Sunday, February 23, 2020

THE DOG WITH HUMAN EYES part 2

Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



THE DOG
WITH HUMAN EYES
Part 2

By R. Peterson

I grabbed Ralph’s hunting gun and headed off toward the sound of the tracking hounds. Don’t ask me why; I was scared for Starlight and had to do something. I heard all them other dogs barking close together along with drunk men yelling and I figured they must have found her. I fired Ralph’s four-ten in the air and yelled as loud as I could. “Come on girl! Let’s get  ourselves out of here!” And I tried to lead them away. That’s when all hell broke loose. I could hear men and dogs coming through the trees toward me. I can outrun almost anything when I’m scared … and I was terrified.
Tracking dogs in Arkansas is mostly used for hunting raccoons and all I lacked was a little bit longer nose and a striped tail. I crashed through huckleberry and thorn-brush that would tear the arms off a man with any meat on them. Being so thin, made me harder to snag-up. I was about two miles away from where I’d left Starlight, winded and gasping for air, when I climbed a  tree.
Ralph, a dozen men, and a pack of dogs surrounded the tree trunk. “You come down out of there right now and show us where you got that bitch hid … and the beating will go easy!”
I was no fool. I knew what was coming. I held out as long as I could. Luke Grover finally climbed the tree and snagged my foot. He was a part-time lumberjack, when he wasn’t making whiskey, and he twisted my leg until two toes broke. I was bawling when they pulled me down.
I don’t remember telling them where Starlight was, all I remember was limping ahead of them to the spot with my nose bleeding …and my ears ringing something awful. My dog was gone. The rope was still tied to the tree but it had been chewed in half part way down. I don’t remember much of the rest of that night. I remember Sheriff Moss telling Ralph to stop kicking me because my death would complicate things. Somebody carried me in the house and dropped me in a pile by the woodstove.

-------2-------

Somebody was pounding on the door and Ralph yelled for me to see who it was. I was stiff and could hardly walk. It took a minute to open the door. I’ve never seen Sheriff Moss as wide-eyed and as scared as he was that morning. He had three deputies with him and they was all packing guns. “Something broke into the Grover’s house last night and ripped Clevis Grover’s head clean off,” he said. I noticed he said something … not someone. “Daryl and Otis is dead too. They still got their heads, but they was chewed-on something awful. Luke spent the night with that whore who lives down the river. He found his kin all kilt this morning and lit out for the state police in Little Rock.”
“You best be getting after that bitch dog then,” Ralph told the sheriff.
“This here ain’t no more my problem,” the sheriff said. “I found extra big tracks circling my house when I fed chickens this morning. I figure whatever killed the Grover family is coming for me next! You brought this trouble into our woods and you better take care of it!”

-------3-------

Ralph didn’t say nothing to me the next couple of days. It wasn’t like him and he was too quiet. I thought about Starlight a lot and I hoped she was okay. On Friday Bill Sievers stopped by and told us about the sheriff. It looked like somebody had forced his county car off the road and then broke out most of the windows. They found parts of his body scattered up and down the road and had to put most of them into plastic bags.
Luke Grover never come back to our neck of the woods and Ralph was extra nice to me. He never laid a hand on me once.
One evening when I was gathering hay for the milk cows, Starlight appeared around the side of the barn. She was bigger than I remember but half-starved and limping on both paws like she’d jumped through a broken window. I filled a bowl with water from the well and tried to get her to drink. Ralph must have heard me trying to coax her into coming to me.
Just when I thought she was going to trust me, Ralph came out of the house with a raw steak from the ice-box and the four ten hid behind his back. She growled once when she saw him but quieted down when he began to talk nice. He was standing with his back against the well and I heard the hammer on the gun click when he got it ready to fire.
Starlight stopped about twenty feet in front of him and looked at me. She whined like she was just lonesome for friends. I opened my mouth and no words would come out.  Then Ralph pulled the whistle I’d made out of his pocket and blew on it. Starlight began to wag her tail walking toward him. Her eyes was on the meat.
I don’t know if I screamed but I wanted to. I saw Starlight flying through the air toward Ralph just as he brought the shotgun barrel up. Her mouth looked like them teeth they paint on World War II fighter planes.
I heard the blast and I was running toward her. When the smoke cleared, she lay on the ground bleeding. Her crying made my eyes water up. Ralph had fell backward into the well and I could hear him splashing around in the water far below and hollering for me to let down the rope.
Starlight was quiet … too quiet.
I used my shirt and the water in the bowl to wipe away the blood. Several pellets had grazed her stomach … but she looked okay.
I carried her into the house.

-------4-------

Ralph continued to cry-out long after dark came, and sometimes he was bawling. Other times he was cursing me something awful, describing all the ways he was gonna slow-skin me once he got out. I got so I couldn’t take it no more and after I put an old door over the well, me and Starlight lit out for the river. The moon was glistening off the water and after a while me and Starlight both felt happier than we’d been in some time. I don’t know if it was the night, the wind in the trees or something else but I could hear my mother whispering to me … telling me what to do.
I think Starlight could hear that voice too … she seemed to know.
The next morning there was no more sound coming from the barnyard … or the well. Starlight had a fever, probably infection from the gunshot. The evil men do, lives long after they do and Ralph had always kept old rusty shells. I tried to keep her warm. She was hurt worse than I thought.
After I put back the old door covering the well and did a couple of other things, I walked to the neighbors and told them with my eyes full of real tears that Ralph had had an accident. But the tears weren’t for him.

