I saw beside me and old man alone,
Worthy of so much reverence in his look,
That more owes not the father any son.
Benji Howden took the worn trail down to old mother creek, just as he did most evenings after school. People rarely went down there, said it was haunted. Well the kids at school said so anyways. They said that a young girl was killed down there, by old mother creek. They said that she had been down there one day after school. She went down there to cry and be alone because all the other kids were picking on her. Picking on her clothes, picking on her hair, hell they’d pick on anything just to be mean to her. She could have gone in to school in the most dazzling frock with her hair professionally done and her face made up all pretty, but you know, no matter which group you were in growing up, no matter what the unpopular kids did, they were always going to be the unpopular kids.
Benji ran down the overgrown trail, the remnants of tears glinting on his soft cheeks in the late afternoon sun. He jumped the rocks across the stream where it enters the forest on the north side, below North Peak Mountain and dove in to the hollow. It was a quiet and secluded patch where he could be out of sight, even if anyone did decide to go for an afternoon stroll by the river. He jolted to a stop, the rage still fresh in his head, he kicked a few loose rocks breathing loudly and letting the full force of the emotion run free like a horse set wild on the open range. Then he slumped against a large boulder, exhausted.
The rock, probably once part of the mountain which had long since been ripped free and tossed through the foothills like unwanted trash sat proudly in the hollow. Benji had often gone down there and sat atop it, looking across the open space like it was his own private hideaway.
He had never seen anyone else down there and he had frequented the hollow by old mothers creek for many months. Mainly since his father started to get physical with him. First it was a few slaps here and there when he was drunk and Benji hadn’t gotten up to get him another beer quickly enough. But soon after it became something else. If his mother was out of the house – though it was actually a trailer, not a house – he would become a little less aggressively touchy, and a bit more affectionately touchy. The first time it happened, Benji thought his father was just having a change of heart and that he had realised what an unequivocal asshole he had been, but as his father hugged him closer and stroked his hair, he thought he could feel something hard pressing in to the small of his back.
That night Benji spent on the living room floor of the trailer. He had pushed his father away and told him to go to hell. His father then proceeded to sucker punch his son up the side of the head. The room went fuzzy and the boy hit the deck, the TV shaking in its frame and the picture going snowy momentarily. He finally awoke around 4am the next morning with a pounding head and slumped to his room silently weeping to himself, hoping not to wake his parents to get a repeat performance.
Benji Howden sat in the dirt propped against his boulder and wept once again, wept to the trees or the sound of the stream babbling serenely a few metres away, the tears of his previous outburst still tacky on his cheek. He wept to anything that would listen, just as long as it wasn’t another person. Benji had come to realise over the last few months that he wasn’t a people person anymore. He was broken emotionally and probably depressed, a word he had heard on the tv a few times and from his mother on occasion too. He thought that she might be depressed. He thought about the life he and his mother led, in reflection with the lives of some of the other richer kids at school. The kids who lived in the new houses over in the River View Estate. Benji had been to the new estate over on the east side of town and marvelled at how big some of the houses where. He thought some of them must have had at least four or five bedrooms and each one with its own bathroom. He wished his parents could afford a home like that, but then remembered that a woman who works part time in the laundrette and an alcoholic worker from the lumber mill were lucky to have a double wide. At least they owned it and didn’t rent. He had a friend who rented one of the trailers in their park and remembered how he had told him about the black mould that set off his asthma and the leaking roof and the landlord that only showed up on collection day, not giving a flying fuck about the squalor his tenants lived in. He was at least grateful that his fucked up little family didn’t have to deal with that.
Benji raised his head from in between his knees and wiped the fresh tears from his face using the sleeve of his worn out sweater. He recalled his adventure around the new houses – well they were two decades old now, but still the newest houses in town – and suddenly caught a shiver as the sight of the old ‘Stone’ house which lay razed and forgotten creeped in to his head.
