

     “That it was someone her age,” he finished for her.

     “Yes,” she said curtly.

     “I’m – I’m new here.”  His eyes begged her to wait, to hear him out before closing the door on him and her daughter’s friendship.

     “I live alone, I don’t know anyone here.  I have no friends here.  I-I was lonely.  I saw boys picking on her.  She has no friends her age, you know.”

     She knew.  She knew all too well.

     “Laindra is a remarkable little girl.  I don’t know if you realize just how lonely she is…”  He paused.  “Just how much she misses her father, how badly she needs to fill that … spot.”

     She softened.

     “Come in Mr. Collins.  Supper is waiting.”

     Over the following weeks Mr. Collins used his considerable charms on Laindra’s mother.  They never dated, but he charmed and flirted with her just enough to keep her heart aflutter and confuse her with hopes for something she wasn’t really sure she wanted.

     Laindra seemed to be blossoming in her friendship with the man.  Her need for a father figure weighed against her need for friends her own age, and Laindra’s mother couldn’t bring herself to put an end to her daughter’s friendship with Mr. Collins.

     But it still troubled her.  There were little things, things she just couldn’t put a finger to, things that just seemed a little – off.

     The day they talked about the stones in the ships was a day that changed everything.  That was the day she broke Buster’s nose, the day her mom made her introduce Jeff to her, and the day she made a new friend who would change everything between her and Mr. Jeffrey Collins.

     Mr. Collins was busy.  He said he had things he had to do.  When he wasn’t at the creek Laindra went by his house, just in case.  She knocked on the door and there was no answer.  She went to his workshop.  It was quiet and deserted.  Lonely and dejected, she went back to the creek.

     She had with her a crude little wooden boat she had made herself.  It was the first boat she made all by herself, without Jeff’s help, that actually kind of looked like a boat.

     She sat on a log looking at the crude boat.  It wasn’t pretty or smooth like Jeff’s boats.  She was so eager to show it to him that she brought it along, even though she knew he wasn’t going to be around today.

     “Hey,” a boy’s voice cut in.

     Startled, she looked around.

     “Hi,” a boy said, waving a little timidly.

     Laindra had never seen this boy before.

     “Hey, hi,” she said a little distrustfully.  Would he be like the mean boys?  He was closer to her age, maybe even the same age as her, but that didn’t mean he was nice.

     “I’m Kyle.”

     “Laindra.”

     “What-cha got there?”

     “A boat.”

     “A boat, cool.  Can I see?”

     Laindra scooted over and Kyle came and sat next to her, looking at the boat.

     “I made it.”

     “I like it.”

     “Hey look,” a boy’s voice sneered.”  Girly’s got a boooyfriend.”

     Laindra froze, her heart sank.  “Oh no.”

     Sure enough, Trevor, Buster, and Oscar came out of the bush.

     “Who’s this?” Buster sneered.  “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”

     “That’s the new kid,” Trevor said.  “The little dweeb moved in next door to me.”

     Oscar raised his eyebrows.

     “You mean Sally’s house?  Sally Spooner, ya better run sooner ‘cause Trevor’s got a crush on you, Sally’s house?”

     Trevor glared at him.

     “Ooh, bad luck dweeb,” Buster snorted.  “You picked the wrong house to move into.”

     “Is this your girlfriend, dweeb?” Trevor sneered.

     “He took your girlfriend’s house,” Oscar snorted.  “Maybe you should take his girlfriend.”

     “She wasn’t my girlfriend,” Trevor muttered.  He stepped forward and snatched the boat from Kyle’s hands.

     “What’s this, dweeb?”

     “Is that supposed to be a boat?” Buster snatched it from Trevor.

     “Pretty crappy boat.”

     Laindra watched in horror as the boat was roughly passed around.

     “Maybe it’s a plane,” Oscar laughed.  “Let’s see if it can fly.”  He tossed it straight up as high as he could.  The boat caught in the tree branches and held there.

     “Pretty crappy plane.”

     The boys made a game of throwing sticks and rocks at the boat, trying to knock it out of the tree.  The solid thunk of a large rock finally dislodged the boat.  It tumbled, bouncing off branches, the mast snapping off, dropped, and bounced off the ground.

     Laindra watched the boat fall as if in slow motion, her face so pale that Kyle stared at her with wide eyed worry.  He watched her cringe each time the boat bounced off a branch, despair snapping her with the snap of the mast.

     “Huh, piece of junk!”  Buster raised his foot high and stomped down hard on the little wooden boat.  It cracked with a dull sound under his shoe.

     Laindra screamed.  It was a terrible sound.  It filled the air, the deep guttural animal scream of the desperate, the release of unbound fury and hatred, the primal scream of all the wrongs through the history of mankind.

     All four boys froze and stared at her with slack-jawed faces turned white and drained of blood.

     In a flash of fury fed adrenaline, Laindra was off the log, small fists wrapping tightly against a large tree branch on the ground, and coming up spinning in one fluid motion that would make any action movie actor jealous.  She swung the branch with all the might of her great fury, the adrenaline burning white hot through her little muscles.

     Oscar barely dodged in time, losing a few hairs that were caught in the bark as the branch whizzed past his head, its breeze rustling his hair.

     Standing just behind Brian Buster-the-Bully Brogan, Trevor staggered back even though branch didn’t actually touch him.  He almost fell on his butt.

     Buster wasn’t so lucky.  The intended target of the branch, he didn’t stand a chance.  His nose exploded with a spray of blood as the rough-barked branch connected with a sickening crunch.  He fell to his knees, holding his face, screaming.

     Trevor and Oscar ran faster than they’d ever ran in their lives, the monster that was a little girl chasing them, brandishing her blood-stained branch, screaming like a banshee.

     Gingerly, Kyle plucked the little wooden boat from the mud, turning it over and examining the broken toy.

     “You shouldn’t have broken her boat, I guess,” he said quietly.

     Mr. Collins came home to find a sobbing Laindra trying to float a broken little wooden boat in a bucket of water.  Its hull was cracked, and the mast had been snapped off and tied back together with sticks that looked like they were supposed to be splints.  Every time she let go of the little boat, it immediately tipped on its side, bobbing in the water.  She sobbed anew, scooped the boat up, and tried again.

     A little distance away, a tired looking boy sat quietly.

     He had never seen the boy before.

     Jeff gave the boy a cursory glance, and stared at Laindra with concern.  He approached her slowly and knelt beside her.

     “I-it k-k-keeps t-tipping,” she sobbed.

     “It’s top heavy,” he said gently.  “That’s why.”

     “Stupid boat!”

     “You made it?  All by yourself?”

     She nodded dully.

     “It’s not a stupid boat,” he said gently.  “You just need stones.”

     She looked up at him through her tears as though he’d just turned green and grew an elephant’s trunk.

     “S-stones?”

     “Sure, stones.  Your mast is too heavy.  You have to weigh down the bottom of the boat, and then it won’t tip.”

     “B-but stones will just make it sink.”

     “Only if you put in too many.  Here, I’ll show you.”

     Jeff searched around for small stones, pebbles really, because it was a small boat.  Carefully, holding the boat upright, he balanced pebbles on the crude craft, counter-balancing the heavy mast.  When he was sure it wouldn’t tip, he carefully let go.

     “Wow!”  Laindra stared in amazement.  She looked up at Jeff in wonder, her sobs finally subsiding.

     “How?”

     “Its and old trick every sailor knows,” he explained.  “If your mast is too heavy, it will tip your boat like this.”  He cupped his hands flat, one finger sticking up like a mast, tipping his hands like a tipping boat.

     “But why would they make a boat that needs stones to keep it from tipping?”

     “They wouldn’t.  But a mast is heavy and, if the waves swell too big, the boat goes up and down the waves like this, see?”  He rocked his hands like a boat on a storm tossed sea.

     “If the boat rocks too far, tips over too much, the weight of the mast pulls it down, tipping it over all the way.”

     Laindra stared at him wide eyed, soaking it all in.

     “So, if they know a storm is coming, they’ll go to land and put stones in the bottom of the ship’s hull.  Weight it down, so it can’t tip.  It’s an old sailor trick from the days when all ships had masts.  It’s still used today, sometimes even with ships without masts.”

     “So,” Laindra gasped hopefully, barely able to whisper it.  “My-my dad, he might, he could have …”

     He leaned over with a conspiratorial wink.

     “Maybe.”

     Laindra sat in stunned silence, her mind working through this new information.  She believed everything Mr. Collins said about boats.  After all, you couldn’t craft such beautiful ships without knowing all about them, right?

     The truth about it was that Jeffrey Collins only knew how to build toy boats.  He knew nothing about the real thing and made it up as he went along, all to impress a very impressionable little girl.

     “So,” Jeff said suddenly, standing up, “who’s the boy?”

     “Huh?  Boy?” she said confused.

     He motioned with a nod toward the boy still sitting quietly just out of earshot.

     “Oh, oh that’s Kyle.  He’s new, I just met him today.”

     “What happened to your boat?  Did Kyle break it?”

     “No,” she said sadly.  “Those bully boys did.  Kyle tried to fix it.”

     “I see.  Well, maybe Kyle should go home now.  Then we’ll fix your boat properly.”

     Laindra said goodbye to Kyle.  With a shrug and an uneasy glance at Mr. Collins, Kyle went on his way.

     Laindra and Mr. Collins went into his workshop and he went to work fixing her little boat.  While he worked, he told her more about how sailors used stones in the ships to keep them from tipping and sinking during terrible storms.

     Laindra told Mr. Collins about hitting Buster with the tree branch and how there was so much blood.  It scared her.

     Things were different after that day.  Laindra was different.  Her relationship with Mr. Collins was different.

     Kyle didn’t like Mr. Collins.  He said he was creepy and that he didn’t think Laindra should spend so much time with him.

     This made Laindra feel defensive, protective of her relationship with Mr. Collins.

     The more time Mr. Collins spent with her mother, and the more time she spent with her new friend Kyle, the more she thought of him as Mr. Collins instead of as Jeff, her friend.

     Laindra was jealous.  She felt like her mom was taking over Jeff, intruding on her private friendship with him.  She could tell her mom liked him, but in a girlfriend-boyfriend way, not just as a nice neighbor.  But she knew Jeff really liked her, not her mom.

     She also knew she liked her new friend Kyle.  Sometimes it was good to just be around a kid her age, and Kyle was easy to be around.  He never asked about her dad or why she liked boats, despite her being a girl.  It didn’t seem to matter to Kyle whether she was a girl or a boy.  She felt a little more normal around Kyle.  Around Kyle she was just a kid, not Laindra who lost her dad and had to make boats to hold onto that connection with him.

     She also thought she was beginning to feel the stirrings of a crush on Kyle, although she’d never admit it to anyone.  He was nice, and kind of cute, in a dumb boy way.  At this age all boys were considered dumb boys, because otherwise you might have to admit you kinda liked them.  Although a girl Laindra’s age didn’t really understand those feelings or what to do with them.  It was just puppy play, the natural childhood learning on how to one day be a grown up.

     Her feelings for Kyle really confused Laindra.  Somehow, she felt like she was tricking Jeff, cheating on their friendship.  But there was nothing wrong with having more than one friend, was there?

     Jeff always got mad when Kyle was around.  At first it was little.  He just seemed a little annoyed at nothing in particular.  But the more Laindra went off to play with Kyle instead of visiting Jeff, the more angry Jeff seemed to be, both at her and at Kyle.

     At first Jeff dropped subtle hints that maybe he’d like to do stuff alone with Laindra, like before she met Kyle and they spent much more time together building and sailing the little ships together and stuff.

     That changed as her friendship with Kyle grew stronger and it became more obvious that Mr. Jeffrey Collins had competition for the young girl’s attention.  The subtle hints that maybe Kyle should go do something else somewhere else grew bolder, more obvious, until at last he’d outright order Kyle to leave and to go home.

     Kyle and Laindra sat on a downed tree by the creek, watching the water trickle by.  It was one of those days when Laindra didn’t want to talk.  But that was ok; they were comfortable sitting together in silence.