-------5-------

When they pulled Ralph from the well he was black all over and not blue like my mom. I was glad of that. It looked like they was bound for different heavens. The well was floating with empty whiskey bottles and they figured he was drunk when he fell in.
I was too upset to go to the funeral. I don’t know who showed up.

-------6-------

The new sheriff was as good as Sheriff Moss was bad. He checked on me near every day and then insisted on taking Starlight in for a rabies test on account he said some folks claimed my dog was trouble. Starlight was almost dead when they carried her to the car … but at least they was gentle.
It near broke my heart when they drove away. I’d always thought she would get better.
My uncle Pete from Kentucky came to live on the farm and after I’d cried for a few days, me and him got along just fine. He was just about the hardest working man I ever saw. He made me go to school and kicked the back of my pants a few times when I caught a bigger fish than he did, but he taught me how to laugh.

-------7-------

I’d just about given up on ever seeing Starlight again and was stunned when the sheriff’s car pulled into the farm yard. I dropped a whole bucket of milk … and it spilled everywhere. Pete was happy too. He threw the pail he was carrying. Starlight was out of the car like a bullet and knocked me down. She licked my face until I near drowned and her tail was dusting me like a broom.
“I’m sorry it took so long to get her back to you,” the sheriff said. “She’s clean as they come and to be honest … almost everyone at the courthouse wanted to keep her.”

-------8-------

Things were back better than they had ever been. Starlight was with me wherever I went. One morning she wasn’t in the barn when I went in to do the milking. I didn’t see her for two days and was near frantic. She showed up limping from a knife-wound and with a tiny little dog following behind her that was no bigger than a cat. They was friends.
It looked like no dog I’d ever seen. Someone had cut out round pieces of cheesecloth and most likely soaked them in cornstarch to make them stiff then attached them to the back of a tiny green costume the dog wore. The collar had the name Tinkerbelle stamped in the leather and a metal tag with some numbers. I figured someone had made up this dog to look like the fairy from that Disney movie.
I asked all the neighbors and no one knew anything about the dog. The next time I went in Annie’s General Store to get our mail I asked if anyone had lost a dog. Annie told me gypsies from a traveling-carnival had showed up a day or so before looking for a dog they had taught to perform in a stage show. That woman Annie is as smart as a fox and could wring the truth out of a sober politician. She said one of the gypsies confessed to her that they had stolen the dog from a country called England while they was crossing Europe. They lit out when she said she was going for the sheriff. I’d learned a bunch about England in school and knew it was full of castles. I figured this dog must belong to a Queen … Kings like big dogs.
Pete said that dogs were like people and they belonged with the ones who love them. He somehow came up with enough cash-money to put a five-line lost and found notice in a fancy London newspaper. He told what Tinkerbelle looked like and the numbers on the tag and who we thought took her. The money them folks over there use is called pounds and Pete said it was a lot heavier than our kind. We’re still waiting for a letter to come in the mail. I figure it will. God works in mysterious ways … and not just for church goers.

-------9-------

I’d brushed away all them big muddy wolf tracks months before except for one which I dug up real careful and hid under a straw-pile in the barn. One night after the milking, I called Starlight over and I compared both her paws with the print I’d been saving. Tinkerbelle sat there watching us with her paw on a squirming barn-rat she’d caught in the corner. She was one mighty proud and haughty fairy-dog. I looked them paws, and that wolf-print, over real careful under the lantern light.
I won’t say it came from Starlight, but I won’t lie either.
Some things are better left for me, my ma … and the dog with human eyes to know.



THE END ?



Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE DOG WITH HUMAN EYES

Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



THE DOG
WITH HUMAN EYES

By R. Peterson

My step-pappy always found mean in the last few swallows of Old Crow and he went looking every day. I learned to be gone when each bottle was near-empty. Ralph Mohsen was probably a decent man once or else my Ma wouldn’t have married him after Pa died … but I don’t remember. Ma passed-on when I was six. The last three years had been just me, him and his scraggly Canadian scarf kicking around on an Arkansas weed-patch … with another thirty-seven acres of cotton share cropped-out to a no-good-negro-family, his words not mine, … for taxes and drinking money.
One Saturday I dumped an arm-load of empties in the barrel near the back door and found a dollar-bill stuck to a whiskey-bottle with chewing tobacco. Annie’s General Store was four miles through tangled-woods but I was determined to get there before noon to spend my fortune. I showed up late, after taking the long-way around two skunks trying to make babies.
Annie asked if I wanted to buy a pup when she was pulling licorice-whips out of a glass jar. “What kend is dey?” I tried to talk like a man with money, but the truth was … I didn’t know a dog from a duck.
“They’s Heins fifty-sevens,” she says … and then laughed to let me know she wasn’t sure.
Four pups was crying in a cardboard box with ragged-shirts and socks for bedding. “You got sixty-two cents coming,” she says, beginning to bargain. “I’ll give you a pup, a rope and two day-long suckers … since you’re a favorite customer.”
My momma didn’t raise no fool! “Throw in a bottle of Nehi Orange and you gots a deal,” I said.
I was drinking the pop with the pup under my arm when I noticed its eyes was not right. Something about them gave me the shivers. They was like no dog’s that I’d ever seen! I tied the pup in the barn, fed the chickens and looked to see if Ralph was sleeping-one-off before I figured it out.
Them eyes was a bad-shade of blue … like my momma’s skin looked … when they pulled her from the well.