The Stone’s had lived there when the houses really where brand new and there had been some weird occurrence that left the Stone woman a widow. Benji didn’t know what it was but he had heard some people at school talking about it a while back. Not long after being widowed, the Stone’s house was obliterated by a gas explosion. There was one survivor apparently, but according to the police it was not the widow, or her child and there was no talk of bodies being found. The Survivor was never heard from and the authorities never released a name. It was huge talk at the time with people accusing the Police of a cover up and people shouting about some sort of conspiracy. Some of the boys at Benji’s school liked to tell the tale to the young kids like it was some ghost story. Some said that the Stone widow blew up the house herself and left with her child, some said she was vaporised and some said she was actually the survivor that the rescue teams found. Broken and distraught after the loss of her newborn in the tragedy, she left town and was never heard from again. Benji didn’t know if any of these were true and thought that probably he would never find out. People never talked about what happened nowadays and the land itself where the house stood was never redeveloped. The pile of rubble just sits, overcome with weeds and surrounded by a rusty chain link fence. A forgotten mystery locked away.
The boy was done weeping, he hoped. The last of the moisture now drying in to the sleeves of his sweater. He thought about asking his parents for a new one – a sweater that is – but he already knew the answer. The answer would be that they didn’t have the money for it and he could have a new one when the new school year started after summer.
The sun was still pouring out a nice warmth, a relatively rare thing for the northwest but the summer was well in to its swing, vacation just around the corner and there seemed to be more sunny days than rainy days at the moment, Benji thought. The boy could sense it was getting to be evening though and wondered just how long he had been sat crying in to his sleeves. Time seemed to have gotten away from him, ‘did I fall asleep?’ He whispered. Benji thought he should probably head home.
The anger at the older boys who had called him ‘stinky trailer trash with a skank hooker of a mom’, was beginning to subside. He no longer felt the deep rage within him that made him want to smash those boys in the head with a heavy textbook and not stop until the polished parquet floor of the school hallway was stained red with their brains. He had gotten good at pushing those kinds of thoughts in to a box, a box deep within his head wrapped in thick chains and coated in padlocks. He only hoped that he could keep them there.
Despite the dysfunctionality of his family he was a good student and he knew he could do his mother proud by getting good grades and maybe even find a ticket out of the trailer park with them. But only if he could keep the box shut. That’s how his school councillor had described it after an incident where Benji had pushed one of the older boys over in the hallway and gotten into a fight. ‘Keep the box shut Benji, theres no good can come from being the one who starts fights and gets in to all sorts of trouble. Keep your head down, work hard and keep all those bad thoughts locked away in a box inside your head. If you ever feel like they’re coming out, just picture the box. Put the bad thoughts in it and imagine yourself clicking the lid shut. Lock it away and never let it out’.
He had zoned out for a moment while the councillor spoke, staring in to the void. At last the image was clear, it was the box that he had been longing for even if he hadn’t known it.
Benji had been following the boy that day from his class on the second floor. His first thought had been to tackle the boy from behind, force him over the rail and then watch him stream helplessly down two floors to the hard ground and to his death. He had thought better of it and spent a moment with his eyes screwed shut as he tried to force that will away. It had worked. Well, enough so that he’d waited until they were on the ground floor before he jumped the other boy.
That is what he did now. The boy in his threadbare muck-faded sweater sat in the dirt by the boulder, his eyes clamped shut and the image of a big old wooden chest in his head. The lid came down with an eerie creak and a huge iron lock clunked shut. One solitary tear rolled down his cheek.
Benji opened his eyes again and it was all ok. He had started to use that trick the moment the meeting with the councillor had ended and although it could sometimes take him a while to remember what he had to do – like it had today – eventually the lightbulb would flash in to life and he would close his eyes. The troubles would be gone. Locked up, never to be let out.
As Benji stood, wiping dry dirt from his trousers, something caught his eye. Something dull and plasticky, like an old foil wrapper crinkled and worn by the weather. Nobody went down there as far as he knew and he often swept rubbish away out of his hollow that had blown in on the breeze. After all, he considered it his own hideaway, and it was safer, more secure when it was clean.