     Kyle idly broke up twigs and tossed them into the creek.  They both watched them float downstream.

     “Hey there, I found you,” a man’s voice called from behind them.  Mr. Collins.

     Kyle stiffened.  He always got that creepy feeling when Mr. Collins was around.

     Beside him, Laindra didn’t react at all.  But Kyle sensed the increased wariness in her, that today she would prefer it if Mr. Collins just went away and left her alone.  She got kind of moody that way sometimes.

     Twigs crunched under foot as Mr. Collins approached.  His shadow chilled Kyle when he leaned across the downed tree to see their faces.  Kyle’s was carefully guarded.  Laindra’s was blank, empty.

     Mr. Collins barely gave Kyle a glance, staring at Laindra’s face, studying her in a friendly manner.  Friendly, if friendly could hold a trace of jealousy, a hint of anger, and something else Kyle didn’t know what it was.  Friendly, yet a bit intense.

     “Go home Kyle,” Mr. Collins ordered in a soft voice that would not take “no” for an answer.

     Kyle glanced at Laindra.  Her expression hadn’t changed.  Her face was expressionless, her eyes empty.  She was like that a lot.  Sometimes, Kyle knew, it was because she was thinking about her dad.  Sometimes, he didn’t think that was it at all.

     With a shrug that said, “I don’t like this,” Kyle hopped off the log and ambled off, glancing back now and then.

     Mr. Collins watched him go out of the corner of his eye.

     “Hi Laindra,” he said softly.

     Laindra’s mom was kneeling down pulling weeds when she glanced up and noticed a boy standing timidly at the edge of the yard.  She stared at him staring at her.

     “Hello,” she finally said, wondering what the boy wanted.

     He approached hesitantly.

     “Um,” he paused, struggling for words.  “Are-are you Laindra’s mom?”

     “Yes I am.  And who might you be?”

     “Kyle,” he said, almost a whisper.

     “Well, hello there Kyle,” she smiled at him.  “Are you a friend of Laindra’s?”

     “Um, yeah.  Kinda.”

     “Laindra’s not here right now.”

     “I know.”

     Curious, she waited for the boy to continue.

     “I-I want to talk to you.”  He took another hesitant step forward.  “About,” step, “about Mr. Collins.”  He stopped and played with his fingers nervously.

     “What about Mr. Collins?”

     “I-I think he’s hurting Laindra,” he whispered.

     She just stared at him, certain she heard wrong.  After all, the boy had said it so quietly that she barely made out any words at all.

     “Pardon me?”

     “Mr. Collins,” Kyle repeated, “he’s-he spends too much time with Laindra.  He’s a grownup, she’s a kid.  I-I think he’s hurting Laindra.”

     Laindra’s mom was miffed.

     “Nonsense,” she snapped, giving the boy her best Mom knows you’re lying stare.

     Kyle stared back, defiant, afraid, unsure, yet sure what he was trying to do is completely right.

     “What makes you say such things?” Laindra’s mom demanded. “He is a nice man helping a young girl who needs a father figure.”  She sounded a little too much like she was trying to convince herself.

     “Laindra,” Kyle said, “she acts weird after she’s been with Mr. Collins.”

     “Go home Kyle,” she said sternly, turning back to her weeding, making it clear the visit was over.

     With a sad shake of his head Kyle wandered off down the street.

     Late that afternoon, Kyle found Laindra down by the creek again.  She was sitting on a thick branch up in a tree.  He clambered up and sat beside her without a word.

     She seemed off today, again.

     “Hey,” she finally said, quietly.

     “Hey,” he returned.

     They sat in silence for a long while.

     “You okay?” Kyle finally asked.

     “Sure.”

     “Sure?”

     “Yeah.”

     They returned to their silent vigil, the sunlight growing weaker, thicker, as the afternoon wore on.

     “I don’t like Mr. Collins,” Kyle said at last.

     “I know.”  She seemed to have the wisdom of the ages hanging on her shoulders today.

     “He doesn’t like me either.”

     “Yeah.”

     “He acts like thinks he’s your boyfriend or something.”

     She shrugged.  The both knew grownups didn’t think like that with kids.

     “I don’t think you should visit him anymore.”

     Laindra turned and looked at him with her empty eyes.  Behind that dead stare he could see the flash of fury that could erupt without warning.

     “Mr. Collins is not good for you, you know.”  Kyle thumbed his trousers leg nervously.  “He’s not your dad,” he whispered.

     Fury flared in her eyes, her face twisting into a tight angry knot.

     Ignoring her anger, he went on.

     “You act weird when you’re around him.”

     Laindra glared at him, her fists raised as though about to strike out, to attack him with a violent fury never seen before.

     “I told your mom.”

     Her arms dropped to her sides.  Her face paled, the fury draining from it as quickly as it appeared, replaced by a deep sadness and hurt.

     Without a word Laindra climbed down the tree and ran off through the trees. She never looked back.  Kyle didn’t see the twisted knot of grief or the tears streaming down her face.

     Laindra ran and ran.  She ran until her legs felt weak, her lungs burned, and a sharp knot of pain gripped her side, slicing through her with every ragged breath.  Her throat burned raw with every gasped breath.  Her head spun dizzily.  Her heart and mind raced in a thousand directions at once.

     When she couldn’t run anymore, Laindra walked.  She walked and she walked.  The sunlight grew dimmer, thicker, older.  The afternoon quickly waned into dinner time.

     At last Laindra came to her very own secret place.  Nobody knew about it.  Not her mom, or Kyle, or Mr. Collins.

     She knew her mom would be worried by now, supper would be sitting cold on the table, and she would probably be in trouble for being late.

     Laindra didn’t care.  She had something she had to do.

     Her secret place lay on the edge of the sea, sheltered by bluffs.  The sandy soil was mostly soft here, with some large ancient boulders barely peaking the tops of their heads through the soil.  Not far away lay an old abandoned farm house and barn, a treasure trove of treasures laying within.

     Laindra had been coming here secretly for some time now.  She had a project, a big project.

     She was building a ship.

     Laindra collected anything from the old farmhouse and barn that looked usable, dragging them to her secret place.  She tested her treasures in the water lapping at the shore for floatability.  The discards were tossed or shoved into a rough pile, and the useable items crudely tied together to form her ship.  There were pieces of wooden boards, old wooden kitchen chairs, and an old faded steamer trunk among other things.

     “It’s not quite finished yet, but it will have to do,” she thought.

     Digging her heels into the sandy ground and grunting as she strained, Laindra struggled to push the heap of old junk towards the water lapping against the shore.  It got easier as objects began to bob and float in the water, taking their weight off the pile she was trying to push.

     When the whole mess was finally floating in the water, Laindra paused to catch her breath.  She stared at her accomplishment, then back at the shore.

     “Oh, I almost forgot…”

     She hurried out of the water and scampered across the sandy soil.  Laindra grabbed up a long stick that had probably once been a sapling and raced back to the water.

     Her homemade ship had already begun to drift away from the shore.  The tide had started to go out, drawn away from shore by the moon’s cold pull.

     Laindra fought the water that slowed her down, struggling to reach her raft in time.  She swung her stick on top of it and managed to grab hold and drag it back closer to shore where the water wasn’t too deep for her to clamber aboard.

     Once she was perched safely aboard her floating raft, Laindra used the stick to push it away from shore again.

     She was going to find her father.HHHJhhh

     Coughing up water and exhausted from the battle with the sea, Laindra dragged herself from the surf and collapsed on the little sandy beach amidst gnarled clumps of seaweed that had washed ashore.  The world was hazy.  Her eyes drooped and closed.

     “Stones in the ships,” her mind drifted … “I should have put stones in the ship.”

     Her eyes fluttered open.  A vague shape shimmered before her eyes, its darkness playing against the brilliance of the sun clashing against the pale beach.

     She struggled to sit up, to see.

     The shape slowly took form, a human form.

     She stared in confusion.  Something about the form seemed familiar as it danced and shimmered like a mirage.

     It was a man.  He looked scruffy and tired.  His hair and beard were long and untrimmed, and his clothes little more than worn rags.

     Laindra struggled to stand on unsteady legs, eyes glued to the image standing some distance across the beach.

     She stood on the shore, gasping and dripping wet, staring with incredulity.

     “D-dad?  Daddy?”

     Her face exploded in an ecstasy of delight.

     “DADDY!” She screamed, running across the little beach with arms outstretched.

     The water lapped at the shore, carrying with it seaweed, driftwood, and the assorted remains of the homemade ship, shattered and waterlogged.  Among the remains the lifeless body of a young girl was dragged to shore, one swollen hand still tangled in the rope tied around an old steamer trunk.

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Waiting (Short Story)

Waiting

By L. V. Gaudet

© March 2010

     It was a busy street where it all happened.  At least that’s where my earliest memory begins.

     You know the kind of street, where cars whiz by fast, people of every description come, go, or stop a while, and the air is filled with more smells and sounds than the senses can take in.

     We waited in the sometimes shelter and sometimes shade of the concrete at the base of the brick building next to the bus stop.  There was an almost plaza-like feel to the place, with the large open paved area squeezed in among the streets, sidewalks, and tall brick buildings all around.  There was no sidewalk between this particular building and the busy street it nestled against.  Pedestrians trying their luck on the street side of the building took their lives in their hands.  I was surprised by how many people did that.

     It was a very busy bus stop.  A nonstop tide of cars, buses, and people came and went constantly.

     I don’t know how long we waited, but it sure seemed like a very long time.  People came and went, buses came and went, and yet we waited, always waiting.  Would our bus never come?

     My mind felt like I was looking through a fog.  Everything was confusing, my memory somehow lost in a haze I just couldn’t quite see through.

     “Why was I here?  Where are we going?  What bus are we waiting for?  And, why won’t that bus ever seem to come?”

     I remember looking around at the people of our group.  There was a certain familiarity about them.  Standing about, watching for that bus that never seemed to come, watching the people come and go.  Idle chat seemed to be the activity of the day, leaning casually against a wall, sitting on the ground with backs pressed against the side of the building, or just standing around.

This was “our” spot, somehow.  I don’t know how.  It just had that familiarity about it, as if we were always here in the sometimes shelter and sometimes shade of that building’s wall, waiting.

     I knew that I know these people, but I couldn’t find them in my hazy memory.  Rubbing my eyes and shaking the clarity back into my head didn’t work.

     Who are these people?  I know them, so why don’t I know them?

     I couldn’t even tell who among the crowds of people gathered, forever shifting and changing as people got on and off buses, arriving and leaving, were a part of our group.  Was our group small?  The four or five people I suspected might really be all there was to our group?  Or were there more, as I also suspected, but with a sense of confusing doubt?

     There was a couple sitting with their backs against the wall, chatting and seeming oblivious to the world around, except for the occasional glances at people in the crowd.  I thought of them as the “Casual Pair”. A boy and a girl, both teenagers, though I couldn’t place their ages any more than I could their faces or identities.

     There was the “Lurker”.  He was a young man who just couldn’t quite seem to decide where he wanted to be.  He stood leaning against the wall a while, then pushed off and meandered through the crowd to stand somewhere else.  He watched the crowd, the cars, the members of the group, and kept wandering to the edge of the road to look up and down for the bus.

     The worst was when he looked at me.  That was when I got the feel that he was lurking more than he was waiting.  At those moments the confusion spun a little faster inside my head, making me dizzy.

     I got the odd vibe from others that they too were part of the group.  It was a vague feeling, like that feeling someone is watching you when you are sure you are alone. I’d turn to look, trying to identify who in the crowd the vibe was coming from, but, like those phantom movements you catch in the corner of your eye, they just seemed to melt into the crowd, unidentifiable.  That just gave me the heebie-jeebies and made the fog of confusion eddy and swirl in my mind.

     I didn’t know what to call them, or even how to think of them.  The “Crowd Phantoms” might come closest.