-------2-------


The next morning I was feeding hogs and I heard the pup yelping. I knew Ralph had found her. I’d tied the pup in the corner just past the milking stalls and Ralph was kicking her with his boots. The poor thing couldn’t get away.  There was a broken rake handle that Ralph used to beat the cows into the chutes. I’d always put a little hay in their troughs and never had any trouble. I hit him in the back twice before he turned his boots and his fists on me.
When I woke up I could hear him singing in the house and I knew his bottle was near gone. The dog was cowering in the corner … forgotten by him for now. I untied the pup and we lit out for the river. I’d walked along the dark waters too many times in the full moonlight … but this time I had a friend along. I decided to call the pup Starlight. She licked the blood off my face and I wiped the blood off her nose with a torn-shirt soaked in river water. We were friends.
It was almost morning when we came home. I decided to leave Starlight untied … at least that way she had a chance. I think Ralph looked everywhere for that dog the first week. Starlight was never around when he was … I made a whistle from a willow stick and she always came when I called. “That bitch shows up again and I’ll shoot her,” Ralph promised.
Ralph cooked me breakfast for two days after the beating: runny eggs and burnt potatoes. He said it was my fault I got beat up but that he was sorry and he’d never lay a hand on me again. It’s what he always said … he was a liar. Ralph was just who he was. He didn’t care none about nobody or anything. I knew he didn’t give a lick about me.
After Ma died he talked to a lawyer from Ward and found out the farm was in my name. I listened in from the back porch while they was talking. The will couldn’t be changed. If I was to die, an uncle who lived in Kentucky would get the farm. Ralph needed me around and alive. Besides … I did all the work.

-------3-------

Ralph somehow got Ma’s old truck running and started being gone at nights. I think he was running moonshine for the Grover brothers. They was a mean bunch that always packed knives and shotguns … and even the Lonoke County Sheriff was afraid of them.
Starlight grew fast and two months later was bigger than most. We spent all the time we could fishing the river and chasing down rabbits. I’ll leave it to you to decide who did what. She had a big fluffy tail that was always wagging. I swear sometimes when I looked in her eyes she seemed to be smiling. We was as happy as two creatures could be.
One morning Ralph left the truck running when he staggered into the house. I shut it off. Gasoline was near forty cents a gallon at Annie’s store. There was blood smeared on the steering wheel and on the gear-shift lever. I wasn’t surprised when Sheriff Moss showed up the next day with two State Police officers. Ralph yelled while I was hoeing beans and they all made me come in the house and answer questions.
A chewed-off leg belonging to a Bible salesman from Georgia had been found by the road three miles from our farm. They all wanted to see Ralph’s truck and we all went outside to have a look. I’d never seen any Ford so clean. I opened my mouth to say something and Ralph knocked me on the ground. “You don’t talk unless you’re spoken to!”
Sheriff Moss smiled. “You’re raisin’ him right,” he says.
“It’s that damn stray you brought home!” Ralph bellowed. “Must have got into rabies in the woods!”

The cops all said if I saw the dog again to let Ralph know … so he could shoot it.
I found a spot for Starlight down in a gully and would bring her leftovers when I could. She was back on a chain never came near our farm. One morning three police cars pulled into our barnyard. They found a bloody hand in the barn … before they woke up Ralph. “Lenard Grover’s car hit something in the road,” one of the cops said. “Looks like he stopped to see what it was … and got attacked.”
They asked Ralph if he knowed anything about the severed hand in the barn. He said it was my dog and to ask me. They wasn’t leaving him alone and asked him lots of questions. Then one of the officers found what looked like giant wolf tracks by the barn. We all went to take a look. I don’t know what made them … but it wasn’t Starlight.
An hour later there was half a dozen trucks at our farm. There were at least thirty men with guns, including the rest of the Grover Brothers, and two packs of tracking hounds. There were three dog carcasses from neighboring farms that had been strung-up and skinned-alive in the back of one truck. “Lord you should have heard then howl,” Vic Grover boasted. We ain’t cat people … but we’re taking no chances.”
They was drinking whiskey and having a good time.
I was trying to think how I could get to Starlight and turn her loose when Ralph came out of the house with my home-made whistle. “She’ll bark when you blow on this,” he said handing my call to the sheriff.
            “You should have let me stomp her down,” Ralph said to me right before he left with the trackers. “Now she ain’t gonna go easy!” He smiled and patted his knife when he saw the tears in my eyes.
I stood by the well crying I could hear the hounds baying as they picked up a scent. I fell to my knees and began to pray as I stared into the dark hole they’d pulled my Ma out of. “Please God,” I begged. “Don’t let them hurt her!”