The dull thing was poking out from the dry soil beside his rock, a shiny wisp flapping as the summer breeze blew. An open condom wrapper, and leaning forward a little revealed its former contents abandoned a little ways from it. His heart leaped not out of surprise but out of anger. Someone had not only discovered his little sanctuary, but had the audacity to have sex in it. Benji’s face filled with red as he marched toward it, ripping the wrapper from the soil with one hand and grabbing an old stick with the other. Benji prodded his stick in to the soft matter beneath the forgotten rubber and lifted it up, a small amount of milky residue poured from the open end and Benji felt a wave of sickness punch him deep in the pit of his stomach.
He was angry once again as he marched it through the trees toward the stream. He didn’t want to just leave it there, flung somewhere in the undergrowth, he would forever know it was out there somewhere, silently disgracing HIS safe place.
Old mother creek came in to view through the waving branches of the low trees and bushes and he launched the stick – its unwanted cargo still flopping over one end – in to the crystal clear water and watched as it was swept away with the flow.
As new tears flooded his already red and swollen eyes, the boy fell to the ground, his fists opening and clenching in the warm earth. It wasn’t just the disrespect for his sanctuary that upset him, more the memories that had come flooding back. The sight of the rubber laying there on the ground, as it had several months before on the floor of his bedroom. You see, the night following Benji’s punch in the head he had been laid in his bed reading silently. Out in the lounge area, his father had slung down the remaining drops of a cheap bottle of bourbon and then ordered the boys mother to go out and get him some more. Not a minute after she’d left, Benji’s father pounded open the door of the boys bedroom and stood there in the shadow of the hallway light.
‘Your mother’s gone out to the store for me. I know it only takes not ten minutes to get to the store, purchase a quart from behind the counter and get back again, but that skank will be back in twenty, twenty five tops after she rides that pimple studded clerk in the back room. See I know she’s been fucking that dickless mother for weeks now and I’m ready to collect on my repayment.’ That is what Benji’s father had said to him before he stepped inside the room and shut the door behind him.
Benji made no sound other than a few wimpers in the beginning, knowing it would only make it worse if he did. His father was done, out of the room and back in front of the tv with ten minutes to spare. His mother came back with the Bourbon and some smokes, the pair of them sitting on the couch, drinking and burning through the cigs well in to the night in almost perfect silence, aside from the murmuring of the television. Benji however spent the night laying awake in his bed, crying until the sun came up and trying not to focus on the pain. The rubber his father had used lay on the floor all the while, its contents spilled and drying in to the rug beside the bed.
Benji Howden had lost his innocence that night. He was ten.
The weather was beginning to turn now in the early evening. Clouds had begun to gather at the head of North Peak, like a cluster of concert goers all pushing up against the turnstile. The more they seemed to push and the later it got, the thicker and darker the clouds became. Soon it would be raining, Benji thought, and he didn’t want to be caught out in that. His father would hound him for being out in the rain and coming back in wet clothes, which he would state that Benji had to wear to school the next day, wet or dry. Then he would smirk and go back to watching whatever mindless drivel was on the box.
The summer breeze began to grow in strength and start to gust, Benji retreated his hands in to his sweater sleeves. He stood as the next gust came and something struck him across the face. White and flapping, the discarded paper seemed to wrap around the boys head and cling there a moment before continuing its journey on the stirring wind. The boy wiped his face with one hand, ‘argh’, he cried as he turned just in time to see it hit a tree and get itself stuck on the rough bark. For a moment Benji thought he could see something written upon the paper. He dropped his head and squinted his eyes slightly to get a better look. There was something, a mark on the paper. He thought it probably just dirt but as he continued to stare it came in to focus and he could see it was marked in a straight line. A typed sheet perhaps?
This was enough to pique his interest, and with any thoughts of going home long behind him, he started towards the stranded paper. When he arrived at the tree, maybe thirty feet from where he had been stood, the wind had died but the paper still hugged the tree, impaled in a protruding fold of bark.