     And then there was “The Man”, the watcher.  He was older, though I couldn’t tell how much older.  He didn’t look terribly much older, but he felt a great deal older.  His dark hair hung in longish strands to each side of his face, a short black beard, and Genghis Khan-like moustache.  He wasn’t a bad looking man, but when I looked at him I felt darkness, the darkness of his hair, his eyes, and a dark kindness too.  He watched the crowds, the traffic … and us.

He liked to kneel down on one knee a lot.  That struck me as a little strange, but somehow seemed entirely normal too.  I sensed a feeling of authority about him.  I suspected he was the leader of our group; that somehow he was charged with keeping us together and all accounted for.  Was he a protector looking after us?  A captor guarding us against escape?

     The more I looked around at our group, at the throngs of people coming and going, taking no notice of us, that we were a group, the greater my confusion grew.

     Why did no one seem to notice that we were a group?  Why did I even care?

     Who were we?  Who was I?

     The fog in my mind eddied, swirled, and thickened.

     My mind spun, though my head seemed to stay still.  I started feeling sick.

     A frantic feeling of panic started in my gut, slowly snaking its insidious way up, growing, swelling inside me until I choked on it.  It seemed to fill my throat, blocking it, preventing me from breathing.

     Everything felt wrong somehow.  The light was wrong, the smells, the sounds.

     I glanced at The Man, wondering if he could see the panic in my eyes, willing him not to see.  Somehow, I felt that would be a bad thing.

     He looked up, kneeling again, and smiled at me.  He turned his head away again to watch the people coming off a bus as it rolled to a stop and opened its yawning doors.

     I had to get out of here.  I didn’t know why, or to where.

     It was just a niggling feeling at first; that urge to bolt, to run, to make a break for it.

     The feelings grew.  Panic, confusion, nausea, and the urge to flee; they filled me, overwhelmed me, making my head feel like it would explode if I didn’t get out of there.

     I watched.  I waited.  The waiting seemed as endless as our forever wait for the bus that never came.

     And, when no one seemed to be noticing me; that was when I made my move.  I ran.

     I didn’t really run, at least not at first.  That would have been too conspicuous, bringing unwanted attention to me.  I ducked behind people, moving with the crowd, hiding behind first one person and then a next as I slowly made my way away from the bus stop.

     I kept careful watch of The Group as they became more distant, afraid someone might look my way.  I especially watched The Man, terrified he would sense my intention, carefully watching that his attention was on something else.

     The next thing I remembered was being in a strange and entirely deserted place that had a confusing familiar feel to it.  There was a field, where perhaps kids played sports, though there were no goals or nets or anything else to suggest it was a field for sports.  There was a wooden structure.  It had a narrow L shaped building that perhaps housed groundskeeper’s tools, a canteen, or something else.  The roof of that little building filled in the rest of the square, covering a little concrete patio filled with rows of benches.

     Did people eat here?  Was it some sort of amphitheater, like the kind you find at some campgrounds?

     I had the strange feeling that I had been here before.  With it came a vague sense of horses, although there were no signs that horses had ever been in this place.

     The fog of confusion still filled my mind.  Even the memories of The Group and the bus stop seemed to be growing insubstantial, evaporating, and disappearing like the memories from before the bus stop did.

     Scared and alone, I hoped The Group was looking for me, that they would come here and find me and take me away from this place.  I longed to see the face of The Man, the reassurance of his ever watchful presence.

     I was terrified The Group was looking for me, that they would come here and find me and take me away from this place.  I dreaded to see the face of The Man; that he would come to claim me and take me back to the bus stop, back within the fold of The Group.

     I wanted to disappear within the folds of myself, become invisible, become … not.

     Night came quickly, too quickly.

     I huddled into myself, wrapping my arms tightly about myself, and lay down on one of the cool hard wooden benches.  I fell asleep.

     I awoke with a start to a face close to mine.  My heart lurched, gripped by fear.  I almost screamed.

     “They found me!” my panicked mind cried.  I looked around desperately for The Man, Lurker, and Casual Pair.  A part of me hoped for even a glimpse of one of the Crowd Phantoms; that I was found and my flight was finished.  I could go back to simply waiting, forever waiting for that bus that never came.

     The thought tore at me, filled me with dread.  I was terrified of being found, being brought back to rejoin The Group.  Where were we going?  And why did that bus never come?

     I moved to bolt, to flee, to make a run for it.  Something about that bus, the bus stop, and The Man terrified me.

     Gentle hands held my shoulders.

     I looked up into the face.  He was older than Lurker, younger than The Man.  His eyes and ruddy face were filled with concern.  His light brown, almost blond hair had a slight curl to it, giving it a softer look.

     He stared at my face, into my eyes.

     “Are you ok?”  I could hear the worry straining his voice.

     I didn’t answer.  I couldn’t answer.  I felt frozen, unable to move, to talk, a part of the bench.

     I saw that he could see the fear in my face.

     “Are you lost?” he asked, “hurt?”

     I stared back mutely, unable to respond with anything more than a blink.

     “What are you so afraid of?”

     He looked around, then back to me, staring into my eyes as though if he stared hard enough he might see the answers.

     I shook my head, trying to clear the fog of confusion.  Where were my memories?  Why couldn’t I remember anything before the bus stop?  Why where the memories even of that place, The Group, slipping away?

     I looked past him, dreading seeing any of The Group, hoping and fearing seeing the face of The Man.  I wanted this over, to be back to the place I knew, the only place I knew, the bus stop.  I was terrified The Man would find me and take me back there.

     I saw people beyond this man’s face.  They looked worried too.  They shifted uncomfortably, perhaps embarrassed for me.  They held no familiarity.  They were not part of The Group.  I was safe, for now.

     I looked back at this man’s face, the “New Man” I thought of him as.  I sensed caring, concern.  I felt safer with him.  I liked him for making me feel safer.  I felt strangely drawn to him and sensed he felt the same towards me.

     “I’ll be right back,” he said to me, staring deep into my eyes.  “Don’t move.  I just need to talk to my group.”

     And they were his group, I could sense that.  They were together, a family perhaps, or friends, or maybe a group like The Group.  Only this group didn’t make me feel confused or lost in a memory-eating fog.

     He walked over to the other people.  They huddled around him as they talked.  I caught snatches of conversation, words.

     “Lost.”

     “We can’t.”

     “Scared.”

     “But, what if.”

     “Have to.”

     “No.”

     They were going to leave me here, alone.  I longed for that solitude, was terrified of that solitude.

     “Please don’t leave me,” my heart cried while my mind begged them to just go and leave me alone.

     He came back to me, knelt down, gripping my shoulders again in that firm but gentle grip.

     “We won’t leave you here,” he said.  “I won’t.”

     I hadn’t moved this whole time, still laying there with my arms hugging myself desperately, folding into myself and trying to vanish.

     He gently sat me up, sitting beside me and putting one arm gently around me in a protective embrace.

     We sat there for a long time.  We talked.  His group became impatient, but continued to wait at a distance.

     I can’t remember what we talked about, not a single word of the conversation.  I only remember that we talked for a really long time.  Sometimes we got up and walked off into the field as we talked.  Sometimes we came back and sat on the bench again.  My mind is still full of holes, hazy mists of fog hiding my memories and spinning me in a web of confusion.

     Night came again, much too soon.

     Finally, he looked at me gently and said, “Let’s go.”

     He led me to the group.  They all looked at me, their faces reflecting his concern.

     My heart lifted.  The “New Man” wouldn’t let “The Man” find me.  He’d keep me safe, hide me.  And if he did come for me, “New Man” would come for me, rescue me, and take me back again.  I was his now.  I think I love him, though I only just met him.

     We started to move towards the road.

     Then I saw him, The Man, his smiling face staring down at me.  Just his face, floating in the air above, there but not.

     “No!” I wanted to cry.  Tears rushed to my eyes, burning them.  I wanted to run.

     New Man looked down at me.

     “I’m here,” he said, taking my hand in his, the warmth of it flowing to me with a feeling of safety.

     It wasn’t enough.

     I could still see The Man, his smiling eyes, his lank longish black hair, his beard.

     “You found her!”  I heard The Man’s voice happily call out.

     I wanted to hide, to cry, and to beg New Man to not let The Man see me.

     “She’s safe,” The Man called to someone.  “Everybody, she’s safe, she’s here!”

     Then I saw their faces, Lurker, Casual Pair.  I saw the bus stop with the busy crowds of people who I could never pick the Crowd Phantoms out of, those who I suspected might be part of our group, but just didn’t know.

     I saw the anger in the New Man’s face, protectiveness, the desperate need to hold on to me.  And at that very last moment, the terrible anguish of someone who has just lost everything in their life that mattered.

     Suddenly, I was back at the bus stop as though I’d never left it.

Casual Pair leaned against the wall, chatting idly, their occasional glances towards me somehow feeling nervous now.

     Lurker leaned casually against the wall, wandered to the edge of the street to watch for the bus, meandered through the crowd, ever lurking, careful now to not glance in my direction at all.  I sensed a new jitteriness about him that wasn’t there before.

     The Man knelt on one knee, watching the crowds, watching the traffic and the buses, and watching us.  His glances towards me seemed guarded now, a fear lurking behind the smile.

     I looked around, unsure.  How did I get here?

     I spotted New Man at the edge of the plaza bus stop.  He stood motionless, staring at me, his face filled with concern, longing, and confusion.

     I knew he was afraid to approach.  Afraid of The Man?  That I would reject him?

     “Please come and take me away from here,” I begged silently, my lips as frozen as my ability to speak or act.

     I watched him watch me, both of us desperate, both of us yearning to approach the other, both of us frozen in place.

     I knew he wanted desperately to take me away from here, to rescue me from this place, from the endless wait for the bus that never came.

     I knew he couldn’t, that he was powerless to do anything, that The Man was ever watching, watching me more closely than ever before.

     I turned away from New Man.  I couldn’t watch anymore, bear witness to the helpless concern in his eyes, on his face.

     I longed to run, to make a break for it.  Fogs of confusion eddied around in my mind, eating my memories, dissolving them into wisps of insubstantial fog.  I was losing that place, the hard wooden benches, the feeling I was there before in a place I don’t think I’d ever seen before, the vague sense of horses.  I was losing New Man’s group, though I occasionally glimpsed them hovering beyond the crowds of people coming and going for the bus, carefully staying beyond the plaza.

     I wandered towards the road, the cars, the buses constantly coming and stopping and leaving again after belching passengers and gobbling up new ones.

     I looked up and down the road, cars whizzing by, buses barreling past unstoppable and not stopping.

     I thought about throwing myself in front of one of those buses that never stopped.  Was one of them ours?  Was that why it never seemed to come, but everyone else’s did?

     I sat down on the curb instead.  The Man came and sat down beside me.  He talked to me.  He talked to me of love and loss, games and happy times.  He talked of losing me and finding me.  I have no idea what he said or what we talked about.  It’s all lost in the memory-eating fog.

     I remember his hand accidentally touching mine, his keeping it there after, feeling his entire body trembling through that hand.  Was it fear?  Relief?  Something else?

     I felt confused, lost.  I just wanted to run away.

     Why did no one seem to notice my distress?  New Man’s desperate looks my way?  That we were a group, together?  That we were here always waiting for a bus that never came?

     Then I came to realize.  They didn’t see us.  They just didn’t see us, nobody did.  We were invisible to them, a part of the crowd coming and going, but ourselves never moving.  Why?

     “See us!” I wanted to scream.  “Why don’t you just look at us and see us!?”

     “The bus is here,” The Man said.

     “Finally,” Lurker spat.

     Casual Pair got up and hurried for the bus, its yawning doors waiting for us, its dark interior waiting to gobble us up.

     I felt swept up in the tide of people moving for the bus, unable to stop my forward movement.

     New Man took a desperate step forward, craning to see me through the crowd, one hand silently reaching for me, his face twisted with concern and desperate need.

     The Man smiled down at me as I was swept up into the bus with the tide of people, following Lurker and Casual Pair, unable to stop the tide of people that seemed to push me forward, forcing me onto the bus.