TO BE CONTINUED …


Sunday, February 9, 2020

THE COIN

Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



THE COIN
By R. Peterson

Through the billowing clouds of steam produced by New York’s biggest laundry, Zofia Nowak could see her daughter wildly gesturing from the doorway. Hanna looked frantic. Zofia pulled the bed-sheet from the ironing press and hurried over to her, hoping the Szef didn’t see.
            “It’s not just a cough. Lena has the influenza,” Hanna told her. “You must come … I think she’s dying!”
Zofia rushed to find Mr. Kowalski the laundry manager. “You know the rules,” he told her. “You leave early, and you lose the entire day’s pay!”
Zofia looked at the clock on the wall. There were two hours left on her fourteen-hour shift. Her family had struggled to survive even before her husband was killed by the railroad-car. There were six other children to feed and rent was behind. The loss of even ten cents for one hour would be painful … an entire day’s pay - devastating.
            “Borrow blankets from Mrs. Lipska,” Zofia told Hanna. “I’ll be home soon.”
The next two hours were excruciatingly slow.
Two of her daughters were crying by the time cards. The laundry manager stood next to them. “Lena died an hour ago,” Sally bawled. “She begged for you.”
            “Thanks for staying,” Kowalski said reaching into his pocket. “We don’t usually do this but it’s 1918 and we want to keep our workers happy.” He handed a fresh-minted Mercury-dime to Zofia.
Zofia wiped her eyes. The coin almost slipped from her fingers but she dropped it in her apron. Then she staggered slowly home to bury her child.
            Zofia kept the silver coin in a jar by the flour can for twelve years. She would starve before she spent it. The dime  was pieniądze krwi (blood money). Hanna later used this coin and many others to pay for her mother’s burial.

-------2-------
            Giovanni Marino tried using a penny to hold down the left eyelid of the highly made-up corpse in the casket but it kept falling off. Both eyes had been unusually wide open for a dead man … as if Mateo DeLuca had seen the axe coming that had split his skull. Antonio Bianchi and his brother demanded there be no problems. The two Mafioso were coming in later to pay their respects. Giovanni remembered some coins in the drawer of his office desk. He thought a silver Mercury dime would be heavy enough … and it was. Six hours later, he came to check, the 1918  dime had fallen off somewhere in the coffin but the eyelid had remained closed … that’s all that mattered.
-------3-------

            Dutch O’Bannon and Joseph Amblano searched the Bronx cemetery with lights … looking at every headstone. “They train us all the way from Chicago to dig up a two year old grave,” Joe grumbled. “These Wops don’t have shovels?”
            “The cops are no longer looking for the loot and the boss doesn’t trust his former partners,” Dutch said.
“Here it is!” Joseph shown his kerosene lantern on the headstone Mateo DeLuca Born 1894 – Died 1936 . They began to dig.
Amblano lifted the corpse partly out of the coffin while O’Bannon grabbed the bulging bank-bag hidden below. He saw a loose dime lying in a corner. “This is my lucky day,” he chuckled as he sipped the coin into his pocket.

-------4-------

Lucy asked her father for cab-fare. David was leaving for basic training in Georgia. She would meet him early at the Chicago train station. It was 1943 and the allies were preparing to invade France. Harry   O’Bannon looked in his wallet but it was empty. Last night was poker and he’d forgotten to go to the bank. He counted out three dollars in change from a glass bowl on his desk. “Buy yourselves some lunch,” he told his daughter with a kiss. “I hear army chow kills more GI’s than the Germans!”
The recruitment train left in one hour. They were lucky to get a table at a café across the street. “I’ll write you every day,” Lucy moaned.
            “We’ll only get mail once a week.” David smiled. “I’ll be counting them.”
Lucy insisted on paying for both meals. When her fiancé returned from the cash register he tried to give her the 12 cents change. “Keep it,” she insisted. “Use the money for stamps and envelopes.”
David put the dime and two pennies in his pocket.

-------5-------

Six weeks later the Army drill sergeant lined up his men. “We need volunteers for six more weeks of special training,” he barked. “You’ll be jumping out of airplanes!” No one stepped forward. “Did I say you’ll be wearing something called parachutes … and you’ll be getting an extra ten bucks a month?” David Franklin and eight others stepped forward.
It was just after midnight June 6th. 1944.  The skies above France were full of Douglas C-47 Gooney Birds as they dropped over six-thousand American and British soldiers more than twenty miles behind enemy lines. David Franklin watched as several of his platoon members were shot in mid-air as their parachutes drifted down to the ravaged farmlands. The next hour would determine whether his squad could hold the bridge.
It was as dark as a cave. David hurried to meet the others, after hiding all signs of his arrival. The German soldiers appeared out of nowhere. “Legen Sie Ihre Hände in die Luft!” David was thrown to the ground and searched. A German corporal named Hans Schneider took a small Bible, three letters from Lucy and a “lucky” coin from the jacket-pocket covering David’s heart. He dropped the letters in the mud when he found a chocolate bar. “Ich gehe ins Kino,” (I’m going to the movies) he smiled holding up the silver dime. “John Wayne ... Kopf sie am Pass!” (head them off at the pass)

-------6-------

Corporal Schneider was wounded during the Ardennes Counteroffensive and in early January of 1945, after treatment for a leg-injury at a hospital in Berlin, was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland to work as a prison guard.
The inhuman and sadistic treatment of Jews sentenced to death had a devastating effect on Hans. He read his Bible every night and begged to be forgiven. One day he approached a skeletal woman weeping inside a razor-wire fenced area and asked her if she needed food. He always kept a few crusts of bread in his pocket. She fell to her boney knees and begged him for a coin. He thought it was strange since there was no way these wretched individuals could spend money but passed her the silver dime from America, hoping to somehow relieve the overpowering guilt he felt … it did not help.