It was badly water damaged but the paper was indeed typed upon. A manuscript page the boy thought. ‘The Ph’, was all that remained of the top line. Benji thought it was probably the title page as there where only two lines typed upon it. Both centered on the page, the bottom line read ‘by D e.’ The middle of the sentence gone completely and instead replaced by the brown bark of the tree.
Benji gently removed the page from its resting place, wondering where the rest of the pages might be. Just as he did, another gust came, and ahead of him, he caught a glimpse of something moving, skittering across the ground. Two more pages, the same size as the one he held in his hand. There was a whole manuscript somewhere nearby, discarded and forgotten about, he was sure of it, and he was going to find it.
As the wind blew and more pages drifted through the undergrowth, Benji eagerly collected each of them in his arms as he ran, following the path of destruction created by the lost manuscript. Eventually he pushed his way through a thick patch of bush by the side of the creek and there, by the turbulent water was a stack — perhaps an inch thick — of soggy soiled paper.
Benji squatted next to Old Mother Creek panting, and gently lifted the pile of pages from the rocks being carful not to damage them further. It was indeed a manuscript. He wasn’t sure how it had gotten down there by the creek and thought about how he had never seen another human within a quarter mile. Then the images of the rubber hit him hard and the smile on his lips dropped as the realisation rang clear that people clearly did go down there. They went down to the creek to fuck!
Benji shook his head violently and put the image aside. He was going to take his treasure and reunite the pages that had gone tumbling through the forest with the ones he now held in his hands. He thought he might go home and read it in his room, away from his abusive father, and away from the life he so loathed. Benji was a reader, it took him away to to another life and now, holding this new world in his hands made him feel something deep inside, some urge to go and leave his world behind. To devote himself to this new one laying limp and wet in his palms.
With that in his mind, Benji slung his school pack over his shoulders, unzipped it, being careful around the frayed edges of the worn out backpack, and slipped the pages gently inside. He was smiling now and jubilant. The boy wanted nothing other than to go home, shut his bedroom door and not open it again for himself or anybody else until he’d devoured every word that was written upon that manuscript.
He jogged through the underbrush, leaped back over the stones to the other side of the creek and hurried up the path along the waters edge. Before long he was entering town and heading down to the trailer park on the west side, down the road from ‘Old Iron’, the ancient iron bridge that spanned the raging course of the North Peak river. The rain started gently as the faded plastic trailers came in to his view, but by the time he laid hands on his own door, the water was coming down in sheets.
Benji stopped a moment as he laid his hand over the door handle to his parents trailer. He took a moment to gather himself, to prepare himself for any scenes he may walk in to. It had been several months since he had come to terms with the fact that he could walk in to his parents fucking in the living room or even his father standing over the cold dead corpse of his mother right there on the couch.
Even at ten years of age, when you have two utter delinquents for parental figures, you have to grow up fast. He even thought he might be caring for his parents by the time he was a teenager if they carried on drinking and snorting that white powder stuff like they did. Benji had heard boys at school saying that ‘people’s noses fall off if they snort too much blow.’ Benji certainly hoped it wasn’t true.
He twisted the handle and pulled the door open cautiously. Nothing untoward, just the sound of the TV blurting something out. He took a step inside and turned to the living area. His father was slumped on the couch, a fag end in his left hand and a half empty bottle of bourbon in the other.
Benji shut the door behind him and wandered over to the living area.
‘Fuck you been, boy? School was out more en’ two hours ago,’ his father slurred unseen from the couch.
‘Nowhere,’ Benji said nervously, his eyes fixed on the bedroom door.
‘Been jackin it down by that fuckin’ creek I bet. Down there with some other fag boys from school I bet too, Jackin each others itty bitty cocks.’
Benji’s face grew hot and red and he hung his head in shame and embarrassment for the words he was hearing.