     I turned back, taking one last look at New Man’s sad face as the yawning doors closed behind me.

     He watched the bus lurch away and speed up down the street.

     I watched him through the window, desperate.

     “Save me,” I whispered.

     It was a busy street where it all happened.  At least that’s where my earliest memory begins.

     You know the kind of street, where cars whiz by fast, people of every description come, go, or stop a while, and the air is filled with more smells and sounds than the senses can take in.

     We waited in the sometimes shelter and sometimes shade of the concrete at the base of the brick building next to the bus stop.  There was an almost plaza-like feel to the place, with the large open paved area squeezed in among the streets, sidewalks, and tall brick buildings all around.  There was no sidewalk between this particular building and the busy street it nestled against.  Pedestrians trying their luck on the street side of the building took their lives in their hands.  I was surprised by how many people did that.

     It was a very busy bus stop.  A nonstop tide of cars, buses, and people came and went constantly.

     I don’t know how long we waited, but it sure seemed like a very long time.  People came and went, buses came and went, and yet we waited, always waiting.  Would our bus never come?

     My mind felt like I was looking through a fog.  Everything was confusing, my memory somehow lost in a haze I just couldn’t quite see through.

     “Why was I here?  Where are we going?  What bus are we waiting for?  And, why won’t that bus ever seem to come?”

     I looked around.  Casual Pair sat against the wall chatting, Lurker meandered through the crowd.  The Man looked at me, smiled.  I spun my head to look, a Crowd Phantom?  But I could not pick anyone out of the crowd.

     On the edge of the plaza-like bus stop a ruddy faced man watched me with concern in his eyes and face.  His light brown, almost blond hair had a slight curl to it, making it seem softer.

     I didn’t know him, but he somehow felt familiar.

     The confusion grew as I looked about, at the cars and buses, the people, The Group, the man watching with such worried eyes.  I had a vague feeling that he was an outsider; that he didn’t belong and shouldn’t be here.  I sensed that he was here for me, the tickle of the feeling that almost wasn’t there, of a bond between this strange man and me. “New Man,” the name came unbidden to my mind.

     Why didn’t he approach?  Why didn’t anyone seem to notice him, us, to see?

     A tiny twisted knot of fear began in my stomach.  It slithered its way up, growing, filling me, and choking me.

     I wanted to make a run for it, to bolt.

     Would that bus never come?

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A Crocadilly Silly Day
L.V. Gaudet
© January 21, 2010

Today was a crocadilly silly day.
What is a crocadilly silly day, you ask?
Well, I’ll tell you. Just listen to this story.

It all started when I woke up in bed.
I blinked at the ceiling and said,
“I think a pet crocodile today would be fun.”
So I went to the computer and printed out one.

I snuck back to my room and tucked him into my bed,
so that when Mom came to wake me, she’d find him instead.
She pulled back the covers and stared with a funny look on her face,
surprised to find a crocodile instead in my place.

Aghast, she picked him up by the tail,
and put him in an old ice cream pail.
She put my crocodile out the front door.
And so I went and printed off two more.

With two crocodiles I wondered what to do,
and then put one each into Dad’s shoe.
Dad put on his shoe and let out a big “Yelp!”
He hopped about shouting for help.

Mom came to see and she knew just what to do.
She took his shoes and pulled out crocodiles one and two.
She put those crocks in and old shoe box,
and set them outside, tied shut with a pair of Dad’s long socks.

I crossed my arms and shook my head,
I’d have to find another place to keep my crocodiles instead.
Keeping a pet crocodile was becoming a big chore.
I went to the computer and printed off four more.

When my dog saw the crocodiles it was quite a sight.
Poor Rover thought crocodiles in the house just weren’t right.
The four crocodiles chased my poor dog around the kitchen,
and right out the door and through Mom’s freshly hung linen.

With Rover and those four crocks running through hill and dale,
another two in a box and one in an old ice cream pail,
I sighed and went back to the computer chair,
and printed off eight more crocodiles as I sat there.

Those crocodiles took off running through the house,
and one of them ate my big tyrannosaurus mouse.
They chomped on shoes, spilled plants, baubles, and books.
Two of them played chess while snacking on pawns and rooks.

“What happened to my house?” my Mother cried.
I shoed those crocodiles and told them, “Quick, go and hide.”
They scampered to hide in closets, cupboards, and shelves.
But they left a trail of mess behind themselves.

Dad stood with hands on hips as he shook his head at me.
I don’t think he appreciated all the crocodile insanity.
Carefully he picked up each crocodile by its nose,
and put it out by the garden hose.

I heard a noise from where the printer should have been,
and found more crocodiles counting sixteen.
Oh no, this certainly would not do!
Out of the printer was coming another thirty-two!

I had to get them out of the house!
This was worse than that time when I tried to keep a pet mouse!
I loaded them all onto my electric train,
and set them off chugging outside, whistle blowing through the rain.

I ran back to make sure the computer printed no more,
but I found more crocodiles – another sixty-four!
They chased me and nipped at my heels and my toes.
One of them even bit my on my nose!

 Hundreds of crocodiles were printing now,
I had to stop it but didn’t know how.
The house was filling to the roof beams and rafters.
Two of them eyed me and one said, “Wanna go halfers?”

I ran through the house as fast as I could go,
right past three crocs calling themselves Larry, Curly, and Moe.
Crocs sat on the table and ate from the chairs.
They played red riding hood and the three hungry bears.

I ran into the backyard and stopped in my tracks,
for there was a door marked “crocodile snacks”.
I called the crocodiles to all come and see,
and wouldn’t you know it, through that door they all followed me.

I ran back out the door and slammed it tight,
locking all those crocodiles out of sight.
I learned something that day, you can bet.
A crocodile does not make a good pet.

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This is a children’s story I wrote together with my six year old.  The story is hers.  I helped her put it into words.

 

The Princesses And The Pirates

by

L.V. Gaudet & S.P. Gaudet

(C) October 23, 2009

 

   

     Once upon a time there was a castle in a land far away.  There were two princesses who lived in that castle, who by a very strange coincidence of the stars were born on the same day in May but two years apart.  They were Princess Sidney and Princess Robyn.  They were born to King Steve and Queen Lori who were very happy and proud of their beautiful princess daughters.

     Unknown to all, far away in a place unknown, a group of pirates were looking for the two young princess sisters.  The pirate captain, the dread Captain Shift who happened to be the king of pirates, had two sons who, by a very strange coincidence of the stars, were born on the same day in June two years apart.

     An old gypsy woman told him that if his sons did not marry princess sisters also born on the same day two years apart a terrible fate would fall on his family.  She looked into her crystal ball and told him where to find such princess sisters.

     It was the night of the big ball.  The queen and king had asked two young princes, Prince Handsom and Prince Kistalot, to escort their princess daughters to the ball.

     It was a lovely affair, with ribbons and lace strung upon the walls with delicate grace.  Music danced on the air, and made everyone want to dance.  The princes asked the two princess sisters to grace them with a dance.

     The happy foursome was having a wonderful time at the ball.  But the hour grew late and they had to be home in time for the princesses’ curfew.  They hurried through the crowd of happy dancers to meet the carriage waiting in front of the palace to take them home.

     They piled into the carriage and with a snap of the whip it rushed off with them through the woods to the princesses’ castle.

     Suddenly, with a terrible yell, pirates surrounded the carriage and captured the princess sisters, leaving the battered princes behind.  They brought them to their ship waiting in the cove.

     The next morning, the pirates dragged the girls from where they locked them in the hull of the ship and brought them before the pirate captain.

     “You will marry my sons,” Captain Shift said.

     “No, never,” princesses Sidney and Robyn said together.

     “You will marry my sons or die!” Captain Shift demanded.

     “We would rather die!” the princesses cried.

     “So be it,” the pirate captain said.  He signaled to the pirates and they forced the girls onto the plank.

     “Walk the plank!” Captain Shift yelled.

     “No, we won’t walk the plank,” shouted the princesses.

     Then the pirates tied the princesses up and pushed them off the plank.

     The princes got there just in time to save the princesses.  They jumped into the water and helped the princesses swim to shore.

     The princes brought the princesses safely back to their castle.

     Sidney and Robyn were safe now, but they had to marry the princes because they had saved their lives.

     But the princesses did not want to marry the princes.  They wanted to marry them some day, but they were not ready to get married yet.

     Handsom and Kistalot agreed to make it a long engagement.  They were willing to wait until the princess sisters were ready to marry them.

     And so, there was a great celebration to announce the double engagement of the princess sisters Sidney and Robyn to their princes Handsom and Kistalot.  The wedding would be a story for another day.

 

 

 

The End

 

 

Bookmark The Princesses And The Pirates by L.V. Gaudet & S.P. Gaudet (Children Story)

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Falling

By L. V. Gaudet

© June 2009

 

 

     This is a mystery, as best as I can tell.  Or, perhaps, it is just a story about a mysterious journey of the mind.  Is it a crime?  Perhaps.  The crime of dreams unfulfilled, of a mind neglected; a crime of the mind, the heart, the soul.  Ok, perhaps a crime of the body as well.

     It started on a day much like today …

#

     “Where’s the child?”

     “She’s not much of a child anymore.  She’s what?  Thirty?”

     “Twenty-something.  She’ll always be a child to me.  Where is she?”

     “Downstairs.”

     “Quiet?”

     “Yes.”

     “Good.  Does she know I’m involved?”

     “No.  Not yet.”

     “Good.”

#

     Music played, sounding canned, tainted by the faint crackle of static.  It was upbeat music, a stark contrast to the very downbeat expression on the young woman’s face.

     She lay there, not sleeping, not really awake.  Staring, but not seeing.  Her mind rode the wave of the music, not feeling, not thinking, a dull throb of nothing drifting with the ebb and flow of sound.

     The creak on the basement stairs, dull thud of footsteps descending, shifting weight depressing the couch cushion beside her, all of it meant nothing to her, didn’t break into the nothingness that engulfed her mind.

     The man sat beside her, not looking at her, not listening to the music, silent.

     Finally she spoke, her words slurring as if she’d just woke from a deep slumber.

     “He’s dead, you know.”

     “I know.”

     “Why?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “I loved him.”

     “I know.”

     With a deep sigh the man rose and ascended the stairs heavily.  It was more than his own weight that he carried on his shoulders.

#

     The man paced, the old wooden floorboards groaning beneath his weight.

     “You were jealous of him, you know.  You said you weren’t, but you were.”

     “I know.”

     “You’re too old for her.”

     “I know.”

     “She’s too young for you.”

     “I know.”

     “She still loves him, you know.”

     “She’ll get over it.”

     “She’ll never love you.”

     “Maybe.”

#

     The man held a plate under the girl’s nose.  Well, not really a girl, a young woman, but in many ways still innocent and young, a girl.  It was a paper plate, not breakable.  He’d learned his lesson.

     “You have to eat.”

     She ignored him.

     “You’re getting thin.”

     “I’m already thin.”

     “You’re getting thinner.”

     “I don’t care.”

     “You’ll waste away.”

     “I don’t care.”

     “You’ll die.”

     “I don’t care.”

     “He would.”

     “What?”

     “Care.”

     He set the plate down on a rickety old table next to the couch.  Without another word he went back up the stairs.

 

#

     The man stood in the kitchen, staring at the window over the sink, staring only at his own reflection in the dirty glass.

     “Is she eating yet?” the man asked.

     “No.”

     “She will.”

     “Maybe.”

     “You’re worried.  Did she throw the plate against the wall this time?”

     “No.”

     “See?”

#

     The wind outside howled, rain pelting and raging against everything it touched.

     “Washing away the sins of man,” the man thought.

     “Who says they’re sins?”

     “God.”

     “God or man?  Who wrote the book?”

     “Ok, man.  But we’re made in his image aren’t we?  So, God.”

     “Man is insane, you know.  So, what does that make God?”

     “Us.”

#

     She watched the rain streaming in long twisted rivulets down the small basement window pane.  It didn’t let much light in when it was bright out.  Now it filled the little basement with a cold dark gloominess.