-------7-------

Hanna Kaczmarck waited on the crowded docks as the first ship-loads of immigrants from war-ravaged Europe arrived in America. Her late mother’s orphaned niece was supposed to hold up a hand lettered sign to show who she was.   Hanna would have recognized Oliwia even without the sign. The frightened six-year old girl was a perfect image of her younger sister Lena who had died during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Hanna threw her arms around the child and told her not to worry … she once again had a family.
It was later during dinner that Hanna noticed the silver coin on a chain around the girl’s neck. She asked to see it.
“What a strange world we live in,” Hanna said. “Your aunt Zofia once had a coin just like this one. She would never spend it, even when she was without food, because she said it was blood money! After her death, I used it and many others to pay for her funeral.”
“My matka gave to me this the last time I was with her,” Oliwia sobbed in broken English. “She said when the ciemny człowiek came to choose who was to be sent to the prysznice to give him the coin … and to beg him to pick someone else.”
“But you still have it!”
“The ciemne man never came. Instead, the camp was rozłamane by Russian soldiers!”
“I am glad that your coin brought you luck,” Hanna said as he poured cups of tea. “I was happy to give mine away.”


THE END ?



Sunday, February 2, 2020

THE BOOK

Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



THE BOOK
By R. Peterson

            Eddy Hicks and Daryl Poole watched from inside Daryl’s father’s battered pickup three houses down from their intended target. The engine was running and they were listening to Percy Sledge sing When a Man loves a Woman on the AM radio. “How long we going to sit her?” Daryl shivered and zipped up his Cloverdale Stallions wrestling jacket. “We need the heat on, and gas is up to thirty-two cents a gallon!”
            “I’ll never understand why your dad wastes that extra nickel putting Ethyl in this rust bucket.”
Daryl had just lit a Lucky Strike cigarette with the Ford’s in-dash lighter when they saw the 1949 Roadmaster back out of the garage. “Wow!” Eddy gasped. “That’s one cherry Buick! Didn’t I tell you these people got bucks.”
            Daryl leaned out the window to get a better look. “That’s Allison Weatherbee driving but I don’t see anyone with her. That means the Descombey woman must still be in the house.”
            “Who cares,” Eddy snickered. “That witch was wrinkled when my grand-pappy was young. If she’s still alive, she’d have to be at least a hundred and ten years old.”
            “Still, I don’t like breaking in a house when someone is home!” Daryl shook his head but opened his door when Eddy opened his.
            “My sister said Allison will be helping clean the library until nine. That will give us plenty of time to search the house for valuables. These old broads go for gaudy jewelry and they don’t like paste.” Eddy started to swagger. He held his hands loosely at his sides and began to strut like James Dean.  “I’ll bet she’s got diamond earrings and pearl necklaces piled next to her can of Goiter pills. I’m sure her mattress is stuffed with silver certificates. You might have to dance with her, while I check it out.” Daryl glanced uneasily at the darkened houses as they walked past … he thought Eddy was talking too loud. Eddy turned to him and grinned. “But no kissing!”
Daryl was starting to sweat even though it was almost freezing outside.   “What if she wakes up and causes trouble?’
Eddy laughed. “If the old lady gets you in a Full Nelson, I’ll report her to the wrestling commission!”
-------2-------

Eddy’s eyes lit up when they found the side door to the mansion unlocked. “This is going to be like milking a cow,” he whispered as they went inside. The hands of a grandfather clock were stuck on 8:14. They walked past a too-plain painting in a dimly lit hallway. An expensive gilded frame surrounded fine swirls of gray tones. “Looks like the artist forgot to paint his subject,” Daryl blinked several times and they walked on. The kitchen was old fashioned with new granite countertops. “Money!” Eddy pointed to the gold-plated faucet as they tiptoed past.
Suddenly a scruffy yellow cat with fevered eyes leaped from behind the kitchen table and with a loud hiss scratched Eddy’s nose as it sailed past. “Ouch! I’ll kill you little b#%$^%#” Eddy started after the feline but stopped in the hallway. “Where did it go?”
Daryl tugged on his arm and pointed. The empty gray painting on the wall now featured a yellow cat in fine Italian portraiture as solemn and as mysterious as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
            “You’ve got to be kidding!” Eddy rubbed his nose and then wiped a bloody finger on Daryl’s shirt.
“I think the stairs to the bedrooms is through here.” Daryl crept through an arched walk way into a large parlor and Eddy followed. The room was lit by numerous flickering oil lamps and the walls were lined with bookshelves. Several tables held various sizes of candelabras, most looked to be made of expensive metals.
Wall to wall parquet floors were crafted of colorful, and obviously very expensive, hardwoods cut into the shapes of people, plants and animals combined to create an elaborate landscape only partially blocked with an occasion animal fur rug.
Daryl had never been much of an art student but he remembered being terrified as a child by a book of landscapes by the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel while in school. He gasped as he recognized the tidal waves of skeleton warriors from the painting the Triumph of Death. He lost his balance on the highly polished wood, whirled his arms as if he were attempting to fly and crashed into an antique upright Steinway piano.
A large crystal jar containing hundreds of what looked like blue marbles on the piano top overturned and the glass balls rained down, seemingly at random, on the open keyboard playing the first eight measures of Mozart’s Sonata for Piano in E Minor note for note.
“You clumsy ox,” Eddy bellowed. “If anyone in this house didn’t know we were here … they do now!”
“I’m sorry,” Daryl moaned. “I think this house is bewitched.”
“Let’s grab what we can and get out of here,” Eddy suggested. He plucked the candles out of several golden holders and tried to stuff the holders in his pockets.
Daryl was reaching for a small golden statue of a half-submerged and obviously dying mermaid when a large black book fell from the top shelf and landed on his head. His lost track of several seconds and when the stars disappeared he was following Eddy as they ran through the kitchen. The book was in his hand instead of the mermaid! He flung it into the corner and started back …. Eddy grabbed him. “There’s no time!” he said. From somewhere upstairs a frail voice cried out “Who’s there?”
It was Daryl who noticed the clock in the hallway … it now showed just after midnight.  “Damn!” he whispered. “We’ve been in here … for four hours?”