Daryl Howden rose from the dirt stained couch with a smile on his face, ‘I bet you like to touch each others little kiddy dicks don’t you? Jerk each other off?’ The poor excuse for a father dropped a hand and gripped the bulge in the front of his faded denims as he finished his sentence, then wobbled his way toward the boy.
Benji didn’t say a word, but pushed past his father, tears streaming down his face and he raced in to his room. Behind him, he could hear his father laughing.
‘Go little fag boy, run for it. Your little faggot dreams el’ catch up with you one day, deny it all you want fucker.’
There came a crashing sound as his father presumably stumbled in to a piece of furniture. Benji, stood, leaning with his back against the door in case his father came beating at it, his heart pounding, just listening to the noises coming from the other side.
There was a silence, then the creaking of the floor as the drunk wandered towards the boys door. Silence. Then the boards creaked again, followed by the rusty groaning of the couch springs as Daryl Howden slumped back in front of the mind sucking TV box.
Benji breathed an audible sigh of relief and his heart started to slow. The pounding of it began to dissipate from is temples and his tense muscles started to relax.
He wondered where his mother was, but realised she was probably just working late or out at the store being the loving wife, picking up her husbands poison. Not to mention getting herself filled by the store clerk’s poison at the same time.
Benji stood for a moment, still with his back planted firmly against the flimsy wooden door even though he knew that his father had abandoned the idea of raping him in favour of the TV, and cried silently to himself. Although the horror hadn’t happened, for a second there it was a very real possibility in the young boys mind, even if it wasn’t rape his father wanted, but merely a fresh beating. This torture coursing the vessels of his brain like a parasitic worm ate away at the boy until he reached the point where he was then. Just the sight of his father, especially his drunk father, would put the fear of god in him and reduce him to a quivering mess inside.
He could hear the tears rolling from his reddened cheeks and slapping the carpet beneath him and then slowly realised he was clutching his backpack so tightly to his chest that some of his nails were bending backward and firing an array of stabbing pains through his fingers. Benji, loosened his grip, dropped the bag on to the bed next to him and closed his fists, trying to absorb the pain without making any noise. His eye lids slammed shut, spilling another round of tears on to the now quite soggy carpet. The broken boy holding his clenched fists to his chest until the worst of the pain passed and felt he could release them without an involuntary whimper.
Slowly the sharpness of the pain started to fade to a dull throbbing. He pulled himself lazily away from the door and slumped down on to the bed, the old springs protesting in a rough squeal. The boy wiped tears from his cheeks with both arms and followed up by wiping his running nose too. With a sniffle and a jagged inhale he tried to force some sort of calm in to his mind, the sight of that sturdy box just over the horizon. What could he do to take away the mental pain, what could keep his mind entertained? Had he been a bit older, the answers to those questions could have been a bit more obvious. What do lower class folks generally do to take away the mental pain? Drink, drugs, sex, these kinds of pain killers are much more accessible and easy to come by when you’re a little older, but what does a boy of ten do to keep the demons on the other side of the door?
Then it hit him – not literally – the pages. The pages that he had so strangely clung to when he thought his Dad was going to come barging through his door, cock in hand. Benji shifted his gaze and stared at the pack laying at the end of the bed. He felt some apprehension but didn’t know why, as if the pages held some strange unnatural power. When he reached out to grab the bag, he once again felt the beat of his heart rise in his temples and the skin of his scrotum contract.
From the other side of his wall he heard the clunk of the trailers front door being flung open and the bouncing of the floor as someone stepped inside. Then he heard voices, not raised, but full of tension. Even a child can feel the emotion in conversation, especially when it’s between one’s own parents.
‘Bout time you showed up. Hope you got my fucken liquor?’
‘Settle your shit, Daryl I got it right here, would I forget your damned Bourbon?’
‘Don’t you use that tone with me, Lilly, what’d we discuss th’other day about respecten me?’
There was a short pause before he heard the door clang shut and the footsteps of his mother move closer to his room. They stopped for a second and he heard the rustling of a paper bag. Lilly must have been unloading the liquor by the couch, Benji thought. Knew. It was a daily ritual.