     “Tears,” she thought to herself.  “It looks like tears.”

     “The window is crying.”

     “The house is crying.”

     “The world is crying.”

     “I don’t cry.  Why?”

#

     She lay on the couch in her basement prison.  There were no bars on the windows, no locks on the doors, but it was still a prison.  She had nowhere else to go.

     She thought about the man upstairs.

     The thought repulsed her.

     “He thinks he’s in love with you, you know,” she thought to herself.

     “I know.”

     “He thinks he can make you love him.”

     “I know.”

     “He knows you still love Matt.”

     “Yes.”

     “He’s jealous.”

     “He’s jealous of a dead man.  That’s sick.”

     “He’s sick.”

     “I know.”

     “You should go.  Somewhere.”

     “I know.”

#

     The man was angry, very angry.  His face hardened, carved into hard lines, eyes hard, lips hard.  The pores of his skin seemed like tiny pock marks on a granite surface.  A bright red flush of anger began to spread across his face, starting at his ears, moving across his cheeks and up his forehead.

     He didn’t bother to hang up the phone.  Instead he felt in behind it for the cord, following its length, pulling the cord taut.  With a quick yank the little tab that holds the cord into the wall outlet snapped.  It was a quiet sound, almost unheard.  The little tab went flying to parts unknown, likely not to be found.  The cord snapped back, coiling in the air like a snake being tossed by its handler.  He roughly coiled up the cord around the phone and tossed it carelessly on the worn couch.  It was a rather ugly couch, its fabric outdated, threadbare, and stained in a few spots.  He would dispose of the phone, later.

     He glared at the closed door that, if he walked over and turned its worn knob, would open onto the stairs leading to the basement below.

     The conversation on the phone bothered him.  It angered him.  It frightened him.

     “They want to take her away, you know.”

     “I know.”

     “They think they’re helping her.”

     “They do.  They’re not.  She’s better off here.”

     “No she isn’t, not really.  You know that.”

     “Maybe.”

     “They’ll come and take her.”

     “No.”

     “They will.  You can’t stop them.”

     “I won’t let them.”

     “You won’t be able to stop them.”

     “I’ll move her.  They won’t find us.”

     “Maybe.”

     “Maybe.”

#

     The tires of the car growled dully against the pavement, a ceaseless whining drone.  They droned her to sleep mostly.  She didn’t know why she was here, or where they were going.  She knew what the man driving the car wanted, didn’t want it herself, and didn’t much care.  She didn’t care about much of anything.  Matt.

#

     “Why are we stopping?” the girl asked.

     “Engine’s overheating,” the man said.

     “Where are we?”

     “Nowhere.”

     “Good.”

     The man looked at her.  He wondered what was going through her mind.  He wondered if anything at all was going through her mind.  Was she thinking about that boy?  He wasn’t really a boy of course.  He was a man, a young man.  Now he wasn’t even that.  The boy didn’t beg or cry when he died, he just looked kind of sad.  The man would never forget that look.  It haunted his dreams.  It haunted his thoughts when he was awake.  When he looked at the girl, he saw the boy’s sad face, his sad eyes, heard the whisper of the girl’s name on the boy’s cracked lips.  It was an accident, all a terrible accident.

     The tires crunched to a stop on the gravel shoulder of the paved highway.  The car rocked slightly, its worn shocks squeaking.  The car shifted with his weight when he opened the door and climbed out, popping the hood on the way.  It was an ugly car, old, rust spots eating through the worn paint.  The hood’s hinges screeched as he lifted it to look underneath.  Wisps of steam came up from the engine, escaping from the overheating radiator.  He didn’t think the car could limp much further.

     The girl got out of the car, walking to the front like she was in a daze.  She leaned against the front side panel, looking at the man, not really looking at the man.

     “We’ll be fine,” the man said.

     She shrugged.

     He walked over to her, tried to put a comforting arm around her.

     She cringed, not wanting him to touch her, but tolerated it.

     He knew she didn’t want him to touch her.  Sometimes he didn’t care.  Sometimes he cared.  He cared.  He wanted to hit her, to roll his fingers into a fist and smash it into her face.  He didn’t.  Instead, he let go and stepped away from her.

     “We’ll have to wait a little for the car to cool down,” the man said.

     She said nothing, seemed oblivious to him.

     “Maybe we’ll have a little picnic,” he said.  “There’s a nice tree over there.  Won’t be much of a picnic.  I think there’s something left we can eat.”

     She just stood there, looking at nothing.

#

     “We could be together, you know,” the man said as they drove on.

     “I could have been with Matt,” the girl thought to herself, sitting in silence, staring out the window, not looking, not seeing.

     “You could be happy with me.”

     “I could be happy with Matt,” she thought.

     “You could love me.”

     “I love Matt,” she thought.

     “You could learn to love me,” he said.  “I’m not all that bad, am I?”

     “You disgust me,” she thought.

     “It was an accident, you know,” he said.

     “An accident,” she thought.

     He lapsed back into silence.  She seemed to be ignoring him.

#

     The girl was sleeping in the motel room.  It was an ugly room, old, worn, threadbare.  It has seen better days.  Then again, it looked like it had always been old, worn, and ugly.  It probably had roaches and who knows what else too.  He didn’t have any money.  Gas and food; that was all he could manage.  They’d have to skip out on the bill.  That didn’t matter; he’d given a false name anyway.  They were looking for him, looking for the girl really.

     The man sat at a worn half-rotting picnic table outside the motel.  Its paint had long ago peeled away.

     “She’ll never love you, you know.”

     “She will.”

     “She’ll find out.”

     “What?”

     “About you.  About Matt.  That you were there when he had the accident.”

     “It was an accident.”

     “You wanted it.”

     “It was an accident.”

     “You’re glad he’s dead.  She knows, somehow.  She feels it.”

     “Shut up.”

     “She’ll never love you.  She’ll blame you.  She’ll hate you.”

     “Shut up.”  His voice was rising, becoming choked, angry.  He balled his hands into fists on the table.

     “You should let her go.”

     “Shut up.”

     “Let her go.”

     “Shut the fuck up!”  He slammed his fists on the table, pushed himself away from it, untangled his legs from beneath and climbed out of the bench seat.  He stalked off angrily, his shoes crunching against the gravel of the parking lot.

#

     She wasn’t really sleeping.  She just pretended she was so he would leave her alone.  Something deep in her mind called out to her.  She shushed it.  She didn’t want to hear what it had to say, didn’t want to think about it, and didn’t want to think at all.  Matt.

     “He’s probably going to do it tonight, you know.”

     “I know.”

     “Leave.  Just get up and leave, now.  Go somewhere, anywhere, somewhere else, not here.”

     Silence.

     “Matt wouldn’t want this.  Not for you, not for him.”

     “Matt’s gone.”

     “You’re not.”

     “I might as well be.”

     “What do you want?
     “Nothing.”

     “You want Matt.”

     “He’s gone.”

     “Yes, he is.”

     “You should go.”

     “Where?”

     “Anywhere.  Away from here, away from him.”

     “Why?”

     “You know why.”

     “Ok.”

#

     The girl was gone when the man returned to the motel room.  His heart sank, it broke, crumpled and crumbled into a million pieces, yet he refused to believe she was gone.  He searched the room.  There was nowhere to hide, but he searched it anyway.  He ran outside, looked around, unable to really look.  He ran to the diner, she wasn’t there.  He ran to the motel office, no girl.  He started to panic.

     “She’s gone.”

     “No.”

     “She left you.”

     “No.”

     “Face it.  You’ve lost her.”

     “I’ll find her.  Bring her back.”

     “Let her go.”

     “No.”

     He jumped into the car, turned it over.  It stalled and died.  He tried again, it sputtered and caught.  The wheels sprayed gravel as he tore out of the parking lot.  He paused at the entrance.  It was a fifty-fifty shot.  Left or right?  It was a greater than fifty-fifty shot.  What if she hitched a ride?  There was no traffic.  But if someone did come, they’d certainly pick her up.  He turned right, accelerated hard, and sped down the road.

     “I’ll find her.”

     “Let her go.”

     “No.”

#

     He saw a figure in the distance, walking slowly on the shoulder of the road.

     “What if it’s not her?”

     “It’s her.”

     “But if it’s not?”

     “It’s her.  It has to be.”

     It was the girl.  She looked too skinny, too skinny and too tired.

     He slammed the brakes on just before coming alongside the figure walking in the road, the tires ground and squealed; the ABS brakes shuddered and knocked, grinding with an ugly gnashing sound.  He threw the car into park, shoved the door open, jumped out and ran around to the girl.

     He grabbed her, holding her tight, so tight it hurt.

     “Where are you going?” he gasped, breathing into her dirty hair.

     “Nowhere,” she whispered.

     “You were leaving me.”

     Silence.

     “Where would you go?  Where do you have to go?”

     “Nowhere,” she thought to herself.  Silence.

     “Don’t leave me.  Don’t ever leave me.”

     “I want to.”

     “I won’t let you.”

     He held on to her arm as he led her to the car, afraid to let go, afraid she might run.

     She didn’t struggle.  She let him put her in the car.  She didn’t really care.  Matt.

     The man drove back to the motel.  He left her sitting in the car while he ran in and hurriedly grabbed their stuff.  He jammed it quickly into the back seat through the driver’s side door and over the driver’s side seat.  He got in, slammed the door and started the car.  They turned right at the entrance and drove in silence.

#

     “Where were you?” the girl asked, “When Matt died?”

     “Nowhere,” the man said.

     “You were following me.”

     “Yes.”

     “You were following Matt.”

     “Yes.”

     “Why?”

     “I love you.”

     “You don’t know me.”

     “Doesn’t matter.  I saw you and I loved you.”

     “You sent me those notes, left stuff on my doorstep.”

     “Yes.”

     “Why?”

     “I wanted you.”

     “I love Matt.”

     “Matt’s gone.”

     “You’re too old for me.”

     “Maybe.”

#

     He looked at the girl sleeping in the seat beside him as he drove.  So beautiful.  Mine.

     “She knows.”

     “No she doesn’t.”

     “She suspects.”

     “She can’t.”

     “You were there, you saw it, you wanted it.”

     “She doesn’t know that.”

     “You do.  She’ll figure it out.  She feels it.”

     “It wasn’t my fault.”

     “She’ll leave.”

     “I won’t let her.”

     “They’ll find you.  They’ll take her back.”

     “I won’t let them.”

     “You’ll lose her.”

     “I’ll kill her first.”

#

     “He fell, you know,” the girl said.

     She didn’t look at him, just stared out the car window at the passing scenery, not seeing it, un-focusing her eyes so the trees and grass were nothing but a blur, a mind-numbing blur.  Numbness, it was her salvation.  She didn’t feel anything, didn’t want to feel anything.

     “I know,” the man said.

     “How?”

     “I heard.  It was on the news.  Ok?”

     “Ok.”

     “I don’t know why he was there.”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Why did he fall?”

     “He fell.”

     “Why did he die?”

     “He fell.”

     “I’m empty now.”

     He didn’t say anything.

     “All our plans, our hopes, our dreams.  They’re gone.  Broken.  Broken with his body, on the ground.”  Her voice was as empty as her heart.

     He drove on in stony faced silence, his teeth clenching, knuckles white from their hard grip on the steering wheel.  He wanted to hit her, to shut her up, to shut her up forever.

#

     “You haven’t touched her yet.”

     “No.”

     “You want to.”

     “Yes.”

     “She doesn’t want you to, you know.”

     “I know.”

     “She doesn’t like you.  You disgust her.”

     “I know.”

     “You don’t care, do you?”  It wasn’t a question.  He already knew the answer.

     “I love her.”

     “She doesn’t love you.  She loves a dead man.”

     “She could.”

     “She won’t.”

     “I’ll make her.”

     “Let her go.”

     “No.”

#

     She just lay there, motionless, not feeling, not thinking, not caring.  The man grunted and moved on top of her.