-------3-------

They let the door slam behind them as they ran toward the truck. “Do you think that old woman is going to call the cops?”
Eddy glanced over his shoulder as they ran. “I don’t think she has a phone,” he said. “I don’t see any wires running into the house.”
Daryl didn’t notice the book in his hand until he reached for the ignition switch. “What the hell?”
            “I thought I told you to get rid of that!” Eddy grabbed the black book from Daryl and flung it out the window. They were no longer afraid of waking the neighbors. Daryl burned rubber from both back tires as they roared past the house. The old truck was doing over sixty miles per hour when it careened through the intersection. The book was suddenly back, lying on the seat between them. “Devil get thee behind me,” Eddy yelled. He again flung the book out the window. Three blocks later, Eddy laughed as he lit another cigarette. “Third time is the charm. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.”

------- last -------

The book lay open in the center of Galbraith and Main. Crackling leaves skittered across an asphalt stage … fleeing some tragic performance yet to come. A fall-born moon peered at the pages from between the ashen-branches of a Lombardy poplar … and recited each carefully crafted line as lightning made voice in the sky. The streets were barren of all but stranger-traffic … frantic trucks looking for a lost highway. Only a scattering of lights flickered from curtained windows across the sleeping town … fireflies without companions, after all clocks had whispered midnight.
Thirty seconds of silence hibernated into a tomb-like calm … as the world of mortals held its breath. Distant tires screamed and skidded just before a crash. An explosion, some blocks away, shook withered-lawns on both sides of the street and offered to sell carefully-raked leafs to a rich and perusing breeze. A hellish ball of chemical-inferno exploded somewhere beyond Townsend Avenue, lighting the sky and capturing one last disconsolate scene for all eternity. Acrid smoke drifted upward from the mayhem and wrapped the stars in a too-warm coat. A chorus of ravenous wolves began to sing as they moved down from the hills above Motha Forest.
In an upstairs bedroom, Melania’s eyelids fluttered as one misty dream ended … and another began.
The moon, the street and a jealous night … all desired, conspired and allied as they courted the approaching magic. Lost moments ticked by … before emergency sirens sounded to summon a cold and sodden audience.
And the night wind sighed as it turned the pages …

THE END ?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

GRAVE ROBBERS part 3

Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



GRAVE ROBBERS
Part 3

                                                 By R. Peterson         

            The front of the Ford lifted high into the air. Ardel and Rodney screamed. Steam gushed from a broken radiator hose, almost as though the car screamed too. A mouth opened in the gnarled trunk just below a single monstrous eye and the creature roared, “You hurt my Momma!”
Ardel attempted to remove the “ring” from his finger but the strange organic object seemed to have become part of his skin. “I’m sorry,” he blubbered. “We were looking for treasure not to hurt anyone.”
The leaf-covered monster blinked twice and then allowed the car to fall back onto the road. It was as if Ardel had been understood. The car bounced, stalled and the trunk flew open. Bolts broke and the front bumper sagged on one side. Wolves gathered around the walking tree. Eyes, glowing with malicious intent, warned the boys not to run.
            “Don’t stop,” Rodney urged his friend. “I’m not as good at begging as you are.”
            “I only took this,” Ardel pleaded with his hand. “I don’t want it now.”
The wolves all howled at once … and then were strangely quiet. The silence was eerie. A sound like flowing and dripping water came from the bushes. Adel thought maybe a creek had overflowed. Rodney could hear his own heart beating … as well as his friend’s.
The wolves all turned as the pale root that had lain next to Amanda Hick’s corpse emerged from the trees. The thing was larger, had sprouted legs and was now staggering toward them.
            “You have given Booma new life!” The monster gestured toward the root walking toward them. The words invaded their thoughts. Rodney covered his ears but could not block out the sound. “You are hereafter charged with keeping the baby safe.”
Ardel and Rodney both felt the car sag, even with the extra heavy duty truck shock absorbers as the thing crawled into the trunk.
Wolves and the monster moved to one side as Rodney frantically tried to move the car. The starter dragged, backfired and the engine started. Back tires kicked up a cloud of gravel and dust as they spun furiously to escape the huge crack in the road. Perhaps the added weight in the trunk allowed for more traction. Finally the tires found purchase and the car lunged forward. Just then a battered pickup truck passed them with horn honking furiously. A bearded man shook his fist out an open window. Within a minute the two boys were careening around blind curves at more than sixty miles per hour. “Thank God!” Ardel allowed himself to breathe as he settled back in his seat and flipped on the radio. Guy Mitchell was crooning the second verse of Heartaches By The Number . “For a moment there … I thought we were in trouble!”