‘I’m sorry baby, I dint mean anythin by it, you know that.’ Benji could almost visualise the scene outside. His mother bent forward over his father. A seductive smile across her lips displaying her gappy smile. One hand on her breast, the other in her husbands crotch. She knew how to calm him. She’d been doing it for years. She was a submissive woman who knew her place, or thought she did. Whether she enjoyed it most of the time or not, she knew exactly how to keep herself out of harms way. Benji listened intently, thinking that one day he would like to take his mother away. He hated to see her like that, a piece of meat before his fathers eyes. Nothing to him but the void between her legs. A man shouldn’t see a woman like that, he thought.
No response from Daryl, not one that he could hear through the tissue paper thin walls any way. Then footsteps again. Lilly was coming to Benji’s room. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t realised this earlier, it was all part of the ritual. Walk in, exchange something unloving with her husband, give him his Bourbon and then go to her son, chat with him about his day, tussle his hair and kiss him on the top of his head.
Again unknowing, the boy felt compelled to hide his back pack and when the door swung open he looked like the most guilty little boy on the planet. Caught in the act with one arm under the duvet and his face starting to glow bright red.
‘Whatcha got there Benji-wenj?’ that being her pet name for him.
He looked up, red faced and clammy, ‘Nothing mom.’
She smiled, a smile that had always had the power to bring comfort to his mind like only a mother can. She pulled her skirt forward from the back of her legs and sat down beside the boy, springs shouting now.
‘You know if you got one of them dirty boy mags I don’t mind, its all part of growing up and I’m sure your father was the same,’ she said, completely honest and unjudging.
‘Eww mom, I’m not in to that stuff,’ he recoiled. If it was possible for his face to get any redder, it did then. ‘It’s,’ he turned and looked her in the face, sighing. ‘It’s just my backpack, I dunno why I thought I had to hide it, it was just…i dunno it was like some,’ his mother broke in.
‘Impulse? You know that’s a sign of a guilty conscience.’
Benji wasn’t quite sure what that meant but thought it was something to do with people who had done something they shouldn’t.
‘Don’t worry sweetie I’m not going to go rooting through your pack, I trust you,’ Lilly winked as she finished and flashed him that smile again.
Benji smiled a nervous smile back at her and she put an arm around him, pulling him in to a loving embrace.
‘How’s your father been?’ she asked.
‘The usual, I guess,’ the boy replied. She had only recently starting asking him this question and he wasn’t sure if it was because she knew what Daryl had done to him a few months previous. Whatever it was for that reason or not, the question unsettled him every time and his reply was always the same. Even if the drunk man had done something unusual like fall down or had broken something, he just didn’t like talking about him any more than he had to, and always replied with those four words.
‘You got any homework?’
‘I did it already,’ a lie, ‘I stayed after school and did it in the library.’
‘Look at you, lookin after your school work all by yourself.’
Benji smiled again but had to remove his gaze from his mother. There was a short silence between them and she finally got up off his bed, tussled his scruffy mousy hair and kissed him on the head.
‘I’ll bring you some food in soon.’
‘Thats ok, I’m not really hungry, I had a big lunch.’ Another lie. The boy was really very hungry, but that weird impulse – was that the word she had used? – just kind of forced it out of him.
‘Are you sure baby? I can whip you up some eggo’s?’
He shook his head, ‘Thanks mom but that’s ok, I’m not hungry, really.’
She looked doubtfully at him for a second and he shot her a smile.
‘Well Ok, if you say so. I’ll be out here if you want me, don’t stay up too late ok Benji-wenj.’
The impulse fired in him again and the boy rose from the bed, wrapping his arms around Lilly Howden and burying his face in her bosom.
‘Love you mom,’ he managed, sounding a little choked.
‘Aww sweetie I love you too.’
He released his mother and looked up to her.
‘Everything ok baby?’ she asked.
‘Yep,’ he said, looking a little concerned but trying his hardest not to show it, ‘Im fine, just wanted a hug I guess.’