     He finally stopped and rolled off her, angry.

     This wasn’t what he wanted.

     He wasn’t what she wanted.

     He wasn’t Matt.  Good riddance to Matt.

     He glared at the girl.  She just laid there as he left her, motionless, half dressed, eyes staring sightlessly at the wall.  He felt dirty.  He felt like hitting her.  He didn’t.

     “Are you hungry?” he asked the girl.

     Silence.

     “You should eat.”

     Silence.

     “I’ll bring you something back.  What do you want?”

     Silence.

     “I’ll bring something.”

     “I don’t care,” she thought to herself.

     He left the motel room.  It was a different motel.  Just as old and worn and ugly.  So, it was different, but it was the same.

#

     The man ate his burger, sauce dripping down his chin.

     It grossed her out.  Her burger sat on its opened wrapper where the man left it, untouched.  She wasn’t hungry.  She didn’t feel like eating.

     “If I don’t eat, maybe I’ll die,” she thought to herself.

     “Where were you?” the girl asked, not looking at the man.  “When Matt fell, where were you?”

     “Nowhere.”

     “Everybody’s somewhere.”

     “It’s not important.”

     “You were there.”

     “No.”

     “You where there.”

     “It doesn’t matter.  Matt’s gone.”

     “It does.  You were there.”

     “Ok.”

     She glanced at him, looking away sullenly.

     “Did he know?”

     “Know what?”  His heart raced, it stopped, and it stuck in his chest like a lump of dry hamburger that would not go down.  He started to sweat.

     “He was about to fall.  Did he know?”

     “Yes.”  He swallowed.  He didn’t want to do this, didn’t want this conversation.  He wanted her to just shut up.

     “Was he scared?”

     “No.”

     “No?”

     “No.”

     “Then what?”

     “What?”

     “He wasn’t scared.  He must have been something.”

     “Sad.  Just sad.”

     “Ok.”

#

     She lay there in the dark motel room, on the bed.  The weight of the man dented the mattress beside her.  He snored.  He disgusted her.

     “You should leave.”

     “I know.”

     “He’s asleep.  Just get up, put your clothes on, and go.”

     “Yeah.”

     “So why aren’t you?”

     “I don’t know.”

     She listened to the night noises outside the room, insects buzzing, a distant car passing by.  Not much else.

     “He lied.”

     “I know.”

     “He said he wasn’t there, you know, when Matt died.”

     “He was there.”

     “He was.  You knew it.”

     “Yes.”

     “What else did he lie about?”

     “Everything.”

     “You should leave.  Go somewhere.”

     “He won’t let me.”

     “He’s asleep.  He can’t stop you.  Go.”

     “Where?”

     “Anywhere.  Go home.”

     “I can’t.”

     “Why?”

     “Matt.”

     “Matt’s gone.”

     “Yes.”

     Another car passed by.

     “You could hitch a ride.  You’d be long gone when he woke up.”

     “He’d only come after me.”

     “You knew didn’t you?”

     “Yes.  Knew what?”

     “What he was.  What he wanted.”

     “I suppose.”

     “He was there.  Why?”

     “He was always there.”

     “That’s just creepy.”

     “Yes, it is.  He’s creepy.”

     “You think he did it, don’t you.”

     “No.”

     “You do.  You think he killed Matt.”

     “No.”

     “You do.”

     “Ok, I do.”

     “Leave.”

     “No.”

     “Why?”

     “I’m scared.”

     “Scared.  Why?  What are you scared of?”

     “Me.  Him.  Matt most of all.”

     “Matt?”

     “He’s gone.  That scares me.”

     “Ok.”

#

     The man was walking across the parking lot, getting the car to bring it closer.  He kept a wary eye on the motel room door.  He had to make sure the girl didn’t try to sneak away again.  They would be skipping out on the bill again.

     “She’s getting weaker, you know.”

     “I know.”

     “She hasn’t eaten in days.”

     “I can’t help it.  What do you want me to do?”

     “Let her go.”

     “I can’t do that.”

     “Why not?”

     “I just can’t.”

     “She’ll die if you don’t.”

     “Shut up.”

     “She thinks you killed Matt.  I can see it in her eyes.”

     “It was an accident.”

     “You were there.”

     “It was an accident.”

     “She doesn’t believe that.”

     “No.”

#

     They stopped for gas.  The man carefully counted the money he had left.  Not much.  He was scared.  He didn’t know what to do.  He needed money.

     “I could call her family, ask them for money.”

     “Then they’d know where you are.  They’d come, they’d take her back.”

     “I need money.  I have to look after her, feed her.”

     “She won’t eat it anyway.”

     “I don’t know what to do.  I’m tapped out.  I’m tired.  I’m scared.”

     “Steal.”

     “I can’t.  That would be wrong.”

     “What you did was wrong.  Taking the girl was wrong.”

     “It’s too late for that.”

     A police officer walked out of the little store at the gas station, turning his head to watch the man filling the car with gas as he walked past to his squad car.

     This made the man nervous.

     “Why is he staring?”

     “He knows.  He recognizes you.  Let her go.”

     “I can’t.  Not now.”

     The police officer looked at the unhappy young woman slouched in the car seat.  He looked at the car.  He looked too long.

     “He doesn’t know.  He can’t”

     “He does.  They’re looking for you, looking for her.  It was only a matter of time, you knew that.”

     He fumbled the nozzle, almost dropped it.  He returned it to its rest and turned back to the car, leaning in through the open window.

     “Stay here,” the man said to the girl.

     She ignored him.

     He walked stiffly to the store to pay for the gas.  He was nervous, sweating.  He hurriedly grabbed a few bags from the chip rack near the checkout, not even looking at what he grabbed.  He paid quickly and walked a little too fast to the car.

     The police officer hadn’t really been interested in the man.  He was just some guy at the gas station.  It was the man’s obvious nervousness that piqued the police officer’s curiosity.  He noticed the young woman in the car.  There was nothing special about her, nothing out of place.  She looked sad.  He wondered briefly why she looked so sad.  He looked at the car, the plates.  They’ve come far from home, these two.

     The police officer was going to just get in his car and drive away.  The man seemed so nervous.  Why?  The man seemed to become downright agitated over the officer looking at the girl.

     He watched the man walk to the little store.  He walked too stiffly, as if it was all he could do not to bolt and run.

     He ran the plates.

#

     The man got in the car, started it, and pulled away.

     The girl turned and looked at him, her eyes blank, unfeeling, uncaring.

     “You’re scared,” she said.

     “Of what?” the man said a little too gruffly.

     “I don’t know.  What are you scared of?”

     “Nothing.”

     She turned to look behind them, at the police car now out of sight.  The cop had been doing something in the car when they left.

     “The cop?”

     “No.”

     “Then why are you in such a hurry?”

     “I’m not.”

     “You’re driving too fast.”

     “So?”

     “You’re running, trying to get away.”

     He wanted her to shut up.

     “You killed Matt,” she said emotionlessly, her voice sounding dead.  She felt dead.

     “No, I didn’t.”

     “You were there.”

     “It was an accident.”

     “You killed him, and then you took me.”

     “No.”

     “You didn’t take me?”

     “Ok, yes I did.”

     “So,” she paused, “you killed him.”

     “Yes, I mean, no.”

     She stared at him, couldn’t look at him anymore, and looked away, staring out the window.

     The man drove.  He didn’t like that cop.  He’d looked too long and hard at him, the girl, and at the car.  He had to get as far away from there as he could.

     “Why did you kill Matt?” she asked, her voice bland and empty.  She felt empty.

     “I didn’t.”

     “Was it because I loved him?”

     “No.”

     “Because he loved me?”

     “No.  I didn’t kill him.”

     “You were there.  You’re always there.”

     “It was an accident.”

     “An accident.  Your killing him?”

     “Yes, no.  I mean no.”  Why wouldn’t she just shut up?  He felt like hitting her, making her shut up.

     “You wanted me.”

     “Yes.”

     “At all costs.”

     “No cost.  No cost could be worthy of you.”

     She saw Matt, standing there, looking at her in her mind’s eye.  He looked sad.

     “You killed him because you couldn’t have me.”

     “Yes, no.  I mean, I couldn’t have you.  You loved him.  It was only an accident.”

     “Nothing’s an accident.”

#

     The man pulled off the road.  There was nothing around here.  Field, trees, one of those large hydro towers not far off, the kind that have power lines strung across them from tower to tower but look like they should be in a giant’s playground.  Giant ugly monkey bars in a row that vanishes in the distance and strung together with cables.

     He sat there, thinking.  He didn’t know what to do.

     “They’re going to find you, you know.”

     “Maybe.”

     “They’ll take her away.”

     “I won’t let them.”

     “She wants to go.”

     “I won’t let her.”

     “You can’t run, you know.”

     “Sure I can.”

     “You’re lousy at it, I mean.  There’s only a few roads out of that town.  You won’t be hard to find.”

     “Maybe.”

#

     “Do you have to pee?” the man asked the girl.

     She just shrugged noncommittally.

     “If you do, you should do it now.”

     She got out of the car and looked around.

     “There’s no place to pee,” she said.

     “Go behind a bush,” he said.

     He watched her wander off.  He thought about following her, putting his hands around her neck, squeezing.

     He heard distant sirens.  He froze, listening.  He turned this way and that, looking, couldn’t see anything coming.  There was a bend in the road going both ways.  He was getting more scared.  He might lose her.  He might really lose her.

     “Where’s the girl?”

     “She’s ok, just peeing.  Not far.”

     “Where?”

     He looked, couldn’t see her.  He got out of the car, started walking, walking in circles, looking, looking in circles.  Panic filled him.  He had to find her.  Now!

     He finally spotted her.

#

     The girl looked down.  The bar she sat on was very uncomfortable, digging in.  At least she felt it.  She didn’t feel anything.  It was a long way down.  The tower was very high, she was very high.

     She saw Matt’s face.  He wasn’t smiling.  He looked sad.

     “Matt.”

#

     “Come down,” the man yelled.  His heart was in his throat, choking him.  He couldn’t breathe.  He stared at the girl.  She was so high, so high.

     She leaned forward, dangerously.

     “No!” he wanted to yell, but didn’t.

     He stared at her, unable to look away, knowing what was coming, not knowing what was coming.

     He saw Matt’s face.  He wasn’t smiling.  He wasn’t scared either.  He just stared back at him, calmly, looking sad.  So very sad.  The boy never struggled when he pushed him.  He probably knew there was no point, that he would die regardless.  The boy had only stared at him, so sad.  Then, as he toppled past the brink, past the point of return, he whispered her name.  That had been all he said, that name, whispered so softly, caressed so gently, so lovingly, across his lips.  And he was gone.  A dull thud moments later.  He’d thought he felt him hit the ground, but wasn’t sure.  It could have been his imagination.

#

     She saw Matt’s face.  Sad, so very sad.  He whispered her name.

     She leaned forward, not seeing, seeing only his face, not feeling.

     Falling.  Falling.

     “Matt,” she whispered, the word softly caressing her lips.

     Moments later, a dull thud.

Bookmark Falling by L.V. Gaudet (Murder/Mystery Short Fiction)

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Old Mill Road

By L. V. Gaudet

© June 2009

 

 

     The four kids stood around looking down at it.

     “I don’t think we should tell anyone,” David said.  He was the oldest of the group, a virtual adult at ten.

     “We have to,” his brother Ian insisted.

     “They’ll think we did it,” he warned.  “We could go to jail.”

     The third boy, Nick, youngest of the children, whimpered.  He didn’t want to go to jail.  That was where they put bad people like Uncle Harvey.  Uncle Harvey scared him, a lot.  He didn’t want to go live in jail with Uncle Harvey.  He started to bawl.

     Felicia just stood there next to her little brother Nick, her face ashen, shivering although it was quite warm and sticky with the humidity left by the waning hot day.

     The sky grew darker, the sun lowering on the horizon, as they stood there mutely staring like worshipers at a grisly shrine.  Finally, they nodded their wordless agreement, turned, and melted into the fast darkening woods, looking more like specters than living children.  This would be their secret.