-------2-------

            A half hour later they were parked in Rodney’s parent’s yard trying to figure out what to do with the walking root crammed into the truck when a Comanche County police car pulled in behind them. Deputy Sheriff Wylie Young ordered them to step out of the car with one hand on his holstered revolver. Another police car arrived seconds later. “What seems to be the problem officer?” Ardel figured he knew the answer but he had to ask anyway.
            “Fred Hicks is the owner of one hundred sixty acres of timberland bordering Motha Forest,” the deputy said. “He says you tore the hell out of a bunch of his trees, dug up a road and disturbed an ancestor’s grave.”
            “It was all a mistake,” Rodney stammered.
            “What was … the grave or the road?” the deputy asked as he produced two pair of handcuffs.
            “Everything,” Ardel moaned as they were loaded into the back of the police car. “Everything was a mistake.”
The trunk was open when the officers searched the car and they found nothing.

-------3-------

            The arraignment was delayed for a week because the judge was out of town. Ardel and Rodney were surprised when they found out they’d both made bail. Sean O’Brian far and away the richest man in Cloverdale waited for them just outside of the police station. They were transported home in a chauffeur driven limousine. “I’m sorry it took so long to get you out but I was in Chicago on business,” Sean told them.
            “Why help us?” Ardel was astonished at the sudden change of events.
            “I’ve had people searching for Amanda Hick’s grave for years,” Sean told them. “Thank God you two stumbled across it.”
            “The police laughed when we told them about the monster tree and the wolves,” Rodney said. “Don’t tell us you believe!”
            “I was just a boy when the woodcutters brought the Wandelen Boom baby out of the forest,” Sean said. “But the county was never the same after.”
            “How can we ever repay you?” Ardel asked as they stopped at Rodney’s parent’s farm.
            “Fate goes where it will and cannot be led,” O’Brian told them. “Watch over that which was hidden in your trunk and keep it safe. I’ve already made arraignments to buy the woods from Hicks so I’m sure the charges against you will be dropped. As for the delinquent taxes on your parents’ farm …. I’m sure they will be paid also.”

-------4-------

            After two days of searching, the boys found the strange root. It was concealed in a patch of weeds behind a woodshed. “Looks like our baby tree picked a good place to plant itself,” Ardel said. “The soil here is rich and rain coming off the shed roof should keep it well watered.” Rodney nodded grimly. On their return to town, he  stopped at Spare-A-Dime and called Sean from the café’s public telephone. “All good, Mr. O’Brian. We’ve found it. And it’s already thriving.”

-------5-------

            The strange tree grew faster than anyone expected. Six months later it was so large the woodshed had to be moved to a new location. Two years later, in late fall, the tree could no longer be concealed from traffic driving by on the road. “One day an old man being driven in a Lincoln Continental stopped at the farm. His face radiated astonishment as he walked toward the shady tree. “I’ve searched the world for rare tree species,” he said. “I never thought I’d see another VanGagen,” he blubbered. I’ll give you one-hundred dollars for it!”
            Rodney laughed. He and Ardel were working on Rodney’s car. “The tree is much too large to be moved,” he said. “Besides I’ve grown kind of attached to it.”
            “I’m not talking about the whole tree,” the man said picking something off the ground. “I’ll give you a hundred dollars for this leaf. I only wish you had more.”
An astonished Rodney put the money and a business card in his pocket and watched as the man drove away. Ardel walked over and Rodney opened the door to the woodshed. Ardel whistled. At least a dozen plastic bags bulged from under the shingled roof. “I spent all day yesterday raking under the tree,” Rodney said. “I was going to burn the leaves …. but now I think I’ll hold off.”
And both boys laughed.

THE END ???

Sunday, January 19, 2020

GRAVE ROBBERS part 2

Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



GRAVE ROBBERS
Part 2

        By R. Peterson         

It was almost dark when the Ford Customline came to a stop in the woods next to the old Hicks farm. An October moon was rising in the eastern sky, turned blood red by the reflection of the setting sun’s rays.  “You sure you want to go through with this?” Ardel shivered as he zipped up his coat. Rodney guessed his best friend was starting to have doubts.
            “Remember robbing an old grave was your idea,” Rodney smiled as he took two shovels and gloves out of the car’s trunk.
            An owl high on a branch demanded to know their names as they plodded around tangled mulberry brush and weathered cottonwoods. Darkness came quickly under a canopy of soon-to-fall leaves. Rodney followed behind Ardel. He moved close behind his friend and leaned forward to speak. “How far is this Amanda Hick’s grave?”
Ardel made a show of whispering back in great exaggeration to mock his friend. “Not far. Whatever you do don’t let that barn owl know where were going. He is surely the Devil’s pet and will fly off with your ear while you’re busy digging.”
They both stopped at the same time. Twigs snapped. Something large was moving through the brush off to their left.
Rodney turned to look back and then ducked as the owl swooped low … just over their heads.
“Dang! I thought you were joking!”
“I was!” Ardel crouched and raised his shovel over his head like a weapon. A great shadow created by the moon flapped once and was gone. The trees had thinned and they were in a small clearing. The thick clump of brush in the center looked like it had been planted sometime in the dim past.
“Isn’t there supposed to be a fence around all graves?”
“There was … forty-seven years ago.” Ardel skirted a large clump of poison ivy and used the shovel to pry-up a length of decorative but now rusty cast iron from the heavy loom.
The tarnished head of a gargoyle, looking something like rotting skin under the  moonlight but was probably once just part of a gate-handle smiled up at the two from the disturbed soil.
Suddenly a sound like a woman’s scream split the night and sent cold chills cascading down their spines. “What the hell was that?”
            “A fox?” Ardel’s eyes looked almost as big as the moon. “I hope.”
Rodney put on gloves and tossed a pair to his pal. “Do you think the fence was to protect people from the grave … or the poison ivy?”
            “I don’t know … but I think we’re going to find out!”
They began to dig.