The doubtful look was ever more present now as he flunked away from her hoping that no more questions would follow. Mercifully, Lilly backed up to the door and blew him a kiss.
‘Well don’t stay up too late, sweetie. I’ll come say goodnight later.’ She never does though. Whether she’s just plain forgetful after she’s been fully loaded with liquor or its just something she says to comfort him, Lilly never comes back.
As the door clicked behind her, Benji dropped back down on to the bed and breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t sure why he had done or said some of the things he just had, but the one thing he was sure of was a pulling sensation in his mind. Something pulling his very being toward those crumpled pages in the bottom of his backpack. It gripped and clawed at his brain and the boy thought his head actually hurt as he felt his eyes drawn toward the bag. There was something in there alright, something in his mind, something…
For the rest of the night the boy lay unmoving on top of his duvet flicking from page to page, engrossed in every single word and never once wanted to lift his head.
When he got to the end, he set the pages down in an empty drawer in the cheap wooden desk under his bedroom window. There it lay in silence working its magic. If an inanimate object could have emotion, those pages felt smug and satisfied. Satisfied by the boy just as Daryl had been, they sat and they waited for there was a great power contained within those pages. A power greater that any written word ever put down. More powerful even than the Bible, the Quran or any other religious or otherwise moving text. If the holy books of our world can make people believe so fully in something that they are willing to die for or ready to devote every waking second to something that is essentially nothing more than ink and reprocessed wood, then the power of these words are apt to rival the might of the gods themselves.
Far away from that decrepit trailer park there was a young man readying himself for bed. He was a photographer and good at it too. He’d sold work to several state newspapers and national magazines and was well on his way to a successful career despite being only twenty years of age. Still too young to legally buy alcohol but already making a name for himself in the professional world.
Up to that night his future was looking bright, though it was not to last. As he finished up brushing his teeth, tapping the brush on the edge of the sink before returning it to the plastic holder on the wash unit, he felt the urge to go on a trip. Minutes ago he was tired and a little tipsy from the six-pack he had managed to get from the gas station on his way home that evening. He was still tipsy, but no longer felt the pull of his eye lids, something deep within his psyche had given them a new task.
Stepping from the cold linoleum of the en-suite bathroom and in to the soft inviting carpet of the bedroom he shared with his girlfriend, the photographer silently crept to the closet, where he pulled out a duffel bag. He filled it clumsily with fresh underwear, t-shirts and a clean pair of denims before very gently zipping it shut and heading for the door.
As he carefully spun the door nob under palm, feeling the sweat of his hands greasing up the cold metal, he spotted his camera resting on top of the dresser standing next to him. He never went anywhere without it. Dinner with his girlfriend, a trip to the store or even just out for an evening walk that camera was strapped to his body twenty-four-seven. The latch snapped free with a clunk that stabbed him right in the heart. The beat picked up inside his chest and his head snapped around to the girl in the bed. One leg out of the covers revealing just a hint of her supple butt, she was unmoving. A quick inhale and he stepped out on to the landing. The camera still on the dresser.
With the bedroom door expertly closed behind him without making so much as a peep this time, the photographer scaled the stairs and entered the living room of his girlfriends parents house. There he scribbled a note on the pad by the phone and left it folded over on the coffee table. He hadn’t planned on leaving a note and he didn’t even know what he would write, but a soon as he took pencil in hand, the words came out, the paper was folded and there it rested on the coffee table waiting to be found the following morning.
After that, the photographer slipped out of the house, taking with him the keys to his girlfriends fathers truck, never to return.
Driving south along route 315, smoke was visible in the early evening sky, Billowing up above the pines and in to the grey air that clung to the town seemingly year round. Deputy Roves eased off the gas of the police cruiser as the junction in to the River View Estate crawled in to his view.
As he turned off the highway and on to the smooth tarmac of the new estate, the red glow of fire truck lights flashed eerily through the swirling smoke that rolled through the streets. Taking a right turn on to one of the pristine avenues, with its white picket fences and perfectly pruned hedges, the horror of what had happened that night came in to the deputy’s view. He pulled up the cruiser behind the Sheriffs four-by-four and cranked open the door.