#

     The closing screen door banged loudly behind David.  He dropped his school bag, kicked off his shoes, and ran for the television in the living room.

     “Don’t slam the door,” a woman’s voice called belatedly from somewhere.

     Ian soon came in, more carefully than his older brother, and joined David lying on the floor watching cartoons.

     “Psst.”

     David looked around for the source of the sound.

     “Psst.”

     He got up and walked to the kitchen doorway.  Felicia was at the screened door, waving at him with a finger at her lips.  He walked over.

     “What?” he whispered, a little annoyed.  His irritation quickly vanished when he saw her face discolored and eyes red and swollen from crying.

     He slipped out the door, careful not to let it bang on its spring-loaded hinges, and pulled her aside, full of concern for both her and their secret.

     “What’s wrong?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Whadaya mean you don’t know?”

     “Everybody’s gone crazy,” she whispered.  “Mom just keeps crying.  Dad is stomping about yelling at everybody, people come and go from the house.  They whisper and stare at us with weird looks.”

     He arched an eyebrow at her, his question unvoiced.

     She whimpered.

     “Dad’s yelling at someone on the phone, at Mom, at us.  The cops were there, outside the house, he yelled at them too.”

     David shook his head.  This was serious.  You didn’t yell at cops, everybody knew that.

     “Do they know?” he asked.

     “I-I don’t know,” she sobbed.  “I-I’m scared.  So’s Nick.”

     Felicia’s mother’s voice carried to them on the wind, calling her to come home.

     “I gotta go,” she whispered.

     David watched her run away down the road toward home.  She ran with that awkward gait of a girl whose growth needs to catch up to her long lanky legs.

     The next day when he went to her house after school nobody was there.  The place had an empty feel to it, like it was deserted.  The front window curtains were drawn tight.  He pulled an old wooden crate that had been left sitting by the back gate to a spot beneath a window.  Standing on tip-toes and pulling himself up by the window ledge, he could just see inside.

     What he could see didn’t look right.  It wasn’t as tidy as usual.  His friend’s mother was well known around town for being too neat for the liking of the town gossips.  It was nothing major, just little things that were never out of place.  The large vase that always sat beside the living room end table with decorative sticks of some kind was tipped on its side.  A shirt or something, he couldn’t tell what, lay discarded on the floor.  He could just make out, past the doorjamb to the kitchen, one end of the dining table.  Flies buzzed about an unfinished dinner there.

     That was the last he saw of Felicia and Nick and their family.

#

     The train rattled past the old train station without slowing down.  Trains didn’t stop here anymore.  The station was nothing more than a wooden platform, partially covered by a sagging wooden roof which now had many large holes and missing boards and a very small ticket office.  The rusted old padlock barely held the door closed, its old screws sagging loosely in the worn wood.  Two men waited, though no train would come.  They were men, barely.

     Ian scuffed his toes against the rotting timber of the platform, silently hoping it wouldn’t give way beneath his weight.

     David sat calmly on one end of the wooden bench.  The other end looked like it had been chewed off by rot, the half-seated frame looking soft and cracked and unlikely to hold a man’s weight.  He watched his younger brother pace.

     “They’re building homes up there on the old road,” Ian said.  “A whole development.”

     David looked at him with a surprised look.

     “Wow,” he said, “I’d forgotten.”

     “Yeah, me too.  It’s been a lot of years.”

     David shook his head, amused.  He chuckled.

     “Man, were we dumb.”

     “Uh-huh.  Bunch of dumb kids.”  Ian didn’t look amused.  “They’ll find it you know.”

     “So?”

     “What if they figure out we were there?  Think we had something to do with it?”

     “We didn’t.  We were just a bunch of kids.  Nobody would suspect a bunch of kids.”  David shrugged, sighed.  “Besides, they don’t throw kids in jail.”

     Ian chuckled.  It was an unsure and nervous sound.

     “Yeah, but we sure thought they would.”

     “Yeah.”

     Ian looked at his brother with a dark look.

     “But they could now,” he said, “couldn’t they?”

     “They wouldn’t.  We were just kids then,” David said.  “Besides we didn’t do anything.  We just found it.”

     “Yeah, but it could have been us.”

     “It could have been anybody.”

     “We were there.”  Ian looked tired, almost sick.  “Jeese man, it was just a kid.”

     They were interrupted by a crashing through the bush.  Both men turned to look in the direction of the noise.

     “They’re here,” David said.

     Ian shook his head, a puzzled look on his face.

     “It’s the wrong direction,” he said.  “Why would they be coming through the woods?”

#

     The deafening growl of the large machines scraping away at the raw open wounds in the earth couldn’t drown out the sharp cracks of trees being violently crushed and their sturdy trunks snapped.  Their large treads left deep patterns in the damp hard-packed mud as they trundled about, unstoppable.  The background noise of saws and hammers could barely be heard in the cacophony.

     A white dented trailer sat parked haphazardly at the edge of the black scraped ground.  A hastily crafted boardwalk lay mud-spattered across the black expanse to a grassy area, populated by thin mostly dead trampled grass, where an assortment of trucks was parked.

     On the edge of this parking area a group of middle-aged and graying suited men stood about looking important, waving and pointing at the construction area with what looked like rolled plans and blueprints in their hands.  A couple of them even wore hard hats, a completely unnecessary accessory since they wouldn’t get close enough to dirty their nicely pressed suits, let alone risk bumping their well coiffed heads.

     One of the men paused, looking hard at the young man driving a bulldozer.

     “Say, isn’t that Rueben’s boy?” he asked no one in particular.

     The man beside him stared, thinking.

     “Why yes, I think it is,” he said.  “What was his name again?”

     “Wow, haven’t seen them in years.  Nick, I think.  They moved away didn’t they?”

     “Or ran away,” the man chortled.  “Heard there were some problems with the wife’s brother.”

     They were brought back to the conversation at hand by the others of their group, planning the construction of the new development on the old Mill Road.

     The young man driving the bulldozer was completely unaware of the men’s sudden interest in him.  He never understood why his family hastily packed a few bags, jumped in the family car, and drove far away after a telephone call interrupted dinner that night long ago.  It had been a strange day.  He vaguely remembered discovering something bad in the woods with his friends.  He didn’t remember what, but he did remember the police, his dad yelling a lot at everybody, his mother crying, and his sister’s very strange behavior.  Even now, his dreams were haunted by hazy images, disgusting insects crawling through moss and dead leaves rotting in the dark woods, a face that looked strangely soft and putty-like.  A face that wasn’t really a face, a face that wasn’t all there, like it was in the process of being made or un-made by an un-skilled special effects creator.  The face would call his name, its dead eyes weeping, mouth twisted in a grimace of pain and fear.

     This is why he came back.  Something happened to his family that day, something that changed them forever.  He wasn’t sure what, but he knew something terrible lay hidden in the woods along the old Mill Road.  He remembered a silent pact of secrecy made by frightened children, a pact his sister’s haunted eyes never let him forget.  Whatever it was it had to remain a secret.  When he learned of the development being built he once again tossed a hastily packed bag in the car and drove.  It wasn’t hard to get a job on one of the work crews.  Workers were being brought in from all over for this large project and they weren’t bothering to check backgrounds.  Harder, was trying to drive a bulldozer he’d lied about knowing how to drive.

     A man stood at the edge of the woods some distance away from where the heavy machinery was tearing the woods apart.  He was worn and weathered looking, dressed in old clothing that were as old in style as they were in wear.  He had the look of a grizzled man who had seen too much, his age lost somewhere in the years of unpleasant experiences.  Nobody noticed the man standing in the shadows of the trees.  He watched the young man driving the bulldozer with obvious inexperience.  He noticed the suited men take notice of the young man, relaxing when they returned to their conversation, ignoring the young man again.  He backed away, melting into the woods, and vanished.

#

     David and Ian ran hard down the overgrown road leading away from the old abandoned train station, their breath coming in ragged gasps, legs aching from the effort, faces pinched with strain and fear.

     They were so absorbed in their running they didn’t notice the approaching car.  It was an older car, well used, and looked filled to capacity with young men.  Its tires crunched on the broken chunks cracked out of the old road that hasn’t been maintained for the past decade.  The car stopped and waited for the running men.  They almost ran headlong into the front grill.

     The men inside laughed uproariously at the two brothers.

     “Whadaya running from?” the driver called, leaning out his window to address the two out-of-breath men.

     The brothers just looked at each other, trying to catch their breath.

     “What (gasp) the hell (gasp) was that?” Ian asked between ragged gasps for air.

     “Bear?” David gasped.

     Ian shook his head.

     “That was no bear,” he puffed.

     “You being chased by monsters?” the driver laughed at them.

     The brothers gave the driver an unimpressed look.  They had all heard the same tales as kids.  Tales they told each other in the darkened corners of rotting abandoned outbuildings, trying to outdo scaring the wits out of each other.  There was one story that has been told for generations, of a strange and frightening creature living in the woods, rumored to be the cause of the occasional mysterious disappearance of backpackers, campers, and children.

     Disappearances in the area were almost non-existent, but that didn’t stop the stories.  One such story was that the strange creature and some rather brutal unexplained deaths at the old mill at the end of the old Mill Road was the reason the mill was abandoned many years ago.

     A car door swung open with a grinding squeal.

     The brothers got in, wedging themselves into the already overpopulated car.

     “So, where we going?” David asked.

     “Down to the old Mill Road,” the driver called back as he gunned the engine, turning the car around too fast in the narrow roadway.  “We’re going to go check out the construction going on down there.”

#

     David and Ian sat together at a worn table in the dimly lit old beer parlor, the only one in their little town.  Glasses of draft beer on the table between them caught the light, making it seem brighter within the confines of the golden liquid.

     “I just can’t believe it,” Ian said, “little Nicky, here.”

     “And working at the site of the new development on Mill Road.”

     “Do you think he remembers?”

     David shook his head thoughtfully, his eyes lowered against his own memories trying to peer out through them.

     “He was the youngest,” he said, “maybe, probably not.”

     “You think it’s just a coincidence then?  He suddenly shows up, there of all places, when they start tearing the woods apart?”

     “I always wondered what happened to them,” David said.

     “When did they move away?”

     “That next night; the day after we found it in the woods.”  He stared at his beer as if it somehow held the past like a crystal ball.

     “She came to the house after school the day after we found it,” David continued.  “She’d been crying, said everyone in her house went crazy, cops were there.  She was scared.  They never came to school the next day.”

     His eyes looked hollow, as if he’d lost something from sight long ago and has been looking for it ever since.

     “I went to their house after school,” he went on, “they were gone.  It was like they just vanished, or were taken or something.  Dinner was still on the table.”  He paused.  “I remember that.  I’ll always remember that, dinner was still on the table.”

     “I always thought you’d marry her when we grew up,” Ian said.

     They both lapsed into silence.

     Someone entered the bar.  The brothers looked up to see who it was.  Their faces changed, brightened somewhat.

     “Hey!  Nick!” David called, waving the interloper over.

     The man turned, squinting to see who called him, his eyes not yet adjusted to the dim interior after the bright sun.

     “Hey,” he called back, waving back at them, approaching uncertainly.

     “What brought you back after all these years?” David asked.  Something in his friendly expression was off, guarded.

     “Work,” Nick said as he joined them.

     David looked around, caught the waitress’s eye, and signaled her to bring another round of drafts for the table.

     “Just going where the work is, eh?” David said.

     “’Bout it,” Nick answered, studying his long ago friend as if his face might give up some deep secret.

     “Hey, look who’s here,” a voice called from across the room.  All three young men turned to look at a figure shuffling to them from the shadows beyond the end of the bar lined with bar stools.  It was an older man, obviously accustomed to spending a great deal of time here and somewhat inebriated.

     “Little Nick,” he slurred, clapping the young man loudly on the back.  He cocked his head at him.  “You’re not old enough to drink are you?” he slurred with a wink, whispering too loud.