-------2-------

                The full moon hung like a photographer’s light in the eastern sky as the boys dug into the humus rich soil. Shapeless forms surrounded the violated grave and watched from the darkness like a leaf-wearing audience at a horror movie. The moss-covered headstone bearing the name Amanda Lee Hicks lay on a pile of uprooted poison ivy. In the far-distance, a lone wolf howled - completing the scene.
            Rodney’s shovel hit something but it was not the dull thunk of metal into old wood they had expected. At first they thought it might be just another field-rock but after two more hour of digging they exposed a huge concrete vault, reinforced with thick bands of stained iron and an oxidized lock the size of dinner plate. “If I took the wheels off I could almost bury my father’s tractor inside,” A sweaty Ardel whispered as Rodney used a shovel to pry-off eight rusted hinges. In the distance the wolf wailed again … he sounded much closer.
Rodney’s face was devoid of all color as the top sprang loose. “Either they didn’t want any looters getting into this underground crypt …or they didn’t want something getting out!”
It took both boys to slide the huge cover to one side and then topple it from the edge to the ground. A cloud of rancid breath like from a broken and exposed sewer-pipe rose into the night air. The vault was deep and dark; Rodney was glad that he remembered his flashlight.
            Mummified skin and tendons in the shape of a skeleton lay curled next to what looked like an enormous tree root? “So that’s why this vault is so big,” Ardel gasped. “They buried half the forest with her!”
Twigs snapped a few feet away in the darkened trees. Both boys looked in all directions.
            “Quick,” Rodney whispered. “Look for jewelry … anything that might be valuable.”
A bit of tarnished gold glimmered from the bony remains of one finger. Ardel closed his eyes muttered a short prayer pleading to God for forgiveness then leaned into the vault to slip the ring off. The brittle skin around the finger turned to dust as he grasped it. The huge root shape lying next to the skeleton felt strangely soft to his touch … as if it were alive. He jerked his hand back as if it had been shocked. The root appeared to be growing.
A low, rumbling, almost earthquake-like growling came from the trees surrounding the clearing and shook the ground. More than a dozen pairs of malicious eyes targeted Rodney as Ardel tumbled with a shriek into the open grave.
Rodney held his shovel over his head like a sword and screamed “Let’s get the hell out of here!” as a vicious pack of wolves appeared from the trees …  and surrounded them.
Ardel seemed to have springs on his boots. He leaped from the grave like a high jumper; one leg catching the edge of the pit while the other hurtled forward on a dead run. A tendril like root whipped from the grave and failed to snag his boot.

Rodney knocked one of the wolves off its feet with a vicious swing. Ardel paused long enough to pick up his own shovel. They were more than fifty yards down the trail before they realized they were not being pursued.
            “Let’s not do that again,” Rodney gasped. Both boys were out of breath when they reached the car; they clambered inside and locked the doors.
Ardel used the Ford’s glove box light to examine his prize. “I thought this felt kind of light for gold,” he muttered.
Rodney leaned to the side to look what Ardel had in his hand. The ring looked to be made of woven fibers instead of precious metal. Ardel thought the ring’s shape resembled the braids that some Scandinavian women wore in their hair. By twisting the ring slightly Ardel could see the glimmer of tiny mineral fragments probably gold flecks reflecting the light. “This is made of wood from Motha Forest,” Ardel said.
            “How do you know that?” Rodney was staring out both windows as he started the car expecting the wolves to appear.
            “My uncle Rance used to be a woodcutter,” Ardel said. “He told me it was impossible to cut trees in Motha because everything growing there absorbed metal, mostly iron, through its root systems. Their chainsaws used to put on a fireworks show whenever they tried to cut the wood and they were constantly changing the blades.”
            “So where did this come from?”
            Ardel was holding the ring close to his eyes. “It looks like the seventh, eighth and ninth growth rings from some kind of oak slab with the center punched out …”
Rodney put the Customline in gear and they were just starting to leave when all the trees on the right side of the road began to shake violently. Two cottonwoods, with more than twelve inch diameter trunks, were pulled from the ground sending tree limbs branches and roots flying high into the sky. Part of the gravel road was torn apart by the uprooting and the back wheels of the Ford spun frantically in a jagged trench. Ardel was beating his fist on the dashboard and tugging on his fingers.
            “What did you do?” Rodney screamed.
            “It looked like a ring … I only wanted to see if it would fit,” Ardel stammered.
Something larger than the trees moved from the shadows onto the road. “Take it off,” Rodney begged.
            “I can’t,” Ardel, said. “It’s like it’s become part of my finger.”
There now appeared to be two tree trunks blocking the car’s path. Finally Rodney remembered to flick on his headlights. Both boys screamed.
Two growing legs spread across most of the gravel road. More than twelve feet above the ground thick limbs stretched outward like hideous arms. Just below the leafless branches a single eye and a mouth opened from the tree trunk. “Mama” the thing bellowed. “You hurt my Mama!”

TO BE CONTINUED …