‘Cigarette, Deputy?’ The sheriff called, striding over to Deputy Roves, ‘You’re gunno need it pal.’
Roves straightened his hat, not once taking his eyes off the tragedy before him, ‘No thanks sheriff, those things are bad for you. Don’t you ever listen to the news?’ His tone was soft and quiet, the shock of what he saw was obvious.
The sheriff pushed a fresh smoke out of the crumpled pack of Marlboro’s and stuck it in the corner of his mouth.
‘Everything seems to be bad for me these days, Roves. Damn doctor would have me eating greens and drinking from the river for the rest of my life if he had his way.’ The cigarette danced up and down with every word.
Roves stood staring, seemingly not hearing the sheriffs words.
‘Hey,’ said the Sheriff, wrapping Roves on the arm, causing the stunned Deputy to jump. ‘Hey, sorry pal. You okay? Ain’t like you haven’t seen a fire before is it?’
Deputy roves looked to the sheriff then dropped his eyes to the floor, shaking his head to collect himself. ‘Er, no Sir, I’m sorry I don’t know what came over me just now, my head feels kinda fuzzy I guess.’
‘Well pull that pretty young head of yours together, we’ve got ourselves a crime scene. Fire crews already pulled a body from the rubble. If the sight of a little fire and some broken glass is enough to space you out, you might wanna get one of those Paramedics to fetch you a stretcher just in case. You ain’t seen nothing yet, Deputy.’
Roves shot the Sheriff a concerned look. The sheriff smiled a disturbed smile as he lifted his chrome Zippo to his mouth and took a few short puffs on the Marlboro. The two of them walked side by side weaving through the abandoned emergency vehicles, the Sheriff lifting up the yellow tape at the perimeter for the deputy to pass underneath. Before them lay a fifteen foot pile of broken concrete, twisted steel and discarded bricks. It looked like the building that had once stood proud amongst the neighbourhood had imploded, as if the earth beneath it had simply fallen away and the house had fallen inside to plug the hole.
Around the scene, uniforms ushered rubber necking residents away from the tape giving them the usual spiel about there being ‘nothing to see here,’ or that they should go inside out of the rain. ‘Don’t wanna catch a cold now.’ None of them seemed to care. Nothing ever happened in the small town of Pine Rivers, so an event of this magnitude was something everybody had to know about. By the morning, almost the entire town would know. The local once-weekly newspaper would print a special mid week edition full of falsified reports from so called ‘eye witnesses’. Rumour would start to stir about ‘whodunit’, with theories ranging from an old mine shaft collapsing to a mysterious organisation that the Stone widow’s former husband had apparently gotten himself involved with. There had never been any evidence or reason for anyone to believe in such an organisation, but it kept the talk about town away from the usual comments about the weather, or the latest out-of-towner going missing up on the mountain. People were more glad of the change of subject than they were concerned for the loss of life in the once happy all American dream household. Eventually it would all quiet down, but for the time being, ‘TRAGEDY AS EXPLOSION FLATTENS WRITERS HOME’, was the biggest thing to ever happen to the people of Pine Rivers.
In the Pine forest at the edge of the estate, a shape moved awkwardly through the damp foliage. Its footfalls were loud and clumsy. Two doe’s that were grazing nearby rose their heads and bolted in fright at this new noise. The sound of their hooves beating at the sodden dead leaves on the forest floor seemed not to pierce the ears of the shape stomping scared from the horror behind it. Bleeding, wet, cold, scared, the shape pushed on through the pain using the trees as support to push itself along. All the excitement of the explosion would keep the people busy, nobody would be looking for something running through the darkness of the forest, at least not until the fresh light of the morning came. That would be enough time. The vast wilderness would consume them, the rain and the wind would hide any trace of their passing.
By the morning, almost the entire town would know…
…but nobody would see.