     Nick glanced quickly at the waitress as if she might actually kick him out if she’d overheard.  It wouldn’t have mattered if he was under the legal age.  It was well known they didn’t bother to kick out paying customers, even if they were under-aged.

     “Your family move back?” the drunk asked.

     “No, I’m just here for the building project, then I’ll be moving on.”

     “Un,” the drunk grunted.  “Always wondered what happened to the lot of you after that trouble with your uncle.  What was his name?”

     “Harvey.”

     “Yeah, ol’ Uncle Harvey.”

     “What trouble?” David asked; his face unreadable.

     Nick shook his head, holding his silence.

     “Just got out of jail back then, s’what I heard,” the drunk told them.  “Manslaughter.  Killed some kid.  Didn’t get enough time for it s’far as I’m concerned.”  He glared around the room as if Uncle Harvey might appear at any moment.

     “Heard he was skulking around your house, making some trouble.  Ol’ Joe said he hit your mom, threatened her or somethin’.”

     David studied Nick’s face, watching it work, twitching with the effort of holding something back.  He exchanged a meaningful glance with Ian, a look that Nick caught and was not happy about.

     “Look,” Nick said, jumping from his chair, “I gotta go.”

     “We’ll come with you,” David said, getting up to follow.

     Nick was not happy about this.

     The three men left, Ian running to catch up after hurriedly tossing some money on the table to pay the bill.

     “Do you remember?” David whispered harshly to Nick.

     “What?”

     “You know what.”  He wasn’t buying it.  “That day in the woods off old Mill Road.”  They stopped and stared at each other, a stare down to see who’d win where there could be no winner.

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nick insisted.

     “It’s no coincidence you suddenly appear when they started digging up the woods, and working on the job site.  What are you here for?” David demanded.

     “Are you trying to find it?”  He looked at the younger man, feeling that he was keeping something very important a secret.  “To expose your uncle or to protect him?”

     “You don’t know anything,” Nick said, angry.

     “No I don’t,” David spat.  “All I know is that my friend and her family vanish after we find a dead kid in the woods, nobody would tell me anything, and suddenly you come back when the body is sure to be found.”  He glared at the younger man, breathing heavily, ready to pounce on him to pound the answers out of him.

     “Fine,” Nick snapped at him.  “Yes, I’m here to find the body before anyone else does.  I’m here to find it and get rid of it.  Maybe if I get rid of it everything will be ok again.  It has never been ok; nothing has been ok since that day.”

     Nick’s mind worked wildly.  A body?  So that’s what it is they’d left hidden in the woods that fateful day.  He’d always known his sister knew more about it than she let on, although she would always only deny it.  But he knew she knew more.  It was in her eyes.

     David stared at him in a mixture of contempt and need.

     “Your sister,” he asked, “what’s she feel about all this?”

     Nick shifted his stance, as if getting ready to make a break for freedom.

     “I’ve always wondered all these years,” David continued.  “She took it harder than all of us when we found the body.  Where is she?  How’s she doing?”  He studied Nick, wondering why he was so edgy.

     “She’s fine, she’s around, not here,” Nick answered, his eyes shifting as if he was worried someone might overhear them.

     “What happened?” David pressed.  “All those years ago, when your family disappeared?  Where’d you go?  Why?”

     “We just moved, that’s it, we moved.”  Nick was being defensive, secretive.  He was obviously on edge and becoming more so with the questioning.

     A group of young men passing by them stopped and called to them.

     “Hey, did you hear?”

     “What?”

     “A body’s just been found up at the old Mill Road construction site, a kid or something.”

     Nick’s face paled.

     In small towns news travels faster than the news happens.  At that moment a police cruiser pulled up beside the young men.  The driver’s window rolled down and the occupant leaned out casually.

     “Know where your uncle is?” he asked Nick, “Your Uncle Harvey?”

     “Why?” Nick asked with a tremor in his voice.

     “No reason,” the officer said, “just looking for him.”

     The officer didn’t have to tell him.  He knew.  Nick knew they’d found something with the body, something incriminating that would lead straight to Uncle Harvey.  He remembered Uncle Harvey well, though he hadn’t seen him in years.  He was a bad man who did bad things.  He still scared him after all these years.

     The cruiser’s radio crackled to life with the news that Harvey had been located and arrested.

     “I’ll see you boys around,” the officer said meaningfully, staring directly at Nick.  He put the car into gear and drove away.

     David turned back to Nick, studying him.

     “So, old Uncle Harv maybe is the one that killed that kid we found all those years ago,” David said to him.  The statement was so loaded it was dripping with unsaid meaning.

     There was something in Nick’s look that told him he was hiding something about Uncle Harvey.  As kids, Nick never could keep a secret.  His face always gave him away.  Apparently it still did.  “What are you hiding?” he wondered.

     “Look, I really gotta go,” Nick said.  He turned and walked away, ignoring their calls.

     “He’s hiding something,” David said to his brother.  “He knows something about all this he’s not telling.”

     Ian shrugged.  He couldn’t understand why this was bothering his brother so much, why he felt so compelled to dig it all up again.

     “I’m going to find out what it is,” David declared.

     “Well, I’ll see you later,” Ian said.

     “Later.”

#

     It was dusk and the shadows were deepening across everything.  It was that time at the end of the day when frayed nerves jumped at nothing and an overwrought mind played tricks.

     David wandered the edge of the woods just beyond where the now idle heavy equipment was clearing brush.  Yellow police tape ruffled in the breeze, draped and ugly, marking off the area.  He knew he wouldn’t find anything, but he looked anyway.

     His eyes scanned the area, seeing trees, rocks, and brush that were no longer there, replaced by the ugly black scar and heavy machine tracks where the ground was scraped flat.  He saw the rise and fall of the uneven ground, the shadows cast in the late afternoon sun of many years ago.  Slowly walking the area, eyes studying what was no longer there, he stopped with a sharp intake of breath.

     It was there, just beyond the edge of ruined ground, a slight hollow beneath the shelter of a downed rotting tree.  The body would have been nothing more than sun-bleached bones scattered by animals if it were still there, still exposed to the sky as they’d left it.  There was nothing there now, but he could see the body.  The face of the child stared back at him, not all there, soft skin covering a section from the nose down on one side of the slack jaw.  The rest was part flesh covered, part pale bone.  The rest of the body was lost in the dimness of childhood memory, only the grisly face staring at him, clear and accusing.  He couldn’t tell if it were a boy or girl.

     Startled, he spun around.  He stood staring, silent, and his mouth agape with surprise.

     “It’s been a lot time,” a soft female voice came from the shadows.

     He stiffened, trying to place the voice, knowing immediately who it belonged to, yet somehow disbelieving it.

     She stepped from the shadows.

     His eyes roamed over her, absorbing her.  She looked even more beautiful than he imagined.

     “Felicia,” he whispered.

     “What are you doing here in the woods?” she asked, her voice soft, undemanding.

     “I-I’m,” he stammered.

     “Looking for something?” she asked as she closed the distance between them.

     He could smell her now; her perfume was perfect for her.  She was perfect.  He’d never forgotten her in all those years.  There had always been something special between them, something that told him they were meant for more, to be more than just friends.

     “What are you looking for David?”  His name almost caressed off her tongue.  “The body?  It’s gone.  Are you scared?  Worried?  Worried they’ll find out we found it all those years ago and kept it a secret?”

     He swallowed hard, his throat a large dry knot.  He could hardly breathe; it felt like he’d choke on his own throat.

     “Are you scared they’ll find out what we did?”

     “We-we didn’t do anything,” he gasped.

     “Are you sure?  Do you remember?  Who do you think killed that poor boy?”  She blinked at him.  Her eyes locked onto his, drawing them, trapping them, trapping his stuttering heart.

     “Old Uncle Harvey?” she whispered softly, her breath tickling his neck with her closeness.  “Bad, bad, Uncle Harvey?  Do you think he did it?  Do you think you’ll find something after all this time to incriminate him?  We all knew he was a bad man, that he did bad things.”

     Her body barely brushed against his as she circled him, her perfume wrapping him in its heady blanket.

     He shook his head, unable to think.  His heart cried out for her, his hands wanted to reach for her, his lips wanted to ask her a million questions.

     She took his head shake as a ‘no’, that he did not think Harvey murdered the child.  Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, thinking.

     “So, you don’t remember much from that day?” she asked.

     “I-I remember we found it.  We were all scared and decided to keep it a secret.  You came to my house.  You’d been crying.  Then you were gone …” he trailed off.

     “Gone.  Weren’t we all gone that day, one way or another?”  Her hands were on his shoulders, her body not quite touching his as she stood behind him, whispering close to his ear.

     “You remember, don’t you,” she paused, “what we did, what we all did that day?”

     “We did nothing,” he stiffened, confused.

     “We … did … NOTHING!” she screeched.

     She was on top of him now, shrieking, her nails raking at him, fists pounding on him, attacking him in a vicious wild frenzy.  He shook her off, turning to look at her, stunned by her unprovoked attack.

     Something hit him in the side of the head, hard.  His head swam, dizzy, his eyes becoming unfocussed.  Pain crashed through his head with a second blow.  He staggered; fell to his knees, trying to stay upright.  He couldn’t see, just a wild blur, but he could feel the dripping wet of blood flowing from his head.

     “I DID IT!”  She screamed at him.  Even in her fury, her voice was beautiful to him.  He blinked, trying to look past the fuzz at his long lost friend and first love.  Yes, even at such a young age, unknowledgeable about love, all those years ago he’d known he loved her.

     Her voice came at him, sharp, angry, accusing.

     “I did it!  I killed the boy!  It was all my fault!”  Her voice rose in pitch as she shrieked at him, her small fists frantically reining blows on him.

     Finally the attack stopped.  He felt dazed, in mind and heart.  He didn’t know what to think, what he knew.

     Something bit at him, biting him in the back as he wobbled there on his knees.  It bit again, and he cried out with it.  He could hear her, see the blurry image of her circling around, stopping in front of him.  He looked up at her, pleading with his eyes.  It bit at him again.  This time from in front, and again and again.  He fell backwards, lying on the ground.  He could feel a sticky wetness on his back and chest.

     She stood over him, staring down at him.

     “Don’t you get it?” she demanded quietly.  “Uncle Harvey was scary, but not a bad man.  He was never a bad man.  Poor strange and frightening Uncle Harvey.  He went to jail already you know, before the boy in the woods, for killing a kid.  But he didn’t do it.  He went to jail so no one would find out it was my fault, it was all me.  That was the first time.  Now he’s going to go to jail again, for this child, to protect me.”

     She sobbed.

     His heart beat, he tried to look at her.  His lips moved, trying to talk to her.

     She looked down at him, calm now, sad.  Tears rolled down her cheeks.

     “Why David, why?” she whispered.  He was dying, she knew it and he knew it.

     “Felicia,” he whispered her name.

     “It’s ok,” she whispered.  “Uncle Harvey will look after me again.  Look.”  She showed him the weapon in her hand.

     “This is his.  They’ll think he did it.  He’ll go to jail for your death too.”

     “No!” his mind cried out.  His lips tried to cry out too, but they were breathless, dying.  She thinks Harvey will take the fall for his death too.  She does not know Uncle Harvey is sitting in a jail cell, having been arrested for that long ago murder.  He knows.  He wanted to tell her, ached to tell her.  His mind raced, a million questions running through it, playing back the memories even as the blackness engulfed him.  The blackness and the cold.  Uncle Harvey, in jail for killing this child long ago, covering for Felicia.  But, did she really do it?  Or is she covering up for her younger brother?

     Ian stepped out from behind the looming bulk of a bulldozer.

     “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

     Felicia spun and glared at him.

     “He was going to find out,” she said.

     “Old Uncle Harvey is in jail, you know.  They picked him up this afternoon for killing the boy in the woods.”

     Her eyes widened, realization dawning.

     “What do we do now?” she asked.

Bookmark Old Mill Road by L.V. Gaudet (Murder/Mystery Short Fiction)